How Disparate Rulers Shaped A Country's Identity
As the world’s first truly global super-power, Spain’s influence can be found in many other lands all around the globe. The full richness and diversity of Spain’s past, however, must be witnessed in the homeland to fully appreciate this important and dynamic culture.
Though Spain's history was shaped by many forces—the Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths and Vandals, to name a few—it can be said that the Moors had the greatest artistic and intellectual influence on the land.
Ruling parts of the Iberian Peninsula from 711 to 1492, many of these Islamic conquerors fostered periods of cultural diffusion, religious tolerance and intellectual progress—the evidence of which can still be seen in much of the unique architecture that remains from those times. But periods of peace between Christians and Muslims were interspersed with spells of fierce fighting, and the Moors were finally defeated in 1492, the same year that Columbus crossed the Atlantic under the Spanish flag to reveal the New World to Europe. The next century saw the apogee of Spain's power and influence throughout the world. With colonies abroad and control of many regions in Europe, Spain was the first worldwide empire. The imperial excesses and adventurism that began in the 16th century eventually sapped the empire of its strength; the country went into a decline and lost nearly all of its colonial possessions by the late 1800s. By 1936, the turmoil that wracked Spain in the early 20th century sparked the horrific Spanish Civil War. With the help of Hitler and Mussolini, fascist dictator General Francisco Franco emerged victorious from the civil war and ruled until his death in 1975. King Juan Carlos I succeeded Franco, and the young monarch immediately established himself as a steadfast engine of change, instituting political reform that would help transform Spain into a modern democracy. With its new freedoms, the country enjoyed a cultural renaissance in the 1980s and 1990s, and joined the European Union in 1986.
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