Spain, Book 2
Historia de España
Throughout my travels this past year, I have been very blessed in the fact that I have come across some of the kindest individuals in this world, who have selflessly shared with me their time, resources, and encouragement: From the Rodriguez family, who hosted me in their home for almost a month as I interned in Barcelona; to Giuliana and Erik, who had me over to their home in Berlin for home-cooked meals; to Steve and Maragrit, who gave me a personal, historical bike tour of Wannsee and grilled for me; to Eric and Marcel (and Fritzi, who made the introduction) who had me and my mother to their home; to Maestro Voronkov, who has given me tickets to some of the most exhilarating performances; to Miguel, who made sure to show me Europe as I had never seen it before (I mean, the Sacre Coeur in Paris is a pretty epic place to experience Easter!); to my friends – both new and old – who always seem to know my deepest times of need and encourage me; to my dear family and cousins, who have encouraged me in my job search; to complete strangers on the streets and on airplanes who say just the right words at just the right times.
To be honest, I am quite humbled by all of the outpouring of love and attention these past few months – and I have no earthly idea how I can possibly repay everyone for everything they have provided me. Although this past year has been a whirlwind of adventure, excitement, and exploration, I will not lie: they have also been filled with a certain degree of anxiety for the future, loneliness, and uncertainty. Although I know that my future holds exciting things for me, I often forget this fact in the humdrum of everyday life.
I mention this because one very special friend, Manuel, who has been of constant encouragement to me and my endeavors, is one of the individuals who gave me the second book I read about Spain, Historia de España, by Pierre Vilar [English translation: The History of Spain]. The book was given to me by my two closest co-workers from the Francisco Viñas Competition in Barcelona, Spain, when they discovered my blog. This book, which was first written in 1946, was banned during the Franco years. It has since gained considerable influence and the version which I received was published in 2009 by the publisher Crítica. (One thing that I will mention is that the book is in Spanish and so the quotes are likewise in Spanish. For those non-Spanish speakers, I would suggest looking up translations via Google Translate.)
The first section of the book is entitled “El Medio Natural y los Orígenes del Hombre.” This section particular focuses on the geography of the Iberian Peninsula and how the geography of Spain has ensured that it had a singular history: close to the African continent, isolated from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees and the ocean, and barriers to transportation within the country itself (i.e. no important river systems.)
The second section of the book is entitled “Los Grandes Rasgos de la Historia Clásica: La Edad Media.” It focuses on the advancement of Islam on the continent, which started in the 8th century and exerted a considerable influence which lasted between 300 and 800 years depending upon the region. The author notes the importance of this era by saying, “En resumen, la Edad Media conoció un Islam español lleno de vida y de originalidad, cuya riqueza, pensamiento y compejidad prepararon, no menos que la Reconquista Cristiana, las grandes realizaciones de la España futura.” (page 33) The following section subsequently focuses on the Reconquista, or the Reconquest, which lasted from the 700s (the first Islamic invasion) to the fall of Grenada in 1492. The author particular notes the importance of the Reconquest for the identity of Castilla, which was the only state to continue fighting the Moors after the 14th century. (It is also important to note that the Spanish that is most spoken today is Castilian Spanish – this kingdom really became the front runner of Spanish identity.)
The third section is entitled “Los Grandes Rasgos de la Historia Clásica: Los Tiempos Modernos,” which deals with the years from 1479 to 1598, in which Spain became united and created one of the largest empires the world had ever seen in the Americas. As the author notes, “Tres reinados y poco más de un siglo. Este tiempo bastó para proporcionar a España uno de los más brillantes triunfos que la historia conoce. Éxito demasiado rápido, ciertamente, para poder asegurar su solidez; y que será seguido de profunda decadencia. Pero esta época ha dejado a España el orgullo legítimo…” (page 59) In other words, during this short time, religious unity was achieved (albeit, through often horrifying means and forced assimilation), a modern state was created, and an empire was formed. It was too brief a time to achieve all of this solidly and Spain was pushed to its limits.
The fourth section is entitled “Los Grandes Rasgos del Período Contemporáneo” and discuses Spain’s challenges in entering into the modern world. Although in these early eras, Spain was still quite diverse, “España afirmó su cohesion, su valor de grupo” (page 120) through the Napoleonic era and the War for Independence. This section also discusses the political and governmental changes that occurred in Spain throughout the 1800s – multiple constitutions, experimentations with a Republic , and the return to monarchy - as well as some of the social challenges in society.
The fifth and final section is entitled “Las Crisis Contemporáneas” and discusses the events leading up to the rise of the dictatorship of Franco. In 1931, a Republic in Spain was reestablished, following the fall of the monarchy. The Republic, however, was short-lived, as Civil War broke out in 1936. The author notes that there were many problems with the Republic. Interestingly, “La Constitución fue creada sobre el modelo de la de Weimar, la más democrática en Europa… [con] sufragio universal, extendido a las mujeres y a los soldados.” (page 187) However, the new-found Republic lacked infrastructure: a decent school system, challenges with the place of religion in a modern society, the strength of the military, and the differences between different regions. As it was written during the era of Franco, the book then offers a brief analysis of the Franco regime and what it meant for the development of Spain.
I found this book incredibly interesting because it provided me a sense of the diversity of Spain from a historical perspective, and then provided me with an understanding on how the country went about developing into a nation. It is a concise book and provides a very interesting and thought-provoking overview into a history about which I knew very little. Thank you Manuel and Silvia!
Please feel free to comment on these topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions!