Webcam Live Stream in Spain

Located in extreme southwestern Europe, Spain occupies about 85 percent of the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal, its smaller neighbor.

Spain has been a much-frequented tourist spot thanks to the castles of stone, snow-capped mountains, grandiose monuments and cosmopolitan cities. It is also geographically and ethnically varied. At the heart lies the Meseta, which is a wide central plateau around 1/2 mile in altitude. It has ancient associations with cattle rearing and farming; it still has windmills which were once written about by Miguel de Cervantes in his novel Don Quixote. The northeast part consists of broad Ebro Valley, mountainous Catalonina, and the hilly Valencian coastal plain. Heading northwards, one enters Cantabrian Mountains – an assortment of rain soaked valleys amidst tall peaks having dense woods. Southward is Guadalquivir Valley known for its citrus orchards under steady irrigation as well as being praised in songs by Federico García Lorca and Antonio Machado; over this valley rises Sierra Nevada capped with snow all year long. In stark contrast to all this greenery lies southern Spain dotted with deserts reminiscent of 1960’s western movies. Finally,the southeastern Mediterranean coast along with the Balearic Islands have temperate climate due to palm trees.
Spain’s countryside, dotted with castles, aqueducts, and old ruins is quaint; however, its cities are emphatically modern. Seville, in the Andalusian region has a grand musical culture and customs; Barcelona from Catalonia is famed for its secular structures and maritime activities; Madrid its national capital is home to winding streets, museums, stores and an unrelenting way of life. Madrid not only being Spain’s biggest city but also it’s economic powerhouse for hundreds of years.

Spain has long been a melting pot of cultures, with individuals hailing from a diverse range of backgrounds having contributed to the nation’s cuisines, customs and art. The Roman Empire colonizers left behind their language, roads, monuments and some of their greatest rulers including Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. Then came the Moors who had an even longer reign, leaving behind timeless architecture, poetic lyricism and science.The Roma further added to this legacy with haunting cante jondo (a form of flamenco) music that, according to García Lorca, “comes from remote races and crosses the graveyard of the years and the fronds of parched winds”, as well as being derived from “the first sob and the first kiss”. Even today’s inhabitants still retain memories of the Vandals, Huns and Visigoths who invaded in ancient times; so much so that García Lorca observed how “In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other country in the world.”

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In 1492, when the Moorish rulers were driven out of Spain, ships commanded by Christopher Columbus made it to America. For the next 300 years Spanish rulers Adventured and conquered extensive areas across the world in the name of Castilian, Aragonese, Habsburg, and Bourbon dynasties; as a result, for many generations Spain was one of the most affluent nations in existence with its diverse geographical reach. In spite of that, during the 18th and 19th centuries there was a gradual erosion of their international realm which caused them to become subdued in international discussions – with an exception being three year period of Spanish Civil War from 1936-39 when they found themselves back in the spotlight. Subsequently they spent four decades under dictator Francisco Franco’s rule with its isolated atmosphere. When Franco passed away in 1975 following Juan Carlos’ ascension to power and reinstating constitutional monarchy as well as having several democratically elected governments (from conservatives to socialists) ruling ever since then.

The Ibizan island

Spain is situated to the west of Portugal and bordered in the Northeast by France, which is separated from it by the small principality of Andorra and the Pyrenees Mountains. In the far south, Gibraltar is its only land border; a peninsula that was ceded to Great Britain in 1713 at the end of War of the Spanish Succession. Away from land borders, Spain’s coastlines are bound by water: the Mediterranean Sea to the east and southeast, Atlantic Ocean to the northwest and southwest and Bay of Biscay (inlet of Atlantic Ocean) to north. The Canary Islands in mid-Atlantic Ocean off northwestern African mainland, Balearic Islands in Mediterranean Sea, Ceuta and Melilla – two small enclaves in North Africa (northern Morocco) are all part of Spain.


The Manchas

The Iberian Peninsula; the International Space Station

Spain makes up five-sixths of the Iberian Peninsula, the wedge-shaped southwestern tip of Europe situated between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The country is largely a plateau – the Meseta Central – cut by mountain ranges, amongst them are the Central Sierra (Sistema Central). Alongside this range lie other mountain systems; in the north, it is the Cantabrian Mountains (Cordillera Cantábrica), to their east is the Iberian Cordillera (Sistema Ibérico), with the Sierra Morena to its south and smaller mountains towards both Portugal and Galicia to its northwest. Further marking out Spain’s borders are the Pyrenees in its neck which divide it from France, as well as two major depressions; that of the Ebro River in its northeast and that of Guadalquivir River in its southwest. In addition to these physical markers is also a chain along Spain’s southeast coast, one formed by Baetic Cordillera (Sistema Penibético). Along these shores exist coastal plains dotted with lagoons, such as Albufera south of Valencia. Additionally, there are two more Spanish territories off either side; namely

Spain has some of the oldest and youngest rocks in Europe. Except for its southernmost region, the whole western half of Iberia is made up of ancient Hercynian rocks, often referred to by geologists as the Meseta Central. This stable platform allowed sediments to accumulate around it, particularly on the Mediterranean side. Later these were compressed into mountain ranges due to major tectonic shifts. The term ‘meseta’ is also used by geographers and local people to denote central Iberia’s main relief unit. It can be divided according to its geology: a crystalline west (consisting of granite and gneiss) and a sedimentary east (mainly clay and limestone). In the north, this plateau usually lies at 2,300 feet (700 metres), characterising Castile and León’s “tablelands”. To the south, it drops approximately 330 feet (100 metres) lower. Its varied relief is verified by faulting caused by volcanoes near Calatrava Plain, two intricate river systems with mountains between them (the Guadiana and the Tagus), and rising planes towards Sierra Morena in the south. The spectacular Central Sierras separate the northern from the southern Meseta

The Pyrenees, part of Alpine Europe, form a colossal mountain range extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Bay of Biscay for approximately 430km (270 miles). Three zones can be distinguished: the central axis, a line of intermediate depressions, and the pre-Pyrenees. The tallest peaks are located in the core area of ancient crystalline rocks, Aneto Peak standing at 3.404m (11.168ft) tall; followed by those of the west, such as Anie Peak (8.213ft/2.503m). The northern side is characterised by steep slopes while on the south they descend in terraces to the Ebro River trough. The outer zones comprise sedimentary rocks and relief on nearly horizontal strata of the Ebro depression is predominantly flat or plateaued – apart from at its eastern end where the river punctures the mountains to reach the Mediterranean Sea.

The Iberian Cordillera runs in a northwest-southeast direction, creating a division between the Ebro depression and the Meseta. Its highest peak is Moncayo,reaching 2,313 metres into the sky. The Baetic Cordillera links to it in the southeast; this cordillera is even longer at 800 kilometres and wider at 240 kilometres, with Mulhacén Peak reaching as high as 3,481 metres. Despite its size however, the Baetic ranges are more fragmented and less of an obstruction than the Pyrenees. To their north and northwest sits the Guadalquivir basin which is mainly flat with an average elevation of only 130 metres due to its clay strata. Unlike the Ebro basin however, the depression has an open south facing sea way and its delta encompasses vast marshlands (Las Marismas).

The drainage system

The Jcar River and a castle from the 14th century

Some maintain that aridity rivals civil war as the chief curse of historic Spain, yet the Iberian Peninsula has a dense network of streams. Portugal is home to three of Europe’s largest rivers: the Tagus at 626 miles (1,007 km), the Douro at 556 miles (895 km), and the Guadiana at 508 miles (818 km). The Ebro also has a considerable length, running for 565 miles (909 km) across Spain. Except for the Ebro which flows into the Mediterranean Sea, all of the major rivers end in Portugal’s Atlantic coast. The hydrographic network on this side is far superior compared to that of its Mediterranean counterpart since it falls into drier areas of Spain. Unfortunately, rivers usually have low annual volume, variable regimes and narrow valleys – making flooding an ever-present risk. Galicia and Cantabria in particular fall under this danger due to their short, quick-moving streams leading out northwest and north respectively. The Guadiana River’s flow often drops below one-tenth its average yearly amount from August to September – a phenomenon shared by many other Iberian Streams. This is known as the long or

The soil

Spain has five major soil types. Two of these – alluvial soils and poorly developed mountain soils – are widespread in limited parts of the country. Brown forest soils are exclusive to Galicia and Cantabria while acidic southern brown earths can be found on the western Meseta. Gray, brown, or chestnut soils have mostly been formed on calcareous and alkaline strata in the eastern Meseta and other eastern regions. Saline soils are characteristic of the Ebro basin lowlands and coastal plains, while calcretes (subsoil zonal crusts usually consisting of hardened calcium carbonate) are particularly prominent in arid areas such as La Mancha, Almería, Murcia, Alicante (Alacant), Valencia, Ebro and Lleida (Lérida) basins.

For at least 3,000 years, Spain has suffered from vegetation degradation that has led to extensive soil erosion. This is seen in the reduction of soil cover, alluviation downstream and more recently with the silting of dams and irrigation works – particularly across the central plateau, as well as in southern and eastern Spain. It is believed that the origins of the spectacular badlands in southeastern Spain, such as Guadix, may be rooted in Quaternary climatic conditions 2.6 million years ago. However, modern Spain is currently facing a difficult challenge with desertification; this refers to an impoverishment of ecosystems found in arid, semi-arid and even humid areas due to both human activity and periodic droughts. Around half of Spain is moderately or severely affected by this issue – especially Almería and Murcia in the east as well as much of subarid Spain found within the Ebro basin. In order to respond to this threat, the government has implemented policies for afforestation. Nevertheless, some experts argue that natural regrowth of vegetation would yield faster and more permanent positive results.

Spain’s climate

The vast size of the Iberian Peninsula lends itself to a continental temperature regime, while its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and Africa expose it to maritime and Saharan influences. Furthermore, its mountainous relief further divides climates into maritime, continental and mountain, and also intensifies dryness on the leeward faces of mountains through rain shadows. All these factors create an intricate climate range in Spain.

The Pyrenees and Cantabrian ranges help determine Spain’s climate. They hold back a warm, dry subtropical air current throughout the summer months. Westerly winds from the North Atlantic are dominant for most of the year, while the Saharan airstream is not as frequent. Some seasonal winds are known to occur; an easterly wind dubbed ‘levante’ brings up to 15 consecutive days of clear weather to coastal areas near Gibraltar, while ‘leveche’ causes dust-laden hot, dry weather in spring in Castellón, Valencia and Alicante provinces. Through spring and summer, ‘solano’ moves fiercely hot and dry air to Andalusian plain. Northern Spain temperatures vary generally between 46-64 °F (6-18 °C). A Coruña has modest temperatures that range 48-64 °F (9-18 °C) annually with annual rainfall around 38 inches (965 mm). Other parts of Spain have a Mediterranean type climate with continental variants: hot by the coast and colder inland with high humidity in the mountains but little elsewhere. In Albacete (southern Meseta), temperature shifts from 40 to 75°F (4-24 °C

Life on earth, including plants and animals

The vegetation

Roughly half of Spain is covered by vegetation, some of which is dense woodland mainly located in mountain areas. Northern Spain has heath and deciduous trees such as oaks and beeches. Central Pyrenees, Iberian ranges, and Central Sierras have many species of pine trees. In the remainder of the country – mostly Mediterranean region – evergreen oak (Quercus ilex) and other drought-resistant plants dominate the landscape; these are usually reduced to scrubs or ‘matorral’. Lygeum spartum can be found in steppes of La Mancha and South East, but it’s Stipa tenacissima that provides raw material for esparto products (paper, rope, basketry). Poplar and eucalyptus became widespread during 19th century.

Species of wildlife

Spain holds a large variety of wildlife due to its closeness to Africa, while the Pyrenean barrier as well as its size are factors which contribute to the indigenous species present. European wolfs and brown bears make their home in the few wild areas of the northeast, while the Barbary ape is either native or comes from North Africa, only surviving at Gibraltar with protection. Boars, ibexes (wild goats), red deer and fallow deer are frequently seen. Coto Doñana National Park in the Guadalquivir estuary is home to more than half of all European bird species, such as Spanish imperial eagles and other larger birds like eagle owls, buzzards and many types of pheasants; it has also been known for occasional desert locust invasions from North Africa.

The fish

The country’s waters are home to a rich variety of fish and shellfish, particularly in the Alborán Sea, where Atlantic and Mediterranean waters meet. Common species include red mullet, mackerel, tuna, octopus, swordfish, pilchard (Sardinia pilchardus) and anchovy (Engraulis encrasicholus), as well as bottom-dwellers such hake and whiting. In addition to these residents of the southeastern Spanish coast, sightings of striped dolphin and long-finned whale have become more frequent over the years. The bottlenose dolphin also inhabits the Ebro delta region. However, due to overfishing, there has been an imbalance in the ecosystem.

Smith, Catherine Delano

Rodriguez, Vicente

The people

Groups of ethnicity

Ethnic composition of Spain

Many different cultures have invaded and populated Spain throughout history. The original inhabitants were from North Africa and western Europe, including the Iberians, Celts, and Basques. Since 1100 BCE the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians started forming settlements and trading posts along the eastern and southern coasts. Inhabiting this area was a collective of cultures known as the Iberians; they did not possess a single culture or language. A kingdom by the name of Tartessus which reigned between 800 and 550 BCE included much of the Guadalquivir Valley. However farther out from this centre political structure tended to be more rudimentary with city-states in coastal areas and clans dotting the interior and northwestern regions.

During the Roman era

The Phoenicians and Greeks were only present in a few coastal areas. The Carthaginians then ventured inland and at the end of the 3rd century BCE, began taking over parts of the Iberian Peninsula. This led to Rome entering the scene, eventually displacing the Carthaginians and imposing their control on much of the peninsula. There were multiple uprisings against Roman rule; ultimately it wasn’t until 19 BCE that their authority was extended to all of Iberia, following nearly two centuries of strife. While Rome established a unified state for the first time, they left most aspects of indigenous culture untouched. However, people from higher social strata in certain regions adopted Roman customs and received citizenship from Rome – particularly in the south and east where Roman influence was greatest.

In the Visigothic period

As a result of the invasion of Germanic peoples, notably the Suebi, the Alani, the Vandals, and finally the Visigoths, Roman power in Spain collapsed during the 5th century CE. During the 6th century, King Leovigild brought all of Spain under Visigothic rule, and Reccared imposed a single religion on Spain, Catholic Christianity.


The Visigothic rule lasted only a few years. In 711 Muslim Arabs invaded Spain from North Africa and defeated King Roderick. They conquered almost the entire peninsula, establishing Muslim states in Spain that lasted until 1492.

Arrivals in recent weeks

For centuries, Spain was mainly a country of emigration. In the 1980s, however, its reputation as an industrialized and prosperous nation made it an attractive option for those from developing countries. Consequently, in the early 21st century there were millions of legal foreign citizens and illegal immigrants living in Spain, mostly concentrated in Andalusia and other metropolitan areas as well as the Balearic and Canary Islands. These people came mainly from EU states, Latin America, Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa; there were also significant numbers from Asian and non-EU European nations. Numerous legislations introduced since 1985 have tried to control foreigners’ admission into Spain, forbid their deportation and eventually grant them rights comparable to Spanish citizens (except for the right to vote). The Law on the Rights and Freedoms of Foreigners in Spain and Their Social Integration which was implemented in 2000 (after being modified), ended the practice of repatriating illegal immigrants if they worked and resided in Spain for two years or more. This subsequently led to further legislation in 2005 which focused on legalizing immigrant workers’ status.

Minority Gitano

The Roma, referred to as Gitanos in Spain, is one of the long-standing ethnic minorities in the country. These nomads typically speak Caló, although many have assimilated into Spanish society. In particular, they can be found in large numbers in Andalusian cities such as Almería, Granada and Murcia. Additionally, sizeable communities also exist in Madrid and Barcelona. Their culture has been strongly linked with Flamenco – an expressive song-dance form – for a long time.

The languages

Spain’s official language is Castilian, which is more commonly known as Spanish outside of the country. Its constitution allows its autonomous communities to recognize their dominant regional languages and dialects as having official status, alongside Castilian. Catalonia and the Balearic Islands recognize Catalan, Valencia opts for Valencian, Galicia uses Gallego (Galician), and the Basque Country and some Euskera-speaking territories of Navarra make use of Euskera (Basque). Asturias does not name Bable (Asturian) an official language but it is still protected and promoted under its community’s statutes, like the Aragonese dialects in Aragon. Additionally, Aranese, spoken in the Aran Valley is safeguarded by Catalonia’s regional government. All these languages barring Euskera are Romance languages (developed from Latin) whereas Euskera is a language isolate; it has no connection to any other language in the world. Schools across Spain teach these languages regularly and they are used for newspapers, radio programs and television broadcasts in the dominant regions.

Spanish Castilian

Spanish, which contains many Arabic words, began as a dialect in northern Spain. As a result of its dominance within Spain, Castile became the official language of the state in the 12th century, becoming the language of the court of the kingdoms of Castile and León.

Castilian Spanish varies slightly in accent and vocabulary depending on the region. Pronouncing c before ai or e is especially significant; northern Castile typically pronounces it like an English th, while southern and western areas say it like an s. The latter regions’ prominence during Latin American colonization led to American Spanish rather favoring their pronunciation. The Cervantes Institute actively supports the preservation of Spanish language, culture and heritage across many countries.


Catalan is closely related to Occitan (Provençal), a language spoken in southern France. In Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, it is the primary language of some four-fifths of the population. Though there are certain distinctions between the way Catalan is spoken in these three areas, political disagreement emerged during the 1980s concerning whether Valencian was a variation of Catalan or a distinct language. During the Middle Ages, Catalan literature enjoyed a thriving heyday, though its scope dwindled after the 15th century until eventually revived in mid-19th century with the Renaixença (“Renaissance”).


Galician (or Gallego), spoken in Galicia, the northwestern part of Spain, is closely related to Portuguese and has been affected by Castilian Spanish during modern times. It was the language of courtly literature until the fourteenth century when it was overtaken by Castilian. After that point and up until the late nineteenth century it merely persisted as a casual language mostly heard in rural areas and within family homes. At present most people inhabiting this region are bilingual, able to converse in both Castilian and Galician.

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Quiz: Match the country with its hemisphere


Euskera is renowned for being the most unique language spoken in Spain, predating even the Roman invasion. Until the late 1800s it was almost exclusively used in rural areas, without a notable literary tradition. However, since 1978 when it became the official language of Euskadi (Basque Country), its use in literature, journalism and media has been on the rise. In an effort to further promote its diffusion, policies have been implemented by the local government to ensure its use in education and public administration. Today, approximately one third of all inhabitants in that region can converse fluently in Euskara while another one-sixth understand it. The highest density of native speakers is located in Guipúzcoa province.


Religion in Spain

Roman Catholicism has been a defining force in Spain ever since it was established as the official religion in 589. When political liberalism came on the scene at the start of the 19th century, it caused various arguments between church and state, particularly regarding land rights and educational control. Despite these disputes, it stayed as the state religion until the Second Republic (1931–36). The Spanish Civil War saw General Francisco Franco re-institute Catholicism as the official faith; this position remained until 1978’s constitutional recognition that Spain has no official religion now. However, Roman Catholicism still receives financial backing from the government. The 1980s brought more disagreements between church and state due to liberalization of divorce and abortion rules plus academic reforms, but not to such an extreme extent as before.

The vast majority of people in Spain are Roman Catholic, yet for those born after 1950, beyond baptism, marriage, and burial within the church, allegiance to this faith has lesser meaning. Additionally, there is a sizable population of non-Catholic Christians; denominations from abroad such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have been increasingly active since the 1970s. Muslims have also risen in number recently due to immigration whereas the Jews—who were expelled by the Spanish Inquisition under Tomás de Torquemada’s advice and many had to convert—have become more welcome since the 1900s with 15,000 present in Spain today.

Shuber, Adrian

Spain, Almera

Human activity has been the major influence on the Spanish landscape over the past 35,000 years. Indigenous vegetation, soils, microrelief, and microclimate were changed by prehistoric humans. Other more recognizable influences on what would become ‘traditional’ Spain came from Celtic cultures of Northern Europe, Phoenician and Ligurian peoples from the eastern Mediterranean, and Iberians from North Africa. Because of this multi-cultural heritage there are many old settlements in Spain; for example Soria which was originally Celtiberian, Cádiz founded by Phoenicians and cities like Tarragona, Ampurias and Málaga which were trading stations of either Phoenician or Greek origin. Roman towns also contributed to the landscape through their commercial power along the Mediterranean shore as well as their military presence throughout the area. These include Mérida, León and Zaragoza (Saragossa). Furthermore areas of intensive agriculture such as Évora (Portugal), Mérida’s vegas, Zaragoza’s barros and huertas on the east coast grew out of this occupying force.

Toledo, Spain, alley

The Roman gridiron town plan is heavily preserved in many northern centres (e.g. Barcelona and Zaragoza). Conversely, in cities of the south and east, this legacy has been mostly obliterated thanks to the introduction of Muslim urban elements. Valencia, Córdoba (Cordova), Toledo, Almería, Granada, and Sevilla (Seville) are examples of towns dominated by a marketplace, mosque, high-walled domestic compounds and an intricate alley network – all typical of early medieval Muslim culture. As with their Roman predecessors these Middle Eastern settlements were surrounded by an abundant huertas; both towns and huertas required the strict management of water via institutions like the Tribunal de las Aguas de la Vega de Valencia.

Following the Reconquista, the construction of individual farms (alquerías) within the huertas became more common. In Castile and León, Christian-built urban areas grew from military posts in a dry farming ecosystem. Towns like Pamplona, Burgos, Soria, Valladolid, and Salamanca featured several walled areas until larger squares and streets were built during the 17th century. Mountainous areas of León were home to ecclesiastic granges which eventually developed into smaller villages. Villages near castles sprang up as well. Significant rural settlement was due to peasant colonization based on the since-lost communal farming system. These types of settlements were also present in Castile–La Mancha, Aragon’s lower region, Andalusia, Extremadura, and parts of Alentejo – resulting from attempts to resettle land at the end of the Reconquista. The four main Christian orders (Hospitallers, Templars, Order of Santiago and Order of Calatrava) acquired plenty of land which was defended with fortress-like structures and sprawling towns that can now be seen as having an urban nature (agrotowns). Properties like cortijos and

Smith, Catherine Delano

Rodriguez, Vicente

Spain’s migration

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Spaniards participated fully in the massive European immigration to the Americas. There were nearly five million Spaniards in the Americas between 1846 and 1932, mainly to South America, particularly Argentina and Brazil. The largest number of emigrants were from Britain, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Germany. Spain and Algeria both had significant numbers of Spaniards immigrating.

Following World War II, the nature of Spanish migration shifted to nations in continental Europe, particularly France, West Germany and Switzerland instead of Latin America. Between 1962-1976, almost 2 million people from Galicia and Andalusia moved for fresh starts in those countries. However, by the 1980s Spain’s economy had recovered to the point where few citizens left the country for good. In fact, there was a trend of expats returning home each year – around 20 000 of them were retirees. But this dynamic once again changed at the beginning of the 21st century when Spain’s economy deteriorated; unemployment hit 25 per cent while over half of young Spaniards were unemployed. As a result many recent graduates looked to foreign countries for job openings

The number of Spanish nationals migrating between provinces greatly surpasses the number of expatriates. From the early 1970s to mid-1990s, near 10 million individuals changed residences within Spain, drastically altering the country’s population distribution. In the 70s, most migrants originating from rural parts of the nation went to large cities, particularly Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Basque Country and Valencia, in search of manufacturing jobs. But with the decline of industrial activity in Spain during the 80s, many returned to their less industrialized home provinces. By the time the 90s came around, mid-sized cities (having 10k-50k citizens) along with places employing a lot of service industry personnel were most active spots for moving. Also at that time, metropolitan regions began experiencing migratory growth on their outskirts.

Increasing urbanization

Urban-rural Spain

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, most Spaniards lived in small villages or towns with less than 10,000 people. Fast forward to the early 21st century and more than 75% of the population resided in urban areas. Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Sevilla, Zaragoza, Málaga, and Murcia saw much of this growth and even acquired some of the highest population densities across western Europe. However this boom did not come with a plan; many migrants were forced to find homes in the outskirts where low-cost apartment blocks were built with little consideration for public services.

Democratically elected municipal governments have attempted to alleviate some of the worst effects of the uncontrolled urban boom of the 1960s in many cities since 1978. The large metropolitan areas have shifted growth from the central cities to the suburbs. As a result, they have acquired more parkland and provided a variety of public cultural facilities. Valladolid, León, and Granada have also begun suburbanizing.

Trends in demographics

Age breakdown in Spain

Spain’s population density

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Spain followed a typical preindustrial pattern of high birth and death rates – though both began to decrease slightly after 1900. Unfortunately, this process stopped for around two decades due to the Franco regime’s pro-large family policies. However, from the late 1960s onward the fall resumed speedily. This was mainly due to reduced birth rates among young women, which meant that at the end of the 20th century there was almost no natural growth rate. Nevertheless, in the early 21st century there was an increase thanks to birth rates from immigrants.

Death rates experienced a steady decrease following 1940, and while they briefly rose in the 1990s due to increased aging population, life expectancy in Spain had surged by the close of the 20th century and was among the world’s highest. Notably, there was an extreme decrease in infant mortality. This astonishing alteration can be attributed to the economic “miracle” of the 1960s and access to top-notch medical care through government-sponsored programs.

In the 1990s, Spain’s major demographic indicators were similar to those of other industrialized countries in western Europe. Spanish society and economy faced growing challenges during the last decades of the 20th century as birth and death rates declined, as well as an increase in life expectancy.

Following the Civil War, the Spanish population rapidly increased due to a decrease in death rate compared to birth rate and changed marriage patterns. For a few years, economic hardship persuaded people to marry late however by the mid-1940s the proportion of those who wed had significantly increased – particularly amongst women – reaching its peak between 1955 and 1960 and sustained until 1975, when it started to reduce. Subsequently, the age at first marriage decreased until the 1990s when it began climbing once more. At the end of the century, women generally married between 25-29 and their initial child came after 30 on average.

At the turn of the 21st century, Spaniards also began having fewer children, and their fertility rate was among the lowest in Europe and well below replacement. Additionally, the average household size decreased during this period, and the number of Spaniards living in traditional households with a married couple and their children decreased as well.

The economy

Spanish industry began to make gains in the late 18th century and continued to flourish in the 19th century, particularly in Catalonia where textile production took off and in the Basque Country with its iron and steel production. Nevertheless, Spain’s growth was slower than that of its western European counterparts, making it a relatively underdeveloped country compared to Britain, Germany, France and even Italy by the start of the 20th century.

The Spanish Civil War and its subsequent effects pushed Spain even further backward, causing the economic policies of the Franco regime to fail in sustaining the economy. For nearly twenty years after the war, autarky was practiced; a similar policy had been observed during World War II by fascist regimes in Germany and Italy. This entailed heavy government involvement through the use of high protective taxes, currency restraints, marketing boards for agriculture, and import restrictions. There was also extensive government ownership via an established National Industrial Institute (INI). The INI was formed in 1941 to build up defense related industries as well as other fields that weren’t of interest to private businesses. This self-imposed economic blockage was additionally enforced by Western democracies who kept away from Spain after 1945 due to political beliefs regarding their “fascist” government. As a result, Spain didn’t receive Marshall Plan aid from America nor did it have access to numerous international organizations.

Spain’s autarkic policies proved unsuccessful, eventually leading to an economic collapse near the end of the 1950s. Subsequently, a committee of technocrats unveiled the Economic Stabilization Plan in 1959; it enabled more liberal market practices and for Spain to join the world capitalist system. This marked the beginning of what is now known as the “Spanish economic miracle”, where Spain’s economy achieved an average growth rate of 6.6 percent annually from 1960 until 1974 – second only to Japan. Such success saw agriculture transforming from its prior standing as the most prominent sector in terms of employment to one of insignificance.

During the period of high prosperity in the West, Spain experienced what can be termed an ‘economic miracle’, which was to a great extent dependent on external advantageous conditions. Three factors were particularly influential in this process: foreign investment; the surge in tourism and holidaymakers; and most importantly, remittances from emigrants. Liberalization opened up the Spanish economy to foreign investment, with the US being the most important source and Germany following close behind. With its long beaches, temperate climate and inexpensive prices, Spain had become a popular destination for tourists – quickly making it the country’s most significant industry. There was also an exodus of 1 million Spaniards from 1959 to 1974 who made their way to Switzerland, Germany and France as guest workers – sending back a huge amount of money (over $1 billion in 1973 alone) as remittances to their home country.

Spain’s economic growth was dependant on external factors when the Franco era concluded. The 1973 oil crisis, resulting in worldwide inflation and instability, caused a cessation of growth. Political unrest following the death of Franco exacerbated these issues, and none more so than the dramatic rise in unemployment – from 4% in 1975 to 20% by 1985.

The economy rebounded during the late ’80s, bolstered by industrial restructuring and integration into the European Economic Community (EEC). Despite lower growth levels in comparison to the 1960’s, they were still above that of most western Europe. Notably, inflation and unemployment followed suit – high yet lessened from earlier figures – but were still double the EEC average in 1990, with 16 percent for the former and young people entering the job market particularly affected.

During the 1990s, Spain underwent an economic recovery, propelled partly by its increasing integration into the single European market and the government’s stability plan. This plan aimed to reduce debt and inflation as well as provide financial security and was meant to allow for qualification for the 1991 Maastricht Treaty (formally the Treaty on European Union). Privatization of state-owned companies was also undertaken. Furthermore, Spain met the criteria for entry into the EU’s euro currency, which was implemented in 1999 with Spanish pesetas remaining legal tender until 2002. In the early 21st century, foreign direct investment increased threefold from 1990 levels and immigration surged, with construction making up about one-tenth of GDP; these factors combined contributed to making it one of the strongest economies in Europe.

The euro-zone debt crisis of 2008–09 had a severe impact on Spain, due to its undercapitalised banks and the bursting of its housing bubble. Government attempts to revive the economy were inadequate, resulting in mounting Spanish bond yields and plunging employment. This led to successive governments introducing austerity measures in a bid to re-establish trust in the Spanish economy. In 2012, a €100 billion (about $125 billion) bailout from the EU, the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund was accepted to cash-in the banking system.

Fishing, forestry, and agriculture

Shepherds of the Basque country

Since the 1960s, Spanish agriculture has experienced a relative decline, leading to a decrease of rural population and disappearance of many farms. Compared to its western European peers, the country’s industry remains relatively underdeveloped with investment per hectare one-fifth that of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Majority of farms are also small-scale. Upon joining the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1986, Spain was obligated to comply with regulations across Europe, causing cessation of operations especially in grape growing and dairy products. Nevertheless, irrigation and conversion of fallow land into agriculturally productive space since mid-90s has seen the amount of organic farming land rise in Spain.

Vegetables, fruits, and cereals are the most valuable crops in Spain, representing approximately three-fourths of its agricultural production. Barley and wheat dominate on Castile-León’s plains, Castile–La Mancha’s, and Andalusia’s while rice is cultivated mostly in coastal Valencia and southern Catalonia. Corn (maize) is a major fodder crop in the north, while cotton, tobacco (which grows mainly in Extremadura), sugar beets (grown mainly in the Duero and Guadalquivir valleys), olives(mostly produced in the south; a lot of which are used to produce oil) and legumes (beans, lentils, and chickpeas) also thrive. Fruit growing is important too; with citrus fruits such as oranges -which are especially abundant in Valencia and Murcia- leading the way; other fruit crops include apples, apricots, bananas, pears, peaches, and plums. Spain also cultivates vegetables like tomatoes, onions and potatoes as well as nuts like almonds.

The Spanish wine industry is among the largest in the world, so grape growing plays a significant role. In Catalonia, La Rioja and Penedès produce the majority of the wine, in Castile–La Mancha, in Valladolid, in the Duero valley, and in Andalusia, where Málaga and Jerez de la Frontera produce the majority of the wine.

About half of Spain’s agricultural output is devoted to livestock production. Pork is the leading meat produced in Spain, followed by poultry, beef, and lamb, and is mainly raised in Castile-León, Aragon, and Catalonia. Sheep and dairy cows are raised along the Atlantic coast and in the dry southern interior.

The forest industry

Forests cover a significant portion of the land area of Spain, much of which is located in the Cantabrian Mountains. Forestry has never been a major contributor to agricultural production in Spain, but important forestry products include cork, eucalyptus, oak, pine and poplar. As centuries of erosion, firewood collection and pasturing had resulted in deforestation throughout the country, the government began reforestation efforts back in the 1940s which still continue today.

The fishing industry

Spanning approximately 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of coastline, Spain’s commercial fishing industry has been a significant part of the economy and diet for centuries. Its premier fishing ports are mainly in the northwest, with Vigo and A Coruña being two noteworthy examples. Unfortunately this industry has caused conflicts between Spain and some other countries; multiple times fishermen from the former have been apprehended for illegally angling in foreign waters. From the ’80s until the ’90s its overall hauls diminished considerably yet continued to contribute 1% to its GDP. To compensate for this decrease, Spanish producers have leaned towards coastal aquaculture as an alternative to sea fishing. Fish has kept its place as a staple in the Spanish diet despite these changes.

Power and resources

Spain possesses one of Europe’s most extensive and diverse mining sectors. Coal is produced mainly in the Cantabrian Mountains, eastern Iberian Cordillera, and Sierra Morena, making it a sizeable contributor to the nation’s total mineral output. Other major elements include iron, copper, lead, zinc, tungsten, uranium

Despite the long-standing prominence of the mining industry, Spain’s mineral resources are limited, and its once abundant coal reserves are no longer sufficient to meet the country’s energy needs. Spanish natural gas fields do not have commercial potential, and the country has virtually no petroleum. As a result, Spain, once a mineral-exporting country, now imports minerals on a large scale, including coal and petroleum.

Thermal power plants and hydroelectric energy sources together account for nearly half of Spain’s electricity needs. In the 1960s, the government adopted an ambitious nuclear energy program, resulting in several additional plants becoming operational in the 1980s. The only nuclear power plant that had been established since 1968 was closed in 2006, as the country focussed on transitioning to renewable energy sources. Since then, Spain has become a major proponent of solar and wind power within the European Union. One example of this is the Sevilla solar thermoelectric power plants opened in 2007, while wind parks can be found all over the country.

The manufacturing industry

Spain’s industrialization during its early years was mainly hindered by the lack of adequate raw materials, capital and low demand. The country’s industrial production has largely been centered in the northern coast, Basque Country, Catalonia and Madrid. This changed with the economic liberalization in 1960s when numerous big firms were introduced due to foreign investments. A noteworthy example of such change was seen with the automobile industry. Prior to 1960, Spain lacked motor vehicle production but by the end of 1980s it had generated 1.5 million vehicles through plants owned by Ford, Renault, General Motors and SEAT (which is majority-owned by Volkswagen). In the 1990s further liberalization took place as state-owned industries were privatized and the deregulation of telecommunications facilitated an increase of infrastructure. In addition, Spanish companies encouraged by government policies began to reduce their dependence on imported technologies by increasing financial support for research and development.

The traditional heavy industries of Asturias and the Basque Country, such as iron, steel, and shipbuilding, started to decline in the 70s and 80s due to outdated technology and increasing energy costs. This was replaced by innovation-oriented companies specialising in science and technology, reflecting the government’s investment in biotechnology, renewable energy sources, electronics and telecommunications. Catalonia as well as neighbouring Valencia also remain active in industries related to cotton/wool textiles, paper, clothing and footwear production. Furthermore they are prominent leaders in manufacturing chemicals, toys and electronic appliances (e.g. TVs, fridges etc.). Meanwhile consumer-oriented organisations such as food processing businesses or those involved in construction or furniture making have established roots close to diversified consumer markets located in bigger cities or rural areas with ease of access to raw materials like agricultural products or timber. By the year 2000 Madrid became a stronghold for metallurgy, capital goods and chemical manufacturing; however by this time industrial production has grown exponentially across many parts of Spain – Navarra, La Rioja, Aragon and Valencia amongst them.

The financial sector

During the Franco regime, Spanish banks were heavily regulated, with even the number of branches restricted. It wasn’t until 1974 that banking started to become liberalised, like the economy as a whole had been in the 1960s. This continued into 1978, when foreign banks were finally allowed to open branches in Spain and, by the end of that decade, dozens had done so. However, by the late 90s some of these foreign banks had left or been bought out by Spanish ones and their share of the market fell. Then in the 21st century capital flight became an issue with people moving their money abroad due to worries about whether Spanish banks would be able to stay solvent given the euro-zone crisis.

Established as one of the criteria for EU convergence, the Banco de España (Bank of Spain) has since 1998 been part of the European System of Central Banks. Not only does it act as a government bank, but it is also accountable to the Ministry of the Economy and oversees private banking in Spain. In 1999, euro adoption was finalized, and by 2002 this official currency had replaced the peseta nationally.

Spain’s banking system has long been dominated by a few large institutions. In the 1990s, with the aim of making them more competitive in preparation for joining the European monetary union, there was a spate of mergers among Spanish banks. This trend continued into the 21st century and resulted in three major banking groups: Banco de Santander Central Hispano, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, and CaixaBank. Although strong on a national level, internationally they remain of only moderate size; only the Banco de Santander Central Hispano ranked among the top financial institutions at the beginning of this century. Even so, over the following decade growth was significant – although predominantly driven by an unsustainable housing and construction bubble that burst in 2009. The resulting falls in property prices combined with a freeze in global credit markets left many Spanish banks excessively leveraged. The government reaction peaked with Bankia’s nationalization in May 2012; it being Spain’s largest mortgage lender and fourth largest bank overall.

Traditionally, Spain had a different set of banks known as cajas de ahorros (savings banks). They represented almost half of the country’s total savings deposits and a quarter of all bank credit. Initially these not-for-profit organizations had localized areas to invest in, yet are now accessible to all corners of the nation. Surpluses were used for local welfare activities, environmental initiatives, and sometimes given to educational or cultural projects. The largest saving bank is none other than La Caja de Ahorros y de Pensiones (the Bank for Pensions and Savings), more widely recognized simply as “La Caixa.” This bank is the primary shareholder in the CaixaBank financial group; thereby exhibiting how the line between savings banks and commercial banks was fading in the 21st century. This distinction was completely diminished after the 2009 financial crisis due to reforms that caused multiple savings banks to merge or become commercially oriented. As an example, Bankia group was created in 2010 through melding seven regional saving banks – this reorganization proved to be vital in protecting it from future economic disasters.

Although Spain has four stock exchanges, Madrid, Bilbao, Barcelona, and Valencia, they are quite small by international standards. The stock exchanges were deregulated in 1989, and during the 1990s their importance increased dramatically.

Imports from Spain

During the late 20th century, Spain’s foreign trade flourished. Though imports still exceeded exports, tourism and other services provided enough income to make up for any deficit in tangible goods. Most of the country’s trade is completed with other EU members, primarily France and Germany, as well as Portugal, the UK and Italy. Beyond Europe, its two key partners are the US and China, while Japan also plays an important role.

Export destinations in Spain

By the early 21st century, Spain had transitioned away from its former focus on agriculture and minerals, to an economy that imported industrial goods and exported a variety of products, including motor vehicles, machinery, electrical equipment, processed iron products, chemical products, and clothing and footwear. The main imports were still largely industrial in nature, such as machinery and electrical equipment, motor vehicles, chemical and petroleum products, base metals, seafood and paper products.


In comparison with other western European countries, the service sector in Spain is not as advanced; however, it remains a substantial component of its economy. Furthermore, tourism is one of the primary industries in Spain and a major destination for travelers around the world. Every year, more than 55 million people visit the country—an amount surpassing its total number of inhabitants. The majority of tourists hail from Europe, mainly Britain, Germany, and France. At the start of the 21st century, around 10 percent of GDP and job opportunities are connected to this industry. The central authorities are responsible for overseeing tourism policies as well as marketing to foreign countries, while regional governments manage tourism in their provinces.

Taxation and labor

Spain’s 1978 Constitution secured the existence of unions and the right for all citizens, apart from military personnel, to be a member. Both collective bargaining and striking were also given legal protection. Further elaborations on union-related matters were provided by the Workers’ Statute of 1980 as well as the Organic Law of Trade Union Freedom enacted in 1985. This Statute removed government interference in labour affairs and left dealings between management and unions to be settled by themselves. Inside firms, elected representatives or workers’ committees answer to management on matters related to working conditions, job safety and remuneration on occasion. The chosen worker delegates are in charge for a period of four years.

In Spain, the union movement is largely controlled by two forces: the General Union of Workers (Unión General de Trabajadores; UGT) affiliated with the Spanish Social Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español; PSOE), and the Workers’ Commissions (Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras; CC.OO.) connected to the Communist Party. In addition, there is also the Workers’ Syndical Union (Unión Sindical Obrera; USO), which follows a Roman Catholic approach, along with various other organizations such as the Independent Syndicate of Civil Servants (Confederación Sindical Independiente de Funcionarios), Basque Workers’ Solidarity (Euzko Langilleen Alkartasuna–Solidaridad de Trabajadores Vascos; ELA-STV) affiliated to the Basque Nationalist Party, and the General Confederation of Labour (Confederación General del Trabajo; CGT), a remnant of anarcho-syndicalism. Despite being one of the lowest in Europe in terms of unionization with only 16% of its labourers

The outstanding feature of union activity after the demise of the Franco regime was the willingness of the major union organizations to sign agreements with the government and the employers’ organizations regarding employment, wage restraint, and social policy. In the late 1970s and late 1990s, many such agreements were reached.

González’s Socialist governments saw unions become less open to negotiation. His objective was to make the Spanish economy more competitive in order to take full advantage of EU integration in the 90s. This included shutting down or reprivatizing failing state-owned businesses, especially those located in Asturias and the Basque Country, as well as cutting back on public expenditure to manage the deficit better.

The major unions refused to form more agreements with employers and the government, which led to the UGT becoming highly critical of the PSOE – usually affiliated – and it began cooperating more with CC.OO. In 1983, a set of strikes, demonstrations, and riots erupted throughout the country, largely in the north. This transition was marked by a general strike call jointly accomplished by both unions in 1988 against the government’s policies. Five years later, Asturias was met with another one-day strike due to plans for downsizing its coal, iron, and steel industries. At the start of this century, Spanish unions have been pushing for better employment opportunities and job security; striving to equalise wealth among social classes and regions – although union membership still remains low.

The Spanish government imposes taxes at three levels: the national government, regional governments, and local authorities. Tax rates are progressive, ranging from about three-tenths of income to more than half.

Telecommunications and transportation

The railroads

Throughout the 19th century, Spain experienced difficulty with movement throughout its terrain. Rivers simply could not provide adequate transportation, while a range of considerable mountains posed a serious obstacle to land-based travel. Luckily, railway tracks were constructed during this period; the first between Barcelona and Mataró in 1848 and another from Madrid to Aranjuez in 1851. These projects were funded largely by foreign investors, though substantial subsidies were granted by the Spanish government for such initiatives. By the end of the century, two French groups had claimed ownership of most of Spain’s railways.

In 1941, the rail system was brought into public ownership and most of the routes were absorbed by the National Network of Spanish Railroads (Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles; RENFE). Additionally, services operated in the Basque Country, Valencia, and Catalonia. Generally, lines start from Madrid and spread outward. There are also transverse tracks across the Mediterranean and Ebro valley corridors. New machinery such as Talgo, a Spanish-made light train, was released in the sixties and seventies while many of the rails were electrified. Despite this, these operations had continuous deficits leading to some routes being axed in the eighties. In 1990 a huge investment plan for RENFE was declared with the prime purpose of introducing Alta Velocidad Española (AVE) trains. These high-speed passengers cars made their debut on Madrid-Sevilla railway during Expo ’92 world’s fair and people could now cover that distance in less than three hours. The AVE route between Madrid and Barcelona started running in 2008.

The road system

After the railway networks were built, construction of a modern road system began in the latter part of the 20th century. The first motorway was laid down in 1967 and, similar to the railroads, this system was planned as a radial one with Madrid at its hub. As time went on, there was an exponential growth in traffic on Spanish roads leading to considerable congestion issues in both highways and city streets due to a substantial rise in the number of vehicles present. To address this challenge, officials from successive central governments designed plans from the 1990s onwards for an almost complete network of roads supported by private investments and tolls collection for highway maintenance purposes.

Travel by air

Barajas Airport in Madrid is the most bustling of Spain’s many commercial airports, as well as one of the busiest in Europe. Barcelona holds a major international air hub too, and other tourist attractions have flights serving them as well. Iberia, the erstwhile state-run airline company, is the largest Spanish airline and provides both domestic and international journeys. A variety of national and overseas carriers run regular services along with chartered ones which disproportionately accommodate voyages to holiday spots. By late 2000s, heightened air travel caused matters related to air traffic congestion.

Transport by sea

Surrounded by water, Spain has extensive coastlines and primarily relies on maritime transport for international trade. Over 80% of its imports and more than two-thirds of exports are shipped through its ports. It is one of the leading countries with a large fleet for both merchant vessels and fishing boats, great traffic in some of its numerous ports including Algeciras (province of Cádiz), Barcelona, Bilbao, Las Palmas, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tarragona and Valencia. Other significant ports are Huelva, Cartagena, A Coruña and Ceuta while the fishing industry is mainly located in Galicia and the Basque Country.

The telecommunications industry

During the 1980s and ’90s, the telecom and IT sectors saw rapid development around Madrid and Barcelona. Dominating these markets were two major companies – Telefónica (which was reorganized in 2000 into different corporations) and Grupo Corporativo ONO. In 1998, this sector was deregulated, though consumer usage of telecommunication products generally lagged behind those in other parts of Europe. However, the growth throughout the ’90s brought these figures up to the European average. The spread of Internet use increased substantially in the late 1990s to early 21st century.

The government and society

As a result of the parliamentary system and written constitution, Spain almost continuously existed between 1833 and 1939. A monarchy has always existed in Spain, except during the First Republic (1873–74), the Second Republic (1931–36), and the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). See below for a list of all the kings and queens regnant of Spain.

Gen. Francisco Franco ruled Spain from April 1939 until November 1975, following the end of the Spanish Civil War. His regime was based on a series of Fundamental Laws (passed between 1942 and 1967) which declared Spain a monarchy and established the Cortes, a legislature. Spain’s modern constitutional traditions differed radically from Franco’s government.

Under Franco, the members of the Cortes, the procuradores, were not elected by individual citizens, but rather on the grounds of what was known as “organic democracy.” The procuradores were seen to represent certain essential elements of Spanish society – including families, municipalities, universities and professional organisations. On top of that, the government – appointed and dismissed solely by the head of state – had no accountability to the Cortes and did not answer to them when it came to expenditures.

When Franco died in 1975, Juan Carlos de Borbón became King Juan Carlos I, the grandson of King Alfonso XIII, who succeeded him as head of state. The king immediately initiated a democratic transition that led to the formation of a democratic constitution within three years of Franco’s death.

Framework for the Constitution

After lengthy and heated negotiations, the Spanish constitution was accepted by a vast majority in both houses of parliament (551–11, with 22 abstentions), followed by an endorsement from nearly 90% of voters in the December referendum. This document espouses the fundamental values of liberty, justice, equality and political pluralism, and advocates for three distinct lines of power: executive, legislative and judicial; with the Monarch leading as head of state yet taking part in all activities in an impartial manner. As an example of their neutrality, when a military coup toppled the new democratic government in 1981, Juan Carlos’ intervention on national TV calmed the situation and secured the future of the constitution. The monarch’s responsibilities include summoning/dissolving legislature and appointing/accepting resignation from Prime Minister/cabinet ministers; as well as ratifying laws, declaring wars or signing treaties decided by government.

The Cortes Generales, the national legislature, consists of two chambers: Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados), the lower chamber, and Senate (Senado), the upper. The former holds more power than the latter as it is made up of 350 members elected to four-year terms through universal suffrage. While described by the constitution as a “chamber of territorial representation,” only one-fifth of senators are selected to represent Spain’s autonomous communities. The remainder are chosen from 47 mainland provinces – each with 4 senators – plus from its islands (four for biggest ones and one for all others) and Ceuta and Melilla (both with two senators).

The executive consists of the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, and members of the cabinet. Following consultation with the Cortes, the monarch formally appoints the prime minister; those chosen by them for cabinet positions are likewise notified by formality from the monarch. This branch of government oversees domestic and foreign policy matters, including defense and economic policies. The prime minister must have their confirmation appropriated by a majority vote in Congress of Deputies due to their responsibility to legislature before assuming office; thus they are generally leading representatives of parties with many deputies. If desired, Congress of Deputies can remove a prime minister through a vote of no confidence.

Government at the regional level

Following Isabella II’s succession to the throne in 1833, Spain was a highly centralized state that disregarded its regional variations. This caused decades of unrest, as groups fought over the role of the Catholic Church, monarchy, and economy of the country. The First Republic temporarily adopted self-governing provinces that would be accountable to the federal government; however, this decentralization led to anarchy and by 1875 the constitutional monarchy had been reinstated. In spite of this, throughout most of the 19th century Spain remained stable with industrial locations such as Catalonia and the Basque region seeing strong financial progress while other parts stayed poor. When Spain suffered defeat in the Spanish-American War (1898), many citizens felt their political and fiscal systems were outdated. As a result movements for autonomy emerged within Catalonia, Galiza and the Basque region in order to break from what they viewed as a “Castilian corpse”. Though some autonomy was granted to Catalonia and Basque provinces following the Second Republic’s formation, these regions were not returned their former self-government after the Civil War.

One of the basic demands of the democratic opposition during the Franco years was regional autonomy. This stance was reflected in the 1978 constitution, but it was also a compromise with the political right, which wanted Spain to remain highly centralized. This resulted in the creation of the “state of the autonomies,” a unique system of regional autonomy.

Besides recognizing the autonomy of the “regions and nationalities,” the constitution also declares the “indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.” In Title VIII, it is allowed to create autonomous communities between adjoining provinces with similar historical, cultural, and economic characteristics, as well as islands and provinces with a historical regional identity.

The constitution recognizes the autonomy of two groups, each possessing distinct degrees of power and obligations. The three regions already with autonomous statutes—Catalonia, the Basque provinces and Galicia—were denoted as “historic nationalities” and allowed to reach autonomy through an accelerated and simplified route. Catalonia and the Basque Country had their statues ratified in December 1979 and Galicia obtained its statute in April 1981. All the other territories were obligated to follow a slower path; nevertheless, an exclusion applied to Andalusia due to mass demonstrations evidencing its people’s determination for autonomy. Thereupon, a special expedited process was created for this region.

There were 17 comunidades autónomas (autonomous communities) in Spain by May 1983: Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, Andalusia, Asturias, Aragon, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile and León, Castile-La Mancha, Extremadura, Navarra, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, and Valencia. Ceuta and Melilla were added to the autonomous cities in 1995.

In each community, there is a unicameral legislature elected by universal adult suffrage, a president, and a Council of Government, which are responsible to the legislature.

The constitution and the regional statute of autonomy clearly define the powers that are to be exercised by the autonomous governments. At first, these powers were limited for those communities that had attained autonomy through a slower process. However, for five years they could control institutions, urban planning, public works, housing, environment conservation, culture, sports and leisure activities, tourism, healthcare and social welfare services as well as use their regional language if applicable. Subsequently, full autonomy was granted but with shaky definition. Negotiations between the individual governments and central government have led to several conflicts in regards to ceding rights and financial arrangements. In particular, Catalonia and Andalusia accused The Cortes of being more passive on these matters. This led to further empowerment of Catalonia in 2005 with its official recognition as a nation in 2006.

In the 21st century, the Spanish state still did not have a regional government that was fully acceptable to all its communities, but, whatever form of regional government emerges, it is almost certain that it will take on an asymmetrical form in which the power range of regional governments varies widely from community to community.

Government at the local level

Below the national and regional governments are the provinces and municipalities, whose powers and responsibilities are outlined in the Basic Law on Local Government (1985).

Provinces, established in 1833, serve as transmission belts for the central government’s policies. While they continue to do so, the provinces now also bring together and are dependent on local governments.

Municipal governments (ayuntamientos) have a council, a commission (a kind of cabinet), and a mayor (alcalde). Municipal councils are elected through a proportional representation system using universal adult suffrage. Voters vote for party lists, not individual candidates, in elections to the national parliament.

So long as they comply with national and regional legislation, municipal governments may pass specific local regulations. In contrast to provincial governments, municipal governments can also levy their own taxes; they receive funds from the central government and the regions.

The purpose of provincial councils is to facilitate cooperation between municipalities within a province, by providing services and creating a plan for all municipal works and services in the area. However, there are no such bodies in autonomous regions with one province (Asturias, Navarra, La Rioja, Cantabria, Madrid and Murcia). In contrast, both the Basque Country and islands elect their own corporate body through direct universal suffrage; this includes seven main Canary Islands and the main Balearic Islands electing island councils (Cabildo Insular and Consell Insular respectively).

The law

A general council of lawyers and judges governs the judicial system, which is independent of the legislative and executive branches of government.

At the highest level is the Supreme Court, made up of five chambers. The National Court (Audiencia Nacional) covers the entire country and consists of three sections: criminal, administrative, and labour. For each autonomous community, a high court of justice (Tribunal Superior de Justica) exists. Additionally, corresponding with all provinces are higher courts called audiencias which tend to criminal cases. There are also lower levels like courts of first instance, courts of judicial proceedings (which don’t delibert sentences), penal courts and municipal courts. Lastly, by law created in 1981 and connected with the Cortes is the ombudsman (defensor del pueblo), who protects citizens’ rights and monitors government operations.

The Constitutional Court, independent of the judiciary system, is entrusted with the duty of examining the constitution and determining the constitutionality of laws. This tribunal comprises 12 members selected by three-fifths of both the Congress of Deputies and Senate (four each), as well as two from both the executive and General Council (two each); ultimately appointed by the monarch.

Process of political decision-making

Voting is available to all citizens aged 18 and over. Every four years, the Congress of Deputies convenes for elections, with each of the 50 provinces acting as an electoral district; the number of deputies representing each one is based on its population. The elections run on a proportional representation system regulated by the d’Hondt formula, meaning voters cast ballots for party lists covering entire provinces, instead of choosing candidates from individual constituencies. This formula works to the advantage of larger parties and regions with smaller populations.

About four-fifths of the Senate’s members are chosen by a plurality vote at the provincial level. The number of representatives for each province is four, and voters choose three candidates who will receive the most votes. This allows for smaller and more remote provinces to be overrepresented compared to their population size. The remaining senators are delegated by regional legislatures. In addition, for European Parliament elections every five years, local elections also allow citizens from other EU countries to take part. Concerning gender balance, Spain has one of the most equitable representation; typically women make up around three-tenths in the Chamber of Deputies, while they occupy nearly one-fourth of Senate seats.

Electoral participation initially surged with the transition to democracy, but quickly dwindled in the early 1980s. This disenchantment was also reflected with rising abstention rates throughout the decade, particularly in local and regional elections. The trend shifted in the 1990s as near-record numbers of people voted in national elections – around 4/5ths. However, by 2000 almost a third of eligible voters stayed home. This pattern shifted yet again in 2004, when voter turnout rose to nearly three-fourths; and even higher during 2008’s election.

Political parties are recognized as “the major instruments of political participation” by the constitution. The Law of Political Parties (1978) provides them with public funding based on their number of seats in parliament and votes.

Parties at the national level

The Spanish political scene combines simplicity and complexity. Since 1977, when democratic elections began, a few parties have overwhelmingly dominated the national political discourse. Until 1982, the Union of the Democratic Centre (Unión de Centro Democrático; UCD) held power while the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español; PSOE) posed as primary opposition. Additionally, the right-wing Popular Alliance (Alianza Popular; AP), and the Spanish Communist Party (Partido Comunista de España; PCE) were significant players at a national level.

As a result of the PSOE’s election in 1982, it governed until 1996. The UCD split into a number of smaller parties and was subsequently replaced as the leading opposition force by the Popular Party (Partido Popular; PP), which became the successor to the AP in 1989. In 1986, the PCE joined the United Left coalition after faring poorly in 1982’s national elections.

In the elections of 1996, the PP won a plurality and formed a government with support from Basque and Catalan nationalist parties. The ensuing years saw them secure a majority of provincial and autonomous governments by 2000, and an absolute majority in the Cortes. This reign was short lived, however; when a series of terrorist bombings occurred in Madrid in March 2004, linked to Islamic militants rather than ETA as initially claimed by the PP government, the PSOE gained control of national government. In 2008 they won their second term; however, amid widespread discontent due to the economic crisis brewing at the time, Prime Minister José Zapatero advanced the date for 2012 general election to November 2011 – which resulted in an overwhelming victory for the PP.

Parties from regional regions

Parties that exist solely at the regional level are represented in each of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities. The two major parties being Convergence and Union (Convergència i Unió; CiU), a coalition of liberal and Christian democratic ideologies based in Catalonia, and the Basque Nationalist Party (Basque: Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea [EAJ]; Spanish: Partido Nacionalist Vasco [PNV]), typically referred to as EAJ-PNV, which champions a moderate Christian nationalist stance. Since 1979, the CiU has led Catalonia’s government. The EAJ-PNV has held the reigns of power in the Basque Country since 1980 either on its own or jointly with another party, obtaining seats for the region in both Congress of Deputies and the Senate. Most notable other regional parties include Canary Islands Coalition (Coalición Canaria; CC) which follows a centre-right ideology, Galician Nationalist Bloc (Bloque Nacionalista Galego; BNG) which supports left-wing politics, Basque Solidarity (Eusko Alkartasuna; EA), made up of former EAJ members with leftist

Parties of minor importance

There are a large number of minor political parties in Spain, which has made Spanish political life more complex since the transition to democracy. At the beginning of the 21st century, there were several minor parties operating on the national level: the Spanish Green Party, the Liberal Party, and the Workers’ Party-Communist Unity (Partido de los Trabajadores de España–Unidad Comunista; PTE-UC).

The fact that the authoritarian or nondemocratic right has remained almost totally insignificant in Spanish politics is an interesting feature. In a national election, no political group claiming to be the heir to Francoism won more than 1 percent of the vote during the last quarter of the 20th century.


Spanish males have traditionally been required to serve nine months in the military. However, beginning in 2002, conscription was abolished, and the military became professionally organized. In addition to its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Spain has a naval base in Rota and an air base in Morón de la Frontera where the United States maintains an air base.

In urban areas, the National Police Corps is responsible for national investigations and security, while in rural areas, on the highways and at the borders, the Civil Guard, which was established in 1844, maintains security. To respond to security issues more efficiently, these bodies were unified under the Ministry of the Interior.

Spanish citizens and their political organizations have come to accept the state of the autonomies, which were the result of negotiation and compromise during the transition to democracy, with one notable exception—the militant Basque nationalist movement, which has used terrorism as its main strategy to achieve total independence. Consequently, the Spanish police are highly concerned about domestic terrorism.

Before the Spanish Civil War, the Basque provinces saw a peaceful nationalist movement. However, with Franco’s strict centralism and stifling of regional difference, a more extreme form of nationalism arose amongst Basque youngsters in the 1950s. ETA (Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna, also known as Basque Homeland and Liberty) was established in 1959 and gained momentum from anti-imperialist struggles happening around the world. With these influences, ETA took up armed opposition quickly. In December 1973, they assassinated Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, to whom Franco had appointed as head of his government.

Ever since its inception, ETA has been fighting against the Franco dictatorship which earned them considerable support, both within and outside the Basque provinces. Unfortunately, this changed two decades after the transition to democracy; their use of violence lead to austerity from other parts of Spain and sparked public indignation in the Basque Country. Despite this, their political wing party ‘Batasuna’ managed to get up to 20 percent votes in all Spanish elections until 2003 when it was outlawed. By 2011 regardless of ETA’s 800 deaths and failed cease-fire agreements, they have renounced violence as a way to achieve their goals. In response to this, Spanish government exposed groups linked to Al-Qaeda’s global terror network in order to prevent terrorism.

The Terra Lliure (Free Country) in Catalonia and the Exército Guerrilheiro do Pobo Galego Ceibe (Free Galician Guerrilla People’s Army) in Galicia have both had similar but much smaller and less significant illegal organizations whose terrorist activities have ceased.

Welfare and health

Increasing prosperity and the general availability of government-sponsored health care have led to dramatic improvements in health and well-being in Spain since the 1960s. Spain had among the highest life expectancy rates in the world by the beginning of the 21st century, along with the highest number of doctors per capita.

The national Ministry of Health administers the health system through the National Institute of Health (Insalud). As regional autonomy grew, a large portion of health care was transferred to regional governments, commencing with Andalusia, Galicia, Basque Country, Catalonia, Valencia, Canary Islands and Navarra. The system offers services such as clinics and general and specialized hospitals. By the 1970s most villages had a doctor paid by the Ministry of Health. In the 1980s reform facilitated people being able to attend any public clinic; prior to this they had to visit the one that served their local area.

Despite the fact that all but a very small percentage of the population seeks treatment at state-run clinics, health care is not a government monopoly. In addition to private insurance plans, many doctors have their own offices and clinics outside of the government-funded system. Moreover, public hospitals and clinics will be transferred to private ownership as part of health-care reforms.

Additionally, the government provides unemployment insurance, pensions for the elderly, maternity and sickness benefits, and disability payments through its ad hoc social security office. The state finances these services through deductions from workers’ wages, employer contributions, and general tax revenues. Underserved groups receive additional health care services from local authorities.

Spain’s housing market

Throughout the Franco era and at the start of the 21st century, housing shortages and standards were a major issue in Spain. In 1961, the government passed a National Housing Plan which saw millions of homes constructed over the following two decades; however, many new builds had been tailored to affluent middle-class families. The election of a socialist government in 1982 brought with it significant investments into housing – unfortunately, population outstripped construction and thus, many still considered this to be one of Spain’s most pressing social issues. Low interest rates and foreign investment capital set off a construction boom which provided thousands of jobs for the Spanish economy; however, when the real estate bubble burst in 2009, developers suffered as banks ended up with €180 billion (approximately $225 billion) worth of toxic assets.

The majority of dwellings are owned by their occupants. The form of housing differ depending on the area, with multi-storied structures being more common in mountain and rural areas, while simple single-story buildings with internal courtyards are predominant in the lowlands. Land reform, industrialization, and depopulation have recently had a huge impact on villages. Especially in rural places, most homes were built before 1960 and there is a high population concentration in urban spots which has made housing unaffordable for people living on low incomes. Prices sky-rocketed between 2007 – 2008 and subsequently sank without trace – many residences were valued at around 75% less than they had been before this drop. This dip did not benefit many people due to its devastating effect on the rest of the economy; plenty of empty dwellings remained unused as a consequence.

The education system

Until 1970, when the General Law on Education was passed, Spain’s first comprehensive public education plan remained basically unchanged. Since then, many other education reforms have taken place.

There are four levels of schooling in the United States: preschool (ages 6 to 6), primary school (ages 6 to 11), secondary school (12 to 16) (including technical and vocational schools), baccalaureate school (ages 17 and 18), and university. Children between the ages of 6 and 16 receive free and compulsory education. More than 95 percent of the population is literate.

Throughout history, the state has been in a constant power struggle with the Roman Catholic Church on matters related to education. Although private schooling continuing at large today is mainly composed of Catholics, since the 1960s government authority has been strongly emphasized, particularly regarding secondary education. In the 1980s, Catholic schools were put under stricter supervision from the government and religious studies were taken off mandatory courses. With autonomous regions having jurisdiction over educational regulations in their respective areas, languages such as Catalan, Galician, and Euskera became mandated for study when before they were never even offered.

In 1960, there were only 12 universities across the country, which was exclusive to an elite population. But fast forward to the end of the 20th century, and this number multiplied exponentially due to more public and private universities opening up – some even operated by the Catholic church. This access to higher education became far more democratic, with nearly half of university students having parents who didn’t go beyond elementary schooling. Now, in the early 21st century, over two thirds of college-age citizens are studying at a university. Amongst the most legendary universities in Spain are Complutense University of Madrid (established 1508), University of Barcelona (1450), University of Granada (1526), University of Sevilla (1502), University of Salamanca (1218), University of Valencia (1499) and University of the Basque Country (1968).

Life in the cultural sphere

Milieu cultural

Alhambra, Spain

Alhambra, Spain

Spain’s culture has been inevitably impacted by the period of Roman rule, which left behind indelible traces in terms of language, religion and architectural style. However, it is the later influences that truly distinguish Spanish culture from the rest of Europe. In 711 CE, Muslim-speaking people from northern Africa and the Middle East invaded Spain and ruled for close to 800 years; this influence was especially visible in regards to language, with Arabic being one of the primary sources of words used in Spanish. This contact with Muslims offered Christian Europe an opportunity to reclaim Classical antiquity’s heritage as well as benefit from certain scientific innovations laid down by them. Moreover, medieval Spain had a sizable Jewish population which further enriched its cultural richness by bringing about one of the greatest periods in Jewish history.

Throughout early modern and modern eras, Spain was mostly a homogeneous culture with some exceptions. Catalan and Galician (Gallego) had established a noteworthy literary history during the Middle Ages but Castilian soon dominated over them and they were confined to daily life, mainly among farmers. This was similar to Euskera (Basque), which never had an eminent literary background.

Beginning in the 19th century, all three languages experienced a resurgence. Despite Franco’s prohibition on using any language other than Castilian in public, they endured and actually flourished when they became official languages in the autonomous regions established by the constitution of 1978. Now those languages are taught in school and used in various forms of media such as newspapers, television, and radio.

Throughout its history, particularly after the Reconquista was finished in 1492, Spain has been strongly affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. This union and its long-term religious dominance beginning in the 1500s have largely been enforced by force. Members of minority religious groups such as Jews and Muslims were told to either convert or depart from the country – the Jews in 1492, and the Muslims in 1502. Religious unity was mandated by the Inquisition court from 1478 until 1834.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church sought to have its religion declared as the state religion of government, with much success. Consequently, it encouraged the government to limit or prohibit the practice of other faiths. This was especially true during the Franco regime, but since 1978 Spain has had no official religion and Spaniards now possess full freedom of religion – although Catholicism still continues to be a major cultural influence. This in mind, at the start of this century expression of cultural diversity is more feasible than it ever has been throughout the last five centuries—ironically simultaneous to Spain’s greater integration into an increasingly homogeneous global culture.

Social customs and daily life

Today’s organization

Life in Spain during the early 21st century is not much different from those of other industrialised countries in the West. But there are still some practices that make it distinct. Visitors will immediately notice its day- and meal-scheduling customs. Lunch, usually the biggest meal of the day, is usually taken at 2:00 to 3:00 PM. While traditionally people used to take an afternoon nap afterwards–the renowned siesta– this custom has become rare as many head to work every day. Dinner, typically a more casual affair, is likewise eaten late, between 9:00 and 10:00 PM or later in summertime.

Business, shopping and school all adhere to a specific pattern; often, there is an extended break in the middle of the day which is usually two to five hours long. The majority of businesses shut for this time period and activity on the streets subsides. However, there are exceptions such as bars, restaurants and large department stores that remain open. At this same time slot, the main daily news and some of the most popular programs are broadcast allowing for a restart of work from 4:30 until 8:00 PM in the evening.

Drinks and food

Discover how to prepare some Spanish tapas

See all videos for this article to learn how to prepare Spanish tapas

Most bars are open all-day and commonly provide a menu of snacks to enjoy before mealtime, particularly during the weekend. Tapas, one of the most popular bar foods, is made up of an array of prepared dishes that may include larger versions of main-course meals. There are hundreds of kinds to choose from ranging from mushrooms in garlic sauce, marinated seafood, Spanish omelette and lamb brochettes, to octopus in paprika sauce.

The regional specialities of Spanish cooking differ dramatically due to surrounding products and customs. Famous for its seafood delicacies, Galicia is home to dishes like baby eels and Vizcayan-style codfish; Catalonia is well-known for its meat and vegetable casseroles; while Valencia is the birthplace of paella, a mix of rice, seafood, meats, and vegetables. From Andalusia comes gazpacho – a chill soup made with tomatoes, garlic, and cucumber – while Castile’s vast plains are celebrated for their succulent roasts and air-dried hams. Contrary to popular belief, Spanish cuisine rarely involves spicy ingredients aside from mild chili peppers; instead it relies on spices like tarragon and saffron for flavour. Pork, chicken, beef are widely eaten meats throughout Spain with lamb consumed primarily during special occasions. Additionally, fish and shellfish feature prominently in Spanish diets as Spaniards are one of the largest consumers of seafood worldwide. Lastly legumes such as lentils and chickpeas also make up a significant component in many Spanish dishes.

Although tap water is perfectly safe in most parts of the country, Spaniards commonly drink bottled mineral water with their meals, as well as wine and beer with their meals. Strong coffee is almost universally consumed at breakfast and after meals. Few people drink tea, but herbal infusions such as chamomile are popular. Soft drinks are widely available, both domestic and imported.

Churros are often eaten on the way to work or school in the morning, purchased from street vendors or local coffee shops. A flour-based batter is piped into extremely hot fat, fried, then rolled in cinnamon-laced sugar, creating a treat that’s sweet on the outside but fluffy on the inside. In most cases, they are dipped in chocolate sauce.

Culture is becoming more international

The Franco regime was intent on preserving Spain’s deep-rooted traditions and a strict Roman Catholic ethos, yet the economic policies of the 1960s that welcomed foreign investment and tourism, as well as encouraged Spaniards to find employment abroad, resulted in outsiders bringing their own customs which upended the government’s determination to guard or shield Spanish culture. Therefore, since the 60s Spanish culture, especially youth culture, has become an integral part of a globally uniform way of life influenced heavily by America.

Young people in Spain are drawn to the sounds of international culture, particularly rock and contemporary dance music, which constitute a substantial proportion of Spanish radio stations’ playlists. Since the Beatles emerged in the 60s, multiple international rock groups have performed at Spain’s top cities. In the 90s, Ibiza became a haven for techno music – termed ‘Balearic Beat’ by Spanish clubbers – with an influx of British holidaymakers. While there is no shortage of Spanish rock musicians, few have broken into foreign markets. Julio Iglesias is an exception; his well-known songs caught on with older crowds.

There are also a number of other ways in which culture has become internationalized. Almost every major city in the United States has franchises for American fast-food chains, and most of the television programming and many of the popular films are from abroad, with the majority of them being from the United States.

Holidays and festivals

Spain traditionally celebrates religious holidays. At the national level, the most important of these are Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Corpus Christi, the Feast of Saint James (July 25), and All Saints’ Day (November). Children receive presents on the Day of the Three Kings, or Epiphany (January 6), the most significant day of the Christmas period.

As a result, nonreligious, civic holidays have been relatively insignificant. In the Franco regime, July 18, the day when the Spanish Civil War began, was declared a national holiday, but that was abandoned after the regime crumbled. Constitution Day (December 6) has been the official national holiday since 1978. There are official national holidays in Catalonia and Basque Country, and each autonomous community celebrates its own regional holidays.

The holiday of October 12 is both a religious and civic celebration. In addition to being a Day of the Virgin of El Pilar, October 12 is the day on which the “discovery” of America is celebrated (similar to Columbus Day in the United States); it has also been known as a Day of Race (Día de la Raza) and Hispanic Day (Día de la Hispanidad).

Spanish people have an array of unique annual holidays that have become part of their daily lives. Many of these are religious festivals honouring their patron saints and the Virgin Mary, yet others such as San Fermín in Pamplona, the Sevilla Fair, and Valencia’s Fallas have earned international fame for the dancing and bullfights. Another special event held in Buñol near Valencia each August is La Tomatina, a thoroughly secular festival where participants throw tomatoes at each other to mark the summer tomato harvest. Its origins date back to a time when it was a symbolic repudiation of oppressive rule during the Franco era yet today, it’s an occasion for revelry with plenty of red wine and paella.

Arts and culture

Its artistic heritage includes some of the most important figures in Western culture, as well as a long, diverse, and distinguished history. The list would include Miguel de Cervantes (the most important figure in Spanish literature) and Benito Pérez Galdós, the dramatists Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Lope de Vega, the painters Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Goya, and Pablo Picasso, as well as Luis Buñuel.

The period from about 1500 to 1681, called the Golden Age, is considered the most brilliant era of Spanish artistic history, with lasting contributions to literature, theatre, architecture, and painting. Nevertheless, Spain has never ceased to be a culturally vibrant country, and the 20th century in particular proved highly productive and creative; indeed, it was known as the Silver Age for its first few decades.

The Spanish Civil War marked a break in the development of the arts. Many leading artists and intellectuals left for exile at the end of the war. Within Spain, the Franco regime practiced a sweeping censorship that limited artistic expression. In spite of these limitations, many Spanish artists made significant contributions throughout the 20th century. Some drew inspiration from the country’s folk traditions and history, while others followed the most modern trends.

The music

Spain has made huge impacts on global culture, and its musical heritage is particularly renowned. A number of well-known Spanish composers like Fernando Sor (1778–1839), Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, and Joaquín Rodrigo have drawn heavily on regional and folk music to produce beautiful works. The guitar was also transformed from a Rom folk instrument to a staple symphony piece by Spanish composers such as Manitas de Plata, Andrés Segovia, and Paco de Lucia. Also notable is the flamenco tradition which originated from a blending of Arabic and Spanish singing styles. This later developed into southern Spain’s “Rock Andaluz” movement during the 1970s and 1980s in Sevilla. In recent years, Ibiza has risen to the fore as an electronic music capital for its tourist night clubs and private parties that attract DJs from all over the world each summer. It has become an essential part of its economy too.

There are many renowned singers from Spain in classical opera, including Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Alfredo Kraus, and Montserrat Caballé. Pablo Casals, Alicia de Larrocha, and Narciso Yepes were the leading classical instrumentalists of the century.

The literature

The Spanish-American War (1898) and its aftereffect of Spain losing its empire in Latin America served as a catalyst for numerous Spanish authors, poets, and academics to regain national pride. Through their works, José Ortega y Gasset, Pío Baroja, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and Antonio Machado y Ruiz investigated Spain’s background and place in the modern world. Those who devoted themselves to similar questions were labeled the Generation of ’98. These authors bolstered Spanish literature and prepared the way for Spanish cultural prosperity during the 20th century.

Federico García Lorca, the most famous writer of the century, was a poet and playwright who was sadly executed by the Nationalists in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. He has become an icon for art destroyed by fascism. His poetry draws from imaginative symbolism and Andalusian folklore, particularly that of the Roma (Gypsies), or Gitanos. Additionally, his plays have explored issues such as repression of instinct caused by social conventions and mistreatment of women; these themes are thought to be influenced by his experience with homosexuality. Thanks to yet another form of creativity inspired by his work – Carlos Saura’s two films in the 1980s – García Lorca’s play is still being performed today.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, renowned Spanish poets included Leopoldo Panero, Luis Rosales, Blas de Otero, Gabriel Celaya, Juan Luis Panero, Andrés Trapiello, Claudio Rodríguez, José Hierro, and Pedro Gimferrer. Women poets such as María Victoria Atencia wrote on domestic matters and artistry while Pureza Canelo focused on ecology and feminism. Other influential female writers were Juana Castro, Clara Janés and Ana Rossetti who are well-respected for their erotic verse. Nowadays Spanish poetry usually uses slang and touches upon personal affairs as well as societal matters.

During the late 20th-century, novelists showcased a variety of literary trends. Everyday language was wielded in realistic stories often influenced by true events. At the other end of the spectrum, highly conceptual works were created by a select group like Juan Benet Goitia. Meanwhile, Terenci Moix and Juan Goytisolo embraced non-Western cultures in their writing. Industry giants such as Eduardo Mendoza, Carmen Martín Gaite, José Luis Sampedro, Francisco Umbral, Javier Marías, Juan José Millàs, Antonio Muñoz Molina and Antonio Gala all left their mark on modern literature. Following the 70s, detective novels soared to prominence due to Manuel Vázquez Montalbán; his contemporary Arturo Pérez-Reverte became renowned for writing both ambitious thrillers and historical books that have been widely translated worldwide.

See Spanish literature for further discussion.


Since the days of Ancient Rome, Spain has been a major hub for theatre, with Lucius Annaeus Seneca—a Córdoban playwright—composing works that would go on to shape theatrics in the 16th and 17th centuries: The Golden Age. Much different from medieval drama, which mainly revolved around religious content in miracle and Passion plays, Juan del Encina pioneered classical theatrical styles. This era was an incredibly innovative period; one that gave rise to a national theatre, creating renowned authors such as Lope de Vega, Guillén de Castro, Tirso de Molina, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and Miguel de Cervantes.

After a period of cultural conservatism, Spanish theatre became heavily influenced by French works; a sharp contrast considering the themes and characters that Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine, and Molière borrowed from Spanish Golden Age authors. Those same French dramatists, however, were instrumental in revitalising the genre in Spain during the 1820s. José Echegaray, Gregorio Martínez Sierra, Jacinto Benavente and Federico García Lorca are among the playwrights who went on to further develop theatrical literature which was distinctly Spanish. Despite censorship during the long Franco era, these writers still had an impact on later playwrights such as Antonio Buero Vallejo, Antonio Gala, Adolfo Marsillach, Josep María Flotats and Fernando Fernán Gómez. Contemporary playwrights have also contributed significantly to theatre in various languages such as Catalan and Basque, in addition to their work with other mediums including poetry and filmmaking.

Arts and crafts

Spain can boast of some of the most influential 20th-century painters and sculptors. Pablo Picasso is perhaps the greatest, while Juan Gris, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí are also key figures in European art history. Sculptor Eduardo Chillida was known internationally, while Antoni Tàpies, Miguel Barceló, Rafael Canogar, Manuel Millares, and Antonio Saura were leading artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Sculptors Pablo Serrano, Julio González, Pablo Gargallo, and Alberto Sánchez are all renowned figures in the art world.

Spain’s architecture

Gaud’s Sagrada Familia

The globally-renowned Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí, was one of the most extraordinary of the early 20th century. He crafted a special style inspired by Mudéjar – an architectural style that fused together Christian and Muslim influences – through an eclectic approach. Despite his later fame, he had little impact either domestically or abroad during his lifetime, mostly working in Barcelona. His most prominent structure is the yet to be completed Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family. Some other notable Spanish architects from the late 20th and early 21st centuries include Josep Lluís Sert, Eduardo Torroja, Sanz de Oiza, Ricardo Bofill, José Rafael Moneo and Santiago Calatrava who have achieved international acclaim.

The cinema

A large number of the films shown in Spanish cinemas in the 21st century were imported from other European countries and, above all, from the United States.

Due to his exile during the Franco regime, Luis Buuel made most of his films outside of Spain, first in Mexico and then in France.

The Spanish cinema was subjected to rigid censorship during the Franco regime and only started to recover in the late 1950s due to the work of Juan Antonio Bardem and Luis García Berlanga. From 1970, many Spanish directors, among them Carlos Saura, Pilar Miró, Victor Erice, and Pedro Almodóvar, achieved success not just in Spain but also worldwide. José Luis Garcí’s Begin the Beguine (1982) took home an Academy Award for best foreign-language film as did Fernando Trueba’s Belle Epoque (1992). However, with exception to Almodóvar’s successful comedies like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990), and All About My Mother (1999), which earned him an Academy Award for best foreign-language film; Spanish films were not fruitful economically abroad. By the end of that decade a new wave of directors began gaining attention in foreign countries due to government tax incentives and increased exposure in international film festivals. In the early 2000s ghost stories such as Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others (2001) garnered considerable attention outside Spain while his later movie The Sea Inside

There are numerous art museums in Spain, but the most famous is the Prado Museum in Madrid, which was built at the end of the 18th century and completed in the early 19th. The Prado is home to a large collection of paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as an annex containing art from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Apart from being home to some of the world’s most renowned galleries, Madrid also houses the Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art, the Joaquín Sorolla Museum, and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum. The Queen Sofía Museum opened in the 1980s and is an important attraction for anyone interested in modern art as it features Picasso’s Guernica painting, which honours a Basque town that was bombed by fascists during 1937. Additionally, there are many other noteworthy museums worth visiting outside of Madrid, such as the Picasso Museum and Museum of Art of Catalonia in Barcelona, National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid, El Greco Museum in Toledo, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art in Cuenca.

There are a large number of special-interest museums. Some of them are national institutions, like the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid or the Sephardic Museum in Toledo, but many more are provincial or local ones. Cathedrals and other religious institutions are also home to a number of museums.

Archive and library services

In Spain, there are approximately 6,500 public and private libraries. Some have been around for over four centuries, such as the libraries of the royal monastery of El Escorial near Madrid and the University of Salamanca. There are also some that are more recent, such as the National Library of Madrid, which was founded in the 19th century.

Spain is home to a wide selection of public and private archives, including local, provincial, regional and national. The National Historical Archive in Madrid, the General Archive of the Administration in Alcalá de Henares, the Archive of the Civil War in Salamanca, the General Archives of Simancas (1540) and the Royal Archives of Aragon in Barcelona are among the most notable ones. However, for those outside Spain, Sevilla’s Archives of the Indies stands as an essential source of information regarding Spain’s former empire in the Americas – it holds an immense quantity of documents.

Institutes and academies

The renowned Royal Spanish Academy was established in 1713 under Philip V, the first Bourbon King. Acting as a model of the French Academy in Paris, its primary aim is to “cultivate and set standards for the purity and elegance of the Castilian language”. Since 1951, it has been in collaboration with other scholarly bodies from Latin America to promote the Spanish lexicographical corpus across the world. This also involved publication of an extensive dictionary which serves as an ultimate reference for its kind in Spanish language.

In addition to the above mentioned academies, many prestigious intellectual and cultural organizations have been established since the 18th and 19th centuries. These include the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the Royal Academy of History, and the Royal National Academy of Medicine. The most acclaimed research organisation is undoubtedly the Council for Scientific Research (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas; CSIC), a state-affiliated autonomous research body based in Madrid that was founded by Franco’s government in 1940 to foster research activities. Today numerous branches of the CSIC can be found all over Spain, mainly concentrated in Madrid.

Spanish awards the Cervantes Prize, comparable to the Nobel Prize for Literature, to authors who write in Spanish in an effort to position itself at the forefront of the Spanish-language cultural world. Among the recipients have been many of the leading Latin American writers. An agency for international cooperation maintains economic and cultural ties with Latin American countries and other countries with cultural links to Spain.

It was in 1991 that the Cervantes Institute was established, one of the most interesting cultural initiatives. The Spanish language and culture study abroad is promoted by this government agency, modeled after the British Council and the German Goethe Institute. In the early 21st century, the Cervantes Institute operated in over 60 cities in some 30 countries worldwide.

Recreation and sports

The Spanish people rely heavily on sports in their daily lives, and each region has its own favorite game. Winter sports like skiing and scuba diving are popular in mountainous Catalonia; windsurfing, scuba diving, and surfing are popular along the Valencia coast; jai alai (racquetball) is a popular pastime in the Basque provinces; and equestrian events are popular in Asturias and Andalusia.

Despite the ongoing international debate surrounding bullfighting, the corrida de toros (“running of bulls”) is still relatively popular in Spain. Dating back to ancient times, it has become a beloved symbol of their culture and a spectacle not unlike a choreographed dance, which celebrates heroic feats of intellect, bravery and grace within a bloody context. Matadors have been venerated as mythic icons across the nation, like Manolete was in the 1940s. Bullfighting season runs from March to October and usually takes place on Sunday afternoons in major cities or local towns during festivals. The iconic Las Ventas bullring in Madrid is considered to be the holy grail of Spanish bullfighting.

Spanish National Olympic Committee was established and recognized in 1924. Spain won 13 gold medals at the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, including football (soccer), swimming, running, and walking. The International Olympic Committee was led by Spaniard Juan António Samaranch from 1980 to 2001.

Football was introduced to Spain by the British in the late 19th century, with the founding of Recreativo by British miners in Huelva (1889). The establishment of a professional league followed two decades later, and within just a few more years, football had taken over from bullfighting as the nation’s leading sport. Two of football’s best-known clubs are Spanish: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The Spanish men’s national team won its first UEFA European championship in 1964, but for many years struggled to make an impact on major international tournaments. All this changed in 2008 when Spain won their first UEFA championship before going on to become World Cup champions two years later and retaining their European title in 2012; some have claimed this generation of players to be the greatest national side ever seen.

Basketball, which gained popularity after Spain won the silver medal at the 1984 Olympics, challenged football at the end of the 1980s. During the early 21st century, a pair of Spanish brothers, Pau and Marc Gasol, established themselves as National Basketball Association stars. Other popular spectator sports include hockey on roller skates, motorcycle racing, and tennis. Cycling, on the other hand, is popular, and Miguel Indurain won the Tour de France multiple times.

Spain has historically had a poor record of protecting its natural resources, such as the rare wetlands of the Doana National Park, from industrial development; however, Spaniards are avid users of the country’s many parks.

The media and publishing industry


At the start of the 21st century, Spain boasted nearly 200 daily newspapers. El País, a liberal publication with various editions distributed in Madrid and other major territories, is the most read and influential. ABC and El Mundo are two related important dailies. La Vanguardia, conservative since its 1881 first edition in Barcelona, boasts the largest number of Castilian-speaking readers in Catalonia. Other significant regional papers include El Periódico (Catalonia), La Voz de Galicia (Galicia), and El Correo Español–El Pueblo Vasco (Basque Country). Local languages also feature in newspapers serving lesser interests. Sports and business have specialized outlets such as Marca – Spain’s most widely distributed daily paper. By late-1990s most leading titles released online versions, yet Spanish readership remains low compared to European Union averages – about two-thirds fewer publications are read by Spaniards than by EU citizens on average and most obtain news from nonprint sources.

In addition to weekly and monthly magazines, Spain also has a number of serious political magazines as well. The most popular and successful ones tend to focus largely on gossip about celebrities, both national and international. However, there are also a number of serious political magazines. Generally, by the early 21st century, the boom in publishing that followed Franco’s death had receded.

Radio and television

In 1956, television was introduced in Spain. During the reign of Franco and the early years of the constitutional monarchy, only two TV channels were available, owned and operated by government-controlled Radio-Televisión Española (RTVE). These networks still exist today, exclusively airing content in Castilian. They have also been separated into distinct entities: Radio Nacional de España (RNE) and Televisión Española (TVE). Additionally, Radio Exterior de España (REE) provides international services with programming broadcast in 10 different languages.

The Catalans and the Basques took the lead in 1983 with the establishment of their respective television stations broadcasting in their regional languages. Two years later, Galician was added to the list. By the end of the 1980s, Spanish viewers witnessed a rapid growth of available channels. In 1989, laws were passed enabling privately-owned stations; three had launched by 1990, and more followed thereafter. Today, hundreds of television stations exist to serve national, regional, and local audiences across Spanish-speaking regions. Also during this period, satellite dishes became increasingly common among Spaniards – giving them access to many foreign language channels like English, French, German and Italian.

Among the most popular programs are game shows, soap operas, sports, movies, and dramatic series. Many of these originate from the United States, but soap operas (telenovelas) from South America are also popular.

It was in the 1920s that radio broadcasting began on a small scale. While the Nationalists established a government station during the Spanish Civil War, radio remained less monopolized than television, since the government did not have the same authority over it. In the early 21st century, there were more private radio stations than public stations as a result of the rapid increase in private radio stations during the 1980s and ’90s.

Evidence of human activity in Spain dates back as far as 1.2 million years. Fossil remains have been uncovered in multiple locations, including Atapuerca, Burgos, Torralba and Ambrona (Soria). These sites have yielded a variety of items: sediments over 300,000 years old, tools crafted from young elephant tusks, hundreds of stone implements (such as hand axes, cleavers, and scrapers in chalcedony, quartzite, quartz and even limestone), pieces of charcoal indicating the use of fire, and choppers, angular balls and flakes from the terraces of the Jabalón River that may be more than 1 million years old. These artifacts were recovered from beaches on the Algarve (Mirouço), Huelva (Punta Umbria) and Cádiz (Algeciras) as well as the lower Guadalquivir, Tagus, Manzanares and Ter rivers. It is likely that Homo sapiens Neanderthals or earlier members of our human lineage – possibly H. erectus or H. heidelbergensis – were responsible for these finds.

Spanish cave painting in Altamira

H. sapiens arriving in Spain after 35,000 BCE marked the beginning of a new era for material culture, which quickly adopted a pace of innovation it never lost. Flint tools became smaller and more diverse as bone and antler were used for spears, harpoons and ornaments. Needles from El Pendo Cave (Cantabria) suggest that fur and skin clothing was likely worn. The peak of this age’s intellectual achievement were the many Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) caves found across the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain. They have walls and ceilings adorned by masterly illustrations of cold-weather animals such as bison, mammoths, Przewalski’s horse, aurochs (wild oxen), and woolly rhinoceroses; predators like bears, wolverines, lions being rarely featured. Conversely human figures are scarce. Some caves display colored dots in rows, arrow-shaped marks as well as negative impressions of hands and symbols resembling vulvas; while individual pieces elsewhere often show horses – such as those at Ekain (Guipúzcoa) which can be painted monochrome or even polychrome – Tito Bustillo (Asturias). Aside from

From around 10,000 BCE, climatic change and the flooding of grazing lands near the coast meant cold-tolerant game disappearing. To cope with this shift, hunters broadened their diet to include shellfish and other food sources. These adaptations are reflected in almost 7,500 paintings from across the Iberian Penninsula, ranging from 7000 to 3500 BCE. Found outdoors in hollows or under rock overhangs, they depict people dancing – such as two women in skirts at Dos Aguas or three women and two nude ithyphallic men at Barranco del Pajarejo – fighting, collecting honey, hunting deer and running wild goats. Many scenes are constructed around a story; for example Remigia Cave shows groups of archers engaging in hand-to-hand combat and at Les Dogues there is another group engaged in close ranged battle rhythmically against each other. Bees are depicted more than 200 times often near hives; cavity IV at Cingle de la Ermita features a long ladder with men scaling it towards a hive guarded by oversized bees. Paintings can also be found at Minateda, Alpera and Bicorp.

In the Neolithic Period, agriculture and animal husbandry entered Spain from the Mediterranean and potentially northwestern Africa. Although practised in eastern and southern areas, these tools of subsistence spread slowly and inconsistently. This was especially true as hunting spots like Montserrat (Barcelona), La Sarsa (Valencia), and Carigüela (Granada) were favoured by groups comprised of extended family members or small bands. In comparison, southwestern Spain and Portugal saw the advent of the Neolithic much later between 4500-3800 BCE. By 4000 BCE megalithic tombs began to form at Pavia, Reguengos de Monsaraz (Alentejo) and other pieces of Atlantic littoral land while funerary monuments began to dot the landscape in cities such as Alentejo, Extremadura and some nearby coasts.

After 3200 BCE, there were clear changes in technology and social organization. Inevitably, skills in copper working emerged, and bigger villages began to populate the coastal areas of Spain and Portugal. Perhaps none more impressive than Los Millares (Almería), which spanned over five acres (two hectares) and was protected by triple walls of stone with towers at regular intervals. Its formidable barbican stretched over 300 metres, fencing off a triangle of land above the Andarax River, encircled by a cemetery of 70 collective tombs. Moreover, several small citadels framed the nearby hills as a deterrent for possible attackers – inside these protective walls lay humble dwellings and one large building that served as a workshop for melting copper and casting objects. The Alhamilla highlands, twenty kilometres away from Los Millares, were home to both mines and smelting slags from this period; further evidence of the development of Copper Age societies can be seen at El Barranquete and Almizaraque (Almería) as well as on the western outskirts of Sevilla (Seville), Cabezo del Plomo (Murcia), Vila Nova de São Pedro and Zambujal north of Lisbon (

By 2000 BCE, Copper Age villages had been abandoned and settlement was moved to new sites, sometimes only a few hundred yards away. Hilltops, which were difficult to access, were particularly preferred; in southeastern Spain there was a shift from collective practices of the Copper Age societies to burying the dead under the floors of homes. El Argar and El Oficio (Almería) had notable social stratification: women were adorned with silver diadems while their male consorts had bronze swords, axes and polished pottery. At Fuente-Álamo (Almería) the elite lived separately from the village in square stone houses with round granaries nearby, but this practice wasn’t as common on the southern Meseta where fortified hamlets called motillas dominated a flat landscape. There was no village living in eastern or northern Spain; instead hamlets like Moncín (Zaragoza) or isolated family farms such as El Castillo (Frías de Albarracín, Teruel) existed. Small settlements known as castros arose along the Atlantic coast and Bay of Biscay; these locations saw an extensive bronze industry that maintained contact with Britain and France and commonly buried hoards of metal tools and weapons

Spanish Phoenicians

Tradition tells of Phoenician voyages to establish new cities, with Utica on the Tunisian coast reportedly started in 1178 BCE and Tyre having a Spanish colony at Gadir (Cádiz) by 1100 BCE. However, there is no evidence to corroborate this. Archaeological discoveries reveal that around 800 BCE the Phoenicians began to settle in Southern Spain shortly after establishing Carthage. The search for fresh resources drew them farther west and led them to set their sights on the mineral wealth of Southern Spain. Its silver, tin and gold reserves yielded much-needed raw materials to meet Assyrian’s growing tribute demands. By 700 BCE silver from Río Tinto primarily flooded the Assyrian market, devaluing silver merchandise significantly. This was the impetus for their interest in the western region.

The Phoenicians were well-known for their commerce and were based primarily in Tyre and Byblos. This accounts for the discovery of rich tombs with Phoenician designs, containing items such as wine jars, Greek pottery, and gold jewelry at Almuñécar, Trayamar, and Villaricos. They founded maritime bases stretching from the Balearic Islands to Cádiz on the Atlantic to facilitate trade in salted fish, dyes and textiles. Morro de Mezquitilla, Toscanos, and Guadalhorce are some of the early settlements where artifacts have been found as well as Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar and the Temple of Melqart in Sancti Petri near Cádiz. With the fall of Tyre to Babylonian rule in 573 BCE and its subsequent subjugation, this trading system suffered a downturn bringing about an end to much of the prosperity it once brought about. Nevertheless colonies such as Abdera (Adra), Baria (Villaricos), Carmona (Carmo), Gadir (Cádiz), Malaca (Málaga) and Sexi (Almuñécar) thri

Those from Greece

Greeks from Phocaea first arrived to Spain around 575 BCE, but only managed to settle in two colonies close to Massilia (Marseille); these being Emporion (Ampurias) and Rhode (Rosas). However, they weren’t the first to have a presence there; Phoenicians had been trading on the southern coast well before them, between 800 and 550 BCE. The Archaic Greeks were mainly dealing with goods like olive oil, perfumes, pottery, bronze jugs, armour and figurines. After 600 BCE, their commerce ascended until it reached its peak around 550 BCE -corresponding precisely to the areas most-influenced by the Phoenicians and where they mostly lived.

Herodotus collected stories surrounding the late 7th century commerce that featured a kingdom called Tartessos (Tartessus), led by its ruler, King Arganthonios. It was said that he befriended the Greek captain Kolaios after the vessel Kolaios was sailing in strayed from its path and landed there. This realm was regarded as a mineral goldmine where the items he had brought to trade fetched him a great deal of silver in return. To the Greeks, Tartessos appeared as a mythical place far beyond their reach, but it is actually an ancient Bronze Age civilization located in southwestern Spain, with its industry centered around the Tinto River mines, which prospered between 800 and 550 BCE.

As evidenced by the shipwreck at El Sec (Palma de Mallorca), Greek objects were widely traded by Carthaginian middlemen after 450 BCE. Greek objects were directed to the eastern peninsula rather than to the west and south. There were millstones, ingots, and decorated Greek pottery on board the vessel that sank, some of which were scratched with Punic names such as “Slave of Melqart” (MLQRT’BD) and “Baal is Merciful” (B’HLM).

Spanish Iberians

In reaction to the culture of the Phoenicians and Greeks, indigenous Bronze Age societies rapidly assimilated eastern Mediterranean values and technologies. At first, this process only affected a small number of people; however, over a few generations (700-550 BCE), it gathered momentum, incorporating entire societies into the transformation. Various new adventurers emerged as older forms of patronage were replaced through the introduction of prestige goods not controlled by former rulers. This can be observed in various tombs around Carmona (e.g. El Acebuchal and Setefilla) and Huelva (La Joya) where wealth included walnut wood chariots, ivory caskets with silver hinges, bronze mirrors, tiered incense burners, ornate libation jugs, filigree gold jewelry, and granulated objects. Imported glass pieces and ivory artifacts have also been discovered in several spectacular southern Spanish treasures such as El Carambolo (Seville) and Aliseda (Cáceres); silver tableware and engraved scarabs have been found at both sites.

From 550 BCE, a unique culture grew to be distinguishable in the entirety of the south and east of the peninsula. Classical writers referred to this as “Iberian” and it presented an ethnic and linguistic variation that kept its integrity until it was assimilated into the Roman Empire. The cities built by Iberians showed evidence of Phoenician and Greek colonization, specifically in western Andalusia, where Ategua, Cástulo, Ibros, Osuna, Tejada la Vieja and Torreparedones were especially prominent. Similarly at the opposite end of Iberia, Calaceite (Teruel), Olérdola, Tivissa (Tarragona) and Ullastret (Girona) also saw remarkable development. Every city had its own political system; while some formed unions others kept their autonomy as independent city-states. Western Andalusia witnessed undisturbed prosperity from 550 BCE; however many towns located in southern and eastern Spain were ravaged around the middle of the 4th century owing to political unrest associated with Carthaginian interference.

Agriculture remained fundamental to the economy, but it became supplemented with grapes and olives introduced from the East. Ironworking was embraced by the Phoenicians and agricultural tools made of iron became commonplace by 400 BCE. Forging weapons created an opportunity for blacksmiths to display their artistic skills to a great degree. The swift potter’s wheel enabled mass production of crockery and storage vessels, resulting in many regional centres of craftsmanship appearing across the region. Geometric designs were common in early works of art, while more elaborate figurative compositions were seen after 300 BCE. Certain areas like Archena, Elx (Elche), Liria and Azaila rose to prominence as centres of production that featured scenes derived from Iberian myth and legend on objects they crafted. Mining for silver at Tinto River boomed which took operations up the Guadalquivir rivervalley to Cástulo and along the coast at Cartagena. A staggering six million tons of silver slag were amassed in these Phoenician and Iberian workings. Silver was ample among Iberian elites who even used it to make dishes decorated with religious symbols – one such example being a remarkable

The sophisticated modeling of human forms, especially in the friezes from Porcuna, testify to the influence of Greek art. Many sculptures created as emblems to decorate tombs were of deer, griffins, horses and lions and were usually placed atop freestanding columns or displayed on tiered monuments. The tower tomb from Pozo Moro (Albacete), dating back to 500 BCE is notable for its bas reliefs of the Lord of the Underworld in a style that harkens back to 8th-century sculpture from northern Syria. At Cerro de los Santos (Albacete) hundreds of stone human figurines were found, while bronze was favoured for statuettes at Despeñaperros (Jaén). Funerary sculptures discovered at Elx and Baza depict enthroned ladies adorned with jewellery and robes, believed to represent the Carthaginian goddess Astarte; these thrones had side cavities used to receive cremations.

The indigenous people of Iberia developed three writing systems. An alphabet based on Phoenician signs was in use by 650 BCE in the southwest, while southeast and Catalonia had alphabets that originated from Greek models. An abundance of inscriptions are still around today, for example letters inscribed on rolled-up lead sheets discovered at Mogente (Valencia) and Ullastret, although they cannot be deciphered. The only details that can be made out are some place names and personal names. These writing systems were used until the Romans invaded the region.

Celtic peoples

Inland Spain followed a different trajectory. To the west and north, a world has been documented as Celtic. It was known that Iron was in use from around 700 BCE, with agricultural and herding economies practiced by people living in small villages or fortified compounds called castros, in the northwest. Indo-European languages like Celtic and Lusitanian were spoken by those who were divided culturally and politically into many independent tribes and territories; hundreds of place-names have been left behind as testimony. Celts living on the central mesetas came into contact with Iberians and adopted several of their customs – such as wheel-made pottery, rough stone sculptures resembling animals as well as an eastern Iberian alphabet (visible on several coins and Bronze Plaque from Botorrita [Zaragoza]), though they did not start organizing themselves into urban settlements until 2nd century BCE. Metalworking proved to be fruitful for them with distinctive neck rings (torques) of silver or gold along with brooches and bangles being evidence of their technical abilities. However, Mediterranean way of life could reach the interior only after Romans conquered Numantia in 133 BCE and Asturias in 19 BCE.

Harrison, Richard John

Spain during the Roman era


As a result of Carthage losing control of Sicily and Sardinia after the First Punic War, the Romans became interested in Spain. A dispute over Saguntum, which Hannibal had seized, led to a second conflict between Rome and Carthage.

The Romans had initially intended to take the war to Spain, however events saw them compelled to do so defensively in order to stop Carthaginian reinforcements from aiding Hannibal who had already invaded Italy. Roman generals were triumphant in most of their pursuits and had clear success, capturing large sections of the land until they suffered a catastrophic loss in 211 BCE that caused their retreat back to the Ebro River. Eventually, Scipio Africanus resumed Rome’s campaign against the Carthaginians, which was finalised after their defeat at Baecula and Ilipa in 208-207. Upon his triumphant return home, Scipio was granted the consulate and eventually succeeded in eliminating Hannibal at Zama located in northern Africa two years later.

After the Carthaginians were ousted from Spain, the Romans began to govern only the areas impacted by the war: the east coast and Baetis Valley (Guadalquivir). In the following three decades, Roman forces faced constant opposition, mostly from Iberian tribes of the northeast, Celtiberians in Meseta’s northeast, and Lusitanians in the west; however it does not appear that these hostilities were coordinated. Roman domain grew but slowly. The region was later divided into two provinces: Nearer Spain (Hispania Citerior) and Further Spain (Hispania Ulterior), after which elected magistrates (praetors) were assigned for a two-year term to command their respective armies. The Romans prioritized attaining victories over Spanish factions for public recognition back in Rome rather than instituting order. After Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus’ and Lucius Postumus Albinus’ campaigns between 180–178, treaties were signed with Celtiberians and likely other peoples too, leading to more regular taxation imposed by Rome.

In the 2nd century, while Rome was preoccupied by other conflicts in the eastern Mediterranean and Africa, wars broke out in Celtiberia, located in northern Meseta, and Lusitania. These struggles dragged on for 20 years, during which Roman armies were defeated on multiple occasions – most notably in 137 when Gaius Hostilius Mancinus’ entire army surrendered to the Celtiberians. The war against the Lusitanians only came to an end with the assassination of their leader Viriathus in 139. The Celtiberians were finally subdued by Publius Scipio Aemilianus – grandson of Hannibal’s adversary – through his capture of their main city, Numantia (near modern Soria), after a long siege.

From the 1st century BCE, Spain was embroiled in the civil wars that engulfed Rome. In 82 BCE, after Lucius Cornelius Sulla had taken over control of the city from Gaius Marius’ supporters (who had died four years prior), Quintus Sertorius, with Spanish communities aiding him and his Marian position as governor of Hispania Citerior, frustrated attempts by Quintus Metellus Pius and a young Pompey to regain control of the peninsula. This continued until Sertorius’ assassination in 72 led to the downfall of his cause. Rapidly conquering Spain during Julius Caesar’s battle with Pompey, Caesar achieved victory at Ilerda (Lleida) over Pompeians; yet following Pompey’s death in Egypt in 48, sons Gnaeus and Sextus Pompey gathered strength in the south of Spain and presented a genuine danger until Caesar defeated Gnaeus at Munda (present-day Sevilla province) in 45. It wasn’t until Augustus – master of the Roman Empire after defeating Mark Antony at Actium in 31 – conquered all of Spain did this period end. The last area to be brought into submission was the Cantabrian Mountains located in the north between 26

Spain’s Romanization

The Romans did not appear to actively pursue a policy of “Romanization” in Spain during their first two centuries there. In 206, Scipio left some wounded veterans at Italica and the Roman Senate approved a settlement of 4,000 from both Roman soldiers and native women at Carteia in 171. Furthermore, Corduba and Valentia may have seen veteran settlements during the 2nd century BCE. There was considerable migration from Italy to the southern silver-mining regions throughout this time too. In Catalonia, however, villas owned by those who were producing wine for export had emerged in Baetulo before the end of the century. It wasn’t until Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus that full-scale Roman foundations (coloniae) were made for legionary veterans – some on existing native towns such as Tarraco while others on previously unpopulated areas like Emerita Augusta. By early 1st century CE, nine coloniae existed in Baetica, eight in Tarraconensis and five in Lusitania. An inscription from Genetiva Iulia at Urso shows a town with its own magistrates, officials, council and assigned communal land which dates back to its foundation under Julius Caesar.

Throughout the rule of Augustus, to the overthrow of Nero in 68 CE, native cities began to resemble Roman structures by establishing their own public buildings (which included forums, local government quarters, temples, and bathhouses), some obtaining the title of municipium. This enabled those inhabiting it to benefit from Latin right under Roman law, consequently allowing their magistrates to become citizens of Rome. This act was strongly encouraged when the Flavian emperors—Vespasian (69-79 CE), Titus (79-81 CE) and Domitian (81-96 CE)—took power. Vespasian is said to have provided all Spanish communities with the Latin right; though this may be untrue, there are inscriptions from towns in Baetica that attest a general charter being granted in Domitian’s reign. It meant these municipia had to take on forms used by coloniae for Roman citizens and organise themselves accordingly. The likely reason for this uncommon attention towards Spain came as a result of their backing for Servius Sulpicius Galba during his time as governor of Tarraconensis in 68 CE; he had been part of an uprising against Nero and served briefly as emperor between 68-69.

The evidence of Spain’s high standing in the Roman Empire of the 1st century CE is plentiful. It can be seen through the Spaniards who made their mark on life in Rome, like Lucius Annaeus Seneca and Martial, who hailed from Corduba and Bilbilis respectively. Moreover, two emperors of this time, namely Trajan and Hadrian, were natives of Italica. Thus, it is clear that these towns and cities had a strong presence among the elite circles of society.

From the reign of Augustus to that of Galba, the number of Roman troops stationed in Hispania decreased. In Vespasian’s time, it was reduced to a single legion, known as VII Gemina Felix and stationed at León. Under subsequent emperors, Spanish recruits began to serve all over the Roman Empire from Britain to Syria. Military activity within Spain itself was relatively rare; such as when Mauri (Imazighen) attacked in the 170s and during chaotic times in the 3rd century which are said to have included sacking Tarraco. In 406, Constantine attempted to overthrow Honorius – leading to many soldiers being removed from Spain for civil war. This left their forces too weak to repel the Vandals, Suebi and Alani who crossed over into Hispania in 409.

From the time of Augustus, the provincial governors, who had been commanders in military areas under the Roman Republic, turned to a more administrative role. In Baetica, which was the most pacified Augustan province, a proconsul selected by the Senate in Rome was its governor; yet Tarraconensis and Lusitania were under governors appointed directly by Emperor Augustus (legati Augusti). This arrangement persisted until Diocletian’s reign (284–305 CE), when Tarraconensis was split into three — Gallaecia, Tarraconensis and Carthaginiensis. Baetica’s financial matters were looked after by another magistrate (quaestor) as per procedures from republican times, while Augustus’ provinces gave this responsibility to imperial agents (procuratores Augusti). The task of administering law had always been up to provincial commanders; it took place across multiple centres with their own districts (conventus): Corduba (Baetica’s provincial capital), Astigi (Ecija), Gades (Cádiz) and Hispalis (Sevilla) for Baetica; Tarraco itself, Caesaraugusta (Zaragoza), Nova Carthago

Agriculture was the mainstay of Roman Spain’s economy, as it was throughout the ancient world. Evidence for this is found in the wreckages of ships and amphorae discovered in Spain and other parts of the Roman Empire. The most impressive of these are at Monte Testaccio – a hill composed mostly of empty amphorae containers which had transported olive oil from Baetica to Rome during the first three centuries CE. Similarly, wine from Baetica and Tarraconensis, though it wasn’t held in high regard by Romans, was shipped out from 1st century BCE to mid-2nd century CE. Moreover, Spanish fish sauces such as garum were well-known and much appreciated throughout the Roman world. Other exports included glass items, pottery and esparto grass used for rope or basket making. Mining too was an important contributor to Spanish economic development; indeed, Spain was among the most significant mining centres for Rome.

Roman control played a major role in influencing religion in Spain. Along the eastern coast and in the Baetis valley, Roman deities replaced earlier gods that weren’t physically represented. In Greek and Phoenician colonies, local gods were linked to Roman ones, such as the cult of Hercules/Melqart at Gades. Romans maintained local deities longer in the north and west. Worship of emperors was common, especially within provincial capitals to display loyalty to the emperor; priesthoods of imperial cults became part of their dignitaries’ careers. Mystery religions from Egypt, like that of Isis, started to spread in 1st and 2nd centuries CE, likely leading to Christian establishment during the 2nd century which is recorded through accounts of martyrdoms from 3rd century and documents from Elvira Council 306. Bishop Hosius (Ossius; c. 257–357) from Corduba even served as Constantine’s religious advisor after his conversion to Christianity in 312.

Roman-era remains can be found throughout Spain, and some of the most spectacular are the city walls of Tarragona and Lugo, aqueducts at Segovia, Mérida, and Tarragona, a reservoir, theatre, and public buildings in Mérida, bridge structures in Alcántara and Córdoba, Italica and Ampurias (Emporion) towns. And to top it all off gorgeous collections of Roman art showcases can be seen at National Archaeological Museums in Madrid and Tarragona as well as provincial archaeological museums in Mérida, Sevilla, Zaragoza and Barcelona; Conimbriga (Portugal) has one too.

Richardson, John S.

To c. 500, Spain was ruled by the Visigoths

In the 5th century, Roman rule throughout the Western Empire was threatened by various Germanic tribes, including the Visigoths. The Visigoths, who had lived along the Danube River and accepted Arian Christianity, were granted permission by Emperor Valens in 376 to settle within the empire. However, mistreatment of the Goths by local officials and failure of the empire to uphold its end of their agreement led to revolt. This culminated in Valens’ death in 378 during the Battle of Adrianople and a decisive victory for the Goths. During Theodosius I’s reign, some concessions were made allowing these Germanic peoples to become “federated allies” with Rome; but his successors could not contain them. In 406, Ostrogoths attempted to invade Italy which allowed Vandals, Alans and Suebi (Suevi) to enter Gaul before eventually settling in Spain. The Suebi and Asding Vandals took over Galicia (Gallaecia) in the northwest while Siling Vandals occupied Baetica in the south and Alans settled in Lusitania and Carthaginiensis in central Spain. Tarraconensis alone remained completely ruled by Rome for that time

The death of Theosodius prompted Alaric, the new king, to revolt against Rome. His aspirations were opposed by the general Stilicho until he was executed in 408. This led to Alaric performing a siege of Italy and the eventual sacking of Rome in 410 which caused a ripple effect throughout the empire. Unfortunately, Alaric died soon after and his successor was Athaulf who sought recognition as foederati of the Roman Empire but ultimately moved into Tarraconensis, where he was killed in 415. Subsequently, Wallia took power between 415-418 who had a better relationship with Rome as they aided them against other barbarian tribes in the region. The Siling Vandals and Alans that remained after Visigoth attacks looked for refuge with other tribes such as the Asdings and Suebi of Galicia. In 418 Honorius acknowledged their efforts by allowing them to live in Aquitania Secunda and Narbonensis provinces in Gaul.

The Suebi and the Asding Vandals inflicted destruction in Spain, while King Gaiseric (Genseric) led the Vandals across the Strait of Gibraltar in 429. They then conquered North Africa, where they ruled until the Byzantine reconquest in 534. In addition, initially pagan, the Suebi embraced Arianism before St. Martin of Dumio, bishop of Braga converted them to Roman Catholic Christianity in the mid-6th century. Lastly, their independent kingdom in Galicia endured until it was overcome by the Visigoths in 585.

The Visigoths, an ally of Rome, aided in the defense of Gaul against Attila and the Huns. Alas, decadence within the Western Empire caused a rift between them and Rome. With Euric (466–484) as their leader, they formed an independent kingdom in southern Gaul with Toulouse at its centre. The Visigoths also expelled the Suebi from Galicia and secured ownership of Tarraconensis and part of Lusitania. However, they were unable to take control over Baetica and Carthaginiensis.

Following the disintegration of Spanish imperial rule, Roman culture still had a strong presence. Around six million Hispano-Romans made up the majority of the population compared to only 200,000 barbarians. A large amount of administrative positions were held by the Hispano-Romans and they kept being governed by the Theodosian Code. The Codex Euricianus (“Code of Euric”) – created in 475 or 483 or by Euric’s son later – was written in Latin and developed as specific law just for the Visigoths. Additionally, it also regulated interactions between Romans and Visigoths who followed Euric. In 506, Alaric II (Euric’s son; 484–507) released a legal code known as either Breviarium Alariciarum (“Breviary of Alaric”) or Lex Romana Visigothorum (“Roman Law of the Visigoths”), based on the Theodosian Code with aim to serve Roman citizens.

The Visigoths’ rule over southern Gaul ended in 507, when Clovis I and the Franks triumphed over Alaric II at Vouillé. As a result of this, the Visigoths had no choice but to settle further into Spain, where they set up their kingdom in Toledo (Toletum). Taking advantage of internal strife among the barbarians, emperor Justinian endeavoured to retake sections of the Western Empire and succeeded in regaining control of Spain’s southern and eastern coasts. He maintained authority in that part of the peninsula for around 70 years.

For more than a century before their effective settlement in Spain, the Visigoths had been exposed to the Roman world and had developed a superficial level of Romanization. Despite this, major differences in law, culture, society and religion meant that the Visigoths remained separate from the Hispano-Roman population. Notably, they spoke different languages and had varying levels of education. The Visigoths followed Arian Christianity while their Hispano-Roman counterparts adhered to Roman Catholicism. In terms of power, the Visigothic king was only ruler of his own people while the remaining Hispano-Romans held on to an imperial authority. Nonetheless, a 6th century Roman law – outlawing intermarriage between the two peoples – was eventually abolished. Ultimately though, it was still a difficult task to unite these disparate communities politically and culturally.

Kingdom of Visigoths

The Hispano-Roman population was not easily under Visigothic control due to the Suebi’s independent kingdom in Galicia and the Basques staunchly rejecting all attempts of subjugation. Leovigild, the most powerful of the Visigothic monarchs, changing his kingship by emulating Roman symbols of rule and coming from Toledo in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, sought unification through encouraging conversion to Arian Christianity instead of coercion. Despite improving Arian belief to be more consistent with Catholicism and his emphasis on persuasion rather than compulsion, this effort did not succeed which may have been a factor in Leovigild’s son Hermenegild’s failed revolt when he accepted Roman Catholicism, which is thought to be unrelated to his uprising. Reccared, another one of Leovigild’s children, ultimately affirmed his father’s ideology to unite through religion.

Aware that the majority of his people were Catholic, Reccared (586-601) abandoned Arianism, the religion of his father, and proclaimed his dedication to Catholicism. This shift in faith encouraged the Gothic nobles and bishops to follow his example, removing one of the main hindrances towards unifying Visigoths and Hispano-Romans. Thus, Hispano-Romans no longer looked to Byzantium for help, but showed strong loyalty to the Visigothic monarchy. Consequently, Swinthila (621–631) conquered all Byzantine strongholds in Spain and increased Visigothic rule over all the lands.

The conversion of the Visigoths to Hispano-Roman civilization not only signaled its prevalence but allowed the bishops to develop a close connection with the monarchy. Hermenegild and Reccared, for example, had a special bond with St. Leander of Sevilla, whose influence was instrumental in their conversions and who was Isidore’s brother. As seen in Byzantine practice, the Hispano-Roman kings claimed the right to choose bishops—the natural leaders among the majority population—and invite them to attend Councils of Toledo. While these gatherings were mainly religious events, they had an immense effect on governing matters in the dominion: as well as handling church affairs, judgments for treason or elections for royalty could be discussed and decreed by the bishops. This support from Church hierarchies kept up harmony throughout the kingdom; however, this came at the cost of slightly jeopardizing their autonomy sometimes.

The electoral nature of Visigothic monarchy was preserved due to a hostile nobility towards inheritance and the lack of rightful heirs. Trying to ensure the ruler’s safety, bishops developed the anointment ceremony with holy oil, which signified that the king was now under God’s protection and had acquired a divine nature. Furthermore, practices were established to prevent any potential violent episodes during elections. The royal family (officium palatinum) was inspired by the Roman imperial model and would support the King in governing, yet he could also ask for assistance from magnates and notables when needed (aula regia). Dukes, counts or judges were tasked with provincial administration as these territorial districts remained from Roman times. Nonetheless, self governance had disappeared in towns long ago. Agriculture and livestock were the main drivers of economy while commercial and industrial activities appear to have been minimal.

The Visigothic king Recceswinth (649–672) promulgated the Liber Judiciorum, a code of law marked by Roman influences. Although Germanic elements were included, such as the test of innocence by the ordeal of cold water, its content and form were fundamentally Roman in nature. Unlike Germanic customary law which was personal in application, this code was meant to hold territorial relevance. Thus, this distinguished code was an integral part of the legacy received by medieval Spain from the Visigoths, signifying the predominance of Roman civilization.

The exceptional cultural achievements of the 7th century also testify to the continued impact of the Roman heritage. The most prolific author was St. Isidore, bishop of Sevilla (Hispalis) from 600 to 636, a friend and advisor to kings. His most significant contribution to medieval civilization was the Etymologiae (Etymologies), an encyclopaedic work that summarized the wisdom of the ancient world in addition to his history of the Visigoths and theological treatises.

At the start of the 7th century, a time that would prove to be decisive for Visigothic history, King Wamba was deposed through deceit. He had been an able leader and had sought to renew their military organization. But the discontent of his reign continued, and those who followed him blamed the Jews, demanding they accept Christianity and warned them with enslavement. When Witiza died in 710, his son’s accession to power was blocked by revolt among the aristocracy – allowing Roderick, Duke of Baetica (710–711) to seize the throne instead. In response, members of Witiza’s family allegedly summoned assistance from Muslims in North Africa; Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād thus landed at Calpe (Gibraltar) in 711 before going on to defeat King Roderick and the Visigoths near Guadalete River on 19 July. The Muslim adversaries then quickly spread throughout Spain – only facing minor resistance from a leaderless Visigoth army. The kingdom eventually disappeared but its legacy lived on; inspiring Spanish kings from Asturias-León-Castile in their mission to reclaim Spain.

From the Muslim invasion to about 1260, Christian Spain was ruled by Christians

From the 8th century with the Islamic invasion, to the late 15th century when Ferdinand and Isabella crowned themselves as Catholic Monarchs of Christian Spain, a unifying theme for Christians was to maintain control over the Iberian Peninsula. Such pressure from Muslims caused religious, cultural, legal, linguistic and ethnic differences among native populations. This led to the creation of small Christian states in northern mountains following Reconquista or Reconquest. These areas grew stronger as Islamic power weakened; with the Asturias-León-Castile claiming supremacy across all regions. The Portuguese, Navarre and Aragon-Catalonia refused these claims in light of their newly established borders sealing off in 11th and 12th centuries. By mid-13th century, Muslim reign had been reduced to merely Granada under vassalage of Castile until 1492.

The Trastámara dynasty, who rose to power in Castile in the late 14th century, sought to promote unity in the peninsula through marriage and diplomacy, as well as by engaging in warfare to gain dominion over other Christian kingdoms. While Ferdinand and Isabella joined together Aragon and Castile with marriage and completed the Reconquista by conquering Granada, they failed to add Portugal by marrying into the family union. This prevented a full unification of the peninsula, despite the political union between Castile and Aragon. In addition, centuries of different languages, laws, and traditions posed a challenge that could not be overcome merely through a political union.

Christian states, 711-1035

Soon after the Islamic invasion, fleeing Visigothic nobles and the mountaineers of Asturias joined forces under the leadership of Pelayo (718–737), a Gothic lord, to oppose the Muslim forces. Generations later would hail Pelayo’s victory over Muslims at Covadonga as marking the start of the Reconquista and “salvation of Spain.” Alfonso I (739–757) broadened the territory of Asturias by occupying Galicia after Imazighen who were stationed there revolted. He also created an empty buffer zone between Christian and Islamic Spain by destroying the Duero River valley to its south. The Basques seem to have regained their autonomy in western Pyrenees while Franks expelled Muslims from Septimania (southwestern France) and moved into northeast Spain. Although Charlemagne was unable to capture Zaragoza in 778, his troops succeeded in taking Barcelona in 801 and occupied Catalonia. This region was dubbed Spanish March as it comprised multiple counties under Frankish sovereignty and had strong political and cultural ties with Carolingian empire then followed by kingdom of France for quite some time. As a consequence, Catalans looked towards north for many centuries.

In stark contrast, the Asturians looked towards the south. With Alfonso II (791–842) moving his chief seat to Oviedo, he sought to recreate the Visigothic institutions. During the late 9th century, Alfonso III (866–910) made use of internal conflicts in Islamic Spain to raid enemy lands and capture key fortresses like Porto. Moreover, he worked to repopulate those regions extending down to the Duero River which had been abandoned for approximately 100 years. His numerous erected castles on the eastern border acted as defence against Muslim invaders, hence giving Castile its distinct personality and name through this era too. This period also saw the creation of some of the earliest known Christian chronicles of Reconquista, which tried to make visible historical links between Visigoths and Asturians. Claiming themselves as direct successors to Visigothic authority and traditions, the Asturian people took credit for reclaiming Islamic Spain.

However, Asturian leadership did not go unchallenged: King Sancho I Garcés (905–926) established a strong Basque kingdom with its centre in Pamplona in Navarre, and Count Wilfred of Barcelona (873–898), whose descendants would rule Catalonia until the 15th century, asserted his independence from the Franks by controlling a number of small Catalan counties.

García I (910–914) moved the main power centre from Oviedo to León, giving the impression of weakening Islamic Spain. However, this was not the case. The caliphs of Cordóba worked hard to restore order in the 10th century and resumed their raids on Christian lands. Sadly, these usually ended in destruction for the Christians, although there were some victories – most notably Ramiro II’s (931–951) triumph at Simancas over ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III in 939. Nevertheless, Ramiro faced increasing opposition from his own Castilian people who had become hardened by exposure to Islamic attack and refused to adhere to Leonese law. This defiance led to Fernán González (c. 930–970), count of Castile, laying the foundations for Castilian independence.

In the late 10th century, with Islamic power on the rise, it was clear to everyone that Christians had declined. Ambassadors from Ramiro III of León (966–984), Sancho II Garcés of Navarre (970–994), Count Borrell II of Barcelona (c. 940–992) and Garcia Fernandez, Count of Castile (970–995) paid tribute and acknowledged Islamic hegemony. Nevertheless, the Leonese kings stuck to their Asturian customs and fought for their rights as heirs to the Visigothic tradition by claiming control over the entire peninsula with an empire based at León. Their efforts were continually thwarted by Abū ʿĀmir al-Manṣūr (Almanzor), who held tyrannical power in the caliph’s name. He looted Christian states bi-annually and sent many slaves back to Cordóba. After defeating Borrell in 985, he burned Barcelona and three years later plundered León; in 997 he sacked Santiago de Compostela. When Almanzor passed away though, Cordóba’s caliphate disintegrated, offering some solace for the Christians at last.

Islamic rule’s downfall allowed Christian states to rest more easily. This encouraged Ramon Borrell, count of Barcelona (992–1018), to exact revenge as he sacked Cordóba in 1010. Simultaneously, Alfonso V of León (999–1028) used this opportunity to piece together his kingdom and enact the first sweeping laws for his country at the council held at León in 1017. When it appeared that the Islamic threat was gone, the Christian rulers reverted back to their former disputes. Sancho III Garcés (the Great), king of Navarre (1000–35), created an unbroken authority within Christian Spain for some time due to enhanced ties with northern Christendom, which brought about French influence; for example, French pilgrims utilized the recently created route to Compostela, monastic life was changed in accordance with Cluniac observance, and several northern social ideas and customs shaped nobility’s lives differently. Possessing control over counties such as Aragon, Sobrarbe and Ribagorza with Count Berenguer Ramon I of Barcelona (1018–35) as one of his subjects, Sancho III elongated his avowal by taking control of Castile and challenging

Medieval empire, 1035-1157

The rule of Sancho III stretched far and wide, encompassing all Christian states – save Catalonia. He chose to disregard the Leonese tradition of maintaining an indivisible kingdom, instead opting to parcel out his kingdoms among his sons: Navarre was given to García III (1035–54), Castile to Ferdinand I (1035–65) and Aragon to Ramiro I (1035–63). This decision paved the way for Castile and Aragon’s status as sovereign kingdoms. But this wasn’t enough for Ferdinand; after gaining possession of León in 1037 and assuming imperial title, he went on a 30-year quest for hegemony over all of Spain; on the battlefield, he triumphed over his brothers, captured Coimbra and even reduced Muslim rulers in Toledo (Ṭulayṭulah), Sevilla (Ishbīliya) and Badajoz (Baṭalyaws) to tributary status.

Meanwhile, Count Ramon Berenguer I of Barcelona (1035–76) promoted Catalan interests and relationships among the lords of Languedoc in southern France. The earliest legal texts in the compilation of Catalan law, known as the Usatges de Barcelona (“Usages of Barcelona”), were also published by him.

Ferdinand I, on his deathbed, split his realms between his sons: Sancho II was awarded Castile, and Alfonso VI obtained León. However, a quarrel between them ended in tragedy when Sancho was killed in 1072, enabling Alfonso to assume rule of both Castile and León. Before accepting him as their monarch, the Castilian nobility made Alfonso swear that he had not been involved in Sancho’s murder. One of the vassals to recognise him was Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar – El Cid Campeador (or ‘Lord’ from the Arabic sīdī). Jealousies at court led El Cid into exile and he eventually joined the Muslim king of Zaragoza for protection before fighting for the king of Valencia.

At first, Alfonso VI seized the opportunity of the unrest in Islamic Spain, to exact tribute. But he eventually chose to conquer them, culminating in the surrender of Toledo in 1085 – an event that not only extended his frontiers to the Tagus River, but had significant symbolic import, as it was known historically as the throne of Visigothic rule. With it came his affirmation as “Emperor of Toledo” and “Emperor of Spain”. Muslim sources noted that he labelled himself “Emperor of Two Religions”, alluding to dominion over both Christians and Muslims. Numerous Muslims and Jews who would have typically escaped southward rather than give in to Christian domination settled within his realm; accompanied by many Mozarabs – Arabic-speaking Christians. This resulted in a tumultuous interplay between these various religious and cultural values over generations to follow.

The fall of Toledo caused the Muslim kings of Spain to panic and summon help from the Almoravids of Morocco, an Islamic group with Amazigh (Berber) origins. The Almoravids gained their first victory in 1086 against Alfonso’s army at Zalacca (Al-Zallāqah), which led to them taking control of the smaller Islamic realms in the region. This reunification meant that any further Reconquista advancement was blocked, with Alfonso remaining on the defensive. El Cid had some success when he repelled an Almoravid attack on Valencia; however, after his death in 1099, his followers were required to leave the city. Eastern Spain was then completely dominated by the Almoravids up until Zaragoza.

The Reconquista in Spain saw a steady rise in the influence of northern Europe, as Christians and Muslims contended for control of the peninsula. This was highlighted by Pope Gregory VII’s reform of the church, which called for uniformity in liturgy nationwide, by requiring the adoption of the Roman rite instead of the native Mozarabic rite that had been used since antiquity. This demand for papal sovereignty was ultimately ignored, but opportunities were created for French clergy and knights to come to Spain. The most prosperous of these were Raymond and Henry of Burgundy, cousins who married Alfonso VI’s daughters Urraca and Teresa—thereby founding dynasties that would continue to govern León and Portugal until the late 1300s.

Urraca inherited the throne of Leon from her father in 1109 and was soon after widowed. She married Alfonso I, King of Aragon and Navarre from 1104-34, but tension and conflict caused him to withdraw to Aragon. Her son, Alfonso VII (1126–57) made a huge impression throughout Spain by his coronation as emperor in 1135. This was the first and last imperial coronation held in Spain, however, Leonese ascendancy was quickly challenged by the formation of the federation of Aragon and Catalonia, as well as the newly independent kingdom of Portugal.

Alfonso I dissolved his marriage to Urraca and proceeded to extend his boundaries, capturing Zaragoza in the process. This allowed him to march right into the centre of Muslim Spain, where he liberated the Mozarabs of Granada (Gharnāṭah) and resettled them in Aragon. Consequently, remaining Mozarabic people were likely few in number by then. Before passing away, Alfonso tried to bequeath his realms to religious orders and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but this was rejected by his populace who, from 1076 controlled by Aragonese kings, opted for their own ruler – García IV Ramírez (1134–50). Ramiro II (1134–37) – the King’s brother who was forced out of his monastic life – was asked to take hold of the crown. After having a child named Petronila who could potentially inherit it all, Ramiro went back to his monastery for good. Petronila was betrothed to Count Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona (1131–62) who assumed responsibility for the governance of her kingdom thereafter. Petronila’s son Alfonso

As well, the county of Portugal, which Alfonso VI assigned Teresa and Henry of Burgundy to become autonomous, began to become independent. Afonso I Henriques, the son of Teresa and Henry, repudiated Leonese suzerainty in 1139 and took the royal title. Only in 1179 did the pope formally address him as king, after becoming a papal vassal and promising to pay a yearly tribute.

Internally, disagreements combined with the emergence of the Almohads – an Islamic Amazigh Union based in Morocco – caused the breakdown of the Almoravid Empire. Knowing this was their time to seize control, Christian rulers took full advantage by raiding across Islamic Spain and conquering key locations. In 1147, Afonso I – aided by Crusaders from northern Europe – seized Lisbon. Alongside Alfonso VII and Ramón Berenguer IV with a fleet from Pisa (Italy), they went on to capture Almería (Al-Marīyah) situated at the south-east coast in 1148. The same year, Count of Barcelona obtained Tortosa (Ṭurṭūshah) and Lérida (Lāridah), pushing their borders all the way to the Ebro river mouth. Unfortunately for Christians, this was not to last as Almohads triumphed over Almoravids and reacquired Almería in 1157, gaining complete control over Islamic Spain and halting Christian progress.

Castile and Aragon’s rise

Alfonso VII rejected his kingdom’s aspiration of ruling a unified peninsula by dividing it between his sons. Sancho III got Castile while Ferdinand II claimed León. In spite of the Christians’ defense against Almohad power, Alfonso VIII of Castile and Alfonso II of Aragon signed an agreement in 1179 to share whatever they could conquer in Islamic Spain. This treaty granted Castile the right to take back Andalusia and Murcia, while Aragon would claim Valencia. Unfortunately, Alfonso VIII’s efforts to control other Christian rulers caused conflict and hindered any attempts against Almohads. Tragically, this resulted in Castile’s defeat at Alarcos (Al-Arak) by Almohads in 1195. With the realization that Almohads threatened them all, the other Christian monarchs made peace with Castile. Sancho VII of Navarre and Peter II of Aragon joined forces with Leoneseand Portuguese troops to overcome the Almohads at Las Navas de Tolosa (Al-ʿIqāb) in 1212. This was a pivotal victory for the Christian forces; it marked the end of Almohad empire and opened Andalusia for Christianity.

The kings of Aragon’s involvement in the Reconquista was pivotal, but their role as counts of Barcelona necessitated a relationship with southern France, where multiple lords were their vassals. Pope Innocent III subsequently declared a Crusade to oppress the Albigensian heresy in the same area. Peter II, though not an advocate for the heretics, realised that this Crusade could jeopardise his feudal autonomy and interests there. Consequently, he headed to his brother-in-law’s aid – Count of Toulouse – and was defeated at Muret in 1213. In the years after his death, Catalan ambition and influence were substantially curtailed in southern France.

As the Almohad empire disintegrated in the second quarter of the 13th century, Christian rulers were successful in reconquering nearly all of Spain. In 1229, James I of Aragon utilized Catalan naval power to capture the kingdom of Majorca (Mayūrqah), beginning Catalan expansion in the Mediterranean. The subjugation of Valencia was more difficult, as James was occupied with his attempts to gain Navarre. When Sancho VII passed away without any children, Theobald of Champagne, his nephew, was accepted as their king by the people of Navarre; this furthered French influence in the area. Realizing that he wouldn’t be able to acquire Navarre, James abandoned his aspirations and redirected his attention to reclaiming Valencia in 1238 – bringing numerous Muslims under his rule.

Alfonso IX of León (1188–1230) succeeded in conquering Mérida (Māridah) and Badajoz in 1230, leading the way for Sevilla’s capture. Upon his death, his son Ferdinand III inherited León as well as Castile (1217–52), through Berenguela – daughter of Alfonso VIII. This unification of Castile and León paved the way for combined resources to be used in future conquests, such as Cordoba (1236), Murcia (1243), Jaén (Jayyān) (1246) and Sevilla (1248). Only the kingdom of Granada remained in Muslim hands; they were forced to pay an annual tribute to Castile and became its vassal. Although not a great concern when Granada stood alone, a threat arose when aided by the Muslims of Morocco – causing many issues for Christians at this last Islamic stronghold in Spain.

Culture, economy, and society

Following the Islamic conquest, Christian society and culture developed slowly for 300 years, but major changes occurred in the 12th and 13th centuries. As the population grew, communication with northern Europe increased, commerce and urban life gained prominence, and the Reconquista was executed more successfully than ever before.

The kingdoms of Castile-León, Aragon-Catalonia, Navarre, and Portugal reached the frontiers they remained on until the end of the Middle Ages, with minimal change. In comparison to other Christian states, the Crown of Aragon was a confederation of the kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia, and Majorca and the principality of Catalonia.

The notion of hereditary succession was accepted in the early days, although elements of election could still be observed in ingratiating a new king. According to Visigothic practice, the monarch would sometimes go through coronation and anointing. Peter II of Aragon even obtained his crown from the Pope in Rome, making him a vassal of the papacy and becoming ruler over his kingdom as part of a fiefdom. The major officials of the royal household included the chancellor, usually a cleric responsible for issuing royal letters and record-keeping; the mayordomo, a magnate managing the household and domain; and alférez (Catalan: senyaler) – another great who would arrange and direct an army under king’s orders. Additionally, merinos or later on adelantados utilized as provincial governors in Castile were picked from nobility pool. Initially components of Carolingian empire, Counties located in Catalonia achieved independence by 11th century with Counts of Barcelona obtaining near infallible power over every inch of it. Under their control there existed vicars (vegueres) looking after judgements while bailiffs (batlles) took charge of taxes within territorial divisions. Furthermore

Feudalism was a key factor in how the Christian kingdoms were organized, especially in Catalonia where French customs heavily influenced it. The count of Barcelona demanded court and military service from vassals who had been granted fiefs by him, some of whom even had vassals of their own. In the western states, on the other hand, royal vassals held land with full ownership instead of in fief. Ricos hombres or barones in the west and Catalonia were obligated to act as have their rulers’ chief counsels while also supplying them with the majority of their forces. Below these magnates were nobles known as infanzones, caballeros, or cavallers, who usually functioned as vassals for the magnates.

Agriculture and pasturage made up the bulk of wealth in Christian states, as kings, landlords, and nobles earned their money mainly through the use of ground property. Serfs (solariegos in Castile, payeses de remensa in Catalonia) were subjected to the most demanding duties while cultivating the land and paying various rents on respective noble estates. Their rights (the so-called “evil usages”) were such that Catalan lords had free reign to mistreat their serfs. In comparison, Castilian peasants living on behetrías lands weren’t restricted to one lord and had the liberty to switch allegiances whenever they wanted; however their entitlement was challenged during the 13th century. Despite its risks and danger, living on the outskirts had advantages which drew many people – not least being independence. Such pioneers displayed a high sense of personal value as is common today.

The Reconquista opened the doors for colonizing Duero valley, where towns (concejos) established themselves along with broad rural areas. Royal charters (fueros) laid out the rights and obligations of settlers, allowing them to choose their magistrates (alcaldes) and self-govern. The municipalities’ economies were based largely on livestock ranching and plunder from the Reconquista’s battles. Industry and trade were minor considerations, particularly in Aragon and Catalonia that had little autonomy. Nonetheless, some Catalan towns rose as leading commercial centers. Such isometric growth in urban dwellers plus merchandise and craftsmanship gave rise to guilds protecting artisans’ interests. Alongside this appeared major traders capitalizing on money exchange and credit instruments, initiating a domestic overseas trading industry arising primarily due to shipbuilding advances in Santander, Barcelona, and other ports.

The Reconquista resulted in the rule of thousands of Muslims and Jews by Christians. Those Muslims, known as Mudéjares, were mostly based in rural areas, but some urban districts held notable Muslim populations. Jews, on the other hand, usually worked as traders or moneylenders and sometimes collected taxes on behalf of royalty. Both Muslims and Jews were required to pay tribute, however they were still able to practise their worship without restraint. Unfortunately, there were cases of attacks against Jewish individuals by Christians.

The crown’s decision to summon municipal representatives to the royal council along with prelates and magnates, due to the ever-increasing administrative, military and economic importance of towns, resulted in the first such assembly – known as the Cortes. The Cortes mainly consisted of consenting to the levy of taxes required for financial obligations arising from king’s expanding responsibilities and activities. The growth of parliamentary institutions was a European-wide occurrence, though it occurred relatively early on in the peninsular kingdoms.

The Reconquista led to the restoration of prior bishoprics or the expansion of existing ones, such as the five metropolitan sees of Toledo (which asserted the topmost rank), Tarragona, Braga, Compostela, and Sevilla. Additionally in the 12th century, papal interference in Spanish affairs became more common. The French monasteries at Cluny and Citeaux had a profound impact on peninsular monastic life between the 11th and 12th centuries. The friary orders of Franciscans and Dominicans (the latter generated by Spaniard Domingo de Guzmán) were established in Spain early in the 13th century. Initially established in the Holy Land, military orders such as Templars and Hospitallers moved into Spain during the 12th century; however, several local orders were set up during the latter part of that century—Calatrava, Alcántara, Santiago, and Avis. These knights embraced a modified form of monastic life but also took part in battles versus Islam with expanding vigour.

The clergy preserved ancient cultural traditions, and authored few books that survived from the early centuries of the Reconquista. In the 8th century, Bishops Elipandus of Toledo and Felix of Urgel promoted Adoptionism, a Christian heresy belief which held that Christ in his humanity was the adopted son of God. This dispute led to polemical works and condemnations by Charlemagne’s court, Popes Adrian I and Leo III. In the 9th century, Eulogius and Alvarus of Córdoba wrote many books in defence of their Mozarabic Christian compatriots who had openly blasphemed Muhammad in Córdoba and were then martyred by Muslims there. Spanish Christians also took part in translating the Qur’an and other Islamic religious texts for Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, during the 12th century. In the 13th century, Alfonso VIII of Castile and Alfonso IX of León founded Universities in Palencia and Salamanca respectively to study theology, philosophy, Roman law, canon law; although instruction ceased at Palencia by mid-century; Salamanca eventually gained international repute. The Poema del Cid (The

The Christian era in Spain, 1260-1479

1252-1479, Castile and León

In the late medieval centuries, the kings of Castile sought to bolster their power, though the nobility endeavoured to use government institutions for their benefit. The struggle between them began during Alfonso X’s reign (the Learned, 1252–84), whose court drew scholars from across Europe and is renowned for its literary and scientific achievements. In order to gain control of Moroccan ports on the Iberian Peninsula, he provoked a revolt in 1264–66 by Andalusian and Murcian Mudéjares with aid from the king of Granada. Elected Holy Roman emperor in 1257, he expended vast amounts of money in an unsuccessful attempt to secure papal recognition over his rival claimant. These efforts were accompanied by innovative taxation and legislation that eventually incurred a formidable challenge against his rule.

Alfonso determined that an overarching law was necessary in order to replace the varied local and regional laws, such as the Fuero Juzgo and Liber Judiciorum. Consequently, the Espéculo (a code of judicial law) and the Fuero Real (a municipal law largely for Castile and Extremadura) were established around 1254. Subsequently, between 1256 and 1265 Roman Law influenced a reworked Espéculo, known as the Siete Partidas. Objecting to these changes, the nobles and citizens of towns compelled Alfonso to reaffirm their ancient laws in 1272; as a sign of their resistance they went into exile in Granada for two years. Unfortunately, his imperial claims were not acknowledged by Pope Gregory X during this period. The king’s heir, Fernando de la Cerda passed away during a Moroccan raid in 1275 which led to a disagreement about succession among his descendants’ supporters – Alfonso or Sancho. As Alfonso was incapacitated by ill health, Sancho was chosen by an assembly constituted by nobles, prelates and townspeople instead of him in 1282. Subsequent civil unrest due to discord continued until King Alfonso’s death with

Sancho IV’s twelve-year rule was marked by opposition from domestic and foreign supporters of his nephew, as well as a Muslim invasion from Morocco. This led to an ongoing battle for the Strait of Gibraltar: though Sancho seized it in 1309, the Muslims reclaimed it a quarter century later. In the minority of Ferdinand IV and Alfonso XI, fresh disturbances cropped up; however, when Alfonso came of age, he was successful in putting down his adversaries among the highborn. With aid from Christian neighbours, he won a spectacular victory over Granada and Moroccan forces at the Salado River in 1340, abolishing any potential Moroccan foothold in Spain. Algeciras (Al-Jazīrah al-Khaḍrāʾ) fell four years after this triumph, but his own demise due to the Black Death prevented him from taking ownership of Gibraltar.

During the rule of Peter the Cruel (1350–69), a bitter dispute arose between he and his half-brother Henry of Trastámara, who contested the legality of Peter’s authority. Becoming desperate for outside aid, Henry sought assistance in France, and soon enough was provided with an army led by Bertrand du Guesclin. This force succeeded in uprooting Peter from the kingdom in 1366. To return to power, Peter then called upon Edward, prince of Wales, uniting their forces with those of Castile to face off against Henry and his allies at Nájera. The coalition eventually emerged victorious in the battle, though after Edward departed Henry managed to gain retribution by defeating and taking the life of Peter at Montiel in 1369.

Henry II, the first ruler of the Trastámara dynasty, had to struggle to preserve his sovereign rights against domestic opponents and neighbouring powers. He was able to assist France in their endeavours by offering help in attacking English vessels. His son John I, who was also a French ally, acknowledged the Avignonese pope during the Great Schism. The Trastámaras’ ambition to obtain other peninsular domains was revealed when John declared that he had rights to Portugal through marriage. His invasion stirred up Portuguese patriotism and resulted in him being soundly defeated at Aljubarrota in 1385. Then, John of Gaunt and Duke of Lancaster attempted to seize Castilian throne as Peter I’s son-in-law, landing in Galicia two years later. Although aided by Portuguese fighters, he failed and eventually conceded defeat in 1388. By marrying his daughter Catherine to Henry III – John I’s elder offspring – hostility between both branches of the Castilian royal family came to an end.

The nobility exploited the minority of Henry III (1390–1406) to further their own interests, however, when he came of age, the king asserted his power. Unfortunately, prestige and authority were drastically undermined during John II’s (1406-54) prolonged reign. His uncle Fernando de Antequera served as regent and ensured stability until he was elected king of Aragon in 1412. A weak and disinterested ruler, John allowed Álvaro de Luna to dictate royal policy. The sons of Fernando – Henry and John of Navarre – attempted to seize control but Luna managed to thwart them. He was able to hold sway over proceedings for most of the period until 1453 when a sudden outburst from John saw him put to death.

During Henry IV’s reign (1454–74), the nobles were engaged in a heated battle for power. This struggle was led by Juan Pacheco, marqués de Villena, though other contenders attempted to gain the king’s favour. The question of legitimacy became tangled up when they questioned Henry’s potency and declared that his queen had given birth to an illegitimate child – who would become known as “La Beltraneja” – with her newest favourite, Beltrán de la Cueva. To settle this, Henry issued the Pact of Los Toros de Guisando in 1468 and made his sister Isabella his heir instead. Although Villena and others had hoped to control her, their plans were crashed by Isabella when she married Ferdinand of Aragon without first obtaining her brother’s consent – as promised – in 1469. As a result, Henry denounced her action and sought to prevent her from inheriting the throne upon his death. However, in 1479 “La Beltraneja” relinquished all claims after Afonso V of Portugal invaded on her behalf, leading to Ferdinand’s accession to the Aragonese throne and the creation of a personal union between Aragon and Castile. In 1474 Is

Institutions, society, and culture of Castile

During the 13th century, the ideas of the Roman state and Aristotle’s Politics profoundly impacted the advancement of Castilian monarchy. The king, in particular, was looked upon as God’s representative on Earth and was mainly responsible for maintaining the state’s welfare. To further strengthen their authority, lawyers were appointed to manage royal bureaucracy. In spite of its initial reluctance to accept Roman law, its presence grew steadily. This culminated when Alfonso XI gave his Ordenamiento de Alcalá 1348 decree. Henry II reformed his audiencia court after this, but it wasn’t until the end of Middle Ages that it was done completely. With an aim to gain control over various towns, kings took advantage of conflicts between their towns’ lower and upper classes; eventually appointing governors (corregidores) to replace local government officials and restricting any civic role for commoners while urban knights – a non-noble aristocracy – had authority over town matters. These same knights sought to attain noble status with all its privileges including tax exemption. Thus by 15th century, this method had become permanent institution.

The Cortes and the nobility both contested the monarch’s push for absolutism. John I eventually relented to their demands in 1386 and agreed that representatives from the three estates of nobility, clergy and towns would form part of the royal council (consejo real) where their views could be heard. This decision was undermined when, in the 15th century, the magnates became dominant in the council and used it to benefit themselves. Meanwhile, they were entrusted with various administrative roles across the country, like adelantado mayor (governor) in Castile, Murcia or Andalusia. To ensure their support, Trastámara kings granted them extensive lands as well as lordships over some cities and towns – a significant blow to royal authority since these had long been staunch defenders of it. In a climate now dominated by aristocracy values and beliefs, those magnates felt emboldened to challenge the monarchy even further by claiming its rights as their own.

The Cortes played an important part in the political life of the kingdom from around 1250 to 1350 and also during the reigns of Henry I and John I, who used it to try and secure their own authority. The summoning of the Cortes was common so they could give consent to taxation (servicio) for fixed lengths of time and specific goals. Both Ferdinand IV and Alfonso XI declared that they would not impose additional taxes unless it had been approved by the Cortes, with John I going further still by agreeing that the accounts could be scrutinised by them. The king regularly gave out orders in the Cortes while if they accepted motions submitted by that same body, then they would become a legal obligation. However, John II and Henry IV constricted the role of the Cortes while taking advantage of privileges it had earned centuries earlier. In some cases, municipal procurators were chosen by the crown resulting in fewer towns being called upon – eventually only 18 throughout the entire country – with many more losing their opportunity to join due to being under control of magnates who declared themselves as speaking on their behalf.

Agriculture and pasturage were the mainstays of the Castilian economy. With the Reconquista came a range of open pastures in Extremadura and Andalusia, boosting sheep and cattle industries of paramount significance. The Mesta, whose charter was originally granted by Alfonso X, wielded extensive economic and political clout. Woolen cloth production increased in towns, yet a strong middle class and guilds never formed due to entrenched military beliefs amongst urban aristocracy which hindered any involvement with trade or craftmanship. In spite of this, ports on the Bay of Biscay had major trading links with England, Flanders, France and Portugal. Additionally Genoese settlers at Sevilla’s leading southern port asserted firm control over much of its overseas trade.

The Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century caused a dramatic population reduction, as well as considerable social and economic upheaval. In 1351, King Peter I (the Cruel) attempted to create composure by introducing the Ordenamiento de Menestrales which obligated workers to recognize the same wages they had prior to the plague. It wasn’t long before a grave pogrom started against Jews between 1391 and 1412, with many being given three choices – convert to Christianity, be exiled or face death. Several conversos, who before were restrained by law, now were in prominent positions in society; however, it was suspected that they still practiced their old faith in private. To make sure that those of invidious lineage didn’t acquire supremacy over government or religion, the requirement of ‘limpieza de sangre’ was established – meaning purity of blood from Jewish or Muslim descent.

The integration of Castile into Western Europe was now complete, having been greatly aided by the efforts of Alfonso X who was instrumental in stimulating learning. This culminated in a number of works, including the General estoria, Estoria de Espanna, astronomical tables and translations of scientific texts from Arabic. His composition of the Cantigas de Santa María (a collection of lyric poems in Galician) is a testament to the cultural developments during this period. Don Juan Manuel (nephew of Alfonso X) wrote memorable works such as El Conde Lucanor and Libro de los estados. Juan Ruiz, the archpriest of Hita is one of medieval’s greatest poets with Libro de buen amor being his most well known work. Historical accounts from this period were recorded in royal chronicles by Pedro López de Ayala who focused on social and institutional developments. Meanwhile, John II was a patron to many poets and scholars which exposed Castilian writers and thinkers to the Italian Renaissance movement. This is highlighted through notable figures such as marqués de Santillana, Jorge Manrique and Fernán Pérez de Guzmán who captured life in Henry III’s court with their Generacion

1276-1479: Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia

In the late Middle Ages, the Crown of Aragon experienced tensions between the monarchy and noble class similar to those found in Castile. Amid the growth of Roman law and its enforcers, there were uprisings in both Aragon and Catalonia, to which King James I responded by affirming customary law at an assembly in Ejea in 1265. He also decided a justicia-a judge picked from the knights rather than trained jurists-should manage disputes regarding nobility. During Peter III’s (the Great; 1276–85) reign, heir to Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia (with King James gaining Majorca), relations between the crown and nobles reached a critical juncture.

Peter III’s invasion of Sicily, operating as Peter I, marked the Catalans’ second great extension into the Mediterranean and generated a prolonged international dispute with substantial internal consequences. The papacy had assigned Naples and Sicily to Charles of Anjou but Peter’s spouse made an assertion to them based on Hohenstaufen inheritance. Taking full advantage of the Sicilian Vespers – a reaction against Charles’s domination – in 1282, Peter successfully conquered Sicily. Pope Martin IV launched excommunication and removal of power against Peter as well as putting forward Aragon to a French prince. Using this troublesome situation to their benefit, the Aragonese nobility constructed an association in order to protect their independence and, in 1283, made Peter comply with their wishes which were noted down in the General Privilege statement. He accepted yearly meetings of the Cortes and approved justicia’s right to consider noble appeals. Similar assertions were made in Valencia and Catalonia where loyalty to him was firmer. After Pope advertised a Crusade King Philip III of France led his army against Peter without much success. Subsequently, deciding upon how Sicily should be administered became the focus for all three sons of Peter III.

Alfonso III (1285–91) succeeded his father in mainland dominions, while James received Sicily. Both endeavoured to quell the pope, the king of France, and Anjou’s resistance. Alfonso had seized Majorca in response to his uncle’s assistance towards the French Crusade against Aragon, but was opposed by the Aragonese nobles who compelled him to reconfirm their General Privilege and allow them to appoint certain royal councillors in 1287. When James II (1291–1327) inherited the kingdom after his brother’s passing, he made an effort at asserting undisputed control by relinquishing Sicily in 1295 and returning Majorca to his uncle. As a result of this, Pope Boniface VIII awarded Sardinia as compensation. In 1302, despite initial reluctance by the pontiff, Frederick was proclaimed king of Sicily. After the Sicilian wars ended, the Catalan Company – a mercenary group – shifted its activities over to the Byzantine Empire where it took dominion of the duchy of Athens in 1311. While neither Sicily nor Athens were ruled by Aragon directly, they were strongholds for Catalan influence within the Mediterranean region.

James II secured an alteration of his frontier with Murcia in 1325 and subsequently occupied Sardinia. His successors, Alfonso IV (1327-36) and Peter IV (the Ceremonious; 1336-87), were challenged by Genoa for their rights on the island, leading to a series of wars. Peter IV accused his cousin, the king of Majorca, of disloyalty and annexed Majorca to Aragon in 1343. This was followed by a constitutional crisis in 1347 when Peter chose his daughter as heir to the throne, instead of his brother, who argued that women should be excluded from succession. In response, the Aragonese union organized together and demanded privileges granted by prior kings be maintained. Similarly, Valencian nobility formed a union and sought similar concessions. The Black Death caused considerable destruction which enabled Peter IV to win over the Aragonese union at Epila in 1348 and disband it along with abolishing its privileges – an act which signified the end of any threat posed by the union towards the crown.

When the mid-century mark came, Peter I of Castile made his move to invade the Crown of Aragon. This prompted Peter IV to stand by Henry of Trastámara’s disputes to the Castilian throne – although Henry failed to make any kind of recompense in return. As a form of consolation, Sicily was restored to being part of the dominions under the Crown of Aragon in 1377. During the Great Schism, Peter IV kept his neutrality while his son John I sided with the pope from Avignon (1387–95). Subsequently, it was John’s younger brother and successor Martin who had to regularly attend to issues arising in Sardinia and Sicily (1395–1410). Yet upon Martin’s passing without direct heirs, a crisis ensued within The Crown of Aragon due to multiple claimants not appreciated by many. Therefore, nine representatives were elected from estates around Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia and convened at Caspe where they announced that Fernando de Antequera (brother of King Henry III from Castile) should take on the role by right through ancestry – thus initiating the Trastámara dynasty into ruling over Aragon (1412–16). Through this presidency Ferdinand

Alfonso V (the Magnanimous; 1416–58) pursued his ambitions in Italy, neglecting Aragon. He occupied the Kingdom of Naples in 1442 and strived for domination of the rest of Italy to expand his authority into the eastern Mediterranean. His prolonged absence from Aragon caused a crisis during his successor’s reign, John II (1458–79). John held mainland kingdoms, plus Sicily, while Ferrante, Alfonso’s illegitimate son, was granted Naples. In 1420 he gained more domain through marriage to the queen of Navarre. A conflict between him and his son Charles of Viana roused many people and incited open rebellion by the Catalans. Suspicions that John had murdered Charles heightened when he suddenly died in 1461. Poor economic and social circumstances further exasperated the Catalans, inciting their revolt with Louis XI of France seizing Roussillon and Cerdagne as a consequence. John II subdued the Catalan mutiny in 1472 before aiding Isabella to acquire the Castilian crown; Ferdinand succeeded him as king of Aragon and Sardinia while Eleanor inherited Navarre.

Institutions and society in Aragon

During the late Middle Ages, the Crown of Aragon was a union composed of Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia. This bond was declared unbreakable in 1319 under King James II. Over time, Majorca, Sicily, Sardinia and Naples all became affiliated with the kingdom in various combinations. When John II’s younger brother attempted to claim rights to parts of Valencia, Peter IV and his people fiercely protested this idea. Similarly, when the Catalans revolted against John II and attempted to separate from Aragon unsuccessfully, it threatened to dissolve the entire federation but ultimately it stayed together. Ever since 1204 when Peter II gave his domains as a presentation to the Papacy, several popes have interfered with Aragonese issues and even tried to influence who held throne.

Dominated by those in favour of royal absolutism, Peter IV established the administration of the Crown of Aragon around four prominent officials – the chancellor, chamberlain, mayordomo and chief financial officer. There was a lot of resistance to employing non-natives in administrative roles across the federated states. Even when Peter IV abolished the union between Aragon, he still maintained his control over appointments and removals of justicia – who were responsible for settling disputes concerning nobility.

The monarch’s eldest offspring usually served as his father’s second-in-command, taking on the role of procurator general for all realms. In the provinces of Valencia and Majorca, a permanent procurator or governor-general was assigned in the king’s place, since he only visited those places on rare occasions. Additionally, a vicar or justicia represented the monarchy in towns which had received more autonomy than ever before. Moreover, Barcelona was managed by an executive council of five individuals who were answerable to a consell de cent, or council of 100.

James I was determined to protect the Usages of Barcelona in Catalonia and Majorca, an assurance confirmed in 1251. He also provided Valencia with its own set of laws, encapsulated in the Fori Regni Valentiae (1240). Furthering his commitment to establish custom laws in Aragon, the Code of Huesca was published in 1247. This original definition of Aragon’s territory was eventually expanded and reorganized as the Fueros de Aragón, which included the Code of Huesca and the General Privilege by the 15th century.

A vigorous parliamentary structure developed within the Crown of Aragon, with each of its peninsular states (Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia) having their own parliament. Additionally, the king would occasionally call together a general parliament for all three. This boost in Catalan constitutionalism gained significant momentum after two pledges by Peter III in the 1283 Corts (parliament) of Barcelona: firstly, to hold an annual Corts to discuss matters of state and reform; secondly, that no general statute should be made without Catalonian consent. Though this did not happen every year, recorded deliberations from these meetings show it had a strong legislative role. Moreover, these parliaments voted on taxes as well. Aware that the monarchy could not be trusted fully with dispensation and collection of taxes approved by the Corts, the Catalans created a commission – known as the Generalitat or Diputació del General de Catalunya – tasked with this responsibility. It became permanent in the late 14th century and acted on behalf of the Catalan community whenever the Corts was not operating; flatly defending their liberties from royal encroachments. Similar agencies were then constructed in Aragon and Valencia during early 15th century too.

Agriculture and pasturage dominated Aragon’s economy, while a large group of Mudéjares -Muslims living under Christian rule while maintaining their own traditions – farmed the lands in lower Aragon and Valencia. In Catalan towns with a strong guild system, the main industry was woollen cloth production. Barcelona and Valencia were major ports traded with Tunis, Alexandria, Sicily, Sardinia, the Holy Land and the Black Sea area; Catalan merchants had consuls in many African ports in order to secure their interests. The Llibre del consolat de mar (Book of the Consulate of the Sea), compiled around 1370, was widely recognised and utilised across Europe as the source for maritime law.

After the devastation caused by the Black Death, continued social and economic issues stirred up discord and led to the massacre of Jews in Valencia and other cities in 1391, as well as other acts of violence. Financial concerns, bankruptcies of many banks, and a drop in trade during the late 14th century only worsened matters. The Busca’s uproar against the powerful affluent upper class (the Biga) in Barcelona furthered the Catalan revolt against John II. The serfs, or payeses de remensa, joined forces with the rebels in hopes of obtaining their liberty.

Culture of the Aragonese

The culture of the Crown of Aragon blossomed in the late Middle Ages, leading to the establishment of several universities. Chief among its intellectual leaders were St. Raymond of Penyafort, a great canonist, and St. Vincent Ferrer, a distinguished preacher. Also making a mark on Catalan literature were such works as The Chronicle of James I, Bernat Desclot’s Chronicle of the Reign of King Peter III, Ramon Muntaner’s Chronicle relating the adventures of the Catalan Company, and the Chronicle of Peter IV. Ramon Llull was another notable figure from this period; he wrote prolifically on topics ranging from religious propaganda to Witticism and chivalry and was learned in Latin, Catalan and Arabic. Further contributions were made by Francesc Eiximenis’ Lo Crestià – an encyclopaedic work dealing with moral and political theory – while Ausiàs March explored love on a psychological level through poetry.

O’Callaghan, Joseph F.

Spain under Muslim rule


In the second half of the 7th century CE (1st century AH), Byzantine strongholds in North Africa yielded to the Arab advance. In 698, Carthage was conquered. The sixth caliph of the Umayyad dynasty, al-Walīd I, then appointed Mūsā ibn Nuṣayr governor in the West; he annexed all of North Africa to Tangier (Ṭanjah), and worked to spread Islam among the Imazighen. Count Julian, Christian ruler of Ceuta (Sabtah) and identified by Arab chroniclers as a Byzantine, Amazigh or Visigoth, eventually agreed with Mūsā to invade the Iberian Peninsula together (see also North Africa; Islamic world).

The Muslim readiness to invade and a call for help from the “Witizans” – having been dispossessed following the death of King Witiza in 710 – provided an opportunity for Mūsā to send an Amazigh army led by Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād. This force crossed the passage whose modern name, the Strait of Gibraltar, derives from Jabal al-Ṭāriq; ultimately they were able to secure victory against Roderick in July 711.

Ṭāriq initially marched north, capturing Toledo (Ṭulayṭulah) and spending the winter of 711 there. The following year, Mūsā arrived with an Arab army and after a lengthy siege took Mérida (Māridah). He made his way to Toledo to join Ṭāriq in the summer of 713. It was from there they advanced northeastward, conquering Zaragoza (Saraqusṭah), before pushing further into the region, compelling submission or evacuation from its inhabitants. In 714, both leaders were summoned back to Syria by the caliph and at the end of summer journeyed there; leaving behind them a majority of Iberia under Islamic power.

The Islamic forces saw a rapid growth in success due to Hispano-Visigoth society’s lack of homogeneity and cohesion. This was especially true for the Jews who were subject to oppressive legal measures by the Christian establishment. Yet, with the Muslim conquest, many enjoyed significant benefits: taxes were less severe than under Visigoth rule; freedmen converted to Islam (mawālī) gained patronage from conquering nobles; and Jews attained equal standing among Christians and Goths within the religion. As a result, during the first half of the 8th Century, a new Muslim Spain began forming – its people divided into baladiyyūn (Arabs upon Mūsā’s arrival) and Syrians (who followed Balj ibn Bishr). After them came Imazighen — both existing in Spain beforehand as well as new arrivals from Africa — who continued to grow in population over time. Subsequently, there were musālimah, native populations that had adopted Islam along with their descendants muwallads; many of these people were mawālī or Amazigh. Despite Christian and Jewish minorities which decreased over time, there still remained a small population of slaves (Ṣaqālibah

The period between 711 and 756 was called the dependent emirate, when Al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain, was subordinate to the Umayyad caliphate in Damascus. This era saw persistent conflicts between the various Arab groups and social classes. However, Muslim advancement on the other side of the Pyrenees endured up until 732, when Charles Martel and his Franks beat Muslim troops commanded by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Ghāfiqī at Tours; a turning point which initiated their gradual retreat. A full-scale revolt against Arab influence in North Africa had far-reaching effects in Andalusia; resulting in both the Imazighen population abandoning much of northwestern Iberia and Balj’s Syrian army arriving – bringing further disagreement. This eventually led to ʿAbd al-Raḥmān I al-Dākhil establishing an independent emirate in 756 after his family were murdered by the ʿAbbāsids; although he remained loyal to them religiously, this effectively made him politically autonomous.

Emirate of independence

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān I established the Arab state and sought to consolidate power by favouring the Eastern aristocracy connected to his lineage, granting them wealth and land. He was severe with those who resisted him, while also protecting religious orthodoxy. In the east of his realm, he faced the ambitions of the ʿAbbāsids and in the north, Charlemagne’s forces that threatened Ibruh Valley. Despite their best efforts, Charlemagne was driven back when they were defeated at Roncesvalles (778). The Basques dealt them a fatal blow as they retreated. As such, The Franks were only able to hold on to the upper Pyrenees valleys. Meanwhile, Muslims recaptured Girona (Jerunda) in 785 and Barcelona (Barjelūnah) in 801 as well as Old Catalonia, later retaken by The Franks to form part of Spanish March.

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān II ushered in a period of revival for Muslim Spain, marked by political, administrative and cultural developments. This “Orientalization” or more specifically “Iraqization” yielded difficult issues for the ruler, especially with his rebellious vassals living in the river valleys – chiefly the Banū Qāsī family and the Mozarabs. Both Alvarus and Eulogius (who was later canonized) inspired the latter to strengthen their Christian faith through martyrdom and to openly insult Prophet Muhammad. As this became a crime subject to punishment from 850 A.D., ʿAbd al-Raḥmān tried to persuade them against it but ultimately had to impose the death penalty. The ‘craze’ of seeking martyrdom was a reaction against the increasing ‘Arabization’ of fellow Christians. Finally ending in 859-860, this explosive encounter led to 53 executions which were later disowned by religious leaders.

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān II was active in foreign policy, exchanging ambassadors with the Byzantine Empire and Charles II (the Bald) and creating strong ties with the rulers of Tāhart. He successfully confronted Viking incursions, particularly near Sevilla, by constructing two naval bases; one at Sevilla on the Atlantic and another on the Mediterranean at Pechina, close to Almería.

The three Umayyad rulers Muḥammad I, al-Mundhir, and ʿAbd Allāh faced a threat to their power from muwallad rebels led by the powerful Banū Qāsī clan in the north and ʿUmar ibn Ḥafṣūn in the south. The long conflict with Ibn Ḥafṣūn ended with his defeat at Poley in 891 and his retreat into the mountains. Though ʿAbd Allāh was unable to quash the rebellion, it was eventually defeated by his grandson ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III who re-established Umayyad control of Al-Andalus from Jaén to Zaragoza, Mérida to Sevilla, and the Levant. This included toppling the supposedly impenetrable fortress of Bobastro in 928 after Ibn Ḥafṣūn committed a severe political error which caused many of his muwallad followers to abandon him for being unfaithful to Islam. By 917, Ibn Ḥafṣūn’s sons had surrendered, ending all revolt against

Córdoba’s caliphate

One of the first international political issues ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III had to deal with was that of his legal position relative to the caliphate in Baghdad. So long as the Islamic dominions were united in their religious belief, he and the Umayyads in Spain were content to acknowledge Baghdad’s religious leadership. However, all that changed with the emergence of the Fāṭimids’ heterodox caliphate in Tunis after 910. This prompted ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III to declare himself caliph and adopt the title of al-Nāṣir in 929, establishing a new caliphate known as that of Córdoba (Qurṭubah). This caliphate would go on to rule Al-Andalus for over a century.

Al-Nāṣir’s power within Spain was mostly secured after the fall of Toledo in 933, allowing him to turn his attention to foreign affairs. His military achievements were limited and he experienced a swift defeat in 939 at Simancas (Shānt Mānkas). The gradual weakening of the kingdom of León, however, gave al-Nāṣir the opportunity to reclaim Spanish influence through diplomatic means. This involved making contact with Otto I, Emperor of Germany and prominent figure within Christian Europe, as well as conversing with the Christian rulers of Spain, Pope and Constantinople. In addition he received recognition from the corsair settlement known as Fraxinetum (Frakhshinīṭ; modern-day La-Garde-Freinet), located in southern France.

The Fāṭimids sought to establish an empire stretching from Tunis to the Atlantic, including Al-Andalus. However, al-Nāṣir took control of Melilla and Ceuta in North Africa in 931 to prevent Fāṭimid dominance in the Maghrib. Alongside this ongoing land and maritime conflict, al-Nāṣir sought to destabilize the Fāṭimids by supporting the rebel Abū Yazīd al-Nukkārī in Northwest Africa. This confrontation between the two rival caliphates concluded in 969 when Egypt fell to the Fāṭimids, leaving a power vacuum that was soon filled by Umayyads.

Al-Manṣūr was able to take control over a large part of the Maghrib and turn it into the viceroyalty of Córdoba. He also managed to stop the Christian kings from the north from furthering their expansion with a series of raids conducted every six months, during which most of the Christian capitals on the Iberian Peninsula were plundered. Thanks to his well-trained army, composed mostly of Imazighen who followed him obediently, he was capable of containing the power of both Arab aristocracy—which by and large supported the Umayyad dynasty—and that of the slaves—whose presence had been growing since al-Nāṣir appointed them in high positions. All this would have been impossible without someone like him in such a powerful position.

It is the ṭāʾifas

Following the death of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Sanchuelo in 1009, a period of turmoil ensued for 21 years resulting in disunity among the members of “Andalusian” society (Arabs, Imazighen who had settled there long ago, newly arrived Imazighen and slaves). As a consequence of this anarchy, numerous independent kingdoms or ṭāʾifas emerged. These may be categorized as: “Andalusian” factions in the peripheral regions (Zaragoza, Toledo and Badajoz), Wadi Al-Kabīr, and in the area overseeing the Ebro river to Tagus valley; “new” Imazighen located in Granada, Málaga, and four small southern ṭāʾifas; and groups of slaves further east.

Throughout the period, any semblance of stability in al-Andalus was clouded by a succession of internecine wars. The most prominent war was between the Arab factions, headed by Sevilla (Ishbīliyah) and led by the Banū ʿAbbād dynasty, and the Imazighen, who had Granada as their leader. As Sevilla gradually gained control over southern Al-Andalus, excluding Granada and Málaga, it was ruled by al-Muʿtaḍid – a cruel sovereign who claimed to have found Hishām II al-Muʾayyad (who in reality was just a maker of mats from Calatrava who looked somewhat similar to the former caliph), then later his son al-Muʿtamid – a poet prince. In East Al-Andalus, apart from a brief interval where Denia (Dāniyah) constructed an effective fleet that allowed them to set sail as far away as Sardinia, the ṭāʾifas stayed balanced within their respective dynasties. In contrast, those further north were usually embroiled in internal strife.

The fragmentation of Al-Andalus enabled the expansion of the Christian states in the north, whose population was too small to repopulate the lands they managed to occupy. To gain control, they annexed only areas it was possible to repopulate and garrison. As part of this process, these Christian states forced ṭāʾifas into paying annual tribute – parias – as a way to buy peace. This economic burden revitalized the economy of their own territories, but created tension between Muslims and their subjects. This pressure caused ṭāʾifas to increase imposts on citizens and devalue currency when money was lacking; influxes of tax were accompanied by discontent from faqīhs, while extravagant luxury and public expenditure in local courts further weakened Al-Andalus’ resistance to foreign invasions – such as Castile’s occupation of Toledo (1085). In face of this threat, ṭāʾifas called for help from the Almoravids – an Amazigh confederation then ruling over northwestern Africa – in order to counter Christian advances.

Spain’s Almoravids

The VIth Alfonso

The VIth of Alfonso

Yūsuf ibn Tāshufīn’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula saw him advance to Al-Zallāqah, north of Badajoz, where he triumphed over a Castilian force led by Alfonso VI in 1086. Unable to capitalize on his success, he withdrew to the Maghrib. For the next couple of years Almoravid tactics in Spain remained inconclusive, but it is thought that the siege of Aledo in 1088 persuaded Yūsuf ibn Tāshufīn of the requirement to put a stop to the ṭāʾifas if he wanted to rescue Spanish Islam. This resulted in him deposing their rulers in 1090 and successive years, starting with those ruling Granada and Málaga; however one figure who defied him was Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as ‘the Cid’. Exiled from his homeland by King Alfonso VI, the Cid ruled an independent kingdom in Valencia – another ṭāʾifa. Favored with competent administrators from among the Mozarabs living in his states and well-versed in Almoravid tactics, he was able to overcome numerical inferior

The conquest of Zaragoza marked the start of the Almoravids’ decline. In response, Aragonese King Alfonso I (the Battler) and his stepson, Alfonso VII of Castile, launched Christian assaults against Islam in Spain. In 1118, Zaragoza fell into the hands of Alfonso I who reclaimed much of the areas around Jalón and Jiloca. In 1121, reforms preached by Amazigh Muḥammad ibn Tūmart caused serious difficulties for the Almoravids back in Africa, leaving them helpless to repel the Christian forces; they had to recruit Christian mercenaries for aid. Although they scored a powerful victory over the Aragonese at Fraga (Ifragah) in 1134, it ultimately proved fruitless as the Almoravids lacked resources to exploit it.

Historically, the Almohads

Under the Almohads, two rulers—Abū Yaʿqūb Yūsuf (1163–84) and Abū Yūsuf Yaʿqūb al-Manṣūr (1184–99)—achieved a zenith in western Islam. Seeking unification of their Muslim states, they introduced religious measures such as forcing Jews and Christians to convert or leave the area. In 1195, the latter defeated Alfonso VIII at the Battle of Alarcos (Al-Arak). Nevertheless, they could not capitalize on their victory—repeating what had already occurred with the Almohad’s predecessors. Years later, during muḥammad al-Naṣīr’s reign (1199–1214), the Christians gained satisfaction via their win in the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (Al-ʿIqāb). Consequently, two emirs emerged: Muḥammad ibn Hūd (1228–38) and Muḥammad I ibn al-Aḥmar (1238–73). The former defended Muslims from Ferdinand III’s occupation of Guadalquivir valley; conversely, the latter was loyal


The Naṣrid dynasty, founded in Granada by Muḥammad ibn al-Aḥmar, was successful for two and a half centuries. Despite their Muslim population not having the power to present a significant threat to Christians, the Granadans remained wary of the same fate that befell the Almoravids and Almohads when they entered from Africa as auxiliary troops and gained control of Al-Andalus. To prevent such an invasion of North African empires, particularly Banū Marīns, a policy was adopted to maintain a balance of power between all forces by allowing influxes of volunteers but refraining from any organised crossing across the Strait of Gibraltar. Between 1302-1340 there were various diplomatic and military entanglements between Granada, Castile, the Banū Marīns and Catalonia during which the ports of Tarifa (Jazīrat Ṭarīf) and Algeciras (Al-Jazīrah al-Khaḍraʾ) were particularly prioritised by all sides; as such, Granada allied with both Africans and Christians in pursuit of maintaining equilibrium. In addition, Catalonia further invoked a Crusade in 1309 with an aim to

When Ismāʿīl I took the throne in 1314-25, a different branch of the Naṣrid family assumed authority. Abū al-Ḥasan’s Maghribian forces were trounced by Alfonso XI and the Portuguese at the Battle of the Salado in 1340. After this defeat, with no effort to push for reconquest from Alfonso’s successors, Granada was left without political pressure from both Maghribians and Castilians. During Muḥammad V’s reign from 1354-59 and then again from 1362-91, Granada flourished with prominent figures like Abū ʿAbd Allāh ibn al-Khaṭīb (a polymath), Abū Jaʿfar ibn Khātima (a physician) and Abū ʿAbd Allāh ibn Zamraq (a poet). There were likewise close ties between Granada and important figures from the Maghrib region.

The institution of the “judge of the frontier” (juez de la frontera y de los fieles del rastro) also developed during this long period; a Muslim official heard Christian complaints against the Granadans. The procedure significantly reduced border incidents between Muslims and Christians.

Despite little being known of the fall of the Naṣrid dynasty, some historic evidence from the 15th century exists. Reports from Christian sources and travellers, as well as narrative poems that provide insight for other periods in Muslim history, can be found for this era too. However, these are limited and offer little in terms of understanding the decline of Granada. The verses of King-poet Yūsuf III (1408–17), his court poet Ibn Farkūn, or those of Abenamar, moro de la morería, do not offer much insight. It is ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Qaysī (c. 1485) who provides more information; an esteemed member of Granada’s middle class whose work focused on mundane topics such as increasing cost of living and the ongoing losses that impacted Granada’s decline.

Foreign relations between Muslims and Christians were largely peaceful, following the loss of life from the Black Death in 1348 and internal wars that had weakened Christian Castile. However, occasional confrontations were a reminder that the territorial struggle between them was not yet over. Prince Ferdinand of Castile moved swiftly to reclaim lost Islamic lands in the 15th century; Antequera (Antaqīrah), Jimena, Huéscar, Huelma and Gibraltar all fell to him between 1410 and 1462. This only served to make Granadans more intolerant of Christians and their faqīhs increasingly professed xenophobia. The policy’s influence eventually reached across the Strait of Gibraltar too; Maghribians under near-constant pressure from Portuguese forces saw that the only way to resist Christian control was by staunchly adhering to Islamic ideals, as well as extreme xenophobia. This approach was ultimately successful in protecting Maghrib against external enemies but did not have the same result in Spain; it set things in motion for its own conclusion to the Reconquista with what became known as the ‘Granada War’.

It was not an easy task for the Christian army to overthrow the last Andalusian Islamic stronghold. Sultan Muley Hacén (Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī) refused to pay his annual tribute, sparking hostilities, and seized the fortified town of Zahara in 1481. Ferdinand II (the Catholic) took advantage of discord within Granada’s royal family and Machiavellianly used Muḥammad XII (called Boabdil by Spanish people), Muley Hacén’s son, to rebel against him in Guadix. Backed by the Abencerrajes, a powerful family from Granada, Boabdil became recognized in Granada as its true ruler. However, with help from the Zegries family, Muley Hacén managed to reclaim control of Granada after taking refuge in Málaga. He was ultimately overthrown by his brother Zaal (Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad al-Zaghall—The Valiant One), who received assistance from the Venegas family.

Lions’ Court

Lions’ Court

After Muḥammad XII was taken prisoner during his attack at Lucena, he made a deal with the Catholic Monarchs called the Pact of Córdoba. In the treaty, he promised to turn over areas of his kingdom held by the Zagal in exchange for help in recovering Granada; this included reclaiming the Alhambra which had been held by Muley Hacén. After Muley Hacén passed away in 1485, Muḥammad XII was able to take back Alhambra with support from the people of Albaicín. Since they had previously been defeated by Castilians at Vélez Málaga, the Zagal relocated to Guadix and handed their territories over to the Catholic Monarchs before fleeing to Tlemcén during 1491. Taking advantage of this division, Christians were then able to capture Ronda, Marbella, Loja and Málaga while putting siege on Granada. As a result of these conflicts, Granada’s inhabitants split into two groups: those who preferred peace and those that wanted to fight on and defend their city despite their disputes.

By 1491, Muḥammad XII had capitulated due to the desperate situation. Knowing that his vassals could possibly prevent him from abiding by his pact, he brought Castilian troops into the Alhambra on the night of January 1–2. The official surrender took place the following day, bringing an end to Muslim political power in Spain. Islamic minorities remained for centuries after; submissive Mudejars (later called Moriscos) could be found until the 17th century.

The society

When discussing the Muslim influx in Spain, we have already noted the various social groups that populated the region: Arabs (baladiyyūn and Syrians), Imazighen, muwallads, Mozarabs, Jews and slaves. These numbers continued to rise throughout the first few centuries of occupation, as a result of extensive conversion to Islam which caused a considerable decrease in the number of Christians. While there isn’t any exact estimations available on their figures, it’s assumed that at the time of the invasion around 4 million Spaniards lived in peninsular territories. Thereafter, estimates suggest that approximately 50 000 Arabs and 250 000 Imazighen had immigrated by 8th century. As the majority were rural citizens, large cities were rare during this period. Towards the end of 10th century one can estimate populations for major cities such as Córdoba (250 000), Toledo (37 000), Almería (27 000), Granada (26 000), Zaragoza (17 000), Valencia (15 000) and Málaga (15000).

The Muslim cities of Spain, with their baths, gardens, markets, mosques and high cultural level, provided a stark contrast to those of Christian Europe – some say even to their advantage. At the top of the administrative hierarchy sat the Emir, Caliph, Sultan or King: depending on the era. The much-vaunted sovereign owned all executive, legislative and judicial power uniquely while at times he chose to appoint a Ḥājib (chamberlain) or later a Prime Minister (Dhu al-wizāratayn). Numerous Viziers would help him in his roles; other officers such as a Kātib (official secretary) and Wālīs (who ruled far away provinces with autonomy), also played important roles in keeping the Muslim cities running – including but not limited to the Chief of Police (ṣāḥib al-shurṭa) and Market Inspector (known until the 10th century as ṣāḥib al-sūq [zabazoque] and later as muḥtasib).

The army relied on either voluntary enlistment of soldiers or contracts with foreign mercenaries, organised into units known as jund. Strategically placed along the borders, the army was highly mobile with castles used as their operations base. These served to welcome those eager Muslims wishing to see paradise by sacrificing themselves in battle and there were many such combatants recruited over time, who, unfortunately became a hindrance rather than an asset. Naval forces and merchant marines established by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān II remained viable until the 14th century.

The entire state system of Al-Andalus was grounded, theoretically, on the principles of the Malikite (Mālikīyah) school of Islam, a particularly strict interpretation in the peninsula noted for its extreme conservatism. It is impossible to know if intolerance came naturally to those living there or if this form of orthodoxy was embraced by the Muslims and carried through to their Christian counterparts during the Reconquista.

Economic conditions

Muslim conquerors split up the lands taken from Christians by war and, as a typical practice, leased them out to tenants. By around the 10th century, woodlands had grown to their biggest extent, while cultivation of irrigated lands was stimulated via considerable regulations, generally welcomed. The government provided protection for plants with both textile-related (flax, cotton, esparto grass and mulberry for silk) and medicinal usages.

Apart from farming, breeding animals like sheep and Arabian horses had an important part to play in the Iberian economy. As during the Roman era, lead, iron, gold, and mercury were all mined. Domestic craftsmen concentrated on making fine fabrics like silk (which was controlled by the state) as well as tanning leather from Cordoba and carving ivory objects for export. Trade concentrated solely on goods which carried little weight but had a large worth – merchandise that could be found in even the most distant parts of the world. Tales of Andalusians reaching Sudan, Central Europe and China have been reported.

A key factor in the evolution of economic life was political events; as the productive centers were acquired by Christians, Muslim commercial vigor decreased proportionally. No phenomenon is more illustrative of this than the confidence placed in the currency. When Barcelona counterfeited Muslim coins in the 11th century, Granada counterfeited Barcelona’s coins in the 14th century.

Muslim Spain’s culture

At the height of Arab power in the peninsula, there was no existing evidence of cultural advancement beyond that of the Mozarabs living among them. Then, during the 8th century, translations began of Latin works on medicine, agriculture, astrology and geography into Arabic. These translations were largely based on Isidore of Sevilla’s Etymologies and other Christian texts. In the 9th century though, a shift occurred: those who undertook the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca used this as an opportunity to learn more and bring it home to Andalusia.

The literature

In the 9th century, Abbās ibn Nāṣih, Abbās ibn Firnās, Yaḥyā al-Ghazāl and the knight Saʿīd ibn Jūdī were among some of the most prominent court poets. Further distinguishing him from his peers was Muḥammad ibn Hāniʾ, known as the “Mutanabbī of the West”. Due to his beliefs, he left his homeland and served under the Fāṭimid caliph al-Muʿizz. During 10th century Al-Manṣūr gathered a group of court poets in Córdoba, who acted like modern journalists by showcasing their protector’s accomplishments through rhyme. Such poets as Ibn Darrāj al-Qaṣtallī, al-Ramādī, Ṣāʿid of Baghdad and al-Talīq reached great literary heights in their works. Ibn Faraj of Jaén authored the first anthology of Andalusian poets called Kitab al-Hadáiq (“Book of Orchard”); shortly after which a similar work was released by

Poetry has a greater vitality in Arab literature than prose, yet many influential writers of prose remain. One such author is Ibn Shuhayd (c. 1035), whose work inspired Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī’s Risālat al-ghufrān (“Epistle of Pardon”). Take also Ibn Ḥazm of Córdoba (died 1064) and his beloved Ṭawq al-ḥamāmah (“The Ring of the Dove”), which expounds on love and lovers, and still remains popular today. By far his greatest accomplishment was Kitāb al-Fiṣal, a history of religions which went unmatched by Western scholars until the 19th century. Ibn Ḥazm was an avid proponent of the Ẓāhirī school of jurisprudence, relying heavily on literal interpretation from the Qurʾān and Hadith for theological understanding and protesting any other approaches to theology. The vizier-historian Ibn al-Khaṭīb (died 1375) was another polymath, alongside

Some of the oldest chronicles related to Muslim Spain are the Taʾrīkh iftitāḥ al-Andalus by Ibn al-Qūṭiyyah (10th century) and the mostly preserved Muqtabis anthology collected from works of predecessors by Ibn Ḥayyān of Córdoba (died 1076), plus his own original chronicle, Matīn. Zīrī ʿAbd Allāh’s Memoirs offer a glimpse into his deposed reign as king, whilst works from North African historians Ibn Khaldūn (died 1406) and al-Maqqarī (died 1631) enrich knowledge about Al-Andalus.


Andalusia had a notable history in philosophy, partly as a response to the booming culture in Baghdad and also due to prohibitions on philosophic inquiry in the east. In the 10th century, Caliph of Córdoba, al-Ḥakam II al-Mustanṣir brought books from the east for his city’s immense library. Three esteemed scholars flourished in Córdoba during the 10th and 11th centuries: Ibn Masarrah (who died 931), Maslama al-Majrīṭī (who died 1008), and Kirmānī (who died 1068). These philosophers were knowledgeable in geometry and many other subjects, but Ibn Masarrah was especially significant: his teachings were based on 5th-century-BCE Greek philosopher Empedocles, thus setting up the core values of later Andalusian mysticism.

The roots of philosophical study established in the 10th and 11th centuries reaped their rewards during the 12th century, when Neoplatonic thought flourished throughout Islamic Spain. This period was marked by the contributions of two significant figures: Avempace, also known as Ibn Bājjah, and Ibn Ṭufayl. While Avempace penned commentaries on a variety of Aristotle and al-Farabi works, his name is perhaps most closely linked to Tadbir al-mutawah hid (“The Regime of the Solitary”), which reflects his embrace of Neoplatonism and serves as a commentary on the decay of society. No less important is Ibn Ṭufayl, court physician for Abū Yaʿqūb Yūsuf, Almohad ruler. His philosophical novel Ḥayy ibn Yaqzān (“Alive son of Awake”) presents a man who spends his first 50 years on an isolated island, develops his own set of beliefs and ultimately discovers God’s truth.

The most renowned Andalusian philosopher—as well as arguably the greatest Muslim thinker—was Ibn Rushd, or Averroës in Western circles. He was a product of a prominent Cordoban family and achieved success as a court physician and judge. In 1169, he was commissioned to commentate on Aristotle’s works by Abū Yaʿqūb Yūsuf, introduced by Ibn Ṭufayl. Averroës’ interpretations of Aristotle had far-reaching effects on Jewish and Christian scholars including Thomas Aquinas, Siger of Brabant, and Boethius of Dacia. His critical analysis of Plato’s Republic reprimanded existing rulers and governments. While his vast majority of works were commentaries on Aristotle, he also authored The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahāfut al-Tahāfut), a spirited response to theologian al-Ghazālī; and Decisive Treatise on the Agreement Between Religious Law and Philsophy (Faṣl al-Maḳāl), which highlighted consistent agreement between faith and philosophy—though he did not endorse the double truth doctrine allegedly derived

The scientific method

In the mid-11th century, Ṣāʿid, a qāḍī of Toledo, wrote an important handbook on the history of science with facts about technical subjects. Although Mathematics wasn’t given much consideration, Maslama al-Majrīṭī (died 1008), presumably participating in the translation of Ptolemy’s Planispherium and making contributions to Maths, deserves noting. ʿAlī al-Qalaṣādī, a commentator of Ibn al-Bannāʾ during Granada’s golden era, conducted crucial research on fractions. Despite lack of enthusiasm in physical sciences, Andalusians were strong in theoretical and practical astronomy. With the aim of simplifying astrolabe several scientists worked together until finally al-Zarqālī (Azarquiel; died 1100) made the azafea (Arabic: al-ṣafīḥah) which navigators utilised until 16th century. Al-Zarqālī’s idea that planets’ orbits are not circular but curved was similar to Johannes Kepler’s theory. Arab mathematician Jābir ibn Afla

Islamic Spain had a strong tradition of astrology, and Umayyad rulers retained an official astrologer in their courts after 788. In the 8th century, another anonymous scientist translated Vulgar Latin into Arabic and became the most widely used astrological treatises. During the era of Alfonso the Learned, this book was translated from Arabic into Spanish and titled Libro de las Cruces (“Book of the Crosses”).

Maslama al-Majrītī is attributed with two works, Ghāyat al-ḥakīm (“The Goals of the Scholar”; also known as Picatrix) and Rutbat al-ḥakīm (“The Step of the Scholar”), though they were actually composed by one of his pupils. Of greater interest is the Materia medica – a modification of 1st century Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides’ Eastern Arabic text – which Jews, Arabs, and Christians worked on together. Subsequently, Andalusian Arabs added more medicinal “simples” to those described by Dioscorides, and Ibn al-Bayṭār (who died in 1248) mentioned 1,400 of these. Additionally, the Andalusians had access to Latin classics about natural science; for instance Ibn Wāfid, Ibn Baṣṣāl and Ibn al-ʿAwwām (from the 11th and 12th centuries) referenced Varro, Virgil among others. Abū ʿUbayd al-Bakrī (who died in 1094) wrote Kitāb al-masâlik wa

Isabella and Ferdinand

When Ferdinand II (1479–1516; also known as Ferdinand V of Castile from 1474) came to the Crown of Aragon in 1479, he ultimately united eastern Spain and western Spain, making the Trastámara some of the mightiest rulers in all of Europe, second only to the Valois in France. Royal families across the Iberian Peninsula had hoped for this union for years and had arranged intermarriages between them. Nevertheless, it was not a given. A uniting of Castile and Portugal could have been just as likely, and doing so may have been more advantageous because they would have been able to focus on overseas exploration without being drawn into Aragon’s long-standing issue with France. John II of Aragon determined that his son Ferdinand should marry Isabella of Castile in 1469 due to his need for Castilian assistance against French aggression in the Pyrenees. Additionally, a faction within Castile, led by Alfonso Carillo (the archbishop of Toledo who later changed sides) favored Isabella—Henry IV’s half sister—over his daughter Joan for succession and sought out an alliance with the powerful Aragonese nobility since it granted them enormous rights. The marriage required

Catalonia and Aragon

Ferdinand and Isabella, known as the Catholic Monarchs, jointly held sway over their two kingdoms. This was a union of crowns instead of lands, for there were great differences between the two realms in terms of size, institutions, traditions and even languages. The kingdom of Aragon alone was home to 270,000 people, more than 20% of whom were Muslims and Moriscos (Muslims who had been officially converted to Christianity). Catalonia held about 300,000 inhabitants. The monarch’s power was severely restricted in each area: barons had control over their holdings and peasantry like kings, exercising their own justice and even having the right to initiate private wars in Catalonia. In Aragon, those arrested by order of the King could place themselves under the authority of a justicia – a life-long position – who was unaffiliated with the monarch’s command; he it was who crowned the King when kneeling before him and made him swear to uphold fueros – laws and privileges – within the realm.

If you accept our liberties and laws, we swear to accept you as our king and sovereign lord; otherwise, we will not accept you as our king and sovereign lord.

Despite being a forgery, it summarizes succinctly the Aragonese nobility’s relations with the kings of Aragon.

Ferdinand made no effort to try and alter this situation; the same was true in Catalonia, which had just emerged from a long civil war rife with struggle. The nobility of Barcelona were confronted by turmoil among the peasants and other members of lower class societies. To address this, the crown lent support to these lower classes – even though it occasionally allied itself with certain noble factions or excluded others altogether – and blocked French efforts to occupy Cerdagne and Roussillon. As a result, Ferdinand issued the Sentencia de Guadalupe in 1486, paving the way for the end of serfdom and other oppressive obligations imposed on peasants, while not touching upon any political or legal privileges of the rural nobility or urban aristocracy. Therefore, he did not use his power to strengthen the control of the crown nor to give Catalonia a more efficient government structure. But he did bring peace back to Catalonia, as well as giving them an opportunity to rebuild after war destruction and regain some lost commercial markets from Italian competitors. Unfortunately, they failed in stopping Genoese forces from gaining dominance in Castile’s economy – especially in terms of Sevilla’s rapid growth in Atlantic trading. Consequently, his joining together both Aragon and Castile never led to either

The Castiles

Castile was a poor country, with much of its soil arid and agriculture undeveloped. The powerful Mesta guild, composed of armed shepherds, would drive their flocks over vast distances from summer to winter pastures, causing considerable damage to cultivated land. Despite landowners’ vehement opposition, the government kept upholding Mesta privileges due to contributions they gave and the merchants who exported their raw wool abroad, often to Flanders. This had an adverse effect on Castilian peasants, restricting markets for urban industry and thereby limiting economic growth in some towns. In the 16th century however, there was an uptick in population; for instance Castile’s population rose from 4.25 million in 1528 to 6.5 million after 1580. To meet the increased demand for agricultural products, peasants expanded the cultivation of grains and other foodstuffs, leading to a decrease in Mesta activities and shrinking contributions to government finances as a proportion of total revenue. This further stimulated urban industries such as Segovia, Toledo and Córdoba which manufactured textiles and metal – although this peak was seen during the third quarter of the 16th century – yet it did not match those in Flemish or northern Italian towns. Ultimately Spain remained

In the northern provinces of Castile, a significant population of minor nobles, called hidalgos, lived there. Guipúzcoa, located near the French border, even claimed that all its inhabitants were of noble birth. However, the south was heavily populated by great nobility; in regions such as New Castile (southeast of Madrid), Extremadura (southwest of Madrid), and particularly Andalusia—those territories lately won back from the Muslims—the Enríquez clan, the Mendoza family, and the Guzmán dynasty among many others owned extensive lands that sometimes spread out to almost half a province. During the 15th-century wool exports to Flanders boomed in Castile due to its expansive sheep population (over 2.5 million!), leading these powerful families with their multitudes of vassals and retainers to attempt to seize a monarchy that was constitutionally almost absolute but politically weak.

The Catholic Monarchs’ goal was to strengthen the royal power, a result which seemed likely to reduce the rights of the smaller kingdoms. Like Henry VII of England, their subjects desired sound leadership in the wake of years of civil conflict and thus helped with restoring order. The northern Castile cities had created an alliance for self-preservation from violent lords during these wars. This collaboration was called hermandad (“brotherhood”) and performed varied police, economic, and other state services. Isabella aided this alliance while managing it by appointing her own representatives in town councils known as corregidores. The local standards were increased both economically and socially when all settlements were asked to construct an ayuntamiento (town hall).

The Catholic Monarchs needed to move cautiously with the great nobles. They revoked any usurpations of land and revenues from 1464 onwards, but mostly their established estates stayed intact. To weaken the power of the nobility, Hernán Pérez del Pulgar explains how it was done piecemeal – exploiting a nobleman’s breach of law or pledge, destroying castles and eliminating independent military power. This approach was augmented by an increase in royal patronage; Isabella managed Ferdinand as Grand Master of Santiago, Calatrava and Alcántara orders, granting numerous commanderships with their related incomes from the orders’ immense properties. Moreover, they imposed their will on ecclesiastical appointments despite objections from Rome. In Spanish dependencies in Italy they asserted a right of exequatur – that papal bulls and breves should only be published with royal permission. Even within Spain itself, although no formal right existed, Ferdinand wrote to his viceroy in Naples threatening to renounce allegiance to the Holy See if bulls were published without permission; he also ordered the messenger’s arrest followed by a public declaration retracting publication of the brief and hanging if necessary. The Spanish clergy were expected to look to the crown for advancement, as was customary for younger

The power of the high nobility was greatly reduced through their lack of involvement in royal administration. A council of nobles which once advised the king became a bureaucratic body for executing royal policies, with three noble members and eight or nine from the less well off hidalgo class. These lawyers were completely loyal to the monarchy and served as efficient tools of a stronger central government. The Catholic Monarchs set up councils such as Finance, Hermandad, Inquisition and Knighthood, while Charles V and Philip II both added more including those of the Indies and Italy.

The death of Isabella in 1504 appeared to have tamed the nobles, leaving them politically harmless. This was despite the fact that both their social standing and the economic basis underpinning this, their estates, remained untouched. Charles I later solidified their position with The Laws of Toro (1505), which provided for land inheritance to stay within families. In addition, a fixed pecking order was set among nobles in 1520, taking in all levels, from the 25 grandees of Spain to 60,000 hidalgos or caballeros, as well as approximately another 60,000 of urban nobility. They were each entitled to numerous legal privileges and exemption from taxes not enjoyed by their pecheros counterparts. This apparent reversal of policy can be attributed to the Catholic Monarchs’ need for allies in their ongoing campaigns abroad against Granada and beyond afterward in Africa and Italy. Townsfolk were no longer favoured either; instead nobles encroached on territories around cities while corregidores and courts received orders not to defend these interests, setting off a chain of events leading up to the emergence of the comunero movement of 1520.

Inquisition of the Spanish

A large majority of the development of Spanish civilization in religion, literature, art, and architecture during the later Middle Ages was influenced by the fact that medieval Spain was the only multiracial and multireligious country in western Europe. As an active commercial class and an educated elite for many administrative positions, the Jews had served Spain and its monarchs well.

By the end of the 14th century, the situation for Jews in Christian Spain had become dramatically different. The royal family, who had formerly protected them, started to limit their rights, and the Black Death was falsely attributed to Jewish people in a malicious attempt to harm Christianity. These ideas further fuelled fierce animosity towards Judaism, which reached its climax with riots in 1348 and 1391. The latter of these pogroms was particularly significant because so many Jews were forced to convert to Christianity as a result of the violence.

The conversos and Marranos, otherwise known as the “new Christians”, caused a significant stir in Spain. Many held influential roles in government and affiliated themselves with well-known noble families. They experienced great economic success, which sadly drew more resentment from the “old Christians” suspicious of their conversions. Even though a large number of them were dedicated followers of Christianity, there were some agnostic converts and those who covertly followed Judaism.

The immense wealth of the conversos elicited jealousy, their conversions generated hatred in a society traditionally kept as an overseer of Christianity against the non-believer. The Catholic Monarchs saw this attitude as a great tactical benefit, and so obtained a papal bull from Pope Sixtus IV in 1478 which established the Spanish Inquisition to consider whether the conversos actually held true faith. This royal court had all appointments overseen by the crown and this was something that Sixtus only came to terms with when he saw the vast ecclesiastical powers that had been given away; furthermore it was considered dangerous due to its secretive procedures, preventing any appeals being made to Rome.

Despite the effective combination of both civil and ecclesiastical powers offered to them via the Inquisition’s army of lay familiars, the Catholic Monarchs thought of it primarily in religious terms. Its fear-inspiring processes – secret procedures, willing acceptance of accusations, reliance on torture and lack of rights for accused individuals – promoted terror throughout its reign. Estimations of those condemned for heresy have been overstated by some Protestant authors yet thousands were still burnt or exiled from Spain during the Catholic Monarch reign; including the entire family of Juan Luis Vives. Neapolitans and Milanese opposed Spanish inquisition importation based on Papal support, instead favouring ceremonial sentencings and executions via auto-da-fé. In spite of this reaction, few Spaniards seemed to grasp the abhorrence this body evoked in Europe.

Torquemada, Tomás

Tomás de Torquemada, the first inquisitor general, who was from a converso family, spearheaded a crusade against the Jews. It culminated in Isabella and her contemporaries forcefully expelling over 160,000 of them as it was within their spiritual obligations. However, this deprived Spain of many of its most economically proficient citizens when their resources were already at capacity for maintaining their European status and overseas empire – thus leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by German and Italian financiers.


Though it was long thought that the expulsion of Jews in 1492 marked the end of Jewish influence on Spanish history, this is not the case. It is difficult to determine a precise pattern of this influence over time, however. Prior to 1492 it is estimated that 300,000 conversos- or Jews who had converted to Christianity- were living in Spain and most stayed put. Conversos made up Spain’s educated urban middle class and wealthy families often intermarried with its aristocracy, including the royal family. In light of these events, many converts chose to emphasize their Christian orthodoxy while denouncing other conversos for Judaizing practices. Others adopted nonconventional forms of Christianity such as Sister Isabel de la Cruz’s theology which saw direct communication with God through internal purification. The Illuminists – adherents to her teachings- were primarily comprised of conversos who had some aristocrat followers as well. Erasmianism – another spiritualized form of Christianity attributed to Desiderius Erasmus – also found success among Spanish conversos in the early years of Charles I’s reign when he aimed for church reform and religious unity. Unfortunately, by 1530s and 40s those opposed to Erasmus, chiefly The Dominican Order, took action

Most of the conversos and their descendants likely stayed committed to orthodox Roman Catholicism, taking part in a variety of spiritual and scholarly activities in Spain. Notable figures in history include saints Teresa of Ávila and St. John of God – the former a religious writer and nunnery founder, the latter a leader in caring for the ill; Diego Laínez, companion to St. Ignatius of Loyola who went on to become second general of the Jesuit Order; Fernando de Rojas, creator of La Celestina, an iconic work from Spanish Renaissance; Mateo Alemán with his picaresque novel Guzmán de Alfarache; Luis de León, distinguished humanist and poet; Francisco de Vitoria, reputedly one of the most respected 16th century jurists anywhere; plus Bartolomé de Las Casas, defender of the native Americans and chronicler of the Indies.

Apart from Luis Vives, there were many renowned conversos who played a central and varied part in constructing the marvellous cultural aspects of Spain’s “Golden Age.” This phenomenon, which was unique to Spain prior to the 19th or even 20th century, is difficult to explain. However, one possible explanation may be that the Spanish Jews and conversos formed a sizeable portion of the limited educated elite of Spain who were principally accountable for the cultural accomplishments of the era. Moreover, having abandoned their traditional Jewish Talmudic scholarship (from the Talmud, the corpus of Jewish civil and canonical law), these conversos found themselves powerfully drawn to and yet repelled by Renaissance Christian Spain; this tension probably made their reaction more intense due to their continual discrimination from “old Christians” who were hostile and conscious of how numerous conversos were despite their assimilation into Spanish civilization.

Liquideza statutes

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spanish people were fixated on the concept of purity of blood (limpieza de sangre). This prejudice, brought about by religious intolerance, racism and class hatred, was reinforced with a statute of limpieza imposed in 1547 on the Toledo cathedral. Under this law, it became mandatory for any candidate seeking an ecclesiastical appointment to prove their ancestry had not been tainted by converso blood or accusations of heresy from the Inquisition. This policy was authoritatively enforced by Juan Martínez Siliceo – an archbishop from a small background who faced much disdain from canons with aristocratic backgrounds, many of whom were conversos. King Philip II later approved this law in 1556 claiming “all heresies in Germany, France and Spain have been sown by descendants of Jews” – despite Pope Paul IV labelling Philip II himself as a Marrano (a Christian descendant of Jews).

The statutes of limpieza spread across Spain, imbuing the population with a set of values revolving around pure ancestry and orthodoxy. While this had some impact in hindering the propagation of heresies, in the long run it had a profoundly detrimental effect on Spanish society, due to its connection to the Inquisition and its incentivising of informing on those around them.

By the mid-16th century, the Inquisition had mostly come to an end with regards to suspected heretics and Judaizers. Its focus turned to the censorship of books and making sure that Catholics adhered to religious beliefs and behaved morally. This management of behaviour gained prevalence in Catholic as well as Protestant countries in the second half of the 16th century. The Spanish Inquisition had a vast network of courts and familiars stretching from towns to rural areas, even more stringent than Calvinist-Puritan communities, though no longer using torture or handing out death sentences. A royal restriction on students studying at foreign universities (including Catholic ones) further isolated Spanish intellectual life from Europe.

However, on the positive side, the Inquisition was generally unwilling to participate in the widespread witchhunting that led to thousands of executions in other European nations, especially Protestant countries. A majority of Spanish theologians believed that spells and sorceries were only female vapourings which could be ignored or dealt with by shutting witch-women away in convents.

Granada’s conquest

The impact of the Muslims on Spanish life and traditions was distinct from that of the Jews. This can be noticed in the status of women in southern Spain, who had more seclusion compared to other places in Christian Europe and remained semiveiled for a long period of time. It can also be witnessed in visual arts and architecture, which is an area where Jewish influence was almost inexistent. In southern Spain, houses were built facing inward onto a patio while an adapted style called Plateresque took form, merging elements from Moorish and Christian cultures – such as classic Renaissance structures with Gothic ornaments made with the Moorish technique – like a carpet hung over the outside wall of the building. Created during the era of Catholic Monarchs, this attractive mode quickly spread throughout Spain and even to America.

To Ferdinand and Isabella, the Moorish issue initially appeared as a political and military concern, seeing as the Muslims still dominated their autonomous kingdom of Granada. To defeat them, the Catholic Monarchs had to summon their complete military might and the committed aid of the Castilian people. This long and difficult campaign culminated with the taking of Granada, its capital city, in 1492. During this war, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba – known as the “Great Captain” – applied tactics, training and an organisational approach that made Spanish infantry untouchable for 150 years.

The Muslims had religious freedom and generous terms of surrender; however, despite Hernando de Talavera’s attempts to convert them through education, the queen’s confessor, Francisco (later Cardinal) Jiménez de Cisneros, implemented forcible conversions. The Muslims revolted from this action then were given the choice of being converted or expelled. Jiménez and Isabella did not believe mass baptism was a punishment for rebellion as they felt it released them from their previous agreements with the Muslims. Though many chose to be baptised, there weren’t enough Arabic-speaking priests or money for further education which caused issues in making outward conversion a valid reality. As a result, the Moriscos stayed separated from the “old” Christians with little intermarriage between them and were less likely to accept Spanish Christianity than that of conversos who managed to become part of Spanish society no matter what the statutes of limpieza said.

Cardinal Jiménez and the Castilians sought to continue the success of Granada’s conquest with an invasion of North Africa. Religious, strategic, and historical concerns supported the need for maintaining a single rule across both sides of the western end of the Mediterranean, as had been seen since Roman times. However, Ferdinand focused his attention on Aragonese claims against France by the Pyrenees and in Italy rather than deploying Spanish forces in pursuit of a national cause.

Aragon maintained its grip on Sicily and Sardinia, which were part of a much more expansive medieval Aragonese empire. Louis XI had taken control of Cerdagne and Roussillon during the Catalan civil wars in 1463, but French intervention in Italy in 1494 provided Ferdinand with an opportunity. Charles VIII of France agreed to return these counties to him as part of the Treaty of Barcelona in order to secure his southern flank while he pursued military action in Italy. Through Ferdinand’s own diplomatic skills, as well as the generalship of Gonzalo de Córdoba he eventually gained control over the Kingdom of Naples in 1503; suddenly, the unification between Aragon and Castile had revealed its power and Spain became a formidable force compared to France. To reinforce his political standing versus France, Ferdinand orchestrated marriages for his children with Portugal, England and Burgundy (which ruled Netherlands). However, due to unexpected deaths within his family tree, it was Joan the Mad (the third eldest) along with her husband Philip I (the Handsome) of Castile – ruler of the Burgundian Netherlands – who went on to succeed Isabella after her death in 1504. The Netherlands nobility welcomed this vast increase in power as they anticipated

The New World and Spain

In the 15th century, the Portuguese focused their explorations on the Atlantic Coast of Africa, while on the other hand, the Castilians occupied The Canary Islands. In 1479, Afonso V of Portugal renounced any claims to the Crown of Castile in exchange for Spanish recognition of Portuguese possession of The Azores, Cape Verde Islands and Madeira. Isabella’s support of Christopher Columbus in 1492 indicated a new policy in which Castile could focus its resources and attention on overseas exploration. Disputes rose with Portugal following their establishment of a colonial empire in areas like Latin America. This tension between Spain and Portugal lead to a Papal bull decision by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 which eventually resulted in The Treaty of Tordesillas (1494) that defined an imaginary line 370 leagues away from Cape Verde Islands; Areas west were assigned to Spain and those east went to Portugal. Europe did not accept this decision, leading to constant warfare over overseas colonies even when European governments were in accord with each other.

Policy of colonialism

The Spanish were the only European colonizers of that time period who paid any heed to moral issues associated with the subjugation and education of so-called heathen peoples. Although many conquistadores solely sought power, gold, and status, a number of Dominicans and Franciscan friars joined them to help convert and teach the American Indians as well as protect them from their Spanish conquerors. Bartolomé de Las Casas led the battle to reduce the most extreme injustices induced by colonialism. His debates with Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, Francisco de Vitoria’s writings, and similar discussions set out how to address the ethical and legal issues posed by conquest and colonial initiatives. Their worth was highlighted in 1542 when it inspired the Leyes Nuevas (“New Laws of the Indies”), which granted some degree of protection to Indigenous people and no other overseas colony had anything comparable. However, it is noteworthy that even Las Casas endorsed slavery of African slaves until he started to comprehend its cruelty later on.

Trade in the Atlantic

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The Spanish crown insisted that all commerce with the colonies be held exclusively in Sevilla, for it was Castilian money and toil that had built the overseas empire. Sevilla’s Casa de Contratación (1503) regulated this trade strictly. The city transformed into one of the main trading posts in Europe, its population skyrocketing from 25,000 to 90,000 between 1517 and 1594. Though Castile could not provide all the items the colonists required which they would pay for with gold or silver, the Cortes (parliament) unsuccessfully petitioned the monarchy in 1548 to ban exports to the Indies saying this caused prices in Castile to rise. Not heeding their appeal, Castile imported many desired goods from Italy and The Netherlands. In essence, Castile’s exclusive hold on American trade merely opened up a level playing field for other European nations who then vied for trade with Spain’s non-Castilian citizens. Genoese and South German merchants largely managed and funded Atlantic business dealings.

From the 1540s, with mercury being used to extract silver from ore as a new method, mining this precious metal soon became a major industry in Mexico and Peru. Transfers of silver outstripped those of gold in value due to rapidly increasing quantities. This largely went to Spain, partly as payment for imports, but also because of the crown’s right of one-fifth (quinto real). According to records kept by the Casa de Contratación (without taking into account bulk smuggled), 5 million pesos in the five years from 1526 to 1530 rose exponentially to over 35 million between 1591 and 1595. Trade between Sevilla and the New World followed suit, reaching an apex at the close of the 16th century. Prices began rising across Europe before significant amounts of silver were imported from America; however it is certain that American silver exacerbated Spanish inflation in its later half. The first observation and formulation of a quantity theory of money (money worth more when scarcer), by theologians at Salamanca University in the mid-1550s, indicates such a link. Alas, very little was employed for economic development – it was primarily invested in flaunting wealth or funding armies abroad or paying off creditors from

The Habsburgs ruled Spain

The first Charles

On January 23, 1516, Ferdinand of Spain passed away and the Spanish crowns went to his grandson, Charles I (1516–56), who was the ruler of the Netherlands as well as being an heir to the Habsburg dominions in Austria and southern Germany. This union had not been planned beforehand in Spain, and it was met with hostility from many people. Francisco Cardinal Jiménez served as regent until Charles arrived in Spain and did his best to contain the tensions between nobles and towns that arose during this time while they attempted to reclaim power. When Jiménez tried to form a militia, both parties hindered his success. The hostilities between different regions were still strong: for instance, Navarre protested against having an Aragonese governor of Pamplona rather than accept a Turk. Even though Charles’ court at Brussels had not meddled with patronage matters yet, Spaniards still found them guilty of place hunting and greed. Despite immense effort, it took Charles’ Netherlandish ministers over one-and-a-half years to secure agreements with France and England so that he could take possession without any external issues. However, by the time he reached Spain in September 1517, discontentment had grown and apprehension

Movement of the comunero

On June 28, 1519, Charles was elected Holy Roman emperor as Charles V and he set off for Germany. His chancellor, Mercurino Gattinara, however summoned the Castilian Cortes to Santiago in northwestern Spain (April 1520) to request additional funds, given that the prior grant had not expired yet. The townspeople showed their disapproval right away. The Toledans refused to attend; the rest required some serious grievances to be discussed before they would provide money. By using both bribery and concessions, the government eventually managed to persuade a majority of the delegates (who relocated from Santiago to A Coruña [Spanish: La Coruña] on the northwest coast of Spain) to approve the new grant. Quite a few of the delegates were immediately rebuked in their own towns and one from Segovia was killed by an infuriated mob. As Charles sailed away (May 20, 1520), revolutionary activity had already commenced in Castile.

The towns in Toledo formed a league that created a revolutionary government with more boldness than during the French Revolution in 1789, claiming that they were the kingdom and had the right to gather for discussions about any matters relating to the realm without royal permission. Juan de Padilla, leader of the comunero movement, even captured the castle at Tordesillas – where Joan, Charles’s mother and prisoner, was kept – in an attempt to place her on the throne instead of her son. This effort spread quickly throughout Castile, without resistance from the nobles due to their resentment of Charles’s ambitions for imperial power versus simply being king of Castile, as well as for his foreign courtiers and appointments such as Guillaume de Croy to archbishopric of Toledo, and Adrian of Utrecht (later Pope Adrian VI) as regent. Although Fadrique Enríquez and Iñigo de Velasco were made coregents alongside Adrian by Charles in order to appease these same offended grandees, it was still not enough. The situation worsened further when radicals seized control of cities and began putting pressure on nobles’ estates; this caused them to unite at last in order to form an army which eventually

The power of the monarchy in Castile was restored, never to be substantially damaged again by the Habsburg kings. Nonetheless, the towns kept much of their autonomy and with it, the right to oppose royal control through determined town councils. The 18 “royal towns” were still summoned to Cortes but they refused to accept any limitation on their liberty; they frequently demanded that their grievances first be handled before taxes were granted and often managed to defy instructions for their delegates to have full voting powers. Moreover, when it suited the crown’s interest to switch from the alcabala tax to encabezamiento; the towns had a powerful influence over the taxation process approved by Parliament. Additionally, any time Charles proposed a tax without exempting nobles from it – there was an immediate surge of potential revolt and he had no choice but to backtrack. Subsequently, he never invited nobility to Cortes meetings again – thus proving his political victory came at a price as nobles could exempt themselves from financial obligations towards state and empire. As such, taxes became heavier for those less able to pay them while hindering investment in Castilian economy which could have led up its development.


The traditions of the grandees and hidalgos, which had been formed during the centuries in which they were fighting the Muslims, instilled in them an even stronger aversion than usual to economic activities. Many did engage in trade, buying and selling wool and grain wholesale as well as profiting from the American trade in Sevilla , yet the majority chose to invest their money in land without taking measures to improve agriculture. When it came to occupations, they tended to gravitate toward careers in the army, the church or civil service rather than the less reputable ones such as commerce. This ultimately played a significant part in Spain’s inability to keep up with its western European rivals due to its lack of financial resources coupled with social traditions and taxation systems that added further strain.

The Spanish nobility gradually came to accept Emperor Charles I. His firm defence of Roman Catholic Christianity against the Muslim Turks and German heretics resonated with their own traditions of Christian warfare versus the Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. While Charles excluded them from governing Spain itself, many prizes were available – military posts, provincial governorships and even viceroyalties in Italy and Spanish America. Training at Salamanca as lawyers or Alcalá de Henares (near Madrid) as theologians, seemed to offer hidalgos a chance for a fulfilling career in the monarch’s court or church. Even though Charles spent only 16 years of his 40 year reign in Spain, it was becoming clear that he was seen by upper classes as the greatest ruler in Europe.

Foreign policy of Charles I

Charles was the Holy Roman emperor, and his actions resulted in Spain being involved in multiple wars. Protection of southern Italy from the Turks brought Charles’s empire into conflict with the Ottoman Empire and made the central Mediterranean a battlefield. Consequently, Ferdinand’s failed attempt to conquer North Africa incurred bitter revenge as corsair leader Khayr al-Dīn, otherwise known as Barbarossa, took control of Algiers in 1529 and became subservient to the sultan of Constantinople. This gave rise to the much more complex problem of Muslim raids on the southern coast of Spain. A major victory for Charles came in 1535 when he captured Tunis and proclaimed himself “God’s standard-bearer” though this ambition to establish dominance in the eastern Mediterranean by conquering Constantinople ended with defeat against Barbarossa at Préveza (western Greece) in 1538 followed by failure against Algiers in 1541. When his reign drew to a close, Spanish and Turkish naval powers both had an equal footing in the Mediterranean.

Rival claims to Naples posed a challenge to the French kings, resulting in four wars fought by Charles. His armies were successful in taking control of Milan and bringing the other Italian states under Spanish influence. Most of the burden of this conflict was shouldered by Spain and especially Castile, thanks to their military prowess (the tercios) and ability to generate large amounts of revenue for Charles’ cause – something more difficult to do when acquiring funds from the States General of the Netherlands. This ultimately led Charles V’s empire in Europe becoming known as a Castilian empire under him, with Spaniards and Hispanics seizing high positions across Europe and even overseas. These individuals interpreted the international ideals set out by Charles in terms of Spanish political power both on the continent as well as further away.

The Second Philip

When Charles abdicated his domain in 1555–56, Philip II (1556–98) inherited all the territories once controlled by his father, with the exception of Germany. This empire was no longer recognized as such, instead existing as many distinct states unified under one ruler. The traditionalist King Philip failed to promote a joint ideology amongst his subjects; however, he did reorganize the central administration through the establishment of the Council of Italy in 1558. His upbringing and particular affinity for Castilian culture resulted in a transforming of the Holy Roman Empire into what could be considered a Castilian monarchy. In Sicily alone, six our nine viceroys were natives of Spain while ten out thirteen governors at Milan were also Spaniards. The same pattern applied elsewhere: only Spanish citizens – primarily those from Castile – were made viceroys or appointed to other positions in Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Navarre along with Mexico and Peru (with one or two exceptions being natives of Italy). These individuals had Spanish regiments to back them up as well as fortresses primarily governed by Castilians; however, natives were needed to serve in military commands solely in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

When the viceroys and governors were appointed, they were informed of “secret” instructions that would not be broadcasted; rather, they stuck to the established ideologies of Christian governance frequently detailed in the 16th century works – “Mirrors of Princes.” These set guidelines indicated the kings’ presence without his physical being there, clarifying that those selected for office were not to look at their own interests but instead work toward bettering the lives of those around them. Royal expectations demanded that a unified sense of peace should exist within their jurisdiction and justice should be spread fairly among social classes.

Many of the Castilian grandees appointed to high offices certainly attempted to apply these regulations. However, the extent to which they succeeded varied, contingent on the intensity of local obstruction. Sicily gained notoriety for its intractable behaviour towards viceroys, whilst Naples was comparatively tranquil with one viceroy even noting it an unenviable place to hold office as it made leaving all the harder. But a significant source of their frustrations derived from the lack of trustworthiness from King Philip himself. Though he desired to uphold the honour of his officers, he would permit ministers and officials to make complaints about them in secret, and had no qualms about recalling them if it suited him in order to placate hostility from residents.

The king maintained control over his viceroys and governors by staying in contact with them through regular, sometimes daily, correspondence due to the excellent postal service that the house of Austria had introduced. All major political decisions were thus made in Madrid, where the king mainly relied on Spaniards for counsel. However, one exception was Cardinal Granvelle from Franche-Comté who was summoned to Madrid as a primary figure in Philip’s inner councils (1579–86). He strongly suggested a more international approach to royal patronage by proposing Prince of Orange (William I the Silent) for the viceroyalty of Sicily so Netherlanders and Italians would not consider Spaniards as their only “legitimate subjects”. The king disregarded this advice and intense Spanish animosity lead towards Granvelle at court, making it difficult for him to act effectively in his last few years before passing away in 1586.

Policy and finance in imperial times

Philip II inherited from his predecessor an unfinished war with France, as well as a debt of 20 million ducats. With his ally England (to whose queen, Mary Tudor, Philip was married) losing Calais, Philip’s own armies won terrific victories and the peace treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) ratified Spanish possessions and hegemony in Italy. The financial state had woefully deteriorated – forcing Philip’s governments to declare a moratorium on their debts and to reduce high rates of interest on government loans whilst restructuring repayments for short-term loans. This was the beginning of three such moratoriums during Philip II’s rule – the other two occurred in 1575 and 1596 – which set an unsteady precedent for the rest of Habsburg reign in Spain as imperial policies increased despite scarce financial resources. For most of 16th century, this disparity was hidden under growing shipments of silver arriving from the New World – making the king and his creditors dream of fresh funds to pay off ever increasing debt. Unfortunately, the money went mainly towards army and navy wages in the ports where soldiers were preparing to venture into Italy or Netherlands. Shipbuilding programs also bolstered peripheral parts of the peninsula instead of Castile –

When Philip II returned to Spain in 1559, he encountered a naval conflict with the Turks, which culminated in a devastating defeat for his galleys at Jarbah. This was then followed by the revolt of radical Protestants in the Netherlands in 1566 – they desecrated churches, destroyed religious imagery and stained glass windows. Subsequently, Süleyman I’s death provided Philip with an opportunity to send his most accomplished commander Ferdinand Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, 3er duque de Alba, with Spanish and Italian troops to squash the rebellion and levy taxes so that Castile would not need to provide financial assistance to Brussels. Little did he know that this move would ignite the Eighty Years’ War – an epoch of discord and destruction which ultimately resulted in the disintegration of the Spanish Empire in Europe.

Philip II and his successors followed a strategy focused on France, seeing it as the strongest military power in Europe. Despite brief periods of peace, French civil wars meant that Philip had to divert resources between the Netherlands and Mediterranean, leaving Spanish foreign policy on the defensive for 20 years post-Cateau-Cambrésis. This also created internal Struggle in Iberia.

Those of the Moriscos

The issue of Moriscos in Granada was particularly head-on. Efforts to convert and assimilate them had been minimal and fighting between state bodies – the captain general, the municipal council, the audiencia, the Inquisition and even the archbishop and his cathedral chapter – was commonplace. Such disputes were generally determined by political alignment at court more than merits. In 1567 a decree was put in place that banned their Muslim names, dress, language and internal security was given to the audiencia, which meant no one to defend Morisco farmers from marauders in Alpujarras. This caused a rebellion that took two years to subdue with terrible acts on both sides. In an effort for assimilation Moriscos were then sent to various parts of Castile in small groups, but failed due to lack of education and anti-Christian sentiment.

Aragon and Portugal

The question of the complete unification of the Iberian Peninsula was still remaining. Philip’s opportunity to take control came when King Sebastian of Portugal, his nephew, was killed in an ill-prepared 1578 Crusade at the Battle of the Three Kings in northern Morocco. During King Henry’s reign (1578–80), Philip subtly worked to get support in Portugal through intrigue and bribery. But, opposition to Castile remained strong and France and England posed a large threat. Therefore, Philip sent Alba and an army to conquer Portugal in 1580. In spite of respecting Portuguese laws and their privileges with their colonial empire, hostility between Castilians and Portuguese only increased due to this union.

Philip II took action in the peninsula against Aragon that was brought about by a court intrigue. As a result, Antonio Pérez, the king’s secretary, fled to Aragon and was unlikely to be found guilty in the justicia’s court. Therefore, Philip demanded his transfer to the Inquisition court. The citizens of Zaragoza stood up for their rights – they freed Pérez and killed the royal representative. To them this was protecting their liberties; however, Phillip saw it as an act of rebellion. Consequently, he sent a Castilian army into Aragon (1591) and changed the constitution so that the justicia could be appointed by him, the viceroy could be from Castile and voting would take place by majority instead of unanimity in the Cortes of Aragon. These measures granted Philip ultimate sway over Aragon yet left its autonomy untouched.


The Spanish fleet was no match for the Turks in the Mediterranean, so Philip was forced to stay on the defensive while they laid siege to Malta (in 1565). The Turks’ inability to take the island from the Hospitallers, who had received it from Charles V as emperor, signalled an end to their major offensive. Six years later, when the combined strength of the Spanish, Venetian and papal fleets were evenly matched with that of the Turks, a decisive victory was won in the Battle of Lepanto (1571). The victory was more morale-boosting than anything else in terms of tangible results; it made clear that Spain were defending Christendom, a choice which may have cost them dearly and brought about disaster. With this defeat for the Turks, however, it became clear that neither side could gain ground over the other and in 1580 a truce was secured between Spain and the Sublime Porte.

From around 1580 the Spanish government became certain that without the help of England and France, they could not subdue the revolt (1568–1609) and dissension in the Netherlands. On top of that, both countries gave assistance to Portuguese pretender, António, prior of Crato (mid Portugal), while their privateers continued to pillage Spanish merchants’ trading vessels in the Americas. Philip consequently started offering financial aid to France’s ultra-Catholic party, The Holy League. In 1586 he began to make preparations for an invasion of England. In May 1588, about 130 ships and approximately 30,000 men left Lisbon aboard The Armada. It was steered by Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, duque de Medina-Sidonia as Alvaro de Bazán, marqués de Santa Cruz had died in February. Despite being a courageous leader with great determination, Medina-Sidonia had been tasked with a mission impossible – overseeing the army led by Alessandro Farnese, duke of Parma from the Netherlands to England without any control of harbors on deep-water channels and against better equipped English fleet. Although defeat was almost unpredictable, it was not shameful.

Spanish intervention in France from 1590 was equally doomed to failure. While the duke of Parma won great tactical victories with his Spanish veterans in 1593, Spain failed to prevent Henry of Navarre from becoming Henry IV of France and the collapse of the Holy League as Henry converted to Roman Catholicism.

Guzmán y Pimental, Gaspar

Guzmán y Pimental, Gaspar

Philip viewed his role in and that of Spain as defenders of the Roman Catholic Church against the onslaught of heretics. He recognized the need for a military response, so keeping and widening the power and legitimacy of his house was paramount: he even made claims on behalf of his daughter for the French throne. In order to guarantee papal support, Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimental, conde-duque de Olivares, intervened in three straight conclaves (1590–91 Urban VII, Gregory XIV and Innocent IX). Although unsuccessful during the fourth conclave – where Clement VIII was elected, only to absolve Henry IV back into Catholicism (1595) – Philip still sought to secure a papal alliance by making promises as well as issuing threats.

Philip II’s decisions to pursue aggressive policies were accepted by friends and foes alike as a show of Spanish dominance. Spaniards, too, shared this opinion. During the war, its toll increasing steadily, even Castillian Cortes voiced doubts about the king’s decisions. To raise some funds for his missions, Philip attempted in 1574 to triple the value of an encabezamiento existing since 20 years prior – however, the Cortes opposed it successfully. Later on, silver from America flowing into Sevilla was greater than ever before; this likely encouraged Philip’s bold plans against England and France. However, silver only made up a quarter of his annual income; the rest came from taxation and loan securities. The mission known as the Armada reportedly cost 10 million ducats; all other ongoing wars with England, conflicts in Netherlands and involvement in France amounted to an even higher figure. In 1590 Cortes consented to a new excise tax to generate 8 million ducats over six years – given the nickname “millones”. By1595 though a deputy lamented how much money had been wasted without having anything meaningful to show for it.

Taxes have been raised without causing a stir because they have not fallen on the rich, who speak…and the sweetness which they find is in the blood of the poor.

Following Philip II’s third bankruptcy (moratorium), the Cortes failed to agree to an increase or even a renewal of the millones before 1601.

Spain risked both its own wealth, as well as its European dominance, when it endeavored to vanquish the heretics in western Europe. Ultimately, this endeavor was fruitless and Philip II had to sign the Treaty of Vervins (1598) with France, which essentially reverted Spain back to the status quo of 1559. Despite its failure to realise its ambitions, Spain still held the title of Europe’s most powerful country at the end of the 16th century. Christianity was spread across millions overseas – a feat which elicited differing attitudes from those who were aware of it — and Protestantism was not completely eradicated yet was kept at bay. Spanish monks and mystics provided Roman Catholicism with fresh concepts; Spanish theologians and lawyers established the fundamentals of global law. The peak of Spanish literature and artwork had yet to be seen but many Spaniards still perceive their nation’s distant past as their “Golden Age”. Though there are potentially troubling undertones hidden within this period in terms of morality and economy, it does not discount Spain’s ascension at this time.

In 1600, Spain

The end of the 16th century was a time filled with highs and lows, which resulted in a widespread feeling of dejection. This attitude was especially apparent in economic and social opinions, as the arbitristas (or “projectors”) combined an analysis of Spain’s issues with programs of revival and ethical renaissance. These thinkers realized that much of their nation’s troubles were caused by the disdain for labor and those who partook in it, with people striving to live like grandees. The tremendous riches from Mexico and Peru did not raise investment or foster industry; instead, they pushed individuals to look for shortcuts to wealth, blatantly investing in censos – annuities issued by the government seen as a great misfortune for Spain. González de Cellorigo, among the most brilliant arbitristas of 1600, put it this way: “It is like we wanted these realms to become a society of magicians living out of natural law”.

The arbitristas proposed a range of positive ideas, from cutting government expenditure to encouraging immigration into Castile. Their plans, which were similar to those of the mercantilists across Europe, included reforming the tax system, irrigation improvement, protecting industry, and devising ways for distributing the cost of empire among its kingdoms. However, it quickly became clear that the ruling classes in Castile lacked both the capacity and enthusiasm to implement these proposals. This detachment is evident in the period’s literary output.

Literature’s Golden Age in Spain

The picaresque novel was at one end of the spectrum, offering up a satirical perspective on a society in which those without noble birth had to rely on cleverness and deceit in order to survive. The most famous example is Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), sometimes credited to Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, which has as its protagonist a “hidalgo” who would rather starve than work. The novel tells of his servant, Lazarillo, who is tasked with scavenging for them both while they struggle to make ends meet. Miguel de Cervantes furthered the form with Don Quixote (1605 & 1615) – it’s not just a story but an allegory of Cellorigo’s “republic of enchanted men” stuck in their own world of idealized dreams and tilting at windmills.

At the opposite end of the spectrum were works by playwrights such as Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina and Pedro Calderón de la Barca. Like the picaresque novels, Golden Age comedy focused on day-to-day society. The issues that the characters faced were usually linked to social clashes. Fundamentally, these plays sought to protect Spain’s hierarchical structure through commending esteem for all positions in life, from rulers to peasants. In fact, Lope was among the first to showcase ordinary people on stage with full personalities and feelings—bestowing even a blacksmith’s daughter with love ordinarily granted only to nobility. Hereditary and lineage tied into an order that could be endangered but always had its power confirmed at the climax. Perhaps this reflects a similarity between visual art of this era and its Baroque style.

Architecture and painting during the “Golden Age”

In the second half of the 16th century, during the Catholic Reformation, the frivolous Plateresque style was no longer praised. Philip II favored Juan de Herrera’s sober and impressive designs, as seen in his royal residence El Escorial. However, this style often resulted in imposing but unappealing structures – a common feature of countries in their imperial stage. At the turn of the century, Spanish architects welcomed the Italian Baroque with open arms. This style created majestic construction without being pretentious and its decorative elements and theatrical touch made it well-liked by the public.

The Buen Retiro Palace, situated a short distance from Madrid, was one of the most impressive Baroque monuments. Constructed in the 1630s during the Thirty Years’ War and meant to symbolize Spain’s greatness, it had an austere exterior but its interior was lavishly decorated with representations of Spain’s military triumphs. Rivaling El Escorial, it hosted grand theatrical and musical events for both courtiers and city-goers alike. Unfortunately, the maintenance costs were too much to bear as they kept rising beyond acceptance and it has since been lost from view. For more insight on its porcelain production later on see Buen Retiro ware.

The artwork of this epoch may not be as easily taken as a social analysis, but it is possible to pick up particular themes. El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos) stands out as the most outstanding Spanish Counter-Reformation artist – originally from Crete, he was based in Toledo and appreciated by the local wealthy and clerical groups (not supplemented by Philip II). His breathtaking portraiture, including his religious works with their highly spiritual figures appearing to ascend towards heavens, represent the most soulful aspects of Spanish Catholic faith.

El Greco was not known for establishing a school of painting. His successors, in particular Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, had a spiritual approach distinct from El Greco’s; it was far more naturalistic, personal and romantic. Also in keeping with the Baroque style of architecture, these painters were well-received by many religious people. Diego Velázquez stood out among them as he did not focus primarily on religious themes. Most of his works portrayed the king, his family and courtiers or depicted everyday life with an incomparable degree of realism and psychological profundity that was surpassed only by Rembrandt at that time.

Philip III’s reign

Painting by Diego Velázquez of Philip III

Spain’s ruling classes tragically failed to address the contemporary social and political issues with the same energy as their writers and artists. To some extent, this can be attributed to Philip II’s rigid interpretation of his obligation as king, along with his deep distrust in other men. This meant he discouraged independent action from his ministers, hence failing to develop a ruling class that possessed an understanding of statesmanship and decision making.

Philip III (1598–1621) was devout yet lazy, so he needed the help of a minister to rule for him. His pick of Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, duque de Lerma, proved to be unfortunate; amiable but ineffective, Lerma was constantly under attack from those who envied his position and tried to stay afloat by bestowing royal patronage onto the upper nobility. He failed at implementing plans of reform proposed by the arbitristas. During this reign, Spain was either unable to take control of situations or was pushed around by outside forces.

It was not possible to control all occurrences. In 1599–1600, an epidemic plague caused around 500,000 deaths in Castile. This reduced the labour force, and as a consequence, wages increased. However, this change had little overall benefit as inflation was then intensified due to the government’s decision to create large amounts of vellón, a debased copper coinage, to fix their financial difficulties. A moratorium on government debts still had to be implemented in 1608 – but despite a promise to the Cortes of Castile that no more vellón money would be issued for 20 years – in 1617 and 1621 requests were made by the king for more vellón production.

Expulsion of the Moriscos

The situation of the Moriscos was the most severe social issue that occurred during this reign. Most of them resided in the kingdom of Valencia, and had been forcefully yet inconclusively persuaded to adopt Christianity. The greater part of these people were mediocre farmers, agricultural labourers, or insignificant merchants. Even though the Moriscos were hated and scorned by the impoverished Christian peasants; fortunately, they had the support and protection from the landholders whom they served as diligent tenants and labourers.

The expulsion of the Moriscos was a heated topic of debate for many years. Those who pleaded for time and money to achieve their assimilation and Christianization were pitted against those who wanted a more immediate, economic “solution”. Nonetheless, it was typical of Spain’s mentality at the time that the main focus lay upon religious and moral issues. Eventually, in 1609 Lerma’s government ordered that they be sent away as part of a plan to withdraw from power politics in central Europe and put renewed emphasis on North Africa and Islam. From an economic point of view this strategy would also benefit Lerma personally, since he was a Valencian landowner due to acquire confiscated Morisco lands. Most Spaniards backed the decision, which saw some 275,000 leave by 1614.

The economic repercussions of the expulsion have long been a matter of debate. While it may not have had too big an impact in Castile, Aragon and Valencia, where up to 30% of the populations were Moriscos, felt its effects more strongly. Farmers replaced labour-intensive sugarcane and grain production with mulberry for silk, and grapes for wine. In addition, many abandoned properties and debts left creditors in urban areas suffering financial losses. Interestingly, the Aragonese and Valencian Inquisitions – which once supported the banishment – found themselves at a loss when their main source of revenue, fines paid by Moorish villages for practicing their customs, dried up.

Europe and Spain

Neither Philip III nor Lerma had the emotional or intellectual depth needed to fundamentally reassess foreign policy following Philip II’s mistakes. Very few of the arbitristas had a clear vision of this requirement. The court, nobility, and particularly clergy and king’s confessors could not break free from the traditional Spanish imperialism that was seen as being for the cause of God. This led them to seriously misjudge political forces in England, baselessly hoping the infanta Isabella would be placed on the throne after Elizabeth I’s death. Consequently, in 1601 a Spanish army was sent to Kinsale in Ireland to assist Irish rebels, but they were quickly defeated by the English forces.

The new James I government was eager to make peace with Spain. The Treaty of London (1604) brought the Anglo-Spanish war to a close after 16 years, having been negotiated by Philip II’s son-in-law, the archduke Albert. This initiative was supported and furthered by Ambrogio Spinola, a General from Genoa and leader of the Spanish forces in Flanders. Consequently, Spain sent extraordinary amounts of money to Flanders between 1604 and 1607. While Spinola was successful in capturing Ostend and achieving victories in Friesland, he said that it would require an investment of 300,000 ducats each month to maintain success. Unfortunately, under Philip III and Lerma’s rule, they were unable to raise such funds. They proposed Dutch recognition of independence on one condition – that the Dutch cease their possessions in America and the East Indies – yet this was declined. As a compromise, they agreed on a 12-year truce beginning in 1609 without any acknowledgment or toleration for Roman Catholics in Holland.

Between 1610 and 1630, Spain generally held the reins of Europe. This period was commonly referred to as the ‘Pax Hispanica’. During this time, Spanish armies occupied key locations like Italy, Flanders and parts of the Rhineland. Spanish-inclined Jesuits officiated at many courts in Europe, including Austria Habsburgs, Poland, Bavaria and small German & Italian states. Spanish subsidies, pensions and bribes were accepted by a number of Protestant political organizations in England, the Netherlands & Swiss cantons (albeit not always with the desired result). Plus Madrid and Brussels were given intelligence from spies paid for by Spain concerning their adversaries in Holland, Britain and France. This state of affairs worked to Spain’s advantage because they faced disunity & temporary frailty amongst their opponents. Nonetheless, it also came with an adverse consequence: it instilled within Spaniards a feeling of imperialism which was to prove damaging in future years.

Philip III and Lerma adopted a mainly defensive posture due to a combination of financial and temperamental considerations. However, the Spanish grandees who acted as proxies for their king abroad did not share in this reticence and instead strove to increase Spain’s influence in Europe—in other words, to accord themselves more power. As part of this mission they fortified the passage from Milan to Tirol (western Austria) through Valtellina, annexed various Italian lordships, enticed Uskoks (pirates inhabiting the Adriatic Sea) to disrupt Venice’s trading system and may even have attempted to overthrow the republic entirely.

At the courts of Emperor Rudolf II and Matthias, Baltazar de Zúñiga and Conde de Oñate were integral players for Spain. Their efforts resulted in the Treaty of Graz (1617), where, in exchange for Philip III’s rights to the Austrian succession, which were not particularly pursued by Madrid, the Archduke Ferdinand of Styria was declared as heir to Matthias with full Spanish sovereignty over Tirol and Alsace. Spanish influence at Prague also contributed to Ferdinand being elected as king of Bohemia after Matthias’s death. Ultimately, however, the involvement of Philip IV in local politics turned out to be devastating, even more so than Charles V’s experiences. The conduct of Castilian grandees abroad had been effective but lacked true statesmanship; this deficiency was reflected by their king and privado.

In 1618, under pressure from his enemies at court, Lerma was overthrown, and Zúñiga returned to Madrid to become the leading advocate of more assertive strategies. Alonso de la Cueva, marqués de Bedmar – who had formerly been Spanish ambassador in Venice and the mastermind of the anti-Venetian conspiracy – was sent as ambassador to Brussels where he wasted no time in advocating for a resumption of conflict with the United Provinces. With Philip III having passed away in 1621, leaving a sixteen year old Philip IV on the throne, Olivares – his former gentleman of the chamber and uncle of Zúñiga – wound up controlling the Council of State, sharing Zúñiga’s political views.

The reign of Philip IV

Thirty Years’ War and Spain

In 1620, following the defeat of Frederick V and the Bohemians, Spanish troops from the Netherlands invaded his Rhenish Palatinate. Olivares deemed it essential to restart the war with the United Provinces when the truce expired in 1621. He explained that they had taken advantage of the truce to seize control of western Europe’s and the Baltic’s carrying trade with Spain. It Imperative for Spain to act, he argued, as if nothing was done, their overseas empire would be lost — along with Flanders, Italy and possibly all of Spain itself. Philip II’s usual motivations – religion and authority- were seemingly dismissed; protection of its overseas realm became paramount in Spanish relations with the Dutch rebels. Although King Philip voiced opposition to taking on any further debt incurred by his predecessors, Olivares’ arguments against it prevailed. Both sides wanted war for different reasons – for Spain, to protect its empire; for the Dutch, hoping Belgian subjects would revolt against Spain and join their cause. These hopes though were scuppered by a prolonged slump in silver shipments from America.

Having decided on war, Olivares created a strategy to keep communications between Spain and the Spanish Netherlands functioning and strike the Dutch in areas they were most vulnerable. This meant building up a navy in Belgium to attack Dutch ships in the North Sea and aiming to befriend James I of England, restore Frederick V to the Palatinate, and source a Catholic wife for Charles I. It also called for close cooperation with Austria Habsburgs and fighting for control of Valtellina. Another objective was Wallenstein’s advancement into the Baltic, leading to schemes of constructing an imperial Spanish fleet with Hanseatic and Danish assistance to crush Dutch trade in that area and consequently reduce their wealth.

Though the Spanish had plans to restore their nation to greatness, the rest of Europe only viewed it as a sign of the limitless ambitions of the House of Austria. This helped not at all in convincing them that the objectives were limited and rational. Spinola’s and Wallenstein’s victories on the battlefield gave them hope that a victory against the Dutch was achievable. Nevertheless, this blinded them to the possibility of creating new enemies, causing them to miss out on any chances for a favourable peace. Despite pouring funds from Castile into Flanders, they found it difficult to supply themselves with provisions due to help from Dutch merchants who used their trade with Spain’s enemy as a means of providing money for troops fighting against said enemy. Come 1630, with Sweden and France actively participating in the war, Spain started to lose control – leading battles spread across different continents, ranging from Europe and Asia Minor to Brazil. Although they gained tactical successes in Italy and Germany, more significant losses were incurred – particularly at sea – which steadily rose over time.

Olivares’ government

Olivares indisputably surpassed Cardinal Granvelle as the most skilled politician to run the Spanish government. Under the Catholic Monarchs, Emperor, and Philip II, the high nobility was largely excluded from participating in central government. Lerma made a policy shift but despite his sorrow over their lack of proficiency, Olivares could not revert back. So he formed committees (juntas) of experts within the councils to manage much of government operations and bolster their efficacy.

In 1623 and 1624, Olivares presented a number of memorandums to the king and Council of State that were, in essence, plans for an extensive reform of government and society along the lines proposed by the arbitristas. He was aware of the need to modify attitudes; specifically he acknowledged the necessity of restricting aristocratic extravagance and display, valuing productive labour, and putting an end to limpieza de sangre (which was damaging economically as well as morally; interestingly his own grandmother was a ‘converso’). His memorandums primarily focused on financial matters which were crucially important due to the annual expenditure being eight million ducats with a four million deficit. His plan suggested abolishing certain taxes such as millones and alcabala and replacing them with fairer versions and noted that Castile should not be solely responsible for financing the war. As Granvelle had also recognised, other dominions needed to benefit from imperial power if they too were expected to share its costs – honours, commands and policy control being almost exclusively reserved for Castilians until then.

None of these plans were put into practice, as the Spaniards were unwilling to alter their way of life and deeply held ideologies on the request of a royal favourite. Olivares was able to obtain loans from a consortium of Portuguese Marrano (Christianized Jewish) businessmen, yet he faced severe criticism for doing so. This did not stop the court from celebrating with great merriment after the prince of Wales arrived seeking a Spanish bride (1623). The financial reforms, however, were thwarted due to opposition from certain groups in respect to taxation by the Cortes, as well as condemnation from Castilian establishment towards plans of decentralization in the empire. Not even any serious thought had been given to Olivares’ plan, just like that of Granvelle’s before it. In 1560s this lack of progress led Philip II with no other choice but Alba’s policy of repression which spawned revolt in Netherlands; likewise, failure causes Olivares to resort to Union of Arms – creating an army reserve of 140,000 men funded by dominions in accordance with their resources – causing revolts in Catalonia and Portugal. Understandably, there was animosity towards this proposal due to infringement on liberties and distrust between Castile and non-Castilian

Catalonia’s revolt

Apart from Portugal, Catalonia had the greatest degree of autonomy. Its medieval form of government dated back to 1486 when Ferdinand the Catholic established it. Its countryside, in particular along the French border, was a dangerous place with smugglers and bandits roaming the area, whilst local feuds were common. The Diputació administered taxes – a self-perpetuating and corrupt committee associated with the Catalan Corts which only operated during rare meetings. Viceroys found it difficult to exercise any control due to widespread local privileges and were unable to manage taxation finances. Philip IV called upon the Cortes of Aragon and Valencia in 1626; money was reluctantly voted, although conscription of troops was rejected. Catalonia refused to cooperate on all fronts. This led to relations between Madrid and Catalonia deteriorating quickly as Olivares published the royal decree for ‘Union of Arms’.

As the costs of warfare increased, the government was forced to take inflationary measures with the minting of vellón coinage and declare another moratorium on its debt in 1627. These coins were withdrawn a year later, causing prices to crash and economic recession to follow. To solve this problem, new taxes were applied in Castile along with confiscation of income and American silver from private parties. This naturally made Madrid hostile towards Catalonia’s exemption from taxation. With this in mind, Olivares started a campaign against southern France via Catalonia in 1639 with no strategic objective except involving Catalonia into the war. He argued that if Catalans had to defend their nation, they would have to fund the army as well.

The Catalans were unresponsive to Olivares’s attempt at reasoning. The peasants had been inspired by the clergy to reject his troops. This led to numerous confrontations in their settlements and eventually a revolt. When he finally saw the necessity of appeasing them, it was far too late. One June 7th, Olivares was murdered by the mob in Barcelona. On the other hand, Europe’s elite yearned for some form of reconciliation but the rural areas were now beyond governability. The Diputació, directed by Canon Pau Claris from Urgel to the west of Barcelona, refused any potential agreements. With all resources exhausted, Olivares attempted another offensive against the rebels in autumn 1640; Claris instead chose to support Luis XIII of France – as it had been under Charlemagne – which lead French forces into Catalonia and only when they eventually left due to a civil war (the Fronde) did Castilians succeed in reconquering Catalonia (1652). Content with this change of events, the upper classes welcomed Madrid’s subsequent restoration of their liberties and privileges much more so than they would have welcomed French rule.

Portugal’s revolt

The burgeoning discontent of the Portuguese aristocracy and mercantile classes, who had previously been content with the patronage and economic benefits associated with their union with Spain, provided an opportunity for revolt. Resentment over the 1634 introduction of Castilian officials into their government, as well as Spanish ineffectiveness against Dutch adversaries in Brazil and growing anti-Portuguese sentiment among Spanish colonies amid a period of economic recession, all contributed to an insurmountable malaise. Rather than endure Spanish orders to fight Catalan rebels, Portuguese nobles seized control in Lisbon and installed Duque de Bragança as King John IV (December 1640). Madrid was at that time preoccupied by its own aristocratic uprising in Andalusia (1641) and could no longer mount a response.

Philip IV’s last years

Spain’s core state was just as badly mismanaged as its periphery. Vellón coinage was again meddled with, and then a sudden deflation hit in 1641-1642. In response, the Castilian nobles left Philip IV no choice but to fire his chief minister Olivares in January 1643. The king now ran things himself by disbanding the juntas and restoring the councils’ authority, leaving the control of government to Olivares’ nephew – Luis Méndez de Haro. Compared to his uncle’s grand ambitions and wit, Haro was shrewd yet unremarkable.

The defeats persisted. Louis II de Bourbon, the Great Condé and the King’s cousin, demolished the Spanish tercios and their legendary invincibility at Rocroi in northeastern France in 1643. Revolt took hold of Naples and Palermo (Sicily) in 1647 and shortly these cities were governed by revolutionary forces. The hefty taxing practices, instituted to finance Spain’s military enterprise, mainly ignited the uprising in Naples. The Venetian ambassador to Madrid wrote that:

As if a great colossus had collapsed during an earthquake and everyone had hurried along to enrich themselves.

Although Spain kept a large part of its empire, it had to put an end to its close partnership with the Austrians when the emperor conceded French claims to Alsace and the Rhine bridgeheads, thus ending the “Spanish Road” to the Netherlands. Portugal’s revolt and Brazil were no longer between Spain and the Dutch, so Philip IV accepted full independence for the United Provinces in 1648 by signing the Treaty of Münster and agreeing to cease overseas trade on the Schelde River. Even with Catalonia surrendering, Philip IV was determined to make one last effort against France, which he did while they were temporarily weak during the Fronde period; however, he passed up a very favourable peace in 1656.

The war dragged on, with England joining France and capturing Jamaica. This eventually led to Spain’s defeat in the Battle of the Dunes on the northern coast of France in 1658. In response, The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) ceded Artois (now northernmost France), Roussillon, and part of Cerdagne from Spain. The result was a clear realization throughout Europe that Spain had been unable to uphold their claims for hegemony and Philip IV made concessions to France in order to focus on Portugal – then still an unresolved enemy. Attempts at financial reform were continually blocked and government declared bankruptcies in 1647 and 1653. So once again the Council of Finance chose debased coinage to pay for campaigns against Portugal. The Portuguese however defeated Spanish armies at Ameixial (1663) and Villaviciosa (1665) leading Spain to recognize them as an independent country in 1668.

Henri II

For 10 years, Maria Anna of Austria served as regent for Charles II (1665–1700). Her government was heavily influenced by her confessor, Jesuit Johann Eberhard – Juan Everardo Nithard. This habit of not summoned the Cortes any more showed their weakness rather than strength, but it sowed the seeds for royal absolutism in the 18th century. In 1669, Juan José de Austria – an illegitimate son of Philip IV – overthrew Nithard, shutting him away from state affairs. In 1677, Juan José led an army to Madrid and made himself Charles II’s chief minister; this military coup initiated a custom that brought much suffering in 19th and 20th century politics in Spain and Latin America. Though Juan Jose had ambitious plans for reform, he died in 1679 and power shifted back to the aristocrats – often being self-seeking or incompetent. Some experts such as Manuel Joaquín Álvarez de Toledo y Portugal (the Conde de Oropesa) did manage to make some positive changes though; not only were they able to redeem the currency in 1680 despite a bout of deflation first; they also established a committee for commerce which paid heed to merc

Despite some attempts to revive the woolen industry in Segovia and other towns, as well as the import of American silver, which was primarily channelled through Cadiz instead of Sevilla, economic recovery proved difficult. The period between 1668-1673 saw a drastic decline in Spain’s economy according to both the French and Venetian ambassadors, who noted the “uninterrupted series of calamities” under Charles II’s reign. This deterioration led to a decrease in population from 8.5 million to 6.6 million people by the late 17th century. Factors such as emigration rates at 4-5,000 people per year, plus 10-12 thousand military casualties annually due to wars and plagues further exacerbated this decline. Additionally, some noble families neglected their rural estates which led to a shortage of skilled labour with high wages causing many foreigners such as 70,000 French immigrants to enter Spain at this time. Despite this influx in workers, Castilian industries still continued to reduce until 1677-86 wherein crop failures along with an epidemic combined with coin deflation caused it to hit its lowest point.

War in France

As a result of these three wars with France (1667–68, 1672–78, 1689–97), Spain became the victim rather than the initiator of aggression. Despite losses such as Franche-Comté (Treaty of Nijmegen, 1678) and some Belgian frontier towns to France, Spain was nonetheless able to retain most of the southern Netherlands and its Italian dominions due to other European powers – particularly the United Provinces – preventing France from claiming them as well. After the War of the Grand Alliance (1689–97) – which inflicted greater harm on Spain than any before – Louis XIV restored Catalan and Flanders territories that his troops had seized. This was because he had become focused on inheriting the entire Spanish empire.

During the last years of Charles II, a childless and clearly dying monarch, the European powers maneuvered for the Spanish succession or, alternatively, for the partition of the Spanish empire. On November 1, 1700, after cabals, intrigues, exorcisms of evil spirits, and blood feuds at court, the rule of the house of Austria came to an end after the death of Charles II.

Spain’s decline

It is true that Spain declined economically and politically in the 17th century, especially in its second half, but it is uncertain whether there was also a cultural decline of similar stature. Great figures such as Calderón, Velázquez and Murillo had no successors able to measure up to their talent. Charles II’s court lacked the financial means to act as a patron like Philip IV had done previously. Some of the supposed ‘decline’, however, could simply be blamed on changing styles in painting and architecture which left older generations frustrated and historians criticising them later down the line. A prime example of this is architecture by the Churriguera brothers which has often been criticised for its busyness even though it is now understood as an enjoyable Mediterranean take on southern German baroque-rococo style.

The impact of decadence on Charles II’s reign does not account for the economic or political difficulties that Castile faced. The economic downfall was almost exclusive to Castile and did not affect Catalonia or Valencia to a comparable magnitude. The arbirtistas, however, focused on why Castilians had adverse feelings towards economic activity and how this attitude was engrained in the past history of the region but escalated during the global depression of the 17th century. Additionally, Spanish imperialism was a product of aggressive militarism within the domain of Castilian aristocracy; this resulted in successive Philip leaders lacking any sort of innovation which could have broken them away from militaristic traditions. Velázquez seemed to comprehend this when he painted ‘The surrender of Breda’ in an attempt to restore peace between enemies, as well as his portraits depicting great pain from Philip IV due to his inability to fulfil assigned obligations. Wars ultimately put a stop to Castilian progress even though they were taking place outside its boundaries; these wars alone cannot fully explain why there was an end to Spain’s golden age however it may be argued that nations so invested in war – although successful for some time – are unable to sustain creativity after their ideal has failed and all is left is an

Koenigsberger, Helmut Georg

Early Bourbons, 1700–53

The 17th century had been a time of great hardship for Spain, as the country’s various wars had weakened its power in Europe. Nonetheless, Spain was still considered the preeminent imperial force in the world. To maintain its remaining European territories and hold on to its colonies in the Americas, however, proved beyond the government’s means from a military and financial standpoint. Throughout this period, France posed the most significant challenge, resulting from their envy towards Habsburg power; while in the 18th century England emerged as a major naval foe, and Austria became an important enemy on land.

Spanish Succession War

Charles II’s will led to the Duc d’Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV, becoming Philip V of Spain. His ascension to the throne was rejected by Austria, as it would have meant a Bourbon on the throne and thus enabled French hegemony in Europe. This was viewed with alarm by England. Louis XIV viewed Spain under his rule as an extended political and commercial arm of France, to be governed from Versailles. The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) complicated this goal, as Allied armies from Britain and Austria invaded Spain in an effort to install the Archduke Charles (the later Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI).

In order to acquire resources for the war effort and alleviate the financial strain on its treasury, France had to implement an efficient administration. This endeavour was hindered by a scarcity of funds, while demands levied from the Bourbon dynasty due to taxation and war levies triggered Catalonia and Aragon into revolt. Jean-Jacques Amelot – Louis XIV’s ambassador -, Jean-Henri-Louis Orry – a financial expert – and a few Spanish lawyer-administrators such as Melchor de Macanaz, were instrumental in this attempt to centralize reform. They were backed by Queen María Luisa of Savoy and her friend Marie-Anne de la Trémoille (the 60-year-old princesse des Ursins).

Those who were adversely affected by the reforms were the grandees who had held influence over the inefficient Historic councils, regions such as Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia that saw the new policy as a Castilian driven intervention that would erase their liberties; and of course, the Church whose stance was being challenged with Macanaz’ regalism. All of these forces coalesced against Philip V and his reign. The Civil servants under Bourbon rule wanted to see an end to any special privileges as they could be used to mask support for England or Austria’s presence in Spain.

Despite Castile being in dire financial straits (due to a loss of revenue from the Indies), its people were fiercely loyal to the new dynasty throughout the war. This loyalty, alongside that of France (until 1711), enabled King Philip V to survive devastating defeats and two occupations of Madrid. In 1705 the archduke Charles arrived in Catalonia and conquered Barcelona. When Philip V sought to retaliate by entering Aragon, the Aragonese, who upheld their ‘fueros’, inexplicably revolted; a move which prompted his advisers to cast aside all local privileges and accuse those responsible of treachery. After victory over Charles at Almansa in April 1707, it was decided that the fueros of Valencia and Aragon be annulled and property seized from rebels. Subsequently, when Valencia’s Archbishop resisted efforts to make priests with doubtful loyalties appear before civil courts, Macanaz’s regalism was given free rein.

A direct triumph by the reformers came in 1714. The Queen died in 1714 and Philip’s new wife, Isabella Farnese, arrived, ending court support for radical reform. The Inquisition condemned Macanaz, and a less rigid government, more inclined to compromise with the church and nobility, controlled the country.

The war’s end saw the Spanish taking control; their allies have deserted the Archduke Charles, and French assistance to Philip V was minimal. In 1714, Philip recaptured Barcelona, which was the archduke’s capital. It was with the Decree of Nueva Planta in 1716 that Catalonia was integrated into Spain as fueros were abolished; this integration has since been widely discredited by later generations of Catalans as a violation of their “nationality”. Despite this controversy, it helped push Catalonia forward towards industrial revival by providing them a domestic market in Spain and eventually an overseas market in America. Strangely enough, this awful war had provided a sense of unifying force to Spain – excepting the Basque provinces and Navarre – as it became subjugated by direct royal administration across its territories.

As a result of Spain’s defeat in war, many of its possessions outside Iberia were lost. As a result of the treaties of Maastricht and Utrecht (1713), it lost its European possessions (Belgium, Luxembourg, Milan, Sardinia, Sicily, and Naples) and gained Gibraltar and Minorca, as well as the right to trade with Spanish America with one ship a year.

The “American” and “Italian” policies

Until 1748, Spanish policy was divided between two objectives; the “Italian” striving for vengeance and restoration in Italy, as well as an “Atlantic” motivation to guard America from impending British infiltration and reinvigorate its colonial rule. Both plans required a powerful armed forces. Philip V’s second wife Isabella, attempting to assure royal positions for her offspring, had two foreign figures at her disposal: the Italian cardinal Giulio Alberoni and Dutch-born Juan Guillermo Riperdá (Johan Willem Ripperda). Her attempts to reclaim the lost Italian territories triggered a war with Austria, which resulted in a terrible naval defeat off Sicily Cape Passero in 1718; but her indomitable spirit eventually paid off when her son Charles III of Spain was presented with the title ‘Duke of Parma’ in 1731 and ‘King of Naples’ two years later. Parma’s throne was subsequently relinquished.

Spanish ministers José Patiño, Zenón de Somodevilla y Bengoechea and José de Carvajal y Lancáster initiated the so-called American-Atlantic approach. Simultaneously to this, a “Italian” and “Atlantic” agenda was proposed during the late years of Philip V’s reign. It would lead to discord eventually – Britain challenging Spain due to their interpretation of trading rights in Spanish America, leading to the War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-43). The Spanish fleet defended Cartagena for example, and it detailed Admiral Edward Vernon. The Italian-Mediterranean policy also caused Spain to enter into the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48). This gave Isabella the chance to settle her second son, Philip, in an Italian duchy – with Spanish troops even entering Milan in 1745.

Ferdinand VI (1746–59) focused more on restoring Spain’s position domestically than on extending its power in Europe. While he wanted to reclaim Gibraltar as part of the conclusion of the War of the Austrian Succession, the Anglo-French rapprochement thwarted his ambitions; instead, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) merely solidified Philip’s reign in Italy as duke of Parma, Piacenza, and Guastalla. This marked a shift towards an Atlantic trend. Since Britain was Spain’s most significant adversary in America, while Austria was in Italy, Ensenada and Carvajal had identified France as their “natural” ally when they signed a series of family pacts with France in 1733 and 1743. It wasn’t until Ferdinand’s later years that his minister Ricardo Wall favoured neutrality as a means to avoid hostility from Britain, Austria or France for Spain.

US interest manifested in augmented trading activity, with convoyed fleets giving way to individual sailings. In 1725, the formation of privileged trading companies followed, and Spanish navy foundries at Ferrol and Cartagena were established the next year. However, Spain’s economic concern could not satisfy American wants in return for their expanded exports; they were either met by English peddlers through legitimate trade from Cadiz or smuggled illegally. In spite of attempting measures to stifle smuggling, it stayed prevalent as a necessity in colonial eyes.

Under Ferdinand VI, the reforms that had been weakened during Philip V’s rule were revived. To improve royal control over provincial government, especially financially, crown officers, or intendants, were appointed in 1749. Carvajal reorganized the postal system while Ensenada made contributions to public works such as road building and the establishment of tobacco factories, botanical gardens and observatories. Charles III then built on this progress with more dramatic reformations.

Charles III’s reign, 1759-1788

Two features set Charles III’s reforms – known as the “Caroline” reforms – apart from those of his predecessors. Despite not being particularly intellectual and favouring court affairs over different pursuits, Charles III proved to be a “reformer’s king” by always backing changing ministers. Additionally, his civil servants subscribed to the Enlightenment’s principles of governing.

The group of civil servants were divided in their ideologies, with Pedro Pablo Abarca de Bolea and Pablo de Olavide y Jáuregui being more heavily influenced by French thought, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos y Ramírez leaning towards the works of Scottish political philosopher and economist Adam Smith, while Pedro Rodriquez Campomanes drawing on Spanish reformers such as Macanaz. Meanwhile, José Moñino y Redondo who was a proficient administrator, without any particular philosophical bent, championed “Felicity” – a well-run monarchy based on the fruitful work habits of content citizens with the judicious application of economic principles. However, certain ancient conventions (e.g., grazing rights held by the Mesta) or prejudices (the disdain for “mechanical trades” for example) could not be allowed to interfere with greater wealth and therefore a better tax revenue for the government.