A short history of Spain from prehistoric times to today – from the author of Ghosts of Spain.
Spain's position on Europe's south-western corner has exposed it to cultural, political and actual winds that blow from all quadrants. Africa is a mere nine miles to the south across the Strait of Gibraltar. The Mediterranean connects it to the civilizational currents of Phoenicians, Romans, Carthaginians, Byzantines and to the Arabic lands of the near east and the Maghreb. The Pyrenees anchors it to Western Europe, with the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal paths on either side permitting species, invaders, cultures, trade and trends to flow both north and south.
Hordes from the Russian steppes were amongst the first to arrive from the north. They would be followed by everything from Visigoths to Napoleonic armies and the first 20th-century tourists in their cars, planes and caravans. Where Romans and medieval Spaniards saw the world's western edge at Finisterre, circular winds and currents actually linked it to the American continent. That is what allowed Columbus to 'discover' the Americas, and Spain to conquer and colonise much of it.
As a result, Spain has been one of Europe's great pivots. At times, like a weathercock, its direction has been dictated by its unique exposure to external forces. At other times, it has grasped control of the elements, shaping not just its own political and cultural destiny, but also that of Europe, as well as parts of North Africa and much of the Americas.
Cultural mixing has provided Spain a sort of hybrid vigour revealing itself in everything from architecture, art and agriculture to philosophy or bullfighting. Conversely, when it has tried to deny the inevitable and attempted to isolate itself, it has required a superhuman effort to fashion a so-called 'pure' national identity.
In España: A Brief History of Spain, Giles Tremlett argues that that lack of a homogenous identity is in fact Spain's defining trait – from prehistoric times to today.
'Tremlett skilfully transports the reader back and forth from the medieval atmosphere and tragic events of Spain's mid-twentieth century, to its modern and sophisticated present' Guardian.
'An invaluable book ... Ghosts of Spain has become something of a bible for those of us extranjeros who have chosen to live in Spain ... A country finally facing its past could scarcely hope for a better, or more enamored chronicler of its present' New York Times Book Review.
'Lively and well-informed ... At once a history, a journalistic inquiry and a travel book' Sunday Telegraph.
'A feast of a book' Irish Times.
'A transfixing, elegantly written account of Spain today' Metro.
'Tremlett writes with humour, modesty and a great affection for his subject' Daily Telegraph