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Andalucian History and Culture

 

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Historical Andalucia

Andalucia is a province rich in culture and with long historical traditions; Neanderthal man is known to have lived on the Rock of Gibraltar, so that history can be seen to stretch back 50000 years! In about 8000 BC an influx of North African tribes, known collectively as 'Iberians' moved into the region and established farming settlements throughout.

Tartessos

The Atlantic Andalucian seaboard gained prominence under the Tartessian civilisation. There are great gaps in our knowledge of this kingdom, formed around the city of Tartessos; historians are unsure as to exactly when this civilisation arose or, indeed, what caused it to vanish around 600 BC (it is certainly a leading contender for the origin of the legend of Atlantis) - they are not even really sure where Tartessos was located (although recent discoveries may change that). What is certain is that by 1100 BC the Tartessians were a major power in the area, certainly powerful enough for the Phoenicians to found their nearby city of Gades (modern day Cadiz, possibly the oldest city in Europe) in order to establish trade links. There is a certain amount of evidence to suggest that much of the Tartessians success was due to the discovery of the 'Tin Islands' (the modern days Scillies), giving them access to a valubale commodity in the production of bronze. Certainly interaction between these two great trading nations, and the arrival of the Celts in about 800 BC, must have had an enormous impact on the resident Iberian population.

Roman Andalucia

The next major phase in the region's history came under the Romans, who invaded in 206 BC as part of their struggles against Carthage. Resistance from the native Iberians was swiftly effectively crushed by 195 BC, and by the year 14 BC Baetica (so-called because of the important river Betis (Guadalquivir) which flowed through the region) was one of Rome's most prosperous and important provinces. Over the centuries Baetica influenced Rome, producing at least two Emperors, Trajan and Hadrian (well known to those in Britain). Rome also influenced the region, with the introduction of Christianity in the 4th Century AD - to this day Spanish is probably the closest modern tongue to classical Latin.

Moorish Andalucia

Baetica fell away from Rome in the 5th Century, suffering a series of invasions from a variety of tribes, starting with the Vandals and culminating in the formation of the more permanent Visigoth kingdom. The warlike Visigoths ruled over the region in a somewhat chaotic fashion; so much so that in 711 the Moors, North African and Arabian warriors following the new faith of Islam, were able to invade and overrun much of the peninsula. The region became their home for nearly eight centuries and they permanently marked it with their cultural legacy. Many people claim that the modern regional name of Andalucia derives from the Moorish name for the area, Al-Andalus.

1492 was also the year of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the Americas

The Moorish culture and architecture were not the sole defining influences on this era, although they did leave us with some of the grandest buildings in Spain, for example the Mezquita in Cordoba (a former mosque that now contains a cathedral) and the Alhambra in Granada. Just as important was the fact that the Fronteras region became the frontline in the battle for Christian reconquest. The architecture of the towns and villages - with their distinctive barred windows and mixture of islamic and christian styles - reflects the way in which provinces changed hands so many times over the centuries. In fact, it was not until the 13th Century that Andalucia was reconquered by the Christians, with the seizure of Cordoba and Seville.

Ferdinand and Isabella

The reconquest and the foundation of modern Spain were eventually accomplished through the marriage of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, which united their two Kingdoms. The final victory was the capture of Granada from the Moors in 1492.

1492 was also the year of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the Americas, a venture patronised by Ferdinand and Isabella, which set sail from Huelva province. Consequently there are many memorials and fine museums commemorating this event throughout the region, probably one of the most interesting being sited at the 15th-century Franciscan Monasterio de Santa María de la Rábida, seven kilometers south of Huelva city. La Rábida is where Columbus stayed between 1491-92 waiting for his financial backing. The three ships actually set sail from the nearby Palos de la Frontera.

Andalucia and the rest of Spain prospered in the years following the discovery of America, with Seville being the main port during the 16th and 17th centuries for the import of gold from the New World. Spain became one of the major Powers in Europe, and her influence stretched from the Mediterranean to the Spanish Netherlands in NW Europe. Along with the other great maritime nation of Portugal they began the process of colonisation which has left a hispanic influence worldwide; in fact the Spanish spoken in the Americas is largely descended from the Andalucian dialect of Spanish.

Years of Decline

Unfortunately a great deal of this wealth was spent in waging wars against the protestant North, and against the encroaching Ottoman Turks in the Mediterranean. Andalucia suffered badly throughout this period, and especially during the Spanish War of Succession in the early 18th Century. Realistically Spain was no longer a major power, a point that was reinforced a hundred years later when Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the Spanish monarchy and placed his brother Joseph on the throne. The region saw some of the most important battles in the Peninsular war, notably a naval battle off the coast at Cape Trafalgar and the Siege at Badajoz. This period in Spanish history became known as the War of Independence; one of the consequences of this war was the growth of independence movements in her South American colonies, which had a very detrimental effect on Andalucia's economy for the rest of the 19th Century.

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