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SPAIN: Culture

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Your Spain cell phone rental will make discovering this wonderful country a breeze.


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. Phocaean 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 raged from 1936 to 1939 and was a prelude to World War II. Under the dictator Franco, who had been sympathetic to the Axis powers, Spain was ostracized from the community of nations until it became strategically attractive to the US during the Cold War. The first US bases opened in the 1950s. Spaniards working abroad and tourists arriving in increasing numbers brought in foreign revenue and fueled the emergence of a large middle class. When Franco finally died in 1975, the accession of King Juan Carlos to the throne and the transition to a democratic state were relatively smooth.

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