Spain’s early history is marked by conquering forces, cruelty and uprisings. In fact, everyone from the Romans and the Celts to the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians had a hand in both pillaging and shaping the future of Spain. At one point, after the fall of Rome, the Visigoths occupied what is now modern day Spain. This Christian tribe from Germany was extremely cruel to non-Christians, which, in turn, led to Jews and others in Spain enlisting the help of the Moors.
Although these Islamic conquerors took over Spain, the next 700 years represented a fairly stable time in Spain’s history and established Spain as a cultural and learning mecca of the day.
Eventually the Moors were pushed out by Christians and Spain began to rebuild herself. With the discovery of America and the rise of the Spanish army as a world force, Spain enjoyed a period of expansionism from nearby Portugal and stretching north to the Netherlands.
As often happens, greed and overly ambitious rulers eventually led to the loss of colonies overseas, which had both an economic and political impact on the country. BY 1800, Spain no longer had any colonies to speak of and her size had shrunk to the roughly 200,000 square miles that it is today.
Spain’s economy continued to suffer until 1936 when her people finally rioted and the Spanish Civil War broke out. General Franco shortsightedly enlisted the help of both Hitler and Mussolini. The decision ended the civil unrest and, in return, Spain remained neutral during WWII. In spite of everything, Franco ruled until his death in 1975.
Luckily for the Spanish people, King Juan Carlos I quickly took over, with little objection, and led his people into a new era filled with democracy, freedom, economic security and a cultural renaissance that lasted well into the 1990’s culminating with the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
The Pyrenees Mountains form a 270 mile border between Spain and the rest of Europe. In fact, this is the main reason why Spain and Portugal have traditionally had closer ties to Northern Africa than Europe.
Spain is divided into 17 regions, each with its own elected officials and a level of autonomy. She counts the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands and parts of North Africa in her holdings.
Basque, a language spoken in the northern parts of Spain, has no known linguistic relatives. In fact, the origin of this language is unknown, but it is suspected that it was in use long before the Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula.
Spain has over 3,000 miles of coastline and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Bay of Biscay.
Spain, Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar make up the Iberian Peninsula.
- 99% of Spaniards are baptized Catholics. In fact, freedom of religion was not granted until the late 1970’s.
- Bull fighting has long been part of Spain’s cultural heritage and is often associated exclusively with Spain. Times are changing. Bull fighting has recently been outlawed in 2 of her 17 regions with animal rights activists vowing to continue their fight.
- An oddity of the word Spain is that it is derived from the word Ispania, which literally translates to land of rabbits.
- Spanish art and culture is represented well with the likes of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, el Greco and Francisco de Goya. In fact, tourists flock to Madrid to see over 3,500 Picasso pieces in the museum named in his honor.
- 75% of the world’s saffron comes from Spain along with 44% of the world’s olive oil.
- Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world. In fact, 329 million people speak Spanish as their first tongue and another 100 million speak it as their second.
- Royal Palace: This beautiful palace, built between the years of 1738-1755, is used for state ceremonies but is not the actual residence of the King of Spain.
- Aqueduct Segovia: One of the remnants of antiquity and a testament to engineering, this Roman aqueduct has been well-preserved and still carries water over 10 miles from the Frio River.
- Ibiza: The phrase “party school” may be common for some universities in the United States, but, in Europe, Ibiza is known as the party island. In fact, the tiny island population can double (or more) as tourists swarm the island’s nightclubs, beaches and bars.
- Alhambra: This gem of southern Spain features a fortress, a garden and a palace and is a testament to the Moorish design influence from centuries past.
- Sagrada Familia: This large Catholic Church is actually still a work in progress. Construction started on this popular tourist spot in 1882 and continues to this day.
- Cuenca: This perfectly preserved medieval city was built into the sides of a mountain with many houses defying gravity and clinging onto the edge.
- La Concha: If surfing piques your interest, then you probably already know about La Concha. In fact, many do because La Concha is said to be one of the best beaches in the world.
How to Get Cash
- When traveling, there are many times when you need to acquire additional cash and, in Spain, there are only three ways to get it. In fact, debit and credit cards are not often accepted.
- ATMs: This is your easiest and most convenient way to get extra cash in Spain.
- Banks: Banks offer a similar exchange rate to ATMs. The lines, however, are notoriously long and they close at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Be sure to have photo I.D.
- Traveler’s Checks: Likewise, you can use traveler’s checks but, more often than not, they can only be cashed inside a bank. AMEX checks are also unusually difficult to trade in.