Any traveller to Spain can easily notice its dramatic regional disparities. The contrasts are such that this traveller might well believe himself to have visited different countries. Indeed, Spain is a state formed by different nations with diverse cultures, climates, traditions and even languages. They emerged during the long eight-hundred-year struggle to expel the Moors from the peninsula, the legendary medieval feat known as la reconquista (‘the reconquest’). In 1474, the Catholic rulers, Isabel and Fernando joined by marriage the two most important of these kingdoms, Castilla and Aragón. Yet it never went beyond a marriage of convenience and their heirs were never kings of Spain as such, but sovereigns of a commonwealth of nations whose parliaments and ancient laws they swore to uphold in return for their allegiance. In fact, the vast empire of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in America and Asia was only part of the Crown of Castilla. The nation of Spain was only to emerge in 1715 with the victory of the Bourbon candidate to the throne during the War of Succession. In this conflict, the Castilians succeeded in crushing the regions of the periphery which had backed the Habsburg claimant. Yet the imperial outposts on the continent were lost as well as the island of Menorca and the strategic rock of Gibraltar. However, although Spain was now centralized under Bourbon hegemony, the harsh peninsular topography with its many long rivers and mountain chains made the creation of an integrated national market difficult and perpetuated the reality of distinct nations evolving with different languages, traditions and economies.
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Francisco J. Romero Salvadó
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