The Regions of Spain – Maps, History, and Culture

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Located in the southwestern region of Europe, just nine miles north of the African country, Morocco is Spain. Not only has Spain influenced much of the European region, but Spain has also played a large, influential role in cultures all across the globe.

Seventeen different regions of Spain make up the 195,000 square mile country. Each region has a specific history, culture, and geography that make it unique and different from one another.

Quick Facts:

  • Population: 47 million
  • Languages: Spanish (99%)
  • Ethnicities: Spaniards, Castilians, Catalans, Basques
  • Capital: Madrid

The History of Spain

We see Spain as a culturally vast and architecturally rich country, but the history of Spain is how the country that we know today was formed. Today, Spain lies on the Iberian Peninsula and takes up around 80% of the area, with Portugal encompassing the remaining 20%.

Roman Hispania

Spain was originally inhabited by Iberians and Celts before the Roman Empire invaded in 206 BC. When the Roman Empire took control in 206 BC, they created the first Roman civilization called Italica, located where the battle near Ilipa took place.

The Romans gave the Iberian Peninsula the name Hispania and helped engineer roads, waterways, venues, homes, and churches throughout the following 600 years. Not only did the Romans influence the structural and civil engineering of Hispania, but they introduced Christianity to the region as well, the most prominent religion of the country that is still practiced today.

The Romans introduced harvesting timber to civilization to make various types of weapons and fuel in return for gold, silver, and different types of literature.

During the Roman era of Hispania (from approximately 200 BC to 200 AD), the region flourished. The Romans helped turned the territory of Hispania into a prolific civilization. However, during the 3rd Century, Germanic tribes began to move into the region of Hispania and take control. These Germanic tribes took over the region from the 3rd Century until the 6th Century and eventually made the city of Toledo their capital on the Iberian Peninsula.

Muslim Invasion

At this time, religion shifted from Christianity to Islam. In 632 AD, the Muslim prophet Mohammed from Arabia died, sending his successors to neighboring territories of the Middle East. By 682 AD, the successors of Mohammed had reached the shores of modern-day Morocco, Spain, and other Mediterranean territories.

When the Muslims arrived in Hispania, the region was vulnerable because of the destruction the Germanic tribes had made on the area, making it easy for the Muslims to invade. What tribes were in Hispania at the time quickly retreated north and left the Iberian Peninsula to become inhabited by the Muslim invaders.

Islamic al-Andalus and Christian Reconquest

The Muslims created a civilization that would be known as the Al-Andalus. Al-Andalus was established in Spain through the journey of one lone survivor from Damascus. His name was Abd ar-Rahman I, and he landed in the city of Cordoba, where he would eventually build the Córdoba’s Mezquita. Córdoba’s Mezquita would become one of the most important and well-known Islamic buildings in the world.

Between the 8th and 11th centuries, the battle between Islam and Christianity was formed. The battle was civil, but there were sacrifices that Christians would have to make.

During Al-Andalus rule, civilians were allowed to worship freely, but with a price. Muslims could practice Islam, but Christians had to pay a specific tax if they wanted to practice Christianity. Because of this, many Christians converted to Islam or left the southern Islamic cities of Cordoba, Seville, and Grenada.

In 929 AD, the Al-Andalus ruler, Abd ar-Rahman III, became a caliph and caused Cordoba to become the biggest city in Western Europe. During this time, the Muslims of Cordoba created medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and libraries throughout the region. While these areas were flourishing, tyranny was setting in for the Christians.

Islamic leader General Al-Mansur conducted approximately 50 raids over a 20-year period to the Christians who had fled to the north. He had cathedrals destroyed and forced Christians to help build mosques.

By 1031, the general had died, and Cordoba had broken into many smaller kingdoms throughout the peninsula. At this time, a group of Muslims had arrived on the Iberian Peninsula from Morocco and northern Africa. This group brought unity back to Al-Andalus, as the Christians to the north were threatening the Islamic population to the south.

The Muslim groups banded together to fight off the Christians, but they were unsuccessful. By 1248, Christians had taken over a large portion of the southern peninsula, pushing the Muslims into what is known as modern-day Portugal.

The Christian Reconquest

In 1492, a civil war took place in Granada between the Muslims and the Christians. Emir Abu al-Hasan of Granada decided that the Muslims would not continue to praise the Catholics of Castilla any longer. In doing so, this sparked a civil war within Granada that was largely backed by the Jewish-rich army. This was the end of the Al-Andalus era.

The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition began in 1478 under the rule of the Catholic Monarchs. Its main role was to ensure that the Catholic Church was protected by potential threats.

During the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition, the Catholic Church focused on Jews. To determine if Jews were practicing Judaism in secret, the Catholics would confiscate the property of Jews. Then, the accused would be displayed in the town and whipped in front of churches.

Some Jews were not so lucky. When Jews were determined to still be practicing Judaism in secret, they would be burned at the stake. The Jews would be tortured first before being burned at the stake. The Catholics allowed the Jews to recant their worship of Judaism verbally or by kissing a cross. This would bring their death quicker; however, they would still be executed. If the Jews recanted by kissing a cross, they would be hung or strangled before being burned.

However, if they only verbally recanted, they would still be burned at the stake, except the burn would be hot and fast. Those Jews who did not recant would be burned slowly and painfully. Between 1478 and 1492, there were approximately 100,000 trials conducted with 2,000 Jews executed.

In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs issued an Edict of Expulsion, also known as the Spanish Expulsion. Under this order, Jews were ordered to be baptized and convert to Christianity or leave. Approximately 100,000 Jews were converted to Christianity, while around 200,000 Jews chose to leave the peninsula for other territories.

In addition to Judaism, the Catholic Monarchs wanted to eradicate Islam; therefore, they conducted the same inquisitions on Muslims. During this time, around 300,000 Muslims were converted to Christianity; however, it was only surface deep. Most converted Muslims were removed between 1609 and 1614.

Early Modern Spain

In 1492, by funds from the Catholic Monarchs, Christopher Columbus set sail to find a new trade route to eastern Asia. Columbus, with 120 men and three total ships, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, finding South America, San Salvador, and other Caribbean islands.

Though he discovered islands in the Caribbean, Columbus believed he had reached Asia. Although he had not reached Asia, Columbus paved the way for following Spanish conquistadors to settle in South, Central, and North America. Columbus died in 1506 AD after claiming the territories that he founded as part of Spain.

Following Columbus’ death, Spanish conquistadors Cortes and Pizarro traveled across the Atlantic and settled in present-day Mexico, Central America, and Florida. Cortes settled in Mexico and gave Spain control of the majority of Mexico, Central and South America, and present-day Florida. Pizarro was credited with discovering present-day Peru, giving Spain control of this portion of South America.

Hernando de Soto is credited for settling large portions of North America, specifically, the southern territories of the present-day United States. Hernando de Soto landed in present-day Florida in 1539. The following year, de Soto and his men settled in various parts of the panhandle of Florida and other areas of the present-day United States.

The War of the Spanish Succession

After Spain settled the western regions, the country flourished. Spain engaged in trade with the western regions in exchange for silver, but this success was shortlived.

The Spanish Succession began in 1701 when Charles II, the king of Spain, failed to produce children during his reign. Because he could not produce children, there would be no one to succeed him when he died. When Charles II died in 1700, he listed the throne to Philip V in his will because he was the grandson of Charles’ half-sister. Charles believed this gave Philip V the strongest Spanish connection to serve as king even though he had French ties as well.

Unfortunately, there was fear among Europeans that France and Spain would form an imbalance of power among Europe. This sparked the War of the Spanish Succession and caused tension between Spain, France, England, Austria, Germany, and Italy.

The war took place mostly in Spain and western Europe. In 1712, Philip V was given the option to become an heir to the throne in France if he would give up the throne in Spain. Philip V declined the offer and agreed that he would relinquish his right to the throne in France under the condition that the Spanish crown is always passed through the patriarchal lineage if present. If there is no patriarchal lineage to the crown, it can then move to the matriarchal lineage. This was known as the Salic Law of Succession.

The War of the Spanish Succession ended with the Treaty of Utrecht. Under this peace treaty, it was agreed that the same person should not rule both Spain and France at the same time; therefore, Philip V remained the King of Spain and gave his rights to many territories. Philip V gave Gibraltar and Menorca to Great Britain, southern territories (Naples, Spanish Netherlands, Milan, and Sardinia) to Austria, and Sicily to Savoy.

The Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella

In 1814, Ferdinand took the throne as the King of Spain. He had been married three times and produced no children during his marriages. Finally, on his fourth marriage to Maria Cristina, he fathered a daughter, Isabella II. Isabella II would become the heir to the throne once it became vacated by Ferdinand, so long as the Salic Law of Succession was revoked.

Ferdinand succeeded in revoking the Salic Law of Succession, but not without a fight from his younger brother, Don Carlos. On his deathbed, Ferdinand banished Don Carlos and requested that the liberals support his daughter becoming the queen after his imminent death.

Ferdinand died in 1833, and the crown was given to his daughter Isabella II. Don Carlos fought on the side of Portugal against the succession of Isabella II to the throne, which sparked the First Carlist War.

The First Carlist War lasted from 1833 to 1839. Isabella’s reign was ultimately shortlived. Though she reigned as the Queen of Spain from 1833 to 1868, her sovereignty was opposed the entire time.

The people of Spain wanted a progressive regime to which she did not meet demands. She had a scandalous public and private life, which caused her to lose respect among the majority of her people. In 1866, the majority of people had begun to rise up against her and her reign. This ultimately led to her exile out of Spain in 1868.

The Spanish-American War

Through much of the unrest caused by Ferdinand and Isabella, Spain was divided. During this time in the 1800s, churches were destroyed, rebels revolted, and the government seized property. This lasted for the majority of the 1800s until the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The Spanish-American War began in 1898 when the USS Maine, a battleship harbored in the Havana Harbor of Cuba, was accused of being sunk by Cuba.

Cuba had wanted independence from Spain for years, which resulted in years of unrest. The United States President William McKinley sent the USS Maine to Havana, Cuba, to ensure that the American citizens were protected. While the USS Maine was harbored in Havana, an explosion underneath the ship occurred and killed 250 out of 355 sailors.

Once the explosion of the USS Maine was made public, newspapers and print media created headlines that blamed Spain for the attack. President McKinley, under extreme pressure from the public, decided to help Cuba gain independence from Spain, thus resulting in the Spanish-American War.

The Spanish-American War lasted for less than a year, from April 1898 to December 1898. The Treaty of Paris was signed in December of 1898, calling for an end to the Spanish-American War. In February of 1899, the Treaty of Paris gave the United States control over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Phillippines.

The Second Spanish Republic & Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936 until 1939. It began when the Republicans and Nationalists locked into a feud with one another. The Republicans supported the Second Spanish Republic while the Nationalists supported the Catholic Monarchy. Each side killed in the name of what they believed. Nationalists killed in the name of God, while Republics killed in the name of Spain.

During the war, it is estimated between 350,000, and 500,000 casualties occurred. Each side had victories throughout the war. With the many changes of power throughout the war, the Republican government moved to Barcelona in 1937. The Republican government took 100,000 troops and vacated Barcelona to engage in a battle with the Nationalists.

The Nationalists would win the battle and cost the Republicans around 20,000 lives. Because of this, the Nationalists were able to take over Barcelona in 1939. The Nationalists continued their conquest and were able to take over Madrid by the end of 1939. On April 1, 1939, the Spanish Civil War had ended.

Spain: 1975 – Present

On December 6, 1978, Spain was founded, but not before enduring the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Franco was a true dictator who ruled the entire territory without allowing any of his control to be relinquished. By 1959, a technologically advanced Catholic group devised a Stabilization Plan to help boost the Spanish Industry. During this Stabilization Plan, there were new roads, waterways, dams, bridges, and power sources created.

This Stabilization Plan was financially backed by the United States government and tourists who were visiting Spain. The Spanish Industry started booming in 1965 when approximately 14 million tourists visited Spain that year. These numbers helped the economy and caused Spain to begin to thrive like never before.

At the same time, Spaniards had begun to express their discontent with Dictator Franco, and in 1973, his prime minister and successor was assassinated. The assassination of Admiral Carrero Blanco required Franco to designate a new successor, so he chose Prince Juan Carlos.

When Franco died in 1975, Juan Carlos took over the throne. The following year, Carlos announced his successor, and prime minister would be Adolfo Suarez. His first accomplishment took place in 1977 when he established a two-party system and had it legalized.

In 1978, a new constitution was written that made Spain a parliamentary monarchy. This means that a king and queen monarchy system is in place while an elected parliament controls the execution of powers.

By 1983, 17 total autonomies were created throughout Spain. Each autonomy had its own governments and was designated to control their respective region. Today, each of these 17 autonomies still exists, with each autonomy having a unique history, geography, and genealogy connected to it.

The Languages of Spain

The prominent language that is spoken in Spain is Spanish. It is estimated that 99% of the population of Spain speak Spanish; however, this does not make Spanish the only language that is spoken in Spain.

Each of the 17 autonomies has a dialect or accent that relates to the region. For example, the autonomous region of the Valencian Community speaks Valencian, even though it is not the recognized language of the region.

The Religion of Spain

Christianity is the primary religion of Spain, with the denomination focusing on Catholicism. With the Muslim and Jewish presence throughout history, Islam and Judaism are also practiced in the region.

The percentage of Spanish citizens who practice Catholicism, either actively or non-actively, is nearly 70%. The remaining 30% is made up of 25% identifying themselves as Atheist/Agnostic/non-believers and 5% practicing Islam/Judaism/other religions.

The Geography of Spain

Spain takes up around 80% of the Iberian Peninsula. This gives Spain a geographical combination of beaches, mountains, plateaus, and forests. The climate of southeastern Europe gives Spain hot summers and cold winters.

There are many mountain ranges in Spain, including the Pyrenees, Sierra de Guadarrama, Sierra de Gredos, and the Sierra Nevada.

The Strait of Gibraltar is only nine miles wide and separates the southern tip of Spain from the northern tip of the African country Morocco.

The Geography of Spain gives way to many ways of life, including lush farmlands, a thriving bird population, large forests for timber harvesting, and large tracts of preserved natures.

The Culture of Spain

Spain had large Roman, Celtic, and Iberian cultural influences throughout history that helped shape it into the country we know today.

When the Romans settled on the Iberian Peninsula, they immediately got to work civilizing the area in ways they knew how. The Romans helped create roads, waterways, venues, homes, and churches that helped give Spain the culture that we see today.

One of the most well-known artists in the world is Pablo Picasso, who was from Spain. Picasso created a variety of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics throughout his career.

Architecture, civil engineering, and art have given Spain some of the most culturally iconic structures and masterpieces that we still admire today.

Spanish Immigration & Migration Patterns

There has been both immigration to Spain as well as emigration from Spain throughout the course of history. Both have played a major role in Spanish immigration as a whole.

Between 1580 and 1640, a total of approximately 750,000 Spaniards emigrated to Brazil. This time period was when Spain and Portugal created a union. Many Spanish emigrants stayed in Brazil and created families in the area.

It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th Century when Spaniards emigrated from Spain once more. This time, the Spaniards emigrated to the Americas to escape the divided unrest in Spain. There was poverty, overcrowding, and few opportunities all across the region, so many Spaniards decided to leave the region in search of a better way of life.

At the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, Spaniards once again had to decide to stay or go. Spain was suffering from economic failure and potential involvement in World War II. Many Spaniards chose to leave for the Americas to escape the economic ruin and destruction left by the Spanish Civil War.

In 1959, Spain was salvaged by a Catholic group that devised a Stabilization Plan. This plan brought back the Spanish economy by creating roads, dams, bridges, waterways, and other long-overdue structural and civil engineering. This plan entered Spain into a free-market and helped give the economy a heartbeat once again.

Spain’s economy began to grow at a rate of about 6% each year. Not only did this keep Spaniards in Spain, but it also influenced immigrants to migrate to Spain for the newly presented job opportunities.

The Genealogy of Spain

To understand the genealogy of Spain, you have to look at it in two ways.

The first way is to look at the history of Spain and the settlers who helped establish the region. When you look at the genealogy of Spain in this regard, it would be common to see Roman, Greek, Germanic, Celtic, and Middle-eastern genealogy. This is simply because of these types of settlers who entered the Iberian Peninsula and civilized it before the region was called Spain.

The second way to look at the genealogy of Spain is to look at the emigrants who left Spain during various migration times. Many of these emigrants left Spain and settled in Brazil, Mexico, and other areas of the United States. Therefore, it would not be uncommon for anyone in these areas to have strong genealogical connections to Spain simply because of ancestors that migrated from Spain to these areas.

The Spanish Genealogy typically yields dark hair, dark skin, and brown eyes; however, as we mentioned in the first example, Celtic and Germanic tribes first settled in the Iberian Peninsula, so it would not be uncommon for someone with Spanish genealogy to have features related to the Celtic or Germanic people.

Caleb Pike
About the author

Caleb Pike is an avid hiker and nature lover, with a passion for exploring the great outdoors. He's a writer, photographer, and adventurer, always seeking new trails to blaze and peaks to conquer.