Because of its central position on the Iberian peninsula between Europe and Africa,
Spain was invaded frequently. Roman rule was established in the third century BC and was
followed by Muslim and Arab invasions. Spain had no choice but to follow the dominant
religion and principles of their conquerors. Definite influences in culture and language
have remained from the days of these early settlers and are still evident in modern Spain.
In 1492 the reign of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile began.
Their marriage united the country in Catholicism and overcame the last Muslim stronghold
in Granada. The royal couple were responsible for financing Christopher Colombus
first voyage to America, and his great discovery placed Spain at the centre of the New
World. For many years, Spain enjoyed a Golden Age, oversaw a large empire, and was well
regarded and feared by its neighbours.
The Napoleonic wars and internal conflict which followed weakened Spains
position, but it was the terrible war with America in 1898 which entirely defeated it.
Until then the Spanish had been renowned for their naval strength, but they lost many
battles at sea, and their colonies in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba were lost
After a bloody war between the Nationalists and the Republicans, which ended in 1939,
General Franco began his tyrannical fascist rule. This 36 year period crippled Spain
economically and cut it off from the rest of the world. However, when Franco died in 1975,
the monarchy was restored and King Juan Carlos took the throne.
To this day, Spain continues to have a monarchy, but all decisions affecting the
country are taken by Parliament. The royal family are very popular with the Spanish public
and they support many humanitarian and moral issues. Central Parliament is called Las
Cortes and is elected to power every four years by all citizens able to vote (those
aged over 18). There are 554 members of Parliament.
Spain is divided into several regions with contrasting historical, political, economic,
and cultural features. Although each region has its own flag and capital they are all
governed from the central capital, Madrid. Situated at 667 metres above sea level, this is
the highest capital city in Europe. Madrid was established as the capital in the sixteenth
century by King Philip and has remained the political centre of the country ever since.
But it is not just a political centre: it is counted among the most energetic and popular
modern cities in the world and is a magnet to young people.