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The ancestors of today’s Spaniards included Stone Age hunters from Africa; Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and other European peoples; Berber tribes from Morocco; and Phoenicians, Jews and Arabs from the Middle East. The ancestors of a good half of the people living in the Americas today – and others dotted across the rest of the globe – were Spaniards. The key to this great ebb and flow of peoples, cultures and empires is Spain’s location: on both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean; in Europe yet just a stone’s throw from Africa. This pivotal position has entangled Spain in the affairs of half the world – and the affairs of half the world in Spain’s.

In the beginning

Caves throughout the country tell us plenty about Spain’s earliest inhabitants. The most impressive, with sophisticated paintings of bison, stag, boar and horses, are at Altamira near Santander, and date from around 12, 000 BC. Altamira was part of the Magdalenian hunting culture of southern France and northern Spain, a Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) culture that lasted from around 20, 000 BC to the end of the last Ice Age in about 8000 BC.

The story goes back even further. The oldest pieces of human bone in Europe have been found in Spain. Human bone fragments 780, 000 years old were found in the Sierra de Atapuerca near Burgos in 1994 and probably come from ancestors of the later Neanderthals. Another piece of bone found in 1976 near Orce, in Granada province, is reckoned to be from the skull of an infant ancestor of Homo sapiens eaten by a giant hyena over a million years ago.

These finds suggest that the earliest humans in Europe arrived in Spain from Africa.

From the later Neanderthal era, about 30, 000 BC, comes ‘Gibraltar woman’, a skull that was found in 1848. Current thinking is that the Neanderthals were displaced during the last Ice Age by waves of migrants of African origin.

The Cueva de Nerja in Andalucía is one of many sites of these Cro-Magnons, the first modern humans, who hunted mammoth, bison and reindeer. After the Ice Age new peoples, probably from North Africa, arrived, and their rock-shelter paintings of hunting and dancing survive in eastern Spain.

The Neolithic (New Stone Age) reached eastern Spain from Mesopotamia and Egypt around 6000 BC, bringing many innovations, such as the plough, crops, livestock, pottery, textiles and permanent villages.

Between 3000 and 2000 BC the first metalworking culture began at Los Millares, near Almería, where people began to smelt and shape local copper deposits. The same era saw the building of megalithic tombs (dolmens), constructed of large rocks, around the perimeter of the Iberian Peninsula. The best examples are to be found at Antequera in Andalucía.

The Bronze Age in Spain began around 1900 BC when people at El Argar in Almería province learned how to alloy copper with tin.

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Phoenicians & Greeks

By about 1000 BC a flourishing culture had arisen in western Andalucía. The development of this and other societies in the south and east was influenced by Phoenician and, later, Greek traders, who exchanged oils, textiles, jewels and ivory for local metals. The Phoenicians, a Semitic people from present-day Lebanon, set up trading colonies including Cádiz (which they called Gadir), Huelva (Onuba), Málaga (Malaca) and Almuñécar (Ex or Sex). Greek settlements, which began around 600 BC, tended to be further north on the Mediterranean coast. The biggest was Emporion (Empúries) in Catalonia.

These incomers brought the potter’s wheel, writing, coinage, the olive tree, the grapevine, the donkey and the hen. Around 700 BC iron replaced bronze as the most important metal in the lower Guadalquivir valley of western Andalucía.

This Phoenician-influenced culture was very likely the fabled Tartessos, which Greek, Roman and biblical writers mythologised as a place of unimaginable wealth. No-one knows whether Tartessos was a city or a state. Some argue it was a trading settlement on the site of modern Huelva; some believe it may lie beneath the marshes near the mouth of the Río Guadalquivir.

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Iberians & Celts

Iberians is the general name given to the inhabitants of most of the Iberian Peninsula during the millennium or so before the Romans arrived in 218 BC. From around 1000 to 500 BC, they were joined by Celts (originally from Central Europe) and other tribes who crossed the Pyrenees and settled in northern Spain.

In contrast to the dark-featured Iberians, the Celts were fair, drank beer and ate lard. Celts and Iberians who merged on the meseta (the high tableland of central Spain) became the Celtiberians. Celts and Celtiberians typically lived in sizable hill-fort towns called castros. The Celts introduced iron technology to the north about the same time as the Phoenicians brought it to the south.

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From about the 6th century BC the Phoenicians and Greeks were pushed out of the western Mediterranean by Carthage, a former Phoenician colony in modern Tunisia. There was a flourishing Carthaginian colony on Ibiza.

The Carthaginians inevitably came into conflict with the next rising Mediterranean power – Rome. After losing to Rome in the First Punic War (264–241 BC), fought for control of Sicily, Carthage responded by invading the Iberian Peninsula under generals Hamilcar Barca, Hasdrubal and Hannibal. The first landing was in 237 BC. The Second Punic War (218–201 BC) saw Hannibal march his elephants over the Alps towards Rome but also brought Roman legions to Spain. Hannibal was eventually forced to retreat, finally being routed in North Africa in 202 BC.

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Though the Romans eventually held sway on the Iberian Peninsula for 600 years, it took them 200 years to subdue the fiercest of local tribes.

The Basques in the north, though defeated, were never Romanised in the same way as the rest of Hispania (as the Romans called the peninsula). Legendary stands against the Romans included the eight-year revolt led by the shepherd-turned-guerrilla Virathius in the west and the centre from around 150 BC, and the siege of Numancia near Soria in 133 BC. Rome had to bring in its most illustrious generals to deal with these insubordinations.

By AD 50 most of the peninsula, particularly the south, had adopted the Roman way of life. This was the Pax Romana, a long and prosperous period of stability. Hispania became urbanised and highly organised. In the 1st century BC the Romans organised the peninsula into three provinces: Baetica (most of Andalucía plus southern Extremadura and southwestern Castilla-La Mancha), with its capital at Corduba (Córdoba); Lusitania (Portugal and northern Extremadura), with its capital at Augusta Emerita (Mérida), the greatest Roman city on the peninsula; and Tarraconensis (the rest), with its capital at Tarraco (Tarragona).

Rome gave the peninsula a road system, aqueducts, temples, theatres, amphitheatres, circuses, baths and the basis of its legal system and languages. The Roman era also brought many Jews, who spread throughout the Mediterranean part of the Roman Empire, and Christianity, which probably came with soldiers from North Africa and merchants in the 3rd century AD. Hispania gave Rome gold, silver, grain, wine, soldiers, emperors (Trajan, Hadrian, Theodosius) and the literature of Seneca, Martial, Quintilian and Lucan. Another notable export was garum, a spicy sauce derived from fish and used as a seasoning. The finest of Spain’s Roman ruins are at Empúries, Itálica, Mérida, Tarragona and Segovia.

The Pax Romana started to crack when two Germanic tribes, the Franks and the Alemanni, swept across the Pyrenees towards the end of the 3rd century AD, causing devastation. When the Huns arrived in Eastern Europe from Asia a century later, further Germanic peoples moved westwards. Among these were the Suevi and Vandals, who overran the Iberian Peninsula around 410.

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The Visigoths, another Germanic people, sacked Rome itself in 410. Within a few years, however, they had become Roman allies, being granted lands in southern Gaul (France) and fighting on the emperor’s behalf against barbarian invaders on the Iberian Peninsula. When the Visigoths were pushed out of Gaul in the 6th century by yet another Germanic people, the Franks, they settled on the Iberian Peninsula, making Toledo their capital.

The rule of the roughly 200, 000 long-haired Visigoths, who had a penchant for gaudy jewellery, over the several million more-sophisticated Hispano-Romans was precarious and undermined by strife among their own nobility. The Hispano-Roman nobles still ran the fiscal system and their bishops were the senior figures in urban centres.

The ties between the Visigoth monarchy and the Hispano-Romans were strengthened in 587 when King Reccared converted to Roman Christianity from the Visigoths’ Arian version, which denied that Christ was identical to God. Culturally, the Visigoths tended to ape Roman ways. Today a few Visigothic churches can be seen in northern Spain. One, at Baños de Cerrato near Palencia, dates from 661 and is probably the oldest surviving church in the country.

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The Muslim conquest

By 700, with famine and disease in Toledo, strife among the aristocracy and chaos throughout the peninsula, the Visigothic kingdom was falling apart. This paved the way for the Muslim invasion of 711, which set Spain’s destiny quite apart from that of the rest of Europe.

Following the death of the prophet Mohammed in 632, Arabs had spread through the Middle East and North Africa, carrying Islam with them. If you believe the myth, they were ushered onto the Iberian Peninsula by the sexual exploits of the last Visigoth king, Roderic. Later chronicles relate how Roderic seduced young Florinda, the daughter of Julian, the Visigothic governor of Ceuta in North Africa, and how Julian sought revenge by approaching the Muslims with a plan to invade Spain.

In 711 Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Muslim governor of Tangier, landed at Gibraltar with around 10, 000 men, mostly Berbers (indigenous North Africans). Roderic’s army was decimated, probably near the Río Guadalete or Río Barbate in Cádiz province, Andalucía, and he is thought to have drowned while fleeing the scene. Visigothic survivors fled north.

Within a few years the Muslims had conquered the whole Iberian Peninsula, except small areas in the Asturian mountains in the north. The Muslims pushed on over the Pyrenees, but were driven back by the Franks.

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Muslim Spain

The Muslims (sometimes referred to as Moors) were the dominant force on the peninsula for nearly four centuries, a potent force for 170 years after that, and a lesser one for a further 250 years. Between wars and rebellions, Al-Andalus, the name given to Muslim territory on the peninsula, developed the most highly cultured society of medieval Europe.

Al-Andalus’ frontiers were constantly shifting as the Christians strove to regain territory in the stuttering 800-year Reconquista (Reconquest). Up to the mid-11th century the frontier lay across the north of the peninsula, roughly from just south of Barcelona to northern Portugal, with a protrusion up to the central Pyrenees. Al-Andalus also suffered internal conflicts and Muslims and Christians even struck up alliances with each other in the course of quarrels with their own co-religionists.

Muslim political power and cultural developments centred initially on Córdoba (756–1031), then Seville (c 1040–1248) and lastly Granada (1248–1492). These cities boasted beautiful palaces, mosques and gardens, universities, public baths and bustling zocos (markets). The Muslims developed the Hispano-Roman agricultural base by improving irrigation and introducing new fruits and crops (oranges, lemons, peaches, sugar cane, rice and more).

Though military campaigns against the northern Christians could be very bloodthirsty affairs, Al-Andalus’ rulers allowed freedom of worship to Jews and Christians (mozárabes or Mozarabs) under their rule. Jews mostly flourished, but Christians had to pay a special tax, so most either converted to Islam (coming to be known as muladíes or Muwallads) or left for the Christian north.

It was through Al-Andalus that much of the learning of ancient Greece – picked up by the Arabs in the eastern Mediterranean – was transmitted to Christian Europe.

The Muslim settlers themselves were not a homogeneous group. Beneath the Arab ruling class was a larger group of Berbers, and tension between these two groups broke out in Berber rebellion numerous times.

Before long, Muslim and local blood merged. There was even frequent aristocratic intermarriage with the northern Christians.

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The Cordoban Emirate & Caliphate

Initially Al-Andalus was part of the Caliphate of Damascus, which ruled the Muslim world. In 750 the Omayyad caliphal dynasty in Damascus was overthrown by a rival clan, the Abbasids, who shifted the caliphate to Baghdad. However an Omayyad survivor, Abd ar-Rahman I, managed to establish himself in Córdoba in 756 as the independent emir of Al-Andalus. He began constructing Córdoba’s Mezquita (mosque), one of the world’s greatest Muslim monuments. Most of Al-Andalus was more or less unified under Cordoban rule for long periods. In 929 Abd ar-Rahman III bestowed on himself the title caliph, launching the Caliphate of Córdoba (929–1031), during which Al-Andalus reached its peak of power and lustre. Córdoba in this period was the biggest and most dazzling city in Western Europe. Astronomy, medicine, mathematics and botany flourished and one of the great Muslim libraries was established in the city. Abd ar-Rahman III’s court was frequented by Jewish, Arab and Christian scholars.

Later in the 10th century the fearsome Cordoban general Al-Mansour (or Almanzor) terrorised the Christian north with 50-odd forays in 20 years. He destroyed the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain in 997 and forced Christian slaves to carry its doors and bells to Córdoba, where they were incorporated into the great mosque. But after Al-Mansour’s death the caliphate collapsed into a devastating civil war, finally breaking up in 1031 into dozens of taifas (small kingdoms), with Seville, Granada, Toledo and Zaragoza among the most powerful.

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Almoravids & Almohads

Political unity was restored to Al-Andalus by the Almoravid invasion of 1091. The Almoravids, a strict Muslim sect of Saharan nomads who had conquered North Africa, were initially invited to the Iberian Peninsula to help the Seville taifa against the growing Christian threat from the north. Seventy years later a second Berber sect, the Almohads, invaded the peninsula after overthrowing the Almoravids in Morocco. Both sects soundly defeated the Christian armies they encountered.

Under the Almoravids and the Almohads, religious intolerance sent Christian refugees fleeing north. But in time both mellowed in their adopted territory and Almohad rule saw a cultural revival in Seville. The Cordoban philosopher Averroës (1126–98) greatly influenced medieval Christian thought with his commentaries on Aristotle, trying to reconcile science with religion.

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The Nasrid Emirate of Granada

Almohad power eventually disintegrated in the face of internal disputes and Christian advances. After Seville fell to the Christians in 1248, Muslim territory on the Iberian Peninsula was reduced to the Emirate of Granada, comprising about half of modern Andalucía and ruled from the lavish Alhambra palace by the Nasrid dynasty. Granada saw Muslim Spain’s final cultural flowering, especially in the 14th century under Yusuf I and Mohammed V, both of whom contributed to the splendours of the Alhambra.

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The Reconquista

The Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula began in about 722 at Covadonga, Asturias, and ended with the fall of Granada in 1492. It was a stuttering affair, conducted by a tangled sequence of emerging, merging and demerging Christian states that were as often at war with each other as with the Muslims. However the Muslims were gradually pushed south, as the northern kingdoms of Asturias, León, Navarra, Castilla and Aragón developed.

An essential ingredient in the Reconquista was the cult of Santiago (St James), one of the 12 apostles. In 813, the saint’s supposed tomb was discovered in Galicia. The town of Santiago de Compostela grew here, to become the third-most popular medieval Christian pilgrimage goal after Rome and Jerusalem. Christian generals experienced visions of Santiago before forays against the Muslims, and Santiago became the inspiration and special protector of soldiers in the Reconquista, earning the sobriquet Matamoros (Moor-slayer). Today he is the patron saint of Spain.

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The rise of Castilla

Covadonga lies in the Picos de Europa mountains, where Visigothic nobles took refuge after the Muslim conquest. Christian versions of the battle tell of a small band of fighters under their leader, Pelayo, defeating an enormous force of Muslims; Muslim accounts make it a rather less important skirmish. Whatever the facts of Covadonga, by 757 Christians occupied nearly a quarter of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Asturian kingdom eventually moved its capital to León, which spearheaded the Reconquista until the Christians were set on the defensive by Al-Mansour in the 10th century. Castilla, originally a small principality in the east of the kingdom of León, developed into the dominant Reconquista force as hardy adventurers set up towns in the no-man’s-land of the Duero basin, spurred on by land grants and other fueros (rights and privileges). It was the capture of Toledo in 1085, by Alfonso VI of Castilla, that led the Seville Muslims to call in the Almoravids.

Alfonso I of Aragón, on the southern flank of the Pyrenees, led the counterattack against the Almoravids, taking Zaragoza in 1118. After his death Aragón was united through royal marriage with Catalonia, creating a formidable new Christian power block known as the Kingdom of Aragón. Portugal emerged as an independent Christian kingdom in the 12th century.

Castilla suffered a terrible defeat by the Almohads at Alarcos, south of Toledo, in 1195, but in 1212 the combined Christian armies of Castilla, Aragón and Navarra routed a large Almohad force at Las Navas de Tolosa in Andalucía. This was the beginning of the end for Al-Andalus: León took the key towns of Extremadura in 1229 and 1230; Aragón took Valencia in the 1230s; Fernando III El Santo (Ferdinand the Saint) of Castilla took Córdoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248; and Portugal expelled the Muslims in 1249. The sole surviving Muslim state on the peninsula was now the Emirate of Granada.

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The lull

Fernando III’s son, Alfonso X El Sabio (the Learned; r 1252–84), proclaimed Castilian the official language of his realm. At Toledo he gathered around him scholars regardless of their religion, particularly Jews who knew Arabic and Latin. Alfonso was, however, plagued by uprisings and plots, even from within his own family.

The Castilian nobility repeatedly challenged the crown until the 15th cen­tury. This was also an era of growing intolerance towards the Jews and Genoese, who came to dominate Castilian commerce and finance, while the Castilians themselves were preoccupied with their low-effort, high-profit wool production. In the 1390s anti-Jewish feeling culminated in pogroms around the peninsula.

Castilla and Aragón laboured under ineffectual monarchs from the late 14th century until the time of Isabel and Fernando (Isabella and Ferdinand), whose marriage in 1469 would merge the two kingdoms. Isabel succeeded to the Castilian throne in 1474 and Fernando to that of Aragón in 1479. The joint rule of the Catholic Monarchs (Reyes Católicos), as they are known, dates from 1479. The pious Isabel and the Machiavellian Fernando became an unbeatable team.

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The fall of Granada

After Emir Abu al-Hasan of Granada refused, in 1476, to pay any more tribute to Castilla, Isabel and Fernando launched the final crusade of the Reconquista in 1482, with an army largely funded by Jewish loans and the Catholic Church.

By now the rulers of Granada were riven by internal feuds. Matters degenerated into a confused civil war, and the Christians took full advantage of the situation. Isabel and Fernando entered Granada, after a long siege, on 2 January 1492, to kick off what turned out to be the most momentous year in Spanish history.

The surrender terms were fairly generous to Boabdil, the last emir, who got the Alpujarras valleys south of Granada and 30, 000 gold coins. The remaining Muslims were promised respect for their religion, culture and property, but this didn’t last long.

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The Inquisition

The Catholic Monarchs founded the Spanish Inquisition to root out those who didn’t practise Christianity as the Catholic Church wished them to. The Inquisition was responsible for perhaps 12, 000 deaths over 300 years, 2000 of them in the 1480s. It focused initially on conversos (Jews who had converted to Christianity), accusing many of continuing to practise Judaism in secret.

In April 1492, under the influence of Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada, Isabel and Fernando ordered the expulsion from their territories of all Jews who refused Christian baptism. Up to 100, 000 Jews converted, but some 200, 000 – the first Sephardic Jews – left for other Mediterranean destinations.

The bankrupt monarchy seized all unsold Jewish property. A talented middle class was decimated.

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Persecution of the Muslims

Cardinal Cisneros, Isabel’s confessor and overseer of the Inquisition, tried to eradicate Muslim culture too. In the former Granada emirate he carried out forced mass baptisms, burnt Islamic books and banned the Arabic language. This, combined with seizures of Muslim land, sparked a revolt in Andalucía in 1500. Afterwards, Muslims were ordered to convert to Christianity or leave. Most (around 300, 000) underwent baptism and stayed. They came to be known as moriscos (converted Muslims), but their conversion was barely skin-deep and they never assimilated. The moriscos were finally expelled between 1609 and 1614.

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In April 1492 the Catholic Monarchs granted Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón to Spaniards) funds for his long-desired voyage across the Atlantic in search of a new trade route to the Orient.

On 3 August 1492 Columbus set off from the port of Palos de la Frontera in southwestern Andalucía with three small ships and 120 men. They stopped at the Canary Islands, then sailed west for 31 days, sighting no land; the rebellious crew gave Columbus two more days. However, he landed on the island of Guanahaní (Bahamas), which he named San Salvador, went on to find Cuba and Hispaniola, and returned to a hero’s reception from the Catholic Monarchs in Barcelona, eight months after his departure.

Columbus made three more voyages, founding Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, finding Jamaica, Trinidad and other Caribbean islands, and reaching the mouth of the Orinoco and the coast of Central America. But he died impoverished in Valladolid in 1506, still believing he had reached Asia.

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After Isabel

Fernando and Isabel entangled Spain in European affairs by marrying their four children into the royal families of Portugal, Burgundy and England. (The liaison with England went wrong when the youngest child, Catalina, or Catherine of Aragón, was cast aside by Henry VIII.) The early deaths of two children left the third, Princess Juana, heir to the Castilian throne when Isabel died in 1504. Juana’s husband, Felipe El Hermoso (Philip the Handsome), was heir to the Low Countries and to the lands of the powerful Habsburg family in Central Europe. However, Juana, dubbed Juana la Loca (the Mad), proved unfit to rule and, when Felipe died soon after Isabel, Fernando took over as regent of Castilla until his death in 1516. His annexation of Navarra in 1512 brought all of Spain under one rule for the first time since Visigothic days.

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Carlos I

In 1517, 17-year-old Carlos I (Charles I), son of Juana la Loca and Felipe El Hermoso, came from Flanders to take up his Spanish inheritance. In 1519 Carlos also succeeded to the Habsburg lands in Austria and was elected Holy Roman Emperor (in which capacity he was Charles V). Carlos now ruled all of Spain, the Low Countries, Austria, several Italian states and parts of France and Germany – more of Europe than anyone since the 9th century – plus the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and Panama. To these he would add more of Central Europe and further big slices of the Americas.

Carlos spent only 16 years of his 40-year reign in Spain. At first the Spaniards did not care for a king who spoke no Castilian, nor for his appropriating their wealth. Castilian cities revolted in 1520–21 (the Guerra de las Comunidades, or War of the Communities), but were crushed. Eventually the Spanish came round to him, at least for his strong stance against emerging Protestantism and his learning of Castilian.

Carlos I’s reign saw ruthless but brilliant Spanish conquistadors seize vast tracts of the American mainland. Between 1519 and 1521 Hernán Cortés conquered the fearsome Aztec empire with a small band of adventurers. Between 1531 and 1533 Francisco Pizarro did the same to the Inca empire. With their odd mix of brutality, bravery, gold lust and piety, these men were the natural successors to the crusading knights of the Reconquista. The new colonies sent huge cargoes of silver, gold and other riches back to Spain, where the crown was entitled to one-fifth of the bullion (the quinto real, or royal fifth). Seville enjoyed a monopoly on this trade and grew into one of Europe’s richest cities.

Carlos spent the bulk of the monarchy’s new American wealth on an endless series of European conflicts and, war-weary, he abdicated shortly before his death in 1556, dividing his many territories between his son Felipe and his brother Fernando. Felipe got the lion’s share, including Spain, the Low Countries and the American possessions.

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Felipe II

Felipe II (Philip II; r 1556–98) presided over the zenith of Spanish power. His reign is a study in contradictions. He enlarged the overseas empire – by 1600 Spain controlled Florida, all the biggest Caribbean islands, nearly all of present-day Mexico and Central America, and a large strip of South America – but lost Holland to a long drawn-out rebellion. He received greater flows of silver than ever from the Americas, but went bankrupt. His navy defeated the Ottoman Turks at Lepanto in 1571 but the Spanish Armada of 1588 was routed by England. He was a fanatical Catholic, who spurred the Inquisition to new persecutions, yet readily allied Spain with Protestant England, against Catholic France, when it suited Spain.

When Felipe claimed Portugal on its king’s death in 1580, he not only united the Iberian Peninsula but also Europe’s two great overseas empires. However the Castilian gentry’s disdain for commerce and industry allowed foreign merchants to dominate trade. Money that didn’t find its way into foreign pockets, or wasn’t owed for European wars, went towards building churches, palaces and monasteries. Spain, it was said, had discovered the magic formula for turning silver into stone.

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Decline of the Habsburgs

Seventeenth-century Spain was like a gigantic artisans’ workshop, in which architecture, sculpture, painting and metalwork consumed around 5% of the nation’s income. The gentry and the Church, which was entitled to one-tenth of all production, led a quite comfortable existence, but for most Spaniards life was decidedly underprivileged. The age was immortalised on canvas by artists such as Velázquez, El Greco, Zurbarán and Murillo, and in words by Miguel de Cervantes, the mystics Santa Teresa of Ávila and San Juan de la Cruz (St John of the Cross) and the prolific playwright Lope de Vega.

Under a trio of ineffectual kings, Spain saw its chickens come home to roost during this period. Felipe III (Philip III; r 1598–1621) left government to the self-seeking Duke of Lerma. Felipe IV (Philip IV; r 1621–65) concentrated on a long line of mistresses and handed over affairs of state to Count-Duke Olivares, who tried bravely but retired a broken man in 1643. Spain lost Portugal and faced revolts in Sicily, Naples and Catalonia. Silver shipments from the Americas shrank disastrously. Carlos II (Charles II; r 1665–1700) failed to produce children, a situation that led to the War of the Spanish Succession.

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Felipe V

Carlos II bequeathed his throne to his young relative Felipe V (Philip V; r 1701–46), who also happened to be second in line to the French throne. The Austrian emperor Leopold, however, wanted to see his son Charles, a nephew of Carlos II, on the Spanish throne. The resulting War of the Spanish Succession (1702–13) was a contest for the balance of power in Europe. Spain lost its last possessions in the Low Countries to Austria, and Gibraltar and Menorca to Britain, while Felipe V renounced his right to the French throne but held on to Spain. He was the first of the Bourbon dynasty, still in place today.

This was Europe’s age of Enlightenment, but Spain’s powerful Church and Inquisition were at odds with the rationalism that trickled in from France. Two-thirds of the land was in the hands of the nobility and Church and was underproductive, and large numbers of males, from nobles to vagrants, were unwilling to work.

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Fernando VI & Carlos III

Under Fernando VI (Ferdinand VI; r 1746–59) the economy took an upturn largely as the result of a revitalised Catalonia and the Basque shipbuilding industry. Agricultural Castilla and Andalucía were left behind, however, as they were unable to increase yields due to a lack of land reforms.

Enlightened despot Carlos III (Charles III; r 1759–88) expelled the backward-looking Jesuits, transformed Madrid, established a new road system out to the provinces and tried to improve agriculture. But food shortages fuelled unrest among the masses.

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The Peninsular War

Carlos IV (Charles IV; r 1788–1808) was dominated by his Italian wife, Maria Luisa of Parma; she hooked up with a handsome royal guard called Manuel Godoy, who became chief minister. This unholy trinity was ill-suited to coping with the crisis presented by the French Revolution of 1789.

When Louis XVI of France (Carlos IV’s cousin) was guillotined in 1793, Spain declared war on France. Two years later, with France’s Reign of Terror spent, Godoy made peace, pledging military support for France against Britain. In 1805 a combined Spanish-French navy was beaten by the British fleet, under Nelson, off the Cabo de Trafalgar (south of Cádiz). This put an end to Spanish sea power.

In 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte and Godoy agreed to divide Britain’s ally Portugal between them. French forces poured into Spain, supposedly on the way to Portugal. By 1808 this had become a French occupation of Spain. Carlos was forced to abdicate in favour of Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte (José I).

In Madrid crowds revolted, and across the country Spaniards took up arms guerrilla-style, reinforced by British and Portuguese forces led by the Duke of Wellington. The French, hopelessly stretched by Napoleon’s Russian campaign, were finally expelled after their defeat at Vitoria in 1813.

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The 19th century

During the Peninsular War, a national Cortes (parliament), meeting at Cádiz in 1812, had drawn up a new liberal constitution, which incorporated many of the principles of the American and French prototypes. This set off a contest lasting most of the 19th century between the Church, monarchy and other conservatives who liked the earlier status quo, and liberals who wanted vaguely democratic reforms.

Fernando VII (Ferdinand VII; r 1814–33) revoked the Cádiz constitution, persecuted liberal opponents and re-established the Inquisition. Corrupt government drastically cut his popularity before his death. Meanwhile the American colonies took advantage of Spain’s problems to strike out on their own. By 1824 only Cuba, Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico remained Spanish.

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First Carlist War

Fernando’s dithering over his successor resulted in the First Carlist War (1833–39), between supporters of his brother Don Carlos and those loyal to his infant daughter Isabel. Don Carlos was supported by the Church, other conservatives and regional rebels in the Basque Country, Navarra, Catalonia and Aragón – together known as the Carlists. The Isabel faction had the support of liberals and the army.

During the war violent anticlericalism emerged. Religious orders were closed and, in the Disentailment of 1836, church property and lands were seized and auctioned off by the government. As usual, only the wealthy benefited. The army emerged victorious.

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Isabel II

In 1843 Isabel, now all of 13, declared herself Queen Isabel II (Isabella II; r 1843–68). One achievement of sorts during her inept reign was the creation of a rural police force, the Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), which mainly protected the wealthy in the bandit-ridden countryside. There was an upturn in the economy, with progress in business, banking, mining and railways, plus some reforms in education, but the benefits accrued to few. Eventually radical liberals, and discontented soldiers led by General Juan Prim, overthrew Isabel in the Septembrina Revolution of 1868.

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First Republic

Spain still wanted a monarch and in 1870 a liberal-minded Italian prince, Amadeo of Savoy, accepted the job. The aristocracy, which opposed Amadeo, split into two camps: one favoured Isabel II’s teenage son Alfonso, the other backed Don Carlos’ grandson Carlos. Thus began the three-way Second Carlist War (1872–76).

Amadeo quickly abandoned Spain and the liberal-dominated Cortes proclaimed Spain a federal republic of 17 states. However, this First Republic, unable to control the regions, lasted only 11 months. In the end the army, no longer liberal, put Alfonso on the throne as Alfonso XII (r 1874–85), in a coalition with the Church and landowners. The 1876 constitution, recognising both monarchy and parliament, produced a sequence of orderly turnos (changes of government) between supposed conservatives and liberals. Little actually separated them in policy, and electoral rigging was the norm.

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Early 20th century

Alfonso XIII (r 1902–30) had his friends among the military, wealthy landowners and the rich, powerful Church, and was in the habit of meddling in politics. There were 33 different governments during his reign.

At the other end of the social scale, a powder keg was forming. Industry had brought both prosperity and squalid slums to Barcelona, Madrid and some Basque cities, by attracting much large-scale migration from the country. In the countryside, the old problems of underproduction and oligarchic land ownership persisted. Many Spaniards emigrated to Latin America. The working class gravitated towards Marxism and anarchism.

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Social unrest

The anarchist ideas of the Russian Mikhail Bakunin had reached Spain in the 1860s and rapidly gained support. Bakunin advocated a free society in which people would voluntarily cooperate with each other – a state of affairs to be prepared for by strikes, sabotage and revolts. Anarchism appealed to the peasants of Andalucía, Aragón, Catalonia and the northwest, and to workers living in slums in Barcelona and other cities. In the 1890s and the 1900s anarchists bombed Barcelona’s Liceu opera house, assassinated two prime ministers and killed 24 people with a bomb at Alfonso XIII’s wedding in 1906. In 1910, the anarchist unions were organised into the powerful Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT; National Confederation of Work).

Socialism grew more slowly than anarchism because of its strategy of steady change through parliamentary processes. The Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT; General Union of Workers), established in 1888, was moderate and disciplined. Its appeal was greatest in Madrid and Bilbao, where people were fearful of Catalan separatism. Spanish socialists rejected Soviet-style communism.

Parallel with the rise of the left was the growth of Basque and Catalan separatism. In Catalonia, this was led by big business interests. Basque nationalism emerged in the 1890s among Basques who considered the many Castilians who had flocked to work in Basque industries as a threat to Basque identity.

In 1909 a contingent of Spanish troops was wiped out by Berbers in Spanish Morocco. The government then called up Catalan reserves to go to Morocco. This sparked off the so-called Semana Trágica (Tragic Week) in Barcelona, which began with a general strike and turned into a frenzy of violence. The government responded by executing many workers.

Spain stayed neutral during WWI and enjoyed an economic boom. But anarchist and socialist numbers grew, inspired by the Russian Revolution, and political violence and general mayhem continued, especially in lawless Barcelona.

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Primo de Rivera

In 1921, 10, 000 Spanish soldiers were killed by a small force of Berbers at Anual in Morocco. The finger of blame pointed directly at King Alfonso, who had intervened to select the Spanish commander for the Moroccan campaign. Just as a report on the event was to be submitted to parliament in 1923, however, General Miguel Primo de Rivera, an eccentric Andalucian aristocrat, led an army rising in support of the king and then launched his own mild, six-year dictatorship.

Primo was a centralist who censored the press and upset intellectuals but gained the cooperation of the socialist UGT. Anarchists went underground. Primo founded industries, improved roads, made the trains run on time and built dams and power plants. But eventually, with an economic downturn following the Wall St crash and discontent in the army, Alfonso XIII took the chance to return and dismiss him.

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Second Republic

Alfonso had brought the monarchy into too much disrepute to last long himself. When a new republican movement scored sweeping victories in municipal elections in 1931, the king went into exile in Italy. The tumultuous Second Republic that followed – called La Niña Bonita (Pretty Child) by its supporters – polarised Spain and ended in civil war.

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The Left in charge

Elections in 1931 brought in a government composed of socialists, republicans and so-called radicals (who were actually centrists). The Cortes contained few workers and no-one from the anarchist CNT, which continued with strikes and violence to bring on the revolution.

A new constitution in December 1931 gave women the vote, ended the status of Catholicism as the official religion, disbanded the Jesuits, stopped government payment of priests’ salaries, legalised divorce, banned priests from teaching and gave autonomy-minded Catalonia its own parliament. It also promised land redistribution, which pleased the Andalucian landless, but failed to deliver much.

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The Right in charge

Anarchist disruption, an economic slump, the alienation of big business, the votes of women and disunity on the left all helped the right to win the 1933 election. A new Catholic party, Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA; Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights), won the most seats. Other new forces on the right included the fascist Falange, led by José Antonio Primo de Rivera, son of the 1920s dictator. The Falange practised blatant street violence.

By 1934 violence was spiralling out of control. The socialist UGT called for a general strike, Catalonia’s president declared his region independent (within a putative federal Spanish republic) and workers’ committees took over the northern mining region of Asturias (eg see Oviedo, p512), after attacking police and army posts. A violent campaign against the Asturian workers by the Spanish Foreign Legion (set up to fight Moroccan tribes in the 1920s), led by generals Francisco Franco and José Millán Astray, firmly split the country into left and right.

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Army uprising

In the February 1936 elections the Popular Front, a left-wing coalition with communists at the fore, narrowly defeated the right-wing National Front. Violence continued on both sides. Extremist groups grew and peasants were on the verge of revolution. But when the revolt came, on 17 July 1936, it was from the other end of the political spectrum. On that day the Spanish army garrison in Melilla, North Africa, rose up against the left-wing government, followed the next day by some garrisons on the mainland. The leaders of the plot were five generals, among them Franco, who on 19 July flew from the Canary Islands to Morocco to take charge of his legionnaires. The civil war had begun.

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Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War split communities, families and friends. Both sides committed atrocious massacres and reprisals, and employed death squads to eliminate members of opposing organisations. The rebels, who called themselves Nationalists because they thought they were fighting for Spain, shot or hanged tens of thousands of supporters of the republic. Republicans did likewise to Franco sympathisers, including some 7000 priests, monks and nuns. Political affiliation often provided a convenient cover for settling old scores. In the whole war an estimated 350, 000 Spaniards died. (Some writers put the numbers as high as 500, 000.)

Many of the military and Guardia Civil went over to the Nationalists, whose campaign quickly took on overtones of a crusade against the enemies of God. In Republican areas, anarchists, communists or socialists ended up running many towns and cities. Social revolution followed.

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Nationalist advance

The basic battle lines were drawn within a week of the rebellion in Morocco. Most cities with military garrisons fell immediately into Nationalist hands – this meant everywhere north of Madrid except Catalonia, eastern Aragón, the Basque coast, Cantabria and Asturias, plus western Andalucía and Granada. Franco’s force of legionnaires and Moroccan mercenaries was airlifted from Morocco to Seville by German warplanes in August. Essential to the success of the revolt, they moved northwards through Extremadura towards Madrid, wiping out fierce resistance in some cities. At Salamanca in October, Franco pulled all the Nationalists into line behind him.

Madrid, reinforced by the first battalions of the International Brigades (armed foreign idealists and adventurers organised by the communists), repulsed Franco’s first assault in November and endured, under communist inspiration, over two years’ siege.

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Foreign intervention

The International Brigades never numbered more than 20, 000 and couldn’t turn the tide against the better armed and organised Nationalist forces.

Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the Nationalists with planes, weapons and men (75, 000 from Italy, 17, 000 from Germany), turning the war into a rehearsal for WWII. The Republicans had some Soviet support, in the form of planes, tanks, artillery and advisers, but the rest of the international community refused to become involved (although some 25, 000 French fought on the Republican side).

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Republican quarrels

With Madrid besieged, the Republican government moved to Valencia in late 1936 to continue trying to preside over the diversity of political persuasions on its side, which encompassed anarchists, communists, moderate democrats and regional secessionists.

Barcelona was run for nearly a year by anarchists and a Trotskyite militia called the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM; Workers’ Marxist Unification Party).

In April 1937 German planes bombed the Basque town of Guernica (called Gernika in Basque), causing terrible casualties; this became the subject of Picasso’s famous pacifist painting. All the north coast fell in the summer, giving the Nationalists control of Basque industry. Republican counterattacks near Madrid and in Aragón failed.

Meanwhile divisions among the Republicans erupted into fierce street fighting in Barcelona in May 1937, with the Soviet-influenced communists completely crushing the anarchists and Trotskyites. The Republican government moved to Barcelona in autumn 1937.

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Nationalist victory

In early 1938 Franco repulsed a Republican offensive at Teruel in Aragón, then swept eastwards with 100, 000 troops, 1000 planes and 150 tanks, isolating Barcelona from Valencia. In July the Republicans launched a last offensive as the Nationalists moved through the Ebro valley. The bloody encounter, won by the Nationalists, resulted in 20, 000 dead.

The USSR withdrew from the war in September 1938 and in January 1939 the Nationalists took Barcelona unopposed. The Republican government and hundreds of thousands of supporters fled to France.

The Republicans still held Valencia and Madrid, and had 500, 000 people under arms, but in the end the Republican army simply evaporated. The Nationalists entered Madrid on 28 March 1939 and Franco declared the war over on 1 April.

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Franco’s Spain

The Nationalist victors were merciless. Instead of reconciliation, more blood-letting ensued. An estimated 100, 000 people were killed or died in prison after the war. The hundreds of thousands imprisoned included many intellectuals and teachers; others fled abroad, depriving Spain of a generation of scientists, artists, writers, educators and more.

Franco ruled absolutely. The Cortes was merely a rubber stamp for such decrees as he chose to submit to it. Regional autonomy aspirations were not tolerated.

Franco kept hold of power by never allowing any single powerful group – the Church, the Movimiento Nacional (the only legal political party), the army, monarchists or bankers – to dominate. The army provided many ministers and enjoyed a most generous budget. Catholic orthodoxy was fully restored, with secondary schools entrusted to the Jesuits, divorce made illegal and church weddings compulsory. Despite endemic corruption among the country’s administrators, Franco won some working-class support with carrots such as job security and paid holidays, but there was no right to strike.

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A few months after the civil war ended, WWII began. Franco promised Hitler an alliance but never committed himself to a date. In 1944 Spanish leftists launched a failed attack on Franco’s Spain from France; small leftist guerrilla units continued a hopeless struggle in the north, Extremadura and Andalucía until the 1950s.

After WWII Spain was excluded from the UN and NATO, and suffered a UN-sponsored trade boycott that helped turn the late 1940s into Spain’s años de hambre (years of hunger). But with the onset of the Cold War, the US sought to establish four bases in Spain. Franco agreed, in return for large sums of aid, and in 1955 Spain was admitted to the UN.

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Economic miracle

The Stabilisation Plan of 1959, with its devaluation of the peseta and other deflationary measures, brought an economic upswing. The plan was engineered by a new breed of technocrats linked to the Catholic group Opus Dei. Spanish industry boomed. Thousands of young Spaniards went abroad to study and returned with a new attitude of teamwork. Modern machinery, techniques and marketing were introduced; transport was modernised; new dams provided irrigation and hydropower.

The recovery was funded in part by US aid, and remittances from more than a million Spaniards working abroad, but above all by tourism, which was developed initially along Andalucía’s Costa del Sol and Catalonia’s Costa Brava. By 1965, the number of tourists arriving in Spain was 14 million a year.

A huge population shift from impoverished rural regions to the cities and tourist resorts took place. Many Andalucians went to Barcelona. In the cities, elegant suburbs developed, as did shantytowns and, later, high-rise housing for the workers.

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The final decade

The year 1964 saw Franco celebrating 25 years of peace, order and material progress. However the jails were still full of political prisoners and large garrisons were maintained outside every major city. Over the next decade, labour strife grew and discontent began to rumble in the universities and even the army and Church.

Regional problems resurfaced too. The Basque-nationalist terrorist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA; Basques and Freedom), founded in 1959, gave cause for the declaration of six states of emergency between 1962 and 1975; heavy-handed police tactics won ETA support from Basque moderates.

Franco chose as his successor Prince Juan Carlos, the Spanish-educated grandson of Alfonso XIII. In 1969 Juan Carlos swore loyalty to Franco and the Movimiento Nacional.

Cautious reforms by Franco’s last prime minister, Carlos Arias Navarro, provoked violent opposition from right-wing extremists. Spain seemed to be sinking into chaos when Franco died on 20 November 1975.

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Transition to democracy

Juan Carlos I, aged 37, took the throne two days later. The new king’s links with Franco inspired little confidence in a Spain now clamouring for democracy. However, Juan Carlos earned much of the credit for the successful transition to democracy that followed. He sacked Navarro in July 1976, replacing him as prime minister with Adolfo Suárez, a 43-year-old former Franco apparatchik with film-star looks. To general surprise, Suárez got the Francoist-filled Cortes to approve a new, two-chamber parliamentary system. Then in early 1977 political parties, trade unions and strikes were all legalised and the Movimiento Nacional was abolished.

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New constitution

Suárez’s centrist Unión de Centro Democrático (UCD; Democratic Centre Union) party won nearly half the seats in the new Cortes in 1977. The left-of-centre Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE; Spanish Socialist Worker Party), led by a charismatic young lawyer from Seville, Felipe González, came second. One of the new government’s first acts was to grant a general amnesty for acts committed in the civil war and under the Franco dictatorship. There were no truth commissions or trials of the perpetrators of atrocities. An unwritten pact of silence was how Spaniards have generally dealt ever since with their past differences – the civil war and the repression that followed it – in the interests of harmoniously moving forward. Not until the 21st century did people start unearthing the bones of relatives who had been shot for being on the wrong side in the wrong place during the war.

In 1978 the Cortes passed a new constitution that made Spain a parliamentary monarchy with no official religion. The constitution provided for a large measure of devolution from the central government to Spain’s regions, in response to the local-autonomy fever that gripped Spain after the stiflingly centralist Franco era. By 1983 the country had been divided into 17 ‘autonomous communities’ with their own regional governments controlling a range of policy areas.

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Social liberation

Personal and social life enjoyed a rapid liberation after Franco. Contraceptives, adultery, homosexuality and divorce were legalised and the Madrid social, party and arts scene known as the movida was the epicentre of a newly unleashed hedonism that still looms large in Spanish life today. However, Suárez faced mounting resistance from within his own party to further reforms, and in 1981 he resigned.

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PSOE rule

In 1982 Spain made a final break with the past by voting the PSOE into power with a sizable majority. Felipe González was to be prime minister for 14 years.

The party’s young, educated leadership came from the generation that had opened the cracks in the Franco regime in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The PSOE persuaded the unions to accept wage restraint and job losses in order to streamline industry. Unemployment rose from 16% to 22% by 1986. But that same year Spain joined the European Community (now the EU), bringing on an economic boom that lasted until 1991. The middle class grew ever bigger and Spain’s women streamed into higher education and jobs.

The PSOE put a national health system in place by the early 1990s and made improvements in state education, raising the university population to well over a million.

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Partido Popular rule

The 1996 general election was won by the centre-right Partido Popular (PP; People’s Party), led by José María Aznar, a former tax inspector from Castilla y León. The party had been founded by a former Franco minister, Manuel Fraga, something its opponents never let it forget. Aznar promised to make politics dull, and he did, but he presided over eight years of solid economic progress, winning the 2000 election as well with the first-ever absolute parliamentary majority for a centre-right party in democratic Spain.

The PP cut public investment, sold off state enterprises and liberalised various sectors, such as telecommunications. In 1997 employers and unions signed a deal reforming Spain’s employment system: severance pay was reduced but it became easier for companies to hire the young, middle-aged and long-term unemployed. During the Aznar years Spain’s economy grew by an average of 3.4% a year, far outstripping the EU average, and unemployment fell from 23% in 1996 to 11% in 2004. The figure was still the highest in the EU, but the statistics concealed the fact that many officially jobless people benefited from a big black economy.

On noneconomic fronts Aznar’s rule was less of an unqualified success. The government’s slow response to the Prestige disaster of 2002, when oil from a broken tanker smothered 600km of northwestern Spanish coast in black sludge, earned it a lot of opprobrium. Aznar took a hard line against ETA, banning its political wing, Batasuna, in 2002, and refusing to talk to ETA unless it renounced violence. Aznar also lined up firmly behind US and British international policy after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the USA. However, his strong support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was unpopular at home, as was his plan to send 1300 Spanish troops to Iraq.

The major social change of the Aznar years was a tripling of the number of foreigners, especially from South America, Morocco, sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe, in the population.

The PSOE, after its resounding defeat in 2000, chose an amiable, sincere young lawyer from Valladolid, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, as its new leader. Zapatero immediately swept most previous PSOE high-ups, including Felipe González, out of the party hierarchy. But as the March 2004 general election approached, Zapatero seemed powerless to prevent a third successive victory for the PP, now led by Mariano Rajoy, successor to Aznar, who had decided to retire after two terms.

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The Madrid bombings

Early on the morning of Thursday 11 March 2004, three days before the general election, bombs exploded on four crowded commuter trains in and near Madrid, killing 191 people and injuring 1755. An estimated quarter of Spain’s population, 11 million people, poured onto the streets in demonstrations of peace and solidarity the following day. Accompanying the overwhelming feelings of national shock and grief was the question, ‘Who did it?’ The PP government pointed a very firm finger at ETA, which had been foiled in at least two attempts to carry out devastating bombings in the preceding months.

The evidence this time, however, pointed at least equally strongly to Islamic extremists. Police investigating the bombings were certain by the following day that ETA was not the culprit. The government, however, continued to maintain that ETA was the prime suspect until Saturday 13 March, when police in Madrid arrested three Moroccans and two Indians, with suspected links to Al-Qaeda, in connection with an unexploded bomb found on one of the trains.

The following day the PSOE, which had lagged a distant second in the opinion polls before 11 March, won the election. This shock result was widely attributed to the PP’s unpopular policy on Iraq, which most Spaniards believed was the reason terrorists had attacked Madrid, and to the PP’s apparent attempts to mislead the public by blaming the bombings on ETA.

By March 2005, 75 people, mostly Moroccan, had been arrested for suspected involvement in the bombings. Some were released but in April 2006 29 were ordered to stand trial for involvement in the bombings. A two-year investigation headed by Judge Juan del Olmo had found that Islamic extremists inspired by, but not directed by, Osama bin Laden, were responsible for the attacks.

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From A (Aznar) to Z (Zapatero): Spain under the new PSOE

Within two weeks of taking office in April 2004, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s new PSOE government honoured its campaign pledge to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq. Since then the Zapatero government has forged ahead with reforms that have largely pleased its supporters, including the many young voters who chose the PSOE in the wake of the Madrid bombings, and predictably angered the right. Zapatero – nicknamed Bambi by his detractors for a certain resemblance to the Disney cartoon animal; his amiable, almost innocent air; and supposed political light-weightedness – has shown a dogged determination to negotiate solutions to Spain’s most intractable problems, in stark contrast to the more autocratic approach of his PP predecessors.

In response to persistent agitation from (principally) Catalonia and the Basque Country for more regional autonomy, Zapatero declared his government willing to renegotiate the statutes that define the powers of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities. In May 2005 his government passed a motion supporting dialogue with ETA if it abandoned violence. Already weakened by the arrest of many of its top leaders, ETA had not murdered anyone in two years and had started to make vaguely conciliatory noises. In March 2006 it declared a permanent ceasefire, saying it wanted to ‘promote a democratic process in the Basque Country’. Zapatero sought peace talks, but ultimately, his efforts failed. ETA, which has long sought an independent state covering the Spanish and French Basque Country and Navarra, has murdered more than 800 people in its 45 years of existence, and has since broken its ceasefire.

An amnesty for illegal immigrants in 2005 allowed some 500, 000 non-EU citizens to obtain legal residence and work permits in Spain, while the government pledged a crackdown on subsequent illegal immigration and black-market labour. This has not, however, stemmed the tide of Africans and South Americans seeking a way into Spain (seen as an easy entry point into Europe) – nor the humanitarian tragedy of the many hundreds who die making dangerous sea crossings from Africa to the Canary Islands or Andalucía.

In 2008, Zapatero was reelected. Within months of his re-election, years of economic boom came grinding to a halt amid the worldwide financial crisis unleashed by the subprime calamity in the USA. The construction industry, one of the pillars of the Spanish economy, juddered to a halt and unemployment exploded from 8.3% to 11.3% in the 12 months to October 2008. Amid the growing fears of economic recession, Zapatero pushed through a law on ‘historic memory’ that provoked sharp debate. Aimed at investigating the crimes and executions of the Franco years, it represented the first official attempt to deal with the country’s dictatorial past.

On a brighter note, the Spanish national football team won the Euro 2008 tournament, and are looking like a real contender for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

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