The notion of a single Spain is probably best dated back to the invasion of the Romans in the second year BC. After defeating the Carthaginians they set about conquering local tribes primarily referred to as the Iberians and the Celts. The former were the tribes who lived mainly along the Mediterranean Coast, while the latter had arrived to occupy the North and West over the last millenium. Hispania, as it was known by the Romans, became an important part of their empire until their descent from power in the fifth century, when they were usurped by the Visigoths.
The Visigoths ruled for two centuries, leaving remarkably little lasting impression. The next monumental move in the history of the peninsula was the invasion by the Moors in 711. It was at this point that Hispania became Al-Andalus, and took a very different course to the rest of Europe. A swift Christian rebellion from the North meant that control was never complete, but for at least half the country the Arab and North African invaders transformed culture, society, the cities, and the land. For seven centuries borders fluctuated, as much between neighboring kingdoms united by a common religion as between the Christian North and the Muslim South. By the time the last Muslim stranglehold of Granada fell in 1492, the country had been changed forever.
The Empire on Which the Sun Never Set
Fourteen hundred and ninety-two, as well as heralding the fall of Granada, was also the year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue, as the song goes. His discovery meant Spain, now unified under single rule, was catapulted to world prominence. At the height of its power under the Austrian Hapsburgs, the Empire encompassed most of South and Central America, the Philippines, Guam, parts of Italy, Germany, France, and the Benelux countries. This did not correlate with equal glory back home, and over the ensuing centuries the country was perpetually on the point of bankruptcy amidst a host of foreign conflicts. Much of its diversity of culture was lost too, with the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Muslims under the rule of puritanical Christian monarchs.
By the birth of the twentieth century, with rule passed to the French Bourbons, the country had lost most of its overseas dominions. Internal strife was rife, with factions of society vying for rivals for the crown, or a move to a democratic republic. Following a number of failed governments the military stepped in during the 1930’s under General Francisco Franco. It was the start of a bloody three year civil war which left scars whose mark is still felt today. Franco’s rule saw a long period of isolation, and a stagnant economy, before Spain was welcomed back into the fold as an ally against communism. This spurred a huge economic upturn from the 1960s. Throughout his reign, however, regional power was firmly quashed, and regional languages were outlawed.
In modern times, the death of Franco in 1975 led to the transition to a constitutional monarchy under Juan Carlos I, who had been anointed his successor by Franco himself. He encouraged modernization, and oversaw a gradual transition to a modern democracy that made use of existing state institutions as a foundation. Elections were held in 1977, and subsequent years have seen a movement towards devolution of power to the autonomous regions, who operate their own regional governments. The decades since has seen modernization and the continued growth of tourism, entry into the European Union, and an infrastructure and housing construction boom which made many people rich, but ultimately led to the total collapse of the economy in the banking crisis of 2008, and an economic crisis that continues to bite today.