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Modern Spain represents the ­culmination of centuries of ­crossbreeding, political union, exclusion and division. The country’s history is a complex one, ­enlivened by myths and legends, and ­punctuated by ­significant historical and cultural landmarks. A heady mix of Carthiginian, Roman, Visigothic, Moorish and Christian imprints have blended to form a culture that has made a profound impact on world history. From the flourishing of arts and literature in the Spanish Golden Age; the colonization and identity of much of Latin America; to the ­establishment of a ­democratic and constitutional monarchy, Spanish culture and influence have ­combined to create a unique and proud people.

Time Line

From Antiquity to the Visigothic Kingdom


11C–5C – Phoenician and Greek trading posts founded on the eastern and southern coasts of Spain, inhabited by Iberians and Tartessians respectively. In the 9C BC, the central-­European Celts settle in west Spain and on the Meseta, intermingling with the ­Iberians (forming ­ Celtiberians ).

3C–2C – The Carthaginians take over the southeast after conquering the Greeks and Tartessians. The capture of Sagunto by Hannibal leads to the Second Punic War (218–201 BC). Rome expels the Carthaginians and begins the conquest of peninsular Spain (with resistance at Numancia ).

1C BC–1C AD – Cantabria and Asturias are finally pacified in AD 19. Spain is now known as Iberia or Hispania.


1C – Christianity reaches the ­Iberian Peninsula and begins to spread.

5C–6C – Early Suevi (Swabian) and Vandal invasions are followed by those of the Visigoths (415), who establish a powerful monarchy with Toledo as capital. The peninsula unites under King Leovigild (584–85).

Muslim Spain and the Reconquest

8C – Moors invade and annihilate the Visigothic Kingdom after the Battle of Guadalete in c 711. Pelayo’s victory at Covadonga in 722 heralds an 800-year-long Christian War of Reconquest. The first Muslim invaders are subjects of the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus. Abd ar-Rahman I breaks with Damascus by founding an independent emirate at Córdoba in 756.

9C – Settlement of uninhabited land by Christians.

10C – Golden age of the emirate of Córdoba, which is raised to the status of a caliphate (929–1021) by Abd ar-­Rahman III . A period of great prosperity ensues during which the expansion of Christian ­kingdoms is checked. Fortresses are built in the north along the Duero river.

11C – Christian Spain now includes the Kingdoms of León, Castilla, Navarra and Aragón, and the County of Barcelona. On the death of Al-Mansur in 1002, the Caliphate of Córdoba disintegrates into about 20 taifa (faction) kingdoms (1031). Alfonso VI of Castilla conquers Toledo (1085), and the area around the Tajo river is resettled by Christians. The taifa kings call upon the Almoravids (Saharan Muslims) for assistance and in a short time the tribe overruns a large part of Spain. Pilgrims begin to tread the Way of St James of Compostela. El Cid conquers Valencia (1094).

12C – Dissension stemming from a second age of taifa kingdoms assists the Reconquest, especially in the Ebro Valley (Zaragoza is taken in 1118, Tortosa in 1148 and Lleida in 1149), but after Yakub al-Mansur’s victory in Alarcos (1195), the Almohads (who routed the Almoravids) recover Extremadura and check Christian expansion towards the Guadiana and Guadalquivir rivers. Sevilla, with Córdoba under its control, enjoys great prosperity.

Great military orders are founded (Calatrava, Alcántara and Santiago).

Unification of the kingdoms of Aragón and Catalunya (1150).

13C – The taifa kingdoms enter their third age. The decline of the Muslims begins with the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212). Muslim influence is ­reduced to the Nasrid ­Kingdom of Granada (modern provinces of Málaga, Granada and Almería), which holds out until its capture in 1492. ­Unification of Castilla and León under St Ferdinand III (1230).

The crown of Aragón under James I the Conqueror (1213–76) gains control over considerable territory in the Mediterranean.

The Catholic Monarchs (1474–1516) and the unification of Spain

1474 – Isabella, wife of Ferdinand, succeeds her brother Henry IV to the throne of Castilla. She has to contend with opposition from the supporters of her niece Juana la Beltraneja until 1479.

1478–79 – The court of the ­ Inquisition is instituted by a special Papal Bull and Tómas de Torquemada is later ­appointed Inquisitor-General.

The court, a political and religious institution directed against Jews, Moors and later Protestants, survives until the 19C.

Ferdinand becomes King of Aragón in 1479 and Christian Spain is united under one crown.

1492 – Fall of Granada marks the end of the Reconquest. Expulsion of Jews.

12 Oct 1492 – Christopher Columbus lands in the Americas.

1494 – The Treaty of Tordesillas divides the New World between Spain and Portugal.

1496 – Joanna, daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, marries Philip the Handsome (Felipe el Hermoso), son of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I of the Habsburgs.

1504 – Death of Isabel. The kingdom is inherited by her daughter, Joanna the Mad (Juana la Loca) but Ferdinand governs as regent until Joanna’s son Charles (1500–1558), future Emperor Charles V, comes of age.

1512 – The Duke of Alba conquers Navarra, thus bringing political unity to Spain.

The Habsburgs (1516–1700) and the Conquest of America

1516The apogee: Charles I (1516–56) and Philip II (1556–98).

On the death of Ferdinand, his grandson becomes Charles I (Carlos I) of Spain. Through his mother, Charles inherits Spain, as well as Naples, Sicily, Sardinia and American territories. Cardinal Cisneros governs until the new king arrives for the first time in Spain in 1517.

1519 – On the death of Maximilian of Austria, Charles I is elected Holy Roman Emperor under the name of Charles V (Carlos V). He inherits Germany, ­Austria, the Franche-Comté and the Low Countries.

1520–22 – The Spanish, incensed by Charles V’s largely Flemish court advisers and the increasing number of taxes, rise up in arms. The emperor quells Comuneros and Germanías revolts.

1521–56 – Charles V wages five wars against France in order to secure complete control of Europe. In the first four he ­conquers Francis I (imprisoned at Pavia in 1525) and in the fifth he routs the new French king, Henri II, and captures Milan.

The Conquistadores move across America. Vasco Núñez de Balboa discovers the Pacific; Hernan Cortés seizes Mexico in 1521; Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro subdue Peru in 1533; Francisco Coronado explores the Colorado river in 1535; Hernando de Soto takes possession of Florida in 1539; and Pedro de Valdivia founds Santiago de Chile in 1541.

1555 – Charles V signs the Peace of Augsburg with the Protestants in Germany after failing to suppress the Reformation.

1556 – Charles V abdicates in favour of his son and retires to a monastery in Yuste. Philip II becomes king, inheriting Spain and its colonies, the kingdom of Naples, Milan, the Low Countries and the Franche-Comté, but not ­Germany and Austria which are left by Charles to his brother Ferdinand I of Austria. Philip II turns his attention to Spain and the defence of Catholicism. He chooses Madrid as his de facto capital in 1561. Spain goes through a serious economic crisis.

1568–70 – Revolt of the Moriscos (Muslims who converted to Christianity) in Granada.

1571 – The Turks are defeated in the Battle of Lepanto by a fleet of ships sent by the Pope, the Venetians and the Spanish, under the command of Don John of Austria , the king’s natural brother. The victory seals Spain’s mastery of the Mediterranean.

1580 – The King of Portugal dies without an heir. Philip II asserts his rights, invades Portugal and is proclaimed king in 1581.

1588 – Philip II sends the Invincible Armada against Protestant England, which supports the Low Countries. The destruction of the fleet marks the end of Spain as a sea power.

1598 – Philip II dies, leaving a vast kingdom which, in spite of huge wealth from the ­Americas, is crippled by debt after 70 years of almost incessant war and monumental building projects like El Escorial.

1598–1621The decline – The last Habsburgs, Philip III (Felipe III, 1598–1621), Philip IV (Felipe IV, 1621–65) and Charles II (Carlos II, 1665–1700), lack the mettle of their forebears. Paradoxically, Spain enjoys a golden age of art and culture.

Philip III entrusts the affairs of state to the Duke of Lerma, who advises him to expel the Moriscos in 1609. 275 000 Moors leave Spain with disastrous consequences for agriculture.

1640 – Under Philip IV (Felipe IV), the Count-Duke of Olivares adopts a policy of decentralisation which spurs Catalunya and Portugal to re­bellion. The Portuguese pro­claim the Duke of Braganza King John IV, but their independence is not recognised until 1668.

1618–48 – Spain wastes her strength in the Thirty Years’ War . In spite of victories like that of Breda (1624), the defeat in the Netherlands at Rocroi (1643) signals the end of Spain as a European power.

The Treaty of Westphalia gives the Netherlands independence.

1659 – The Treaty of the Pyrenees ends war with France. Philip IV arranges the marriage of his daughter María Teresa to Louis XIV of France.

1667-97 – Spain loses strongholds in Flanders to France during the War of Devolution (1667–68). The Dutch Wars (1672–78) end with the Treaty of Nijmegen . The Treaty of Ryswick (1697) concludes the war waged by the Confederation of Augsburg (Spain is a member) against France (1688–97).

The Bourbons, Napoleon and the War of Independence (1808–14)

1700 – Charles II dies without issue. He wills the crown to Philip, Duke of Anjou, grandson of his sister María Teresa and Louis XIV. Emperor Leopold, who had renounced his rights to the Spanish throne in favour of his son, the Archduke Charles, is displeased, but the appointment of the Bourbons to the Spanish throne stabilises the balance of power in Europe.

1702–14War of the Spanish Succession – England, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany support the Archduke of Austria against France and Philip of Anjou. Catalunya, Valencia and Aragón also side with the Archduke and war spreads throughout Spain (1705). By the Treaty of Utrecht , Spain forfeits Gibraltar and Menorca (taken by the English) and many of her Italian possessions. Philip V (Felipe V) is proclaimed King of Spain (1683–1746).

1759–88 – The reign of Charles III (Carlos III), an enlightened despot, is the most brilliant of those of the Bourbons. He is assisted by competent ministers (Floridablanca and Aranda) who draw up important economic reforms. Expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767.

1788Charles IV (Carlos IV) succeeds to the throne. A weak-willed king, he allows the country to be governed by his wife María Luisa and her favourite, Manuel de Godoy.

1793 – On the death of Louis XVI, Spain declares war on France (then in the throes of the Revolution).

1796–1805 – Spain signs an alliance with the French Directorate against England (Second Treaty of San Ildefonso, 1796).

Napoleon enters Spain with his troops on the pretext that he is going to attack Portugal. The renewed offensive against England in 1804 ends disastrously with the Battle of Trafalgar the following year.

1805–08 – Napoleon takes advantage of the disagreement between Charles IV and his son Ferdinand to engineer Charles IV’s abdication and appoint his own brother, Joseph, King of Spain. The Aranjuez Revolt takes place in March 1808.

2 May 1808 – The Madrid uprising against French troops marks the beginning of the War of Independence (The Peninsular War), which lasts until Napoleon is exiled by Wellington in 1814. During the war there are battles at Bailén (1808), Madrid, Zaragoza and Girona.

1812 – The French are routed by Wel­lington in the Arapiles Valley; King Joseph flees from Madrid. Valencia is taken by the French General Suchet.

Spanish patriots convene the Cortes (parliament) and draw up the liberal Constitution of Cádiz.

1813–14 – Anglo-Spanish forces expel Napoleon after successive victories.

Ferdinand VII (Fernando VII) returns to Spain, repeals the Constitution of Cádiz and so reigns as an absolute monarch until 1820. Meanwhile, the Latin American colonies struggle for independence.

The Disturbances of the 19C

1820–23 – The liberals oppose the king’s absolute rule but their uprisings are all severely quelled. The 1812 constitution is reinstated after a liberal revolt led by General Riego in Cádiz in 1820, but only for three years.

In 1823 Ferdinand VII appeals to Europe for assistance and 100 000 Frenchmen are sent in the name of St Louis to

re-establish absolute rule (which lasts until 1833).

1833–39 – On the death of ­Ferdinand VII, his brother Don Carlos ­disputes the right to the throne of his niece Isabel II, daughter of the late king and Queen María Cristina. The ­traditionalist Carlists fight Isabel’s liberal ­supporters, who, after six years, win the First Carlist War (­Convention of Vergara). In 1835, the government minister Mendizábal has a series of decrees passed which do away with religious orders and confiscate their property (desamortización) .

1840 – A revolutionary junta forces the regent María Cristina into exile. She is replaced by ­General Espartero.

1843–68 – Queen Isabel II comes of age. The Narváez uprising forces Espartero to flee. A new constitution is drawn up in 1845. The Second Carlist War (1847–49) ends in victory for Isabel II but her reign is troubled by a succession of uprisings on behalf of progressives and moderates.

The 1868 revolt led by General Prim puts an end to her reign. Isabel leaves for France and General Serrano is appointed leader of the provisional government.

1869 – The Cortes passes a ­progressive constitution which, ­however, envisages the establishment of a monarchy. Amadeo of Savoy is elected king.

1873 – The Third Carlist War (1872–76). The king abdicates on finding himself unable to keep the peace. The National Assembly proclaims the First Spanish Republic .

1874 – General Martínez Campos leads a revolt. The head of the ­government, Cánovas de Castillo, proclaims Isabel’s son Alfonso XII King of Spain. The Bourbon Restoration opens a long period of peace.

1885 – Death of Alfonso XII (at 28). His widow María Cristina (who is expecting a baby) becomes regent.

1898 – Cuba and the Philippines rise up with disastrous losses for Spain.

The United States, which supports the rebel colonies, occupies Puerto Rico and the Philippines, marking the end of the Spanish Empire.

1902Alfonso XIII (born after the death of his father Alfonso XII) assumes the throne at 16.

The fall of the Monarchy and the Second Republic (1931–36)

1914–18 – Spain remains neutral throughout the First World War. A general strike in 1919 is severely put down.

1921 – Insurrection in Morocco; ­General Sanjurjo occupies the north (1927).

1923 – General Miguel Primo de ­Rivera establishes a dictatorship with the king’s approval. Order is restored, the country grows wealthier but ­opposition increases among the working classes.

1930 – In the face of hostility from the masses, Primo de Rivera is forced into exile and General Berenguer is appointed dictator.

1931 – April elections bring victory to the Republicans in Catalunya, the País Vasco, La Rioja and the Aragonese province of Huesca. The king leaves Spain and the Second Republic is ­proclaimed.

Jun 1931 – A constituent Cortes is elected with a socialist ­Republican majority; a Constitution is promulgated in December. Don Niceto Alcalá Zamora is elected President of the Republic. Agrarian reforms, such as compulsory purchase of large ­properties, meet strong right-wing opposition.

1933 – The Falange Party , which opposes regional separation, is founded by José Antonio Primo de Rivera , son of the dictator. The army plots against the régime.

Oct 1934 – Catalunya proclaims its autonomy. Miners in ­Asturias spark off a revolt against the right-wing government and are brutally repressed.

Feb 1936 – The Popular Front wins the elections, ­precipitating a revolutionary situation. ­Radicals hit the streets and the right promptly retaliates.

The Civil War (1936–39)

17 Jul 1936 – The Melilla uprising triggers the Civil War. The army takes control and puts an end to the Second Republic.

Nationalist troops based in Morocco and led by General Franco cross the Straits of Gibraltar and make their way to Toledo, which is taken at the end of September. Franco is proclaimed Generalísimo of the armed forces and Head of State in Burgos. Nationalists lead an unsuccessful attack against Madrid.

While Madrid, Catalunya and Valencia remain faithful to the Republicans, the ­Conservative agricultural regions – Andalucía, Castilla and ­Galicia – are rapidly controlled by the Nationalists. These regions out-supply the Republicans and the Republicans themselves are torn by dissension between the Anarchist CNT party, the Communist PCE and the Marxist POUM. They do, however, receive assistance from International Brigades.

1937 – Industrial towns in the north are taken by Nationalist supporters in the summer (on 26 April, Gernika is bombed by German planes). The ­Republican Government is moved to Barcelona in ­November. In the battle of Teruel in December, the Republicans try to breach the Nationalist front in Aragón and thereby relieve surrounded Catalunya. Teruel is taken by the ­Republicans and ­recaptured by the ­Nationalists soon after.

1938 – The Nationalist army reaches the Mediterranean, dividing Republican territory into two parts. The Battle of the Ebro lasts from July to November: Franco launches an offensive against Catalunya, which is occupied by the Nationalists in February 1939.

1 Apr 1939 – The war ends with the capture of Madrid.

The Franco Era

1939–49 – Spain is declared a ­monarchy with Franco as regent and Head of State and remains neutral in the Second World War. Period of ­diplomatic isolation.

1952 – Spain joins UNESCO.

1955 – Spain becomes a member of the United Nations.

1969 – Prince Juan Carlos is named as Franco’s successor.

20 Dec 1973 – Prime Minister Carrero Blanco is assassinated.

20 Nov 1975 – Death of Franco. Juan Carlos I becomes King of Spain.


15 Jun 1977 – General elections – Adolfo Suárez is elected prime minister. A new constitution is passed by referendum in 1978. Statutes of autonomy are approved for Catalunya, the País Vasco (Euskadi) and Galicia.

1981 – The Prince of Asturias Awards are established to honour public achievements.

1981–82 – Suárez resigns. There is an attempted military coup on 23 February 1981. The Socialist Party gains power and Felipe Gon­zález becomes prime minister after winning general elections.

1 Jan 1986 – Spain joins the European Economic Community .

12 Mar 1986 – Spain’s continued membership in NATO is voted by referendum.

11 Jun 1986 – Felipe González is re-elected prime minister.

1992 – Barcelona hosts the 1992 Summer Olympics, and Sevilla hosts Expo 1992.

3 Mar 1996José María Aznar of the Popular Party becomes prime minister.

3 Oct 1997 – The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is opened to the public.

1 Jan 2002 – Spain adopts the Euro .

11 Marh 2004 – The Madrid train bombings by terroristsleave countless dead and injured.

14 Mar 2004José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of the Socialist Party becomes prime minister.

22 May 2004 – The Prince of Asturias, heir to the Spanish crown, marries Letizia Ortiz ­Rocasolano, a journalist and divorcée.

31 Oct 2005 – Princess Leonor is born in Madrid to the crown prince and princess.

29 Apr 2007 – Princess Sofia is born, the second child of the crown prince.

11 Apr 2008 – Prime Minister Zapatero is re-elected.

29 Jun 2008 – Spain unites in celebration as Spain wins the UEFA Euro 2008 Football Championships.

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