The oldest historical findings made in Spain date of about 30000 to 50000 b.C. Among the most important remains of this period are the Cave of Altamira (Santander), Cova Negra (Játiva) and Piñar (Granada).
The Celt-Iberian Spain
The Greeks referred to the original inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula as Iberians. There are, however, several different populations. According to archaeological, anthropological and genetic research, the Iberians should have arrived to the peninsula at the time of the Neolithic (5000 - 3000 BC).
Some scientists believe that they came originally from the eastern Mediterranean, others believe that they were related to the founders of the megalithic culture (UK, Ireland, France), of which there are numerous findings also in Spain.
The most advanced Iberians were undoubtedly the Tartessos, who founded the oldest Western-European high culture, and their descendants "Turdetanos" and "Turdulos".
By 1200 b.C. Celtic tribes entered the peninsula from the north, mixing up with Iberians and so generating the celt-iberian race. The origin of the bask race living in the north of the country is uncertain, but many historians suppose that it goes back to a pre-iberian population.
Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians
By 1100 b.C. Phoenicians arrived to the peninsula and founded colonies, the most important of which was Gadir (today's Cadiz), Malaca (today's Malaga) and Abdera (today's Adra, in Almeria). Also Greeks founded colonies in southern Spain and along the Mediterranean coast.
During the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthago Carthaginians invaded Spain and conquered large parts of it. Their most important colonies were the island Ibiza and Cartagena, the "new Carthago".
Romans and Goths
After Rome had defeated Carthago definitely, Romans also invaded the colonies in Spain, and ended up conquering the entire peninsula. The province Hispania became part and parcel of Roman empire and acquired great importance, even two Roman emperors, Traian and Hadrian, were born there. Spaniards absorbed completely the Roman culture as still today is very evident in their language.
In 409, when the Roman empire started to fall, Gothic tribes invaded the peninsula and established their kingdom in 419.
Moorish Epoch and Reconquista
Gothic dominance lasted until 711, when Muslim armies crossed the Straight of Gibraltar and defeated Roderic, the last Visigoth king. Specially the southern parts of Spain, called al-Andalus, were prospering in the Moorish epoch, thanks to new sciences and agricultural technics. The Moors conquered major parts of the country until they were defeated for the first time by Visigoth king Pelayo at Covadonga in northern Spain, 722.
Though the small Christian kingdoms in the north were a nucleus of resistence, the Arabian culture was prospering in the rest of the country. The Muslim Spain by the time got politically independent of the Arabian empire, and in 10th century Abderraman III. made Al-Andalus his own caliphate. In this epoch Cordoba was the indisputable cultural center of this area of the world. Decadence started in 11th century, when the various Arabian noble families were more and more at variance among themselves, and al-Andalus broke into numerous small caliphates. The Christian kingdoms in the north started then the reconquest of Spain. The marriage between Isabel of Castilia and Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469, uniting the two most important among them, was the turning point of the Reconquista. From now on Muslims rapidly lost territory, until they were definitely expelled when they lost their last remaining caliphate, Granada, in 1492.
The Catholic Monarchs
Isabel and Ferdinand succeeded in uniting the whole country under their crown, and their effort to "re-christianize" Spain resulted in the Spanish Inquisition, when thousands of Jews and Moors who didn't want to convert to Christianism were expelled or killed.
After the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 tons of gold and silver were brought in from the new continent, and Spain became one of the most powerful nations of this epoch called the Golden Age.
Habsburg and Borbon Kings
After Isabel died in 1504, her daughter Joan who was married with the German emperor's son Philip succeeded to the throne. Charles I., at the same time Austrian king and German emperor united in 1517 one of the largest empires in history. Anyhow after his retirement in 1556 it was split between the Spanish and the Austrian line of Habsburg family.
Spain was prospering economically under the Habsburg crown thanks to the trade with its American colonies, but on the hand involved in wars with France, the Netherlands and England, culminating in the disastrous defeat of the "Invincible Armada" in 1588.
When the last Habsburg King Charles II. died without descendant, the nephew of French King Louis XIV., Philip of Borbon, successed to the throne. As a consequence of the French Revolution, Spain declared war on the new republic but was defeated. Napoleon took the power in France and sent his troops against Spain in 1808. He established his brother Joseph as Spanish king, but Spaniards fought a 5-year Independence War against the French. After Napoleon's definite defeat at Waterloo in 1815, Ferdinand VII. was restored to the Spanish throne and reigned with rigid absolutism. When he changed the law of succession to the throne and his daughter Isabel was established as queen, his brother Charles rebelled against it and the War of Seven Years broke out. Economical recession and political instability were the consequences, Spain lost its colonies with the exceptions of Puerto Rico, Cuba and Philippines. The revolution of 1868 forced Isabel II. to renounce to the throne, and the First Republic was proclaimed. Anyhow, it lasted for just about one year. After a coup d'état Isabel's son, Alphonse XII., restored the kingdom. The rebellion of Cuba in 1895 resulted in a war against United States, with disastrous results for Spain. It lost its last overseas possessions.
The economical crisis of the early 1920s led the country to the brink of civil war, and General Primo de Ribera established a military dictature until 1930. Elections in 1931 saw a triumph for the political left, and Alphonse XIII. left the country. Increasing conflicts between the Republican government and the Nationalist opposition led to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). The Nationalists, led by General Franco, received extensive support from Nazi-Germany and fascist Italy and succeeded against the Republican block which was officially supported only by Russia, although many intellectuals (as Ernest Hemingway) and politically committed from other countries fought in the International Brigades. The nationalists succeeded.
Although Franco kept Spain neutral during World War II, his military dictature led to political and economical isolation. During the 1950s and 60s every effort was taken to improve international relations, and the country's economy recovered. In 1969 Franco proclaimed Juan Carlos de Borbon, the grandson of Alphonse XIII., his successor with the title of king.
Franco died in 1975, and a constitutional monarchy was established. President Adolfo Suarez introduced important political reforms. When he surprisingly dismissed in 1981, a group of militars tried to take the power with a coup, but failed. In 1982 the socialist party won the elections and Felipe Gonzalez became president of the government. Spain became member of the NATO in 1985 and entered the European Community in 1986. In 1992 it appeared impressively at the world stage: Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games, Seville the world exposition EXPO'92, and Madrid was declared European Cultural Capital.