Friday, September 7, 2007


Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain (Spanish: España, Reino de España), is a country located in Southern Europe, with two small exclaves in North Africa (both bordering Morocco). Spain is a democracy which is organized as a parliamentary monarchy. It is a developed country with the eighth-largest economy in the world. It is the larger of two sovereign states that make up the Iberian Peninsula — the other is Portugal.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

To the west, Spain borders Portugal, to the south, it borders Gibraltar (a British overseas territory) and Morocco, through its cities in North Africa (Ceuta and Melilla). To the northeast, along the Pyrenees mountain range, it borders France and the tiny principality of Andorra. It also includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean and a number of uninhabited islands on the Mediterranean side of the strait of Gibraltar, known as Plazas de soberanía, such as the Chafarine islands, the isle of Alborán, the "rocks" (peñones) of Vélez and Alhucemas, and the tiny Isla Perejil. In the northeast along the Pyrenees, a small exclave town called Llívia in Catalonia is surrounded by French territory.

There are several competing hypotheses as to the origin of the Roman name "Hispania", the root of the Spanish name España and the English name Spain. These hypotheses are based on slender evidence and must be treated cautiously.

Prehistory and pre-Roman peoples in the Iberian Peninsula

Modern humans in the form of Cro-Magnons began arriving in the Iberian Peninsula from north of the Pyrenees some 35,000 years ago. The more conspicuous sign of prehistoric human settlements are the famous paintings in the northern Spanish Altamira (cave), which were done ca. 15,000 BCE.

The earliest urban culture documented is that of the semi-mythical southern city of Tartessos, pre- 1100 BCE. The seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians founded trading colonies along the Mediterranean coast over a period of several centuries. The Greeks are responsible for the name Iberia, apparently after the river Iber (Ebro). The Carthigians struggled with the Greeks and then the Romans.

The native peoples which the Romans met at the time of their invasion were the Iberians, inhabiting from the southwest part of the peninsula and along the Mediterranean side through to the northeast part of it, with the Celts, mostly inhabiting the north and northwest part of the peninsula. In the inner part of the peninsula, where both groups were in contact, a mixed, distinctive, culture was present, the one known as Celtiberian.

Roman Empire and Germanic invasions

Hispania supplied Rome with food, olive oil, wine and metal. The emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius and Theodosius I, the philosopher Seneca and the poets Martial, Quintilian and Lucan were born in Spain. The Spanish Bishops held the Council at Elvira in 306. The collapse of the Western Roman empire did not lead to the same wholesale destruction of Western classical society as happened in areas like Britain, Gaul and Germania Inferior during the Dark Ages, even if the institutions, infrastructure and economy did suffer considerable degradation. Spain's present languages, its religion, and the basis of its laws originate from this period. The centuries of uninterrupted Roman rule and settlement left a deep and enduring imprint upon the culture of Spain.

The first hordes of Barbarians to invade Hispania arrived in the 5th century, as the Roman empire decayed. The tribes of Goths, Visigoths, Swebians (Suebi), Alans, Asdings and Vandals, arrived to Spain by crossing the Pyrenees mountain range. They were all of Germanic origin. This led to the establishment of the Swebian Kingdom in Gallaecia, in the northwest, and the Visigothic Kingdom elsewhere. For a while, the Germanic peoples lived under their own laws while the much larger romanized local populations continued to live under Roman-inspired law. The Visigothic Kingdom eventually encompassed the entire Iberian Peninsula with the Roman Catholic conversion of the Goth monarchs. The horseshoe arch, which was adopted and perfected by the later Muslim era builders, was in fact originally an example of Visigothic art.

Muslim Iberia

In the 8th century, nearly all the Iberian peninsula was quickly conquered (711–718), by mainly Berber Muslims (see Moors), who had crossed over from North Africa. Visigothic Spain was the last of a series of lands conquered by the Islamically inspired armies of the Umayyad empire. Indeed, they continued northwards until they were defeated in central France at the Battle of Tours, 732. Only three small Christian counties in the mountains of northern Spain managed to cling to their independence: Asturias, Navarra and Aragon, which were eventually to become kingdoms.
Interior of the Mezquita in Córdoba, a Muslim mosque until the Reconquest, after which it became a Christian cathedral.
Interior of the Mezquita in Córdoba, a Muslim mosque until the Reconquest, after which it became a Christian cathedral.

Under Islam Christians and Jews were recognised as "peoples of the book", and so given dhimmi status. Christians and Jews were free to practise their religion, but faced certain discriminations and financial burdens. Conversion to Islam proceeded at a steadily increasing pace, as it offered social and economic and political advantages. By the 11th century Muslims are believed to have outnumbered Christians in Al-Andalus.

The Muslim community in Spain was itself diverse and beset by social tensions. The Berber people of North Africa had provided the bulk of the armies, clashed with the Arab leadership from the Middle East. The Berbers soon gave up attempting to settle the harsh lands in the north of the Meseta Central handed to them by the Arab rulers. Over time the relatively tiny number of Moors gradually increased with immigration and inter-marriage. Large Moorish populations grew, most notably in the south, especially in the Guadalquivir River valley, and on the Mediterranean coastal plain of Valencia. Towards the end of their reign they became concentrated in the mountains around Granada.

Cordoba, Muslim Spain's capital, was the richest and most sophisticated city of medieval Europe. It was not until the 12th century that western medieval Christendom began reaching comparable levels of sophistication, and this was due in no small part to the stimulus coming from Muslim Spain. Mediterranean trade and cultural exchange flourished. Muslims imported a rich intellectual tradition from the Middle East and North Africa. Muslim and Jewish scholars played a major part in reviving and contributing to the tradition of classical Greek philosophy, mathematics and science in Western Europe. New crops and techniques led to a remarkable expansion of agriculture. Magnificent mosques, palaces, and other monuments were constructed. Outside the cities, the mixture of large estates and small farms that existed in Roman times remained largely intact because Muslim leaders rarely dispossessed landowners.

The relative social peace broke down with the later, stricter Muslim ruling sects of Almoravids and Almohads.

Roman, Jewish, and Muslim culture interacted in complex ways, giving Spanish culture — religion, literature, music, art and architecture, and writing systems — a rich and distinctive heritage. However, as the 11th century drew to a close most of the north and centre of Spain was back under Christian control.