History in Spain

Category: History of Spain

In1868, a farmer discovered paintings in a cave in the Cantabrian Mountains, in northern Spain. The pictures that he found in the Altamira caves date from 15,000 to 8500 B.C. They show bison, wild boars, and other animals that people hunted at that time. They were painted by the first people to live in Spain and are considered some of the finest examples of cave art anywhere in the world.

The next known people to live in Spain were the Iberians. They came from northern Africa, crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Spain around 3000 B.C. They built small towns and villages, where they farmed the land and worked as skilled metalworkers, potters, and sculptors. About 2,000 years later, the Celts came to Spain from Europe, finding their way across the rugged Pyrenees Mountains in the north. After settling in Galicia, in northwest Spain, they began to raise livestock and farm the land.

Phoenicians and Greeks

Phoenicians from the eastern Mediterranean came to Spain around 1000 B.C. and settled along the east coast. They came in search of valuable minerals such as gold, silver, tin, and copper. A few centuries later, Greeks arrived and settled in the northeast. Both the Phoenician and Greek settlers shipped Spanish food, fish, salt, minerals, and pottery back to people in their homelands. They also introduced many foods from their homelands to Spain, such as grapes and olives, which are still grown in Spain today.

Carthaginians and Romans

Armies from Carthage, in northern Africa, began arriving in Spain after 400 B.C. in search of territory to occupy. Then, in 206 B.C., Romans came to Spain to fight the Carthaginians for control of the area. They won the battle and imposed common laws and a single language, Latin, on most of the land. During the next 600 years, waves of Romans came to live in Spain, where they built cities, temples, outdoor theaters, roads, and aqueducts. Some of the people from Rome were Christians, while others were Jews.


By 400 A.D., tribes from northern Europe began attacking Spain. One of these tribes, the Visigoths, defeated the Romans in Spain in 409 and took control of the northern part of the country. The Visigoth kings adopted Christianity from the Romans, and forced Jewish citizens to convert to Christianity. The next 300 years were a dark period in Spain´s history, marked by battles in different regions and a lack of law and order. Cities began to fall apart. Spain was weak and vulnerable to invasion.

Moors and Islam

The Moors, from northern Africa, landed at Gibraltar, in the south of Spain, in 711, It took them less than seven years to conquer all of Spain, except for a few Christian kingdoms in the north. The Moors ruled Spain for the next 800 years. They settled mainly in the southern part of the country, in a region known as Andalusia.

The Moors had an enormous influence on life in Spain. Farmland flourished when the Moors introduced sophisticated methods of irrigation. The Moors built beautiful palaces, public baths, schools, and gardens. They introduced the religion of Islam, practiced by Muslims, to Spain. Many Spanish people became Muslims during the Moors´ rule, although the Moors allowed Christians and Jews to follow their own religious beliefs. The Moors were also very knowledgeable about math and science. Under the Moors, Spain became a center of learning and culture.


Eventually, the Christian kingdoms in the north began a long fight to win Spain back from the Moors. This period, from 718 to 1491, is known as the Reconquest. The two most powerful kingdoms in northern Spain were Castile and Aragon. When Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon married in 1469, they united their forces. Isabella and Ferdinand finally drove the Moors out of Spain when they captured the kingdom of Granada, the Moors´ last stronghold, in 1492.

The Spanish Inquisition

Ferdinand and Isabella practiced a denomination of Christianity called Roman Catholicism. They insisted that everyone in Spain also practice Catholicism. Mosques and synagogues were destroyed and rebuilt as churches. Jews and Muslims were given a choice: convert to Catholicism or leave Spain. Those who chose to convert were still persecuted. For example, Muslim converts were forced to live in certain rural areas. In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella set up the Inquisition, a court to investigate whether people were practicing Roman Catholicism. People who had not converted or whose beliefs were questioned were sent out of Spain, punished severely, or executed. Five thousand people were executed in the first 50 years of the Inquisition, which finally ended in 1834.

Explorers and Conquerors

In 1492, Queen Isabella paid for an Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, to search for a new route to India by water. She wanted easier access to India´s spices and other riches. When Columbus´s ship landed on one of the islands of the Bahamas, instead of India, he became the first European explorer to see this part of America. After Columbus´s return, Queen Isabella gave money to other Spanish explorers, so they could bring the riches of the Americas back to Spain. These Spanish adventurers, or conquistadores, gradually conquered Mexico, Central America, parts of the United States, and parts of South America. From these conquered territories, they shipped gold, jewels, and precious metals, as well as cocoa, corn, and potatoes, to Spain, making it one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

The Spanish Armada

In 1588, the king of Spain sent a fleet of 133 ships, called the Armada, to invade England. Almost half these ships sank in stormy weather or while fighting the British navy. This was a major defeat for Spain, and it marked the beginning of a slow decline in Spain´s power. One by one, Spain´s overseas territories regained their independence.

The Spanish Civil War

For hundreds of years, Spain was a monarchy, ruled by kings and queens. In 1931, Spain became a republic in which the citizens elected their government. People who supported this new government were called Republicans. In 1936, General Francisco Franco led the Spanish army in an uprising against the new government because he wanted Spain to be run in an older, traditional way. Franco and the people fighting with him were called Nationalists. Civil war shook Spain for more than three years, killing over half-a-million people. Almost as many people fled from Spain to other countries. Eventually, the Nationalists won the war, and Franco made himself leader of the nation.

General Franco´s rule

Franco was a dictator, a leader who ruled with absolute authority and force. He abolished the parliament, leaving only one political party, his own. Franco was also a fascist. Fascists believe that a country can only be strong if the government restricts people´s rights and freedoms. One of the ways Franco did this was by allowing people in Spain to speak only Castilian, the language spoken in central Spain. People living in different parts of the country were not allowed to speak their own languages or practice their own customs.

King Juan Carlos

General Franco chose Juan Carlos to rule after him, as king. Juan Carlos´s grandfather, Alfonso XIII, had been king of Spain from 1886 to 1931. Franco thought that Juan Carlos would continue his fascist policies. Instead, after Franco died in 1975, Juan Carlos appointed a new prime minister and helped establish a democracy in Spain. Elections were held in 1977, and Spaniards chose who they wanted to govern them. Today, Spain continues to have an elected prime minister and strong parliament, as well as a monarch.