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Most of Al-Andalus was more or less unified under Cordoban rule for long periods. Astronomy, medicine, mathematics and botany flourished and one of the great Muslim libraries was established in the city.


Later in the 10th century the fearsome Cordoban general Al-Mansour or Almanzor terrorised the Christian north with odd forays in 20 years. But after Al-Mansour s death the caliphate collapsed into a devastating civil war, finally breaking up in into dozens of taifas small kingdoms , with Seville, Granada, Toledo and Zaragoza among the most powerful.

Seventy years later a second Berber sect, the Almohads, invaded the peninsula after overthrowing the Almoravids in Morocco. Both sects soundly defeated the Christian armies they encountered. Under the Almoravids and the Almohads, religious intolerance sent Christian refugees fleeing north. But in time both mellowed in their adopted territory and Almohad rule saw a cultural revival in Seville. The Nasrid Emirate of Granada Almohad power eventually disintegrated in the face of internal disputes and Christian advances.

Alhambra palace by the Nasrid dynasty. Granada saw Muslim Spain s final cultural flowering, especially in the 14th century under Yusuf I and Mohammed V, both of whom contributed to the splendours of the Alhambra p An essential ingredient in the Reconquista was the cult of Santiago St James , one of the 12 apostles. In , the saint s supposed tomb was discovered in Galicia. The town of Santiago de Compostela p grew here, to become the third-most popular medieval Christian pilgrimage goal after Rome and Jerusalem. Christian generals experienced visions of Santiago before forays against the Muslims, and Santiago became the inspiration and special protector of soldiers in the Reconquista, earning the sobriquet Matamoros Moor-slayer.

Today he is the patron saint of Spain. Christian versions of the battle tell of a small band of fighters under their leader, Pelayo, defeating an enormous force of Muslims; Muslim accounts make it a rather less important skirmish. Whatever the facts of Covadonga, by Christians occupied nearly a quarter of the Iberian Peninsula.

Portugal emerged as an independent Christian kingdom in the 12th century.

At Toledo he gathered around him scholars regardless of their religion, particularly Jews who knew Arabic and Latin. Alfonso was, however, plagued by uprisings and plots, even from within his own family. The Castilian nobility repeatedly challenged the crown until the 15th cen tury. This was also an era of growing intolerance towards the Jews and Genoese, who came to dominate Castilian commerce and finance, while the Castilians themselves were preoccupied with their low-effort, high-profit wool production.

In the s anti-jewish feeling culminated in pogroms around the peninsula. The Fall of Granada After Emir Abu al-hasan of Granada refused, in , to pay any more tribute to Castilla, Isabel and Fernando launched the final crusade of the Reconquista in , with an army largely funded by Jewish loans and the Catholic Church. By now the rulers of Granada were riven by internal feuds.

Matters degenerated into a confused civil war, and the Christians took full advantage of the situation. Isabel and Fernando entered Granada, after a long siege, on 2 January , to kick off what turned out to be the most momentous year in Spanish history. The surrender terms were fairly generous to Boabdil, the last emir, who got the Alpujarras valleys south of Granada and 30, gold coins.

The remaining Muslims were promised respect for their religion, culture and property, but this didn t last long. The Inquisition was responsible for perhaps 12, deaths over years, of them in the s. It focused initially on conversos Jews who had converted to Christianity , accusing many of continuing to practise Judaism in secret.

Up to , Jews converted, but some , the first Sephardic Jews left for other Mediterranean destinations. The bankrupt monarchy seized all unsold Jewish property.

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A talented middle class was decimated. In the former Granada emirate he carried out forced mass baptisms, burnt Islamic books and banned the Arabic language. Most around , underwent baptism and stayed. They came to be known as moriscos converted Muslims , but their conversion was barely skin-deep and they never assimilated.

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They stopped at the Canary Islands, then sailed west for 31 days, sighting no land; the rebellious crew gave Columbus two more days. Columbus made three more voyages, founding Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, finding Jamaica, Trinidad and other Caribbean islands, and reaching the mouth of the Orinoco and the coast of Central America.

But he died impoverished in Valladolid in , still believing he had reached Asia. After Isabel Fernando and Isabel entangled Spain in European affairs by marrying their four children into the royal families of Portugal, Burgundy and England. The early deaths of two children left the third, Princess Juana, heir to the Castilian throne when Isabel died in Juana s husband, Felipe El Hermoso Philip the Handsome , was heir to the Low Countries and to the lands of the powerful Habsburg family in Central Europe.

However, Juana, dubbed Juana la Loca the Mad , proved unfit to rule and, when Felipe died soon after Isabel, Fernando took over as regent of Castilla until his death in His annexation of Navarra in brought all of Spain under one rule for the first time since Visigothic days. Carlos now ruled all of Spain, the Low Countries, Austria, several Italian states and parts of France and Germany more of Europe than anyone since the 9th century plus the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and Panama.

To these he would add more of Central Europe and further big slices of the Americas.

Carlos spent only 16 years of his year reign in Spain. At first the Spaniards did not care for a king who spoke no Castilian, nor for his appropriating their wealth. Castilian cities revolted in the Guerra de las Comunidades, or War of the Communities , but were crushed. Eventually the Spanish came round to him, at least for his strong stance against emerging Protestantism and his learning of Castilian. Carlos I s reign saw ruthless but brilliant Spanish conquistadors seize vast tracts of the American mainland.

Between and Francisco Pizarro did the same to the Inca empire. With their odd mix of brutality, bravery, gold lust and piety, these men were the natural successors to the crusading knights of the Reconquista. The new colonies sent huge cargoes of silver, gold and other riches back to Spain, where the crown was entitled to one-fifth of the bullion the quinto real, or royal fifth. Seville enjoyed a monopoly on this trade and grew into one of Europe s richest cities.

Carlos spent the bulk of the monarchy s new American wealth on an endless series of European conflicts and, war-weary, he abdicated shortly before his death in , dividing his many territories between his son Felipe and his brother Fernando.


Felipe got the lion s share, including Spain, the Low Countries and the American possessions. His reign is a study in contradictions.

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He enlarged the overseas empire by Spain controlled Florida, all the biggest Caribbean islands, nearly all of present-day Mexico and Central America, and a large strip of South America but lost Holland to a long drawn-out rebellion. He received greater flows of silver than ever from the Americas, but went bankrupt.


He was a fanatical Catholic, who spurred the Inquisition to new persecutions, yet readily allied Spain with Protestant England, against Catholic France, when it suited Spain. When Felipe claimed Portugal on its king s death in , he not only united the Iberian Peninsula but also Europe s two great overseas empires. However the Castilian gentry s disdain for commerce and industry allowed foreign merchants to dominate trade. Money that didn t find its way into foreign pockets, or wasn t owed for European wars, went towards building churches, palaces and monasteries.

Spain, it was said, had discovered the magic formula for turning silver into stone. The gentry and the Church, which was entitled to one-tenth of all production, led a quite comfortable existence, but for most Spaniards life was decidedly underprivileged. Under a trio of ineffectual kings, Spain saw its chickens come home to roost during this period. Felipe IV Philip IV; r concentrated on a long line of mistresses and handed over affairs of state to Count-Duke Olivares, who tried bravely but retired a broken man in Spain lost Portugal and faced revolts in Sicily, Naples and Catalonia.

Silver shipments from the Americas shrank disastrously. The resulting War of the Spanish Succession was a contest for the balance of power in Europe. He was the first of the Bourbon dynasty, still in place today. This was Europe s age of Enlightenment, but Spain s powerful Church and Inquisition were at odds with the rationalism that trickled in from France. Two-thirds of the land was in the hands of the nobility and Church and was underproductive, and large numbers of males, from nobles to vagrants, were unwilling to work.

Enlightened despot Carlos III Charles III; r expelled the backward-looking Jesuits, transformed Madrid, established a new road system out to the provinces and tried to improve agriculture. But food shortages fuelled unrest among the masses. Two years later, with France s Reign of Terror spent, Godoy made peace, pledging military support for France against Britain. This put an end to Spanish sea power. French forces poured into Spain, supposedly on the way to Portugal.