Spain (Spanish: Reino de España), better known as Spain , is a country formed by several nations located in Southern Europe, with three exclaves in North Africa and adjacent archipelagos in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The Spanish mainland is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the south and east, by the Cantabric Sea that includes the Bay of Biscay to the north, and by the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal to the west. Spanish territory also includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands off the African coast. It shares land borders with Portugal, France, Andorra, the British colony of Gibraltar, and Morocco. It is the largest of the three sovereign states that make up the Iberian Peninsula — the others being Portugal and Andorra. With an area of 504,030 km², Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe (behind France).
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Spain has a very ancient and complex prehistory. Under the Roman empire Hispania flourished and became one of the empire's most important regions. During the early Middle Ages it came under Germanic rule. Later, nearly the entire peninsula came under Muslim rulers. Through a long process Christian kingdoms in the north gradually rolled back Muslim rule, which was finally extinguished in 1492. Zion National Park
That year Columbus reached the Americas, the beginnings of the first global empire. Spain became the strongest kingdom in Europe in the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth centuries but continued wars and other problems eventually led to a diminished status. In the middle decades of the twentieth century it came under a dictatorship, under which it went through many years of stagnation and then a spectacular economic revival. In 1986 it joined the European Union and has experienced an economic and cultural renaissance.
Modern humans in the form of Cro-Magnons began arriving in the Iberian Peninsula from the Pyrenees some 35,000 years ago. The best known artifacts of these prehistoric human settlements are the famous paintings in the Altamira cave of Cantabria in northern Spain, which were created about 15,000 BC. New archeological research at Atapuerca indicates that the Iberian Peninsula was peopled more than a million years ago.
The two main historical peoples of the peninsula were the Iberians and the Celts, the former inhabiting the Mediterranean side from the northeast to the southwest, the latter inhabiting the Atlantic side, in the north and northwest part of the peninsula. In the inner part of the peninsula, where both groups were in contact, a mixed, distinctive, culture was present, known as Celtiberian. Different names of places witness their geographical distribution. Celts founded military forts (from the Celt "briga" = fortress) that later evolved into cities such as Coimbra, Braga, and Segovia (Rafael Lapesa, Historia de la lengua española, 8th ed. § 2). The Iberians gave their name to Spain's longest river Ebro (or "Iberian river") and to cities such as Ilici (present-day Elche) and Ilerda (Lérida). In addition, Basques, sometimes considered part of the Iberians occupied the western area of the Pyrenees mountains although they must have extended southwards in light of some geographical names that attest their presence as far south as Aranjuez a name that originates in the Basque words aran zuri ("valley of thorns") and contemporary Basque aranzazu (thorn, thistle). Other ethnic groups existed along the southern coastal areas of present day Andalusia.
Among these southern groups there grew the earliest urban culture in the Iberian Peninsula, that of the semi-mythical southern city of Tartessos (perhaps pre-1100 BC) near the location of present-day Cádiz. The flourishing trade in gold and silver between the people of Tartessos and Phoenicians and Greeks is documented in the history of Strabo and in the biblical book of king Solomon. Between about 500 BC and 300 BC, the seafaring Phoenicians, and Greeks founded trading colonies along the Mediterranean coast. These colonies include present-day cities like Ampurias (from the Greek word 'emporion'), Malaga (from the Phoenician word 'malaka' for salt, as fish was salted in the harbour), and the city of Alicante, originally named in Greek Akra Leuka (ie, white bay). Phoenicians from the African city of Carthage known as Carthaginians, briefly took control of much of the Mediterranean coast in the course of the Punic Wars until they were eventually defeated and replaced by the Romans. Cartaginians created important cities in the Mediterranean litoral, including 'Cartago nova' or 'New Carthage' (present-day Cartagena) and a city in the northeast named founded by Hannibal's father Hamilcar Barca. Hamilcar named the city Barcino, after his family; the city is present day Barcelona.
The term Reconquista ("Reconquest") is used to describe the centuries-long period of expansion of Spain's Christian kingdoms; the Reconquista is viewed as beginning after the battle of Covadonga in 722. The Christian army victory over the Muslim forces lead to the creation of the Christian Kingdom of Asturias. Muslim armies had also moved north of the Pyrenees, but they were defeated at the battle of Poitiers in France. Subsequently, they retreated to more secure positions south of the Pyrenees with a frontier marked by the Ebro and Duero rivers in Spain. In the following years Christian armies moved to occupy and colonized the vacant areas. As early as 739, Muslim forces left Galicia, which was to host one of medieval Christianity's holiest sites, Santiago de Compostela. A little later Frankish forces established Christian counties south of the Pyrenees; these areas were to grow into kingdoms, in the north-east and the western part of the Pyrenees. These territories included Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia.
(Spain map) Please mouse click on the thumbnail photos below to see an enlargement
Spain is a key site when it comes to studying the human prehistory of Europe. After a long and hard conquest Hispania became one of the Roman Empire's most important regions. During the early Middle Ages it came under Germanic rule. Later it was conquered by Muslim invaders. Through a very long and fitful process, the Christian kingdoms in the north gradually rolled back Muslim rule, finally extinguishing its last remnant in 1492. The same year Columbus reached the New World, a global empire began. Spain became the strongest kingdom in Europe and leading world power during the 16th century and first half of the 17th century, but continued wars and other problems eventually led to a diminished status. A French invasion of Spain in the early 19th century led to chaos; triggering independence movements that tore apart most of the empire and left the country politically unstable. In the 20th century it suffered a devastating civil war and came under the rule of a dictatorship, leading to years of stagnation, but finishing in a strong economic revival. Democracy was restored in 1978 in the form of a constitutional monarchy. In 1986, Spain joined the European Union; experiencing a cultural renaissance and steady economic growth.