History of Spain
The region was known as Hispania under the reign of the Roman Empire. The Romans' construction of roads and aqueducts has helped build the region to relative prosperity. In 100-200 AD, Christianity became popular and its influence remains until today.
With the fall of Roman Empire, Hispania fell into the control of Germanic kingdoms and tribes, and their influence remained throughout the middle ages.
In the 8th century, the region was conquered by the Moors from North Africa and came under control by the Muslims. Christians were allowed to freely practice their religion but they constantly faced discrimination.
In the 11th century, the Muslim empire gradually disintegrated and Christian kingdoms regained the influence in the region. In 1469, the two major Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were substantially united by the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. The land of the two kingdoms was gradually referred to as EspaÃ±a.
In 1492, Isabella funded the voyage of Christopher Columbus which led to the discovery of the New World. The subsequent trade and colonial development has accumulated great wealth to the nation. Together with a series of successful political, legal, military and religious reforms, Spain emerged as Europe's leading power in the 16th and 17th century.
The Spanish Empire continued to expand to considerable parts of the Americas, as well as parts of neighboring Italy, North Africa, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, and as far as Asia (the Philippines). The introduction of precious metals, spices and new agricultural plants from the New World and colonies has prompted an exciting era for Spain and Europe. This period is known as the Spanish Golden Age.
In the 17th century, Spain was confronted by the emerging Ottoman empire and fought various wars against France and Italy. The Empire was drained and weakened by long, continuous wars and religious-political conflicts. While Spain was able to retain most of its territories, Portugal and the Netherlands managed to gain independence from Spanish control.
In the 18th century, Spain went to war with the new French Republic, and became a "client state" of France after losing the war. The fall of Napoleon freed Spain from the French, but the economy was badly damaged.
In the 19th century, Spain witnessed the national movements from its colonies ranging from Philippines to Cuba. The country itself suffered from its Civil War in 1936-1939, which was sometimes known as the "first battle" of the Second World War.
Spain was weak and isolated after World War II until 1955, when the country was allowed to join the United Nations. One of the reason was that the US needed to enlist allies during the Cold War, and that the US wanted to build a military presence in the strategically important Iberian peninsula where Spain is located.
Since then, Spain witnessed what is called the "Spanish miracle", enjoying rapid economic growth to become a country with one of the top 10 largest GDP in the world. Spain was a founding member of the European Union in 1993 and adopted the Euro in 2002.
Geography and Climate
Spain is located in the Southwestern Europe, surrounded by France in the North and Portugal in the west. The country is bordered to the south and the east by the Mediterranean Sea. A few islands such as the Balearic Island in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands off the African coast, as well as the two autonomous cities near Morocco are also under Spanish jurisdiction.
The terrain is mostly mountainous with high plateaus, but there are plains along the coast. Because of the diversity of the terrain, the climate varies greatly throughout the country, but broadly speaking, Spain is considered hot and dry which is consistent to the Mediterranean climate.
Spanish is the only official language in Spain, although regional languages such as Basque, Catalan and Galician are commonly used in their respective communities.
Because of the colonial rule in Latin America, there are currently 400 million Spanish speakers today, making Spanish the 2nd most spoken first language in the world â€“ even more than the English language.
The Spanish economy experienced rapid growth since the country's adoption of Euro in the beginning of the 21st century. The performance was outstanding compared to neighboring European countries and Spain was able to attract a lot of foreign investments. As the country gained its world standing, the tourism industry flourished and became the second largest industry in the country.
However, the bubble burst in 2008 amid the global financial crisis, with substantial drop in housing prices and a spike in personal debt and unemployment rate.
Because of its unique location, Spain has been a melting point of many different cultures, notably the original Iberian and Celtics, and later on the Latin, Roman Catholic and Muslim cultures.
The rich cultural mix has led to a beautiful and unique architecture style in Spain. For example, the MudÃ©jar style was developed by the integrating the Arabic elements to the European architecture.
Spain's modern architecture is equally impressive, such as the "modernisme" in Barcelona and many new contemporary architecture in other Spanish cities. The country is home to many world-famous architects such as Rafael Moneo and Ricardo Bofill.
For outsiders, flamenco is known as the signature Spanish music, but in fact its popularity is limited to a relatively small region. Spain also produces a large number of well-known composers, singers and performers as well.
Similar to architecture and music, Spanish cuisine is unique thanks to the diversity of culture in the region. Due to its proximity to the sea, the food is mostly comprised of seafood. There are also many rice-based dishes. In the interior region such as Madrid, it is more common to have thick soups and stews, such as the Castilian soup.
Since the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, Spain has become more prominent in the global sporting event. Spain is home to two of the most successful football clubs in the world (Real Madrid C.F. and F.C. Barcelona), and lately Formula One has become a popular sporting event.