Separated from western Europe by the Pyrenees and from Africa by the Strait of Gibraltar, the Iberian Peninsula (occupied by Spain and Portugal) was long an attractive target for expanding Mediterranean empires and greedy outsiders.
Around 1100 BC southern Iberia was colonized by the Phoenicians, and by 220 BC, the Romans and their culture dominated the entire peninsula. When the Roman Empire faded, assorted ethnic groups settled in, and the forceful Visigoths eventually ruled.
In the early 700s, Muslim forces from North Africa crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and their culture and traditions subsequently influenced most of the peninsula for the next 800 years.
Christianity revived itself (albeit slowly) during the Muslim era, and when Fernando, heir to the throne of Aragon, and Princess Isabel of Castille married in 1469, large Christian parts of Spain were now united as one.
Their forces overran Granada, and the last Muslim stronghold surrendered. Now known as the Catholic Monarchs, Fernando and Isabel resumed the Spanish Inquisition (or Reconquest), a time of aggressive religious persecution, where Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians were expelled and/or executed.
The royal couple supported expeditions to the New World by Columbus, and other explorers like Balboa, Cotez and Magellan. Untold riches flowed into Spain from their new colonies in the Americas, and Spain became a powerful country.
In fact, in the 16th and 17th centuries (under the Habsburgs), with its colonies spread across the Americas and its navy dominating the oceans, the Spanish Empire literally became the first global superpower. At home it was enjoying a so-called Golden Age, as the creative geniuses of Cervantes, El Greco, Lope de Vega and Velázquez (and others) produced enduring masterpieces, international law was born, and Spain was now writing its own cultural history.
In 1808, shortly after Louis XVI was guillotined in France, Napoleons troops crossed the Pyrenees into Spain. The Spanish people resisted and after a five-year war of independence, French forces were finally expelled, and the Spanish throne restored.
In 1898, Spain was on the losing side in the Spanish-American War, resulting in the loss of its overseas possessions, including Cuba and Puerto Rico. Spain was at a low point in its history, and decades of dictatorship, political assassinations and internal strife soon followed.
A civil war was almost inevitable, and that debilitating struggle (1936-39) was finally won by the Nationalists, but not before hundreds of thousands were dead and the internal fabric of the country destroyed.
The Nationalists leader, General Francisco Franco, began a long oppressive dictatorship, one that witnessed thousands of opposition executions, severe economic conditions and Spains total decline as a world power.
Spain chose neutrality during World War II, and remained isolated from the outside world. After losing all of its African colonies, including Morocco, it began the tedious process of economic and political liberalization, in an effort to catch up with the rest of Europe.
With significant financial aid from the USA, and a now growing economy, Spain profited from an increase in tourism dollars. Then Franco died in 1975, and democracy returned with the reign of King Juan Carlos.
Over the next decade positive governmental changes in Spain included a new constitution and free elections. And through it all it found the strength to survive a persistent terrorist campaign waged by the ETA, a militant group seeking an independent Basque homeland.
As a sign of real progress, Spain joined and became an important part of the European Union (EU), and then most-successfully hosted the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Tragedy struck in March of 2004 when El Quida operatives bombed the Madrid subways, with almost 200 innocents killed. That forced a sweeping USA-leaning governmental change, and the countrys newly elected leadership pulled all of its troops out of Iraq.
As history books go, Spain certainly deserves its own chapter, if not two. Like many of its European neighbours, Spain still struggles with internal reforms, but this resilient and forward-looking country, with its determined and gregarious people, has so much to cheer about.
Today Spain enjoys a very positive reputation with worldwide travellers, and is one of the most visited countries on the planet.
Spanish History Timeline
1100 BC. Phoenician traders establish colony at Cádiz in southern Iberia.
228 BC. Carthaginians occupy southern and eastern Iberia.
218-220 BC. Romans defeat Carthage in Second Punic War and occupy Iberian peninsula.
74. Inhabitants of Iberia are granted full Roman citizenship.
409. Visigoths occupy Iberian peninsula.
711. Combined Arab and Berber force from northern Africa cross Strait of Gibraltar to occupy Iberian peninsula.
756. Independent Emirate is established in Iberia, with Córdoba as its capital.
913. Having re-taken territories in northern Spain, Christians establish capital in León.
1013. Powerful Caliphate of Córdoba breaks up due to internal strife; Moorish Spain split into small feuding kingdoms.
1212. Decisive Christian victory at battle of Navas de Tolosa spells the beginning of the end of Moorish rule in Spain.
1492. King Fernando and Queen Isabels army capture Granada after a long siege, the final defeat of the Moors in Spain. Jews are forced to convert to Christianity; those who refuse are expelled from Spain. Christopher Columbus sets sail on his voyage of discovery.
1702-14. War of Spanish Succession. Bourbon dynasty accedes to Spanish throne.
1808-14. Peninsular War. Spaniards rise against Napoleons occupying force. Combination of guerilla tactics and support from Wellingtons army end in French defeat.
1898. Spanish American War. Spain loses Cuba and Philippines.
1931. Spanish king is forced to abdicate. Spain becomes a republic.
1936-39. Spanish Civil War. Bloody conflict ends with General Francos victory. Dictatorship established.
1975. Franco dies, Juan Carlos de Borbón is proclaimed king. Spain becomes constitutional monarchy. Democracy would bring membership of the European Community.
1982. Spain joins NATO, becoming a member of a mainstream European organization.
1995. Spain joins the European Community.
2004. Islamic terrorists strike the Atocha train station in Madrid with bombs, killing nearly 300 and precipitating a change in government.