Around 1000 or 900 BC, Andalucía’s agricultural and mining wealth attracted Phoenician trading colonies to coastal sites such as Cádiz, Huelva and Málaga. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC Phoenician influence gave rise to the mysterious, legendarily wealthy Tartessos civ‑ilization, somewhere in western Andalucía.
In Roman times (the 3rd century BC to 5th century AD) Andalucía, governed from Córdoba, was one of the most civilized and wealthiest areas of the Roman Empire. Rome imported Andalucian products such as olives, copper, silver, fish and garum (a spicy seasoning derived from fish), and Andalucía gave Rome two emperors, Trajan and Hadrian.
Andalucía was the obvious base for the Muslim invaders who surged onto the Iberian Peninsula from Africa in 711 under Arab general Tariq ibn Ziyad, who landed at Gibraltar with around 10, 000 men, mostly Berbers (indigenous North Africans). Córdoba, until the 11th century, then Seville until the 13th and finally Granada until the 15th century, took turns as the leading city of Islamic Spain. At its peak, in the 10th century, Córdoba was the biggest and most dazzling and cultured city in Western Europe, famed for its ‘three cultures’ coexistence between Muslims, Jews and Christians. Islamic civilization lasted longer in Andalucía than anywhere else on the Iberian Peninsula and it’s from the medieval name for the Muslim areas of the peninsula, Al-Andalus, that the name Andalucía comes.
The Emirate of Granada, the last bastion of Al-Andalus, finally fell to the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, in 1492. Columbus’ landing in the Americas the same year brought great wealth to Seville, and later Cádiz, the Andalucian ports through which Spain’s trade with the Americas was conducted. But the Castilian conquerors killed off Andalucía’s deeper prosperity by handing out great swaths of territory to their nobles, who set sheep to run on former food-growinglands.
By the late 19th century, rural Andalucía was a hotbed of anarchist unrest. During the civil war Andalucía split along class lines and savage atrocities were committed by both sides. Spain’s subsequent ‘hungry years’ were particularly hungry here in the south, and between 1950 and 1970 some 1.5 million Andalucians left to find work in the industrial cities of northern Spain and other European countries.
But tourism and the almost everlasting building boom that has come with it, plus industrial growth and massive EU subsidies for agriculture (which still provides one Andalucian job in eight), have made a big difference since the 1960s. The left-of-centre PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) party has controlled Andalucía’s regional government in Seville since 1982. The worst of Andalucian poverty has been eradicated with the help of grants, community works schemes, a generous dole system and the overall improvement in the Spanish economy. Registered unemployment in Andalucía remains the highest in Spain (14% in 2006), but it’s also a fact that many registered unemployed in Andalucía have jobs. Education and health provision have steadily improved and the PSOE has given Andalucía Spain’s biggest network of environmentally protected areas (though only in the last couple of years has it begun to tackle the rampant overdevelopment of many coastal areas).
The early 21st century has seen an important shift in Andalucía’s ethnic balance with the arrival not just of ever more northern European sun-seekers but also economic migrants, legal and illegal, from Latin America, Morocco, sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe.