previous arrow
next arrow
Slider

SPAIN

Spain is a country mostly located on the Iberian Peninsula in Europe, with there also being two large archipelagoes, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands off the African Atlantic coast, two cities, Ceuta and Melilla, on the African mainland and several small islands in the Alboran Sea near the African coast. The country’s mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. It is the only European country to have a border with an African country (Morocco) and its African territory accounts for nearly 5% of its population, mostly in the Canary Islands but also in Ceuta and Melilla.

With an area of 505,990 km2 (195,360 sq mi), Spain is the largest country in Southern Europe, the second largest country in Western Europe and the European Union, and the fourth largest country in the European continent. By population, Spain is the sixth largest in Europe and the fifth in the European Union. Spain’s capital and largest city is Madrid; other major urban areas include Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Bilbao and Málaga.

History

Modern humans first arrived in the Iberian Peninsula around 35,000 years ago. Iberian cultures along with ancient Phoenician, Greek and Carthaginian settlements developed on the peninsula until it came under Roman rule around 200 BCE, after which the region was named Hispania, based on the earlier Phoenician name Sp(a)n or Spania. At the end of the Western Roman Empire the Germanic tribal confederations in migration from Central Europe invaded the Iberian peninsula and established themselves in relatively independent realms in its western provinces, including the Sueves, Alans and Vandals. Eventually, the Visigoths would integrate by force all remaining independent territories in the peninsula, including Byzantine provinces into the Kingdom of Toledo that more or less unified politically, ecclesiastically and legally all the former Roman provinces or successor kingdoms of what was then known in documents as Hispania.

The Visigothic kingdom fell to the Moors except in the north where shortly after started a process known as Reconquista. Spain emerged as a unified country in the 15th century under the Catholic Monarchs, who completed the eight centuries-long Reconquista in 1492. In the early modern period, Spain became one of history’s first global empires, leaving a vast cultural and linguistic legacy that includes over 500 million Hispanophones, making Spanish the world’s second most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.

Iberia enters written records as a land populated largely by the Iberians, Basques and Celts. Early on its coastal areas were settled by Phoenicians who founded Western Europe’s most ancient cities Cadiz and Malaga. Phoenician influence expanded as much of the Peninsula was eventually incorporated into the Carthaginian Empire, becoming a major theater of the Punic Wars against the expanding Roman Empire. After an arduous conquest, the peninsula came fully under Roman Rule. During the early Middle Ages it came under Germanic rule but later, much of it was conquered by Moorish invaders from North Africa. In a process that took centuries, the small Christian kingdoms in the north gradually regained control of the peninsula. The last Moorish kingdom fell in the same year Columbus reached the Americas. A global empire began which saw Spain become the strongest kingdom in Europe, the leading world power for a century and a half, and the largest overseas empire for three centuries.

Continued wars and other problems eventually led to a diminished status. The Napoleonic invasions of Spain led to chaos, triggering independence movements that tore apart most of the empire and left the country politically unstable. Prior to the Second World War, Spain suffered a devastating civil war and came under the rule of an authoritarian government, which oversaw a period of stagnation that was followed by a surge in the growth of the economy. Eventually democracy was peacefully restored in the form of a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Spain joined the European Union, experiencing a cultural renaissance and steady economic growth until the beginning of the 21st century, that started a new globalized world with economic and ecological challenges.

Etymology

The origins of the Roman name Hispania, from which the modern name España was derived, are uncertain due to inadequate evidence, although it is documented that the Phoenicians and Carthaginians referred to the region as Spania, therefore the most widely accepted etymology is a Semitic-Phoenician one. Down the centuries there have been a number of accounts and hypotheses:

The Renaissance scholar Antonio de Nebrija proposed that the word Hispania evolved from the Iberian word Hispalis, meaning “city of the western world”.

Jesús Luis Cunchillos argues that the root of the term span is the Phoenician word spy, meaning “to forge metals”. Therefore, i-spn-ya would mean “the land where metals are forged”. It may be a derivation of the Phoenician I-Shpania, meaning “island of rabbits”, “land of rabbits” or “edge”, a reference to Spain’s location at the end of the Mediterranean; Roman coins struck in the region from the reign of Hadrian show a female figure with a rabbit at her feet, and Strabo called it the “land of the rabbits”.

Hispania may derive from the poetic use of the term Hesperia, reflecting the Greek perception of Italy as a “western land” or “land of the setting sun” (Hesperia, Ἑσπερία in Greek) and Spain, being still further west, as Hesperia ultima.

There is the claim that “Hispania” derives from the Basque word Ezpanna meaning “edge” or “border”, another reference to the fact that the Iberian Peninsula constitutes the southwest corner of the European continent.

Two 15th-century Spanish Jewish scholars, Don Isaac Abravanel and Solomon ibn Verga, gave an explanation now considered folkloric. Both men wrote in two different published works that the first Jews to reach Spain were brought by ship by Phiros who was confederate with the king of Babylon when he laid siege to Jerusalem. Phiros was a Grecian by birth, but who had been given a kingdom in Spain. Phiros became related by marriage to Espan, the nephew of king Heracles, who also ruled over a kingdom in Spain. Heracles later renounced his throne in preference for his native Greece, leaving his kingdom to his nephew, Espan, from whom the country of España (Spain) took its name. Based upon their testimonies, this eponym would have already been in use in Spain by c. 350 BCE.

Prehistory and pre-Roman peoples

Archaeological research at Atapuerca indicates the Iberian Peninsula was populated by hominids 1.2 million years ago. In Atapuerca fossils have been found of the earliest known hominins in Europe, the Homo antecessor. Modern humans first arrived in Iberia, from the north on foot, about 35,000 years ago. The best known artefacts of these prehistoric human settlements are the famous paintings in the Altamira cave of Cantabria in northern Iberia, which were created from 35,600 to 13,500 BCE by Cro-Magnon. Archaeological and genetic evidence suggests that the Iberian Peninsula acted as one of several major refugia from which northern Europe was repopulated following the end of the last ice age.

The largest groups inhabiting the Iberian Peninsula before the Roman conquest were the Iberians and the Celts. The Iberians inhabited the Mediterranean side of the peninsula, from the northeast to the southeast. The Celts inhabited much of the inner and Atlantic sides of the peninsula, from the northwest to the southwest. Basques occupied the western area of the Pyrenees mountain range and adjacent areas, the Phoenician-influenced Tartessians culture flourished in the southwest and the Lusitanians and Vettones occupied areas in the central west. A number of cities were founded along the coast by Phoenicians, and trading outposts and colonies were established by Greeks in the East. Eventually, Phoenician-Carthaginians expanded inland towards the meseta, however due to the bellicose inland tribes the Carthaginians got settled in the coasts of the Iberian Peninsula.

Roman Empire and the Gothic Kingdom

During the Second Punic War, roughly between 210 and 205 BC the expanding Roman Republic captured Carthaginian trading colonies along the Mediterranean coast. Although it took the Romans nearly two centuries to complete the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, they retained control of it for over six centuries. Roman rule was bound together by law, language, and the Roman road.

The cultures of the Celtic and Iberian populations were gradually Romanised (Latinised) at different rates depending on what part of Hispania they lived in, with local leaders being admitted into the Roman aristocratic class. Hispania served as a granary for the Roman market, and its harbors exported gold, wool, olive oil, and wine. Agricultural production increased with the introduction of irrigation projects, some of which remain in use. Emperors Hadrian, Trajan, Theodosius I, and the philosopher Seneca were born in Hispania. Christianity was introduced into Hispania in the 1st century AD and it became popular in the cities in the 2nd century AD. Most of Spain’s present languages and religion, and the basis of its laws, originate from this period.

The weakening of the Western Roman Empire’s jurisdiction in Hispania began in 409, when the Germanic Suebi and Vandals, together with the Sarmatian Alans entered the peninsula at the invitation of a Roman usurper. These tribes who had crossed the Rhine in early 407 and ravaged Gaul. The Suebi established a kingdom in what is today modern Galicia and northern Portugal whereas the Vandals established themselves in southern Spain by 420 before crossing over to North Africa in 429 and taking Carthage in 439. As the western empire disintegrated, the social and economic base became greatly simplified: but even in modified form, the successor regimes maintained many of the institutions and laws of the late empire, including Christianity and assimilation to the evolving Roman culture.

The Byzantines established an occidental province, Spania, in the south, with the intention of reviving Roman rule throughout Iberia. Eventually, however, Hispania was reunited under Visigothic rule.

The Spanish-Gothic scholars such as Braulio of Zaragoza and Isidore of Seville played an important role in keeping the classical Greek and Roman culture. Isidore was one of the most influential clerics and philosophers in the Middle Ages in Europe, and his theories were also vital to the conversion of the Visigothic Kingdom from an Arian domain to a Catholic one in the Councils of Toledo. This Gothic kingdom was the first independent Christian kingdom ruling in the Iberian Peninsula, and in the Reconquista it was the referent for the different kingdoms fighting against the Muslim rule. Isidore created the first western encyclopaedia which had a huge impact during the Middle Ages.

Middle Ages: Muslim era and Reconquista

In the 8th century, nearly all of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered (711–718) by largely Moorish Muslim armies from North Africa. These conquests were part of the expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate. Only a small area in the mountainous north-west of the peninsula managed to resist the initial invasion.

Under Islamic law, Christians and Jews were given the subordinate status of dhimmi. This status permitted Christians and Jews to practice their religions as People of the Book but they were required to pay a special tax and had legal and social rights inferior to those of Muslims.

Conversion to Islam proceeded at an increasing pace. The muladíes (Muslims of ethnic Iberian origin) are believed to have comprised the majority of the population of Al-Andalus by the end of the 10th century.

The Muslim community in the Iberian Peninsula was itself diverse and beset by social tensions. The Berber people of North Africa, who had provided the bulk of the invading armies, clashed with the Arab leadership from the Middle East. Over time, large Moorish populations became established, especially in the Guadalquivir River valley, the coastal plain of Valencia, the Ebro River valley and (towards the end of this period) in the mountainous region of Granada.

Córdoba, the capital of the caliphate since Abd-ar-Rahman III, was the largest, richest and most sophisticated city in western Europe. Mediterranean trade and cultural exchange flourished. Muslims imported a rich intellectual tradition from the Middle East and North Africa. Some important philosophers at the time were Averroes, Ibn Arabi and Maimonides. The Romanised cultures of the Iberian Peninsula interacted with Muslim and Jewish cultures in complex ways, giving the region a distinctive culture. Outside the cities, where the vast majority lived, the land ownership system from Roman times remained largely intact as Muslim leaders rarely dispossessed landowners and the introduction of new crops and techniques led to an expansion of agriculture introducing new produces which originally came from Asia or the former territories of the Roman Empire.

In the 11th century, the Muslim holdings fractured into rival Taifa kingdoms, allowing the small Christian states the opportunity to greatly enlarge their territories. The arrival from North Africa of the Islamic ruling sects of the Almoravids and the Almohads restored unity upon the Muslim holdings, with a stricter, less tolerant application of Islam, and saw a revival in Muslim fortunes. This re-united Islamic state experienced more than a century of successes that partially reversed Christian gains.

The Reconquista (Reconquest) was the centuries-long period in which Christian rule was re-established over the Iberian Peninsula. The Reconquista is viewed as beginning with the Battle of Covadonga won by Don Pelayo in 722 and was concurrent with the period of Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula. The Christian army’s victory over Muslim forces led to the creation of the Christian Kingdom of Asturias along the northwestern coastal mountains. Shortly after, in 739, Muslim forces were driven from Galicia, which was to eventually host one of medieval Europe’s holiest sites, Santiago de Compostela and was incorporated into the new Christian kingdom. The Kingdom of León was the strongest Christian kingdom for centuries. In 1188 the first modern parliamentary session in Europe was held in León (Cortes of León). The Kingdom of Castile, formed from Leonese territory, was its successor as strongest kingdom. The kings and the nobility fought for power and influence in this period. The example of the Roman emperors influenced the political objective of the Crown, while the nobles benefited from feudalism.

Muslim armies had also moved north of the Pyrenees but they were defeated by Frankish forces at the Battle of Poitiers, Frankia and pushed out of the very southernmost region of France along the seacoast by the 760s. Later, Frankish forces established Christian counties on the southern side of the Pyrenees. These areas were to grow into the kingdoms of Navarre and Aragon. For several centuries, the fluctuating frontier between the Muslim and Christian controlled areas of Iberia was along the Ebro and Douro valleys.

The County of Barcelona and the Kingdom of Aragon entered in a dynastic union and gained territory and power in the Mediterranean. In 1229 Majorca was conquered, so was Valencia in 1238.

The break-up of Al-Andalus into the competing taifa kingdoms helped the long embattled Iberian Christian kingdoms gain the initiative. The capture of the strategically central city of Toledo in 1085 marked a significant shift in the balance of power in favour of the Christian kingdoms. Following a great Muslim resurgence in the 12th century, the great Moorish strongholds in the south fell to Christian Spain in the 13th century—Córdoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Marinid dynasty of Morocco invaded and established some enclaves on the southern coast but failed in their attempt to re-establish North African rule in Iberia and were soon driven out. After 800 years of Muslim presence in Spain, the last Nasrid sultanate of Granada, a tributary state would finally surrender in 1492 to the Catholic monarchs Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon.

From the mid 13th century, literature and philosophy started to flourish again in the Christian peninsular kingdoms, based on Roman and Gothic traditions. An important philosopher from this time is Ramon Llull. Abraham Cresques was a prominent Jewish cartographer. Roman law and its institutions were the model for the legislators. The king Alfonso X of Castile focused on strengthening this Roman and Gothic past, and also on linking the Iberian Christian kingdoms with the rest of medieval European Christendom. Alfonso worked for being elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and published the Siete Partidas code. The Toledo School of Translators is the name that commonly describes the group of scholars who worked together in the city of Toledo during the 12th and 13th centuries, to translate many of the philosophical and scientific works from Classical Arabic, Ancient Greek, and Ancient Hebrew.

The Islamic transmission of the classics is the main Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe. The Castilian language—more commonly known (especially later in history and at present) as “Spanish” after becoming the national language and lingua franca of Spain—evolved from Vulgar Latin, as did other Romance languages of Spain like the Catalan, Asturian and Galician languages, as well as other Romance languages in Latin Europe. Basque, the only non-Romance language in Spain, continued evolving from Early Basque to Medieval. The Glosas Emilianenses founded in the monasteries of San Millán de la Cogolla contain the first written words in both Basque and Spanish, having the first become an influence in the formation of the second as an evolution of Latin.

The 13th century also witnessed the Crown of Aragon, centred in Spain’s north east, expand its reach across islands in the Mediterranean, to Sicily and even Athens. Around this time the universities of Palencia (1212/1263) and Salamanca (1218/1254) were established. The Black Death of 1348 and 1349 devastated Spain.

Imperial Spain

In 1469, the crowns of the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united by the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. 1478 commenced the completion of the conquest of the Canary Islands and in 1492, the combined forces of Castile and Aragon captured the Emirate of Granada from its last ruler Muhammad XII, ending the last remnant of a 781-year presence of Islamic rule in Iberia. That same year, Spain’s Jews were ordered to convert to Catholicism or face expulsion from Spanish territories during the Spanish Inquisition. The Treaty of Granada guaranteed religious tolerance towards Muslims, for a few years before Islam was outlawed in 1502 in the Kingdom of Castile and 1527 in the Kingdom of Aragon, leading to Spain’s Muslim population becoming nominally Christian Moriscos. A few decades after the Morisco rebellion of Granada known as the War of the Alpujarras, a significant proportion of Spain’s formerly-Muslim population was expelled, settling primarily in North Africa.

The year 1492 also marked the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World, during a voyage funded by Isabella. Columbus’s first voyage crossed the Atlantic and reached the Caribbean Islands, beginning the European exploration and conquest of the Americas, although Columbus remained convinced that he had reached the Orient. The colonisation of the Americas started, with conquistadores like Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. Miscegenation was the rule between the native and the Spanish cultures and people.

As Renaissance New Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand centralised royal power at the expense of local nobility, and the word España, whose root is the ancient name Hispania, began to be commonly used to designate the whole of the two kingdoms. With their wide-ranging political, legal, religious and military reforms, Spain emerged as the first world power.

The unification of the crowns of Aragon and Castile by the marriage of their sovereigns laid the basis for modern Spain and the Spanish Empire, although each kingdom of Spain remained a separate country socially, politically, legally, and in currency and language.

There were two big revolts against the new Habsburg monarch and the more authoritarian and imperial-style crown: Revolt of the Comuneros in Castile and Revolt of the Brotherhoods in Majorca and Valencia. After years of combat, Comuneros Juan López de Padilla, Juan Bravo and Francisco Maldonado were executed and María Pacheco went into exile. Germana de Foix also finished with the revolt in the Mediterranean.

Spain was Europe’s leading power throughout the 16th century and most of the 17th century, a position reinforced by trade and wealth from colonial possessions and became the world’s leading maritime power. It reached its apogee during the reigns of the first two Spanish Habsburgs—Charles I (1516–1556) and Philip II (1556–1598). This period saw the Italian Wars, the Revolt of the Comuneros, the Dutch Revolt, the Morisco Revolt, clashes with the Ottomans, the Anglo-Spanish War and wars with France.

Through exploration and conquest or royal marriage alliances and inheritance, the Spanish Empire expanded to include vast areas in the Americas, islands in the Asia-Pacific area, areas of Italy, cities in Northern Africa, as well as parts of what are now France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The first circumnavigation of the world was carried out in 1519–1521. It was the first empire on which it was said that the sun never set. This was an Age of Discovery, with daring explorations by sea and by land, the opening-up of new trade routes across oceans, conquests and the beginnings of European colonialism. Spanish explorers brought back precious metals, spices, luxuries, and previously unknown plants, and played a leading part in transforming the European understanding of the globe. The cultural efflorescence witnessed during this period is now referred to as the Spanish Golden Age. The expansion of the empire caused immense upheaval in the Americas as the collapse of societies and empires and new diseases from Europe devastated American indigenous populations. The rise of humanism, the Counter-Reformation and new geographical discoveries and conquests raised issues that were addressed by the intellectual movement now known as the School of Salamanca, which developed the first modern theories of what are now known as international law and human rights. Juan Luis Vives was another prominent humanist during this period.

In the late 16th century and first half of the 17th century, Spain was confronted by unrelenting challenges from all sides. Barbary pirates, under the aegis of the rapidly growing Ottoman Empire, disrupted life in many coastal areas through their slave raids and the renewed threat of an Islamic invasion. This was at a time when Spain was often at war with France.

The Protestant Reformation dragged the kingdom ever more deeply into the mire of religiously charged wars. The result was a country forced into ever expanding military efforts across Europe and in the Mediterranean.

By the middle decades of a war- and plague-ridden 17th-century Europe, the Spanish Habsburgs had enmeshed the country in continent-wide religious-political conflicts. These conflicts drained it of resources and undermined the economy generally. Spain managed to hold on to most of the scattered Habsburg empire, and help the imperial forces of the Holy Roman Empire reverse a large part of the advances made by Protestant forces, but it was finally forced to recognise the separation of Portugal (with whom it had been united in a personal union of the crowns from 1580 to 1640) and the Netherlands, and eventually suffered some serious military reverses to France in the latter stages of the immensely destructive, Europe-wide Thirty Years’ War.

In the latter half of the 17th century, Spain went into a gradual decline, during which it surrendered several small territories to France and the Netherlands; however, it maintained and enlarged its vast overseas empire, which remained intact until the beginning of the 19th century.

The decline culminated in a controversy over succession to the throne which consumed the first years of the 18th century. The War of the Spanish Succession was a wide-ranging international conflict combined with a civil war, and was to cost the kingdom its European possessions and its position as one of the leading powers on the Continent. During this war, a new dynasty originating in France, the Bourbons, was installed. Long united only by the Crown, a true Spanish state was established when the first Bourbon king, Philip V, united the crowns of Castile and Aragon into a single state, abolishing many of the old regional privileges and laws.

The 18th century saw a gradual recovery and an increase in prosperity through much of the empire. The new Bourbon monarchy drew on the French system of modernising the administration and the economy. Enlightenment ideas began to gain ground among some of the kingdom’s elite and monarchy. Military assistance for the rebellious British colonies in the American War of Independence improved the kingdom’s international standing.

Liberalism, Labour movement and nation state

In 1793, Spain went to war against the revolutionary new French Republic as a member of the first Coalition. The subsequent War of the Pyrenees polarised the country in a reaction against the gallicised elites and following defeat in the field, peace was made with France in 1795 at the Peace of Basel in which Spain lost control over two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola. The Prime Minister, Manuel Godoy, then ensured that Spain allied herself with France in the brief War of the Third Coalition which ended with the British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. In 1807, a secret treaty between Napoleon and the unpopular prime minister led to a new declaration of war against Britain and Portugal. Napoleon’s troops entered the country to invade Portugal but instead occupied Spain’s major fortresses. The ridiculed Spanish king abdicated in favour of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte.

Joseph Bonaparte was seen as a puppet monarch and was regarded with scorn by the Spanish. The 2 May 1808 revolt was one of many nationalist uprisings across the country against the Bonapartist regime. These revolts marked the beginning of a devastating war of independence against the Napoleonic regime. Napoleon was forced to intervene personally, defeating several Spanish armies and forcing a British army to retreat. However, further military action by Spanish armies, guerrillas and Wellington’s British-Portuguese forces, combined with Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia, led to the ousting of the French imperial armies from Spain in 1814, and the return of King Ferdinand VII.

During the war, in 1810, a revolutionary body, the Cortes of Cádiz, was assembled to co-ordinate the effort against the Bonapartist regime and to prepare a constitution. It met as one body, and its members represented the entire Spanish empire. In 1812, a constitution for universal representation under a constitutional monarchy was declared, but after the fall of the Bonapartist regime, Ferdinand VII dismissed the Cortes Generales and was determined to rule as an absolute monarch. These events foreshadowed the conflict between conservatives and liberals in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Spain’s conquest by France benefited Latin American anti-colonialists who resented the Imperial Spanish government’s policies that favoured Spanish-born citizens (Peninsulars) over those born overseas (Criollos) and demanded retroversion of the sovereignty to the people. Starting in 1809 Spain’s American colonies began a series of revolutions and declared independence, leading to the Spanish American wars of independence that ended Spanish control over its mainland colonies in the Americas. King Ferdinand VII’s attempt to re-assert control proved futile as he faced opposition not only in the colonies but also in Spain and army revolts followed, led by liberal officers. By the end of 1826, the only American colonies Spain held were Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The Napoleonic War left Spain economically ruined, deeply divided and politically unstable. In the 1830s and 1840s Anti-liberal forces known as Carlists fought against liberals in the Carlist Wars. Liberal forces won, but the conflict between progressive and conservative liberals ended in a weak early constitutional period. After the Glorious Revolution of 1868 and the short-lived First Spanish Republic, a more stable monarchic period began characterised by the practice of turnismo (the rotation of government control between progressive and conservative liberals within the Spanish government).

In the late 19th century nationalist movements arose in the Philippines and Cuba. In 1895 and 1896 the Cuban War of Independence and the Philippine Revolution broke out and eventually the United States became involved. The Spanish–American War was fought in the spring of 1898 and resulted in Spain losing the last of its once vast colonial empire outside of North Africa. El Desastre (the Disaster), as the war became known in Spain, gave added impetus to the Generation of ’98 who were conducting an analysis of the country.

Although the period around the turn of the century was one of increasing prosperity, the 20th century brought little peace; Spain played a minor part in the scramble for Africa, with the colonisation of Western Sahara, Spanish Morocco and Equatorial Guinea. It remained neutral during World War I (see Spain in World War I). The heavy losses suffered during the Rif War in Morocco brought discredit to the government and undermined the monarchy.

A period of authoritarian rule under General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–1931) ended with the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic. The Republic offered political autonomy to the linguistically distinct regions of Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia and gave voting rights to women. During this period Asturian miners’ strike of 1934 occurred.

Spanish Civil War and Francoist Spain

The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936. For three years the Nationalist forces led by General Francisco Franco and supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy fought the Republican side, which was supported by the Soviet Union, Mexico and International Brigades but it was not supported by the Western powers due to the British-led policy of Non-Intervention. The civil war was viciously fought and there were many atrocities committed by all sides. The war claimed the lives of over 500,000 people and caused the flight of up to a half-million citizens from the country. In 1939, General Franco emerged victorious and became a dictator.

The state as established under Franco was nominally neutral in the Second World War, although sympathetic to the Axis. The only legal party under Franco’s post civil war regime was the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS, formed in 1937; the party emphasised falangism, a form of fascism that emphasised anti-communism, nationalism and Roman Catholicism. Given Franco’s opposition to competing political parties, the party was renamed the National Movement (Movimiento Nacional) in 1949.

After World War II Spain was politically and economically isolated, and was kept out of the United Nations. This changed in 1955, during the Cold War period, when it became strategically important for the US to establish a military presence on the Iberian Peninsula as a counter to any possible move by the Soviet Union into the Mediterranean basin. In the 1960s, Spain registered an unprecedented rate of economic growth which was propelled by industrialisation, a mass internal migration from rural areas to Madrid, Barcelona and the Basque Country and the creation of a mass tourism industry. Franco’s rule was also characterised by authoritarianism, promotion of a unitary national identity, the favouring of a very conservative form of Roman Catholicism known as National Catholicism, and discriminatory language policies.

Restoration of democracy

In 1962, a group of politicians involved in the opposition to Franco’s regime inside the country and in the exile met in the congress of the European Movement in Munich, where they made a resolution in favour of democracy.

With Franco’s death in November 1975, Juan Carlos succeeded to the position of King of Spain and head of state in accordance with the franquist law. With the approval of the new Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the restoration of democracy, the State devolved much authority to the regions and created an internal organisation based on autonomous communities. The Spanish 1977 Amnesty Law let people of Franco’s regime continue inside institutions without consequences, even perpetrators of some crimes during transition to democracy like the Massacre of 3 March 1976 in Vitoria or 1977 Massacre of Atocha. The ‘founding chairman’ of the current leading political party in Spain, the People’s Party, was Manuel Fraga who had been a minister in Franco’s government and yet continued with his political career until shortly before his death in 2012.

In the Basque Country, moderate Basque nationalism has coexisted with a radical nationalist movement led by the armed terrorist organisation ETA. The group was formed in 1959 during Franco’s rule but has continued to wage its violent campaign even after the restoration of democracy and the return of a large measure of regional autonomy.

On 23 February 1981, rebel elements among the security forces seized the Cortes in an attempt to impose a military-backed government. King Juan Carlos took personal command of the military and successfully ordered the coup plotters, via national television, to surrender.

During the 1980s the democratic restoration made possible a growing open society. New cultural movements based on freedom appeared, like La Movida Madrileña and a culture of human rights arose with Gregorio Peces-Barba. On 30 May 1982 Spain joined NATO, following a referendum after a strong social opposition. That year the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) came to power, the first left-wing government in 43 years. In 1986 Spain joined the European Economic Community, which later became the European Union. The PSOE was replaced in government by the Partido Popular (PP) in 1996 after scandals around participation of the government of Felipe González in the Dirty war against ETA; at that point the PSOE had served almost 14 consecutive years in office.

On 1 January 2002, Spain fully adopted the euro, and Spain experienced strong economic growth, well above the EU average during the early 2000s. However, well-publicised concerns issued by many economic commentators at the height of the boom warned that extraordinary property prices and a high foreign trade deficit were likely to lead to a painful economic collapse.
Spain has been a member of the European Union since 1986.

In 2002 the Prestige oil spill occurred with big ecological consequences along Spain’s Atlantic coastline. In 2003 José María Aznar supported US president George W. Bush in the Iraq War, and a strong movement against war rose in Spanish society. On 11 March 2004 a local Islamist terrorist group inspired by Al-Qaeda carried out the largest terrorist attack in Spanish history when they killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800 others by bombing commuter trains in Madrid. Though initial suspicions focused on the Basque terrorist group ETA, evidence soon emerged indicating Islamist involvement. Because of the proximity of the 2004 election, the issue of responsibility quickly became a political controversy, with the main competing parties PP and PSOE exchanging accusations over the handling of the incident. The elections on 14 March were won by the PSOE, led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

The proportion of Spain’s foreign born population increased rapidly during its economic boom in the early 2000s, but then declined due to the financial crisis. In 2005 the Spanish government legalised same sex marriage. Decentralisation was supported with much resistance of Constitutional Court and conservative opposition, so did gender politics like quotas or the law against gender violence. Government talks with ETA happened, and the group announced its permanent cease of violence in 2010.

The bursting of the Spanish property bubble in 2008 led to the 2008–16 Spanish financial crisis and high levels of unemployment, cuts in government spending and corruption in Royal family and People’s Party served as a backdrop to the 2011–12 Spanish protests. Catalan independentism was also on rise. In 2011, Mariano Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party won the election with 44.6% of votes, and Rajoy became the Spanish Prime Minister, after having been the leader of the opposition from 2004 to 2011, and continued to implement austerity measures required by the EU Stability and Growth Pact. On 19 June 2014, the monarch, Juan Carlos, abdicated in favour of his son, who became Felipe VI.

A Catalan independence referendum was held on 1 October 2017 and then, on 27 October, the Catalan parliament voted to unilaterally declare independence from Spain to form a Catalan Republic on the day the Spanish Senate was discussing approving direct rule over Catalonia as called for by the Spanish Prime Minister. Later that day the Senate granted the power to impose direct rule and Mr Rajoy dissolved the Catalan parliament and called a new election. No country recognised Catalonia as a separate state.