Spain

 

History of Spain

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Most of the Iberian Peninsula has been populated since prehistoric times. Early evidence of human habitation unearthed at the Atapuerca site in northern Spain are some 800,000 years old. Modern man made his appearance around 35,000 BC. Sometime around 4000 BC, much of Spain was settled by the Iberians, arriving from the east. The Celts arrived later, settling in the northern third of the peninsula. Bronze age civilization flourished in the south, culminating with the Tartessian civilization around Seville (1000-500 BC).

Around 1100 BC, Phoenician seafarers from present-day Lebanon set up trading colonies in Cadiz and elsewhere along the Spanish coast. Greeks also traded along the north-eastern coast. With the fall of Phoenicia, the Iberian peninsula came under the rule of Carthage (present day Tunisia), but was occupied by Rome following the Punic Wars. The Romans held sway in Iberia for six centuries, laying the foundations for Spanish language and culture.

Following the fall of the western Roman empire in the fifth century AD, Spain was ruled by the Visigoths, a Germanic people who had migrated from central Europe. In 711, the Muslims of northern Africa launched an invasion across the Strait of Gibraltar, occupying most of the peninsula within a few years. Their presence lasted more than seven centuries, though the Christian kingdoms to the north increased in power over the generations, gradually driving the Moors southwards. The last Moorish kingdom, Granada (the eastern half of present-day Andalusia), was conquered in 1492.

The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus and the expulsion of Jews and Moors from Spain were to mark Spanish history forever. Treasure from Spain's vast overseas empire pushed Spain into the forefront of European countries, but constant warfare drained resources. With the accession of the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish throne at the beginning of the 18th century, Spain came within the French sphere of influence for the following 100 years, up to the defeat of Napoleon's army during the Peninsular War.

During the 19th century, Spain was sharply divided between conservatives and liberals, and rural and urban society. Coups d'etat and changes of government were frequent. With the increasing power of the working class, in 1931 king Alfonso XIII was forced to abdicate, and Spain was declared a republic. Conservative reaction from the church and army sparked the Spanish Civil War, which ranged from 1936 to 1939 and was a prelude to World War II. When Franco finally died in 1975, Spain was taken over by King Juan Carlos I, who soon led Spain toward democracy. As a fruit of its new freedoms, the country celebrated a cultural renaissance in the 1980s and 1990s, and in 1992 hosted both the Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the Expo '92 in Sevilla.

Cities

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  • Madrid — the vibrant capital, with fantastic museums, interesting architecure, great food and nightlife
  • Barcelona — Spain's second city, full of modernist buildings and a vibrant cultural life, nightclubs, and beaches
  • Bilbao — industrial city, home to the Guggenheim Museum
  • Cadiz — oldest city in Western Europe with nearly 4,000 years of history, celebrates a famous carnival
  • Cordoba — The Grand Mosque ('Mezquita') of Cordoba is one of the world's finest buildings
  • Granada — stunning city in the south, surrounded by snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada, home of La Alhambra
  • Seville — a beautiful, verdant city, and home to the world's third largest cathedral
  • Valencia — paella was invented here, has a very nice beach
  • Zaragoza — fifth largest city of Spain that held the World Expo in 2008
  • Almeria — best natural beaches and great selection of "tapas"

Culture

Since identity is so integral to culture, Spanish culture is especially tricky. Historically there has been an ongoing struggle between the centralist identity espoused by Castile and the identities of the other regions, most notably Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Provinces (Euskadi), each asserting its own cultural identity. And since the proclamation of a new Constitution in 1978 and the establishment of seventeen Autonomous Communities, other regions are also asserting their uniqueness and historical role in Spain's history, e.g. Andalucia, Extremadura, Valencia, Asturias...

Claims have been made for a single Spanish culture but equally persuasive voices argue for several Spanish cultures. A recent example of this debate arose during the 2008 Spanish election campaign when the opposition leader proposed an integration contract that would oblige all immigrants to adhere to "Spanish customs." An immediate reaction was the strong objection by opponents who pointed out that customs differed widely in different parts of the country.

Weather and Climate

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Spain has a predominantly warm Mediterranean climate, with dry summers and winters with balanced temperatures. Here you can enjoy more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. It is no surprise, then, that this is one of the warmest parts of Europe.

When talking of weather, special mention should be made of the Canary Islands. Their special location, facing the coast of Africa, gives them a benign climate with mild temperatures (22ºC year-round average on the coasts), with only small temperature differences between day and night, whatever the season.

Nevertheless, variety is the main characteristic of the climate here, due to Spain's immense geographical diversity.

So that if you travel to the north, to the Cantabrian coast, you will find a mild climate with high rainfall. Winters are mild and in summer temperatures rarely exceed 25ºC.

However, in the higher parts of the country, the climate is harsher and it is common to see snow from the beginning of winter to the end of spring. This is the case of the Pyrenees, the mountains of Sierra Nevada, the Central and Iberian ranges, and the Cantabrian Mountains, amongst others.

Public Holidays

Spain Public Holidays Year 2015
New Year's Day January 1, 2015 Thursday
Epiphany (Three Kings) January 6, 2015 Tuesday
Good Friday April 3, 2015 Friday
Labour Day May 1, 2015 Friday
Assumption of Mary August 15, 2015 Saturday
National Day October 12, 2015 Monday
All Saints' Day November 1, 2015 Sunday
Immaculate Conception December 8, 2015 Tuesday
Christmas Day December 25, 2015 Friday

Travel Advisory

There is no nationwide advisory in effect for Spain. Exercise normal security precautions.