Monday, December 7, 2009

The Geo-Political History of Spain

Spain is called a State of Autonomies and though there is a Central government based in Madrid, the country is a Federation of 17 Autonomous Communities.  Each community has different powers. Some have their own educational and health systems, second official language, such as Basque, and laws.

The 1978 constitution authorised the creation of regional autonomous governments which cover all of peninsular Spain, the Canary Islands, and the Balearic Islands.

(Study the map of Spain on page R4 at the back of your textbook.)

Beginning in the northwest and moving to the east, the autonomous regions are:

Galicia:  In Galicia they play bagpipes, a remnant of the Celtic peoples who came to live here. General Francisco Franco was from Galicia.

Asturias: Asturias is famous for mining and the King of Spain also holds the title Prince of Asturias, just as the King of England holds the title Prince of Wales. The largest seaport in Asturias is Gijón.

Cantabria:  The most famous town in this community is Santander which has burned in a great fire in 1941. Fanned by a strong south wind, the fire burned for two days. There was only one casualty, a firefighter killed in the line of duty, but thousands of families were left homeless and the city was plunged into chaos. When it was over, the historic part of Santander was almost completely destroyed. The fire destroyed the greater part of the medieval downtown and gutted the city’s Romanesque cathedral.

Castilla y León:  It is the largest autonomous community in Spain, covering an area of 36,380 square miles. The Romans mined gold from the mountains of this region. The Roman mining technique used here was described by Pliny the Elder in 77 AD. It consisted of undermining the mountain with large quantities of water supplied by at least seven long aqueducts tapping the rivers in the nearby mountains. The same aqueducts were used to wash the extensive gold deposits, a precursor of Californian hydraulic mining.

País Vasco:  This means Basque Country and the second official language is Basque (the first is Castilian). The Basque Autonomous Community is currently the wealthiest region in Spain, with gross domestic product  per capita being 40% higher than that of the European Union and about 34% higher than Spain's average in 2008.

La Rioja: This community is famous for the production of good quality red wines.  The harvesting of wine in La Rioja dates back to the Phoenicians and the Celtiberians, a Celtic speaking people.  Many who live in this region speak Basque as well as Castilian.

Navarra:  Also referred to as the "Kingdom of Navara", this region also produced good quality wines. The capital is Pomplona, which draws worldwide attention for the San Fermín festival, from July 7 to 14, during which takes place the running of the bulls or "encierro."

Aragón: The Kingdom of Spain was created in 1492 with the unification of the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Aragon under the Catholic Monarchs Isabel and Fernando. The Kings of Aragón also held the titles of Count of Barcelona and King od Barcelona.  They ruled territories not only the present administrative region of Aragon but also Catalonia, and later the Balearic Islands, Valencia, Sicily, Naples and Sardinia (see Crown of Aragon).

Cataluña: The topography of this community makes for varying weather conditions. The populated areas by the coast in Tarragona, Barcelona and Girona enjoy a milder Mediterranean climate with dry hot summers. The inland part has a continental Mediterranean climate with wider temperature ranges.. The Pyreneean peaks offer typical mountain climate conditions and at the higher elevations, an alpine environment. It snows frequently in the Pyrenees.
In the central region of the Peninsula you will find:

Madrid: Madrid has been capital since 1561 when Philip II (1527-1598) moved the court from Toledo to Madrid. Although Philip did not officially declare Madrid the capital, it was the de facto capital except for a short period (1601-1606) when Felipe III installed his court in Valladolid. On 11 March 2004, Madrid was hit by a terrorist attack when terrorists placed a series of bombs on multiple trains during the rush hour. This was the worst massacre in Spain since the end of the civil war in 1939.

Extremadura:  Extremadura was conquered by the Roman Empire beginning in 155 B.C. In Mérida, they built a bride which is the world's longest Roman bridge still in use. Prehistoric cave dwellers lived in Cáceres 30,000 year before Christ. The region is famous for cork trees.  The Spanish "conquistadors" and explorers Hernan Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, Orellana, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Hernando de Soto, Alvarado, and Valdivia all came from Extremadura.

Castilla-La Mancha:  Located at the very center of the Iberian Peninsula, this region is a high meseta with extreme temperature variance from summer to winter. It is the setting of the famous story of Don Quijote, the lanky hidalgo who charges windmills, thinking they are giants. It is well known for sheep grazing.

On the far eastern coast, called the Levant, you will find:

Comunidad Valenciana:  Comunidad Valenciana is divided into three provinces, from south to north: Alicante, Valencia and Castellón. Agriculturally, it is Spain's bread basket.  The bust of the "Dama de Elche" was found in this region.

Murcia: This region is a major producer of fruits, vegetables, and flowers for Spain and Europe. There are also wineries and olive groves. Murcia is a warm region suitable for agriculture. However the water supply is a hot topic today.  There is little rain and the demand for water exceeds the rainfall. Spain's greatest natural lake is in this region: the Mar Menor (Small Sea) lagoon. It is a salt water lagoon, adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. The Moors introduced the cultivation of figs, dates and pomegrantes to this region.


At the extreme south is Andalucía, Spain's geographically largest autonomous community.  The region is divided into eight provinces: Huelva, Seville, Cádiz, Córdoba, Málaga, Jaén, Granada and Almería.  The tombs of Isbale and Fernando are in Seville.  In Córdoba can be seen a great mosque built by the Moors (shown above). Today the building houses the Catholic Cathedral of the diocese of Córdoba in Spain.


Off the southwestern coast of Spain is the autonomous community of Islas Canarias (shown above). This is an archipelago of 10 islands:  Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, Alegranza, La Graciosa and Montaña Clara.

Of the eastern coast of Spain is the autonomous community of Islas Baleares, also an archipelago. The four largest islands are Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, and Formentera. In the 13th century, King James I of Aragon conquered the islands which led to the founding of the Kingdom of Majorca, which in 1344 was incorporated into the Crown of Aragon, and later became part of the newly united Spain in 1492. The Balearic Islands were frequently attacked by Barbary pirates from North Africa.

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