CBC News Online | March 19, 2004
Spain is a country of 40 million people, 94 per cent of whom are Catholic. Castilian Spanish is the official language with 17 per cent of the population speaking Catalan, seven per cent claiming Galician as their mother tongue and two per cent who speak Basque.
Currently, Spain is a parliamentary monarchy with King Juan Carlos I as its chief of state and the president as the head of government in Madrid. There are 19 autonomous communities including the Balearic and Canary Islands, and three small Spanish possessions off the coast of Morocco the Chafarinas Islands, Penon de Alhucemas, and Penon de Velez de la Gomera. Spain is a member of the European Union and uses the euro as its currency.
Examine its history and Spain's bloodlines reach back to the Romans, the Muslims and Central Europeans.
The existence of a Spanish state can be traced to about 1100 BC when Phoenician traders set up colonies in the area now known as Cadiz. With the fall of the Phoenicians, the peninsula was soon occupied by the Romans, who held the region for six centuries.
When the Roman Empire fell in the fifth century AD, Visigoths from central Europe took over. They were driven out in 711 when Muslim armies crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, occupying the region for more than seven centuries. The Moors, as the Spanish call them, established an independent emirate with Cordoba as its capital.
Christian kingdoms to the north gradually drove the Moors further south. The last Moorish kingdom, Granada (home of the Alhambra palace, an engineering and architectural marvel built over two centuries) was conquered in 1492. That marked a new chapter as Spain became an empire.
In the 16th century, Spain was Europe's prominent power. It ruled over European affairs until the 18th century. Spanish became the native tongue of more than 200 million people outside the country.
The Spanish empire started to crumble as the 19th century dawned. Napoleon in France sent his troops against Spain in 1808, establishing his brother Joseph as Spanish king. The Spaniards fought the French, resulting in Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815. Ferdinand VII restored the Spanish throne and reigned with a tight fist. In 1898, Spain lost Cuba and the Philippines in the Spanish-American War. Domestic unrest coupled with economic recession and frequent changes in government marked the 19th century in Spain.
King Alfonso XIII is forced to abdicate in1931 as a working-class revolution gained steam. Spain is declared a republic. The church and army rebelled, sparking the Spanish Civil War from1936 to 1939. The war claimed half a million lives and ended with the victory of General Francisco Franco, who established a Fascist dictatorship. He kept the country neutral during the Second World War. In the aftermath, many European states refused to have relations with Spain in light of Franco's rule. Despite that, Spain became a member of the United Nations in 1955.
Franco's authoritarian rule lasted until his death in November 1975. Before his death, Franco had already declared Juan Carlos de Borbon, the grandson of Alfonso XIII, as his successor with the title of king. In 1977, Spain held its first democratic elections since 1936. The Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD) won with Adolfo Suarez as prime minister.
In 1982, another general election was called. The PSOE, the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party. won with Felipe Gonzalez as prime minister. Plagued by corruption scandals, the PSOE lost to Jose Aznar's Popular Party in 1996. In March 2004, the PSOE trounced Aznar's party with Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero becoming the new leader of Spain.