The history of Spain is a compendium of influences from the different cultures that have lived in the country.
The first settlers on the Peninsula were the Celts and the Iberians. The first testimonials written about the country date back to this period. It is said that Hispania (the name the Romans used to describe the Peninsula) is a word of Semitic origin from Hispalis (Seville).
The Roman presence in Hispania lasted for seven centuries, during which time the basic borders of the Peninsula in relation to other European towns were set up. In addition to territorial administration, many more institutions were inherited from Rome such as the concept of family, Latin as a language, religion and law. At the start of the 5th century new settlers from the North arrive and settle on the Peninsula: the Visigoths in the interior and the Swabians on the West. This Germanic people saw themselves as the continuators of the weakened Imperial power. Integration between Hispanic-Germanics was a rapid process, with the exception of the Northeast of the peninsula, inhabited by Basques, Cantabrians and Asturians, who resisted the infiltration of the Romans, Visigoths and later the Muslims.
The decomposition of the Visigoth state apparatus would lead to the successive infiltration of Arab and Berber troops from the other side of the Straits of Gibraltar at the beginning of the 8th century. In the middle of the 8th century, the Muslims had completed occupation and Cordoba became the center of the flourishing Andalusian state. The Arab presence in Spain would last for almost seven centuries and leave an indelible mark on the Spanish cultural heritage.
Following a long period of peaceful coexistence, the small Christian strongholds in the North of the Peninsula took on a leading role in the Reconquest, which ended with the capture of Granada in 1492 under the reign of the Catholic King and Queen, traditionally considered the founders of peninsular unity and the imperial management of the Spanish revival. Also during the reign of the Catholic King and Queen and under their auspice, Columbus discovered the New Continent (America), new boundary of what would be the largest Western empire.
The 16th century represents the zenith of Spanish hegemony in the world, a process that would last until the middle of the 17th century. With the Catholic King and Queen, and in particular with Phillip II, what was the prototype of the absolutist modern State in the 16th century, was fully established. Following the death of Charles II, the last of the Austrians, who died without having had children, Phillip V inaugurated the dynasty of the Borbons of Spain. The Spanish Enlightenment is characterized as being an era of exterior harmony, reformations and interior development. The crisis of the Old Order opened the doorway to the Napoleonic invasion. The War of Independence was a war against the French invasion, but also a revolutionary war due to the decisive involvement of the people and the clear formation of a national conscience that would later shape the 1812 Constitution. The Courts of Cadiz thereby enacted one of the first Constitutions of the world which ratified that sovereignty would reside in the nation.
The conflict between liberals and absolutists, or in other words, between two different ways of perceiving the establishment of the state, would be one of the longest Spanish conflicts throughout the 19th century. The brief reign of Amadeo de Saboya, the first republican experience and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy, under the rule of Alfonso XII, take Spain to the beginning of the 20th century with a series of serious unresolved problems that intensify following the definitive loss of the last strongholds of the colonial empire: Cuba and the Philippines. Despite the interruption of the First World War in which Spain remained neutral and following the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, the monarchical crisis returns, resulting in the exile of King Alfonso XIII. The ballot box is introduced into Spain and with it the first democratic experience of the 20th century: the second Republic, a brief attempt to introduce the reformations the country needed, frustrated by General Franco's military rising and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936.
The military victory of General Franco gave way to a long dictatorial period that would last until 1975; it was an era characterized by an iron control of interior politics and isolation from the international environment, which did not however prevent an incipient economic development in the sixties. Following the death of General Franco, the Spanish people peacefully made the transition from dictatorship to democracy in a process known as 'the Spanish model'. Don Juan Carlos I, as King of the Spanish people, became the chief of a social and democratic state of law, which molded the Constitution of 1978.
Spain considers environmental conservation efforts to be a global issue and is therefore involved in various protection programs.
The country participates in the Ramsar Convention as a measure to protect its wetlands, of which 68 have qualified to be included on the Ramsar list. Agreements have been endorsed within the framework of the European Directive on the protection of wild birds and various marine areas in the Mediterranean. They have been designated as protected areas under the Plan of Action agreement. Moreover, the protection programs created by UNESCO under the World Heritage Convention have recognized four Spanish National Parks: Doñana, Garajonay (on the island of La Gomera), Teide (Tenerife) and Monte Perdido (in the Pyrenees). Furthermore, the UNESCO program, Man and the Biosphere, includes 34 biosphere reserves on Spanish land.
Spain is home to various European, African and Mediterranean animal species.
Spain's climatic diversity can be seen in its fantastic richness, which includes typically European, Mediterranean and African species of animals, as well as alpine fauna in the high mountain massifs.
The most emblematic mammals are wolf, fox, wildcat, lynx, deer, Spanish ibex and wild boar, among others. It is also home to a wealth of different varieties of fish, and Spain's rivers and lakes boast an abundance of species such as trout, tench and barbel. Spain currently has between 400 and 450 endangered species, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Some of these are the golden eagle, the Houbara bustard, Iberian lynx and the Tenerife speckled lizard.
The main consequences of the climatic differences in Spain are the two very distinct types of vegetation: the warm Spain and the wet Spain.
The climatic diversity that prevails in Spain marks a clear difference between two very distinct types of vegetation. On one hand, in the Cantabrian area there is the luxurious vegetation with abundant deciduous forests, where the most characteristic species is the common oak, followed by lime trees, chestnut trees, elm trees, ash trees, maple trees and hazelnut trees. This area also has plains covered in dense Atlantic thicket, formed by heather, ferns and gorse. Beech also grows in medium mountains and there are fir trees in the cooler areas of the Pyrenees and the Penibetic system.
The second largest area of vegetation in Spain has been shaped by a dry, summer climate and presents two groups of vegetation: on the one hand, the vegetation of the plateau and the Iberian depression and on the other, the vegetation of Mediterranean Spain. It is characterized by uncultivated land and few forests in which the dominant species is the evergreen oak, invaded by the introduction of the pine at various different stages. Also, in the plateau we can find evergreen oak and cork oak forests and in drier areas such as the Ebro valley, Extremadura and La Mancha, there are abundant thickets, dotting the landscape with small bushes, each one very different to the next.
Spain, although it can be considered a mountainous territory and semi-arid in many aspects, is home to a fauna and flora of great richness and biodiversity.
Spain is a habitat with over 8,000 plant species. Forests account for around 30% of the territory, although these do not always correspond to native species. Spain's environmental conservation policy was launched many years ago, and has been considerably enhanced in recent years. Some of the most important threats to the environment are deforestation (forest fires), erosion, desertification and contamination of river water. This problem is common to the whole of Europe, and the positive balance between agriculture, rational exploitation and conservation of the environment is one of the most important issues for the country.
Almost the entire morphology of mainland Spain was formed in the Tertiary era. The Pyrenees, the Andalusian, Cantabrian, Iberian and Sierra Morena mountain ranges, as well as the sedimentary basins of the Ebro and the Guadalquivir Rivers were formed. The uplifting occurred by means of faults in the Galician massif, defining the Central Mountains and the Toledo mountains, and therefore, the unevenness that exists between the two plateaus. The marks left by these tectonic movements have fundamentally remained until present day. It can therefore be said that they gave rise to the geography of the peninsula as it is known today.
Spain is geographically divided into very distinct territories. Its average altitude is high at 660 metres, in other words, two times the European average. The coasts have very diverse outlines, as they belong to different climatic systems and are surrounded by different seas and oceans. The overall structure of the Peninsula could be described as follows. A great central high plateau (the Castilian Meseta) cut into two sub-plateaus (north and south) and divided by the Central and Toledo mountains. This plateau is surrounded by other mountainous structures on its periphery: the Galician massif, the Cantabrian mountain range, the Iberian Mountains and the Sierra Morena. Three exterior ranges define the mountainous structure of the Peninsula; they are the Pyrenean, Andalusian and Catalan mountains. The Canary Islands is the region with the longest coastlines, and its land rises up over volcanic accumulations. The Balearics, on the other hand, have a varied relief composed of the Tramuntana mountain range in Majorca, the low lands of the island of Minorca -where the land level does not exceed 300 meters, except in El Toro - and the gentle relief of Ibiza, where the highest altitudes are Sa Talaiassa and the Puig Gros.
Spain covers an area of 505,955 square kilometers, which places it amongst the fifty largest countries in the world.
The largest part of the territory is located in the Iberian Peninsula, the remainder, approximately 12,500 square kilometers, are islands, Balearics and the Canary Islands, plus 32 square kilometers that are accounted for by the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, situated on the coast of Africa. The situation of the Iberian Peninsula in the extreme south west of Europe and only 14 kilometers away from the African continent, endows Spain with a great strategic value: projecting into the Mediterranean on one side and acting as an intersection on the path to Africa and America on the other. The fact that a large part of Spain is peninsular also explains the length of its coastline, which runs along the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.