Andalusia, with its rich mineral finds, flourishing agriculture and proximity to the African continent, has been an important region in Europe since prehistoric times. Neanderthals once lived on the Rock of Gibraltar and in the Caves of Nerja, and a wealthy kingdom known as Tartessos was located here as early as the 11th century BC.
In 206 BC, Andalusia was invaded by the growing Roman Empire as a part of their war against Carthage. The region became known as Baetica and was one of the most prominent provinces within the empire. Remains of Roman buildings can be found in many cities around Andalusia, including Malaga, Seville and Córdoba, which was the province capital.
When the Roman Empire fell into decline, Andalusia was torn between invading tribes from Northern Europe until the Visigoths came to power. Their rule ended abruptly in 711, when general Tariq ibn Ziyad invaded much of the Iberian peninsula and incorporated it into the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate. The following eight hundred years of Moorish rule had a huge impact on Andalusian culture and architecture.
Under the Caliphate of Cordoba, the region and especially its capital became a powerful and influential force in Western Europe. Buildings like the Great Mosque of Córdoba and Alhambra were famed for their beauty and inspired several poems and stories. The Moors later ruled Andalusia from Seville, and last Granada, before the Christians reinvaded the territory in 1492. In the same year, Christopher Columbus left from Palos de la Frontera on the journey that would lead to the discovery of America.
Although trade with the Americas brought great income to Andalusia’s main ports, Seville and Cádiz, much of the money was spent on wars in northern and eastern Europe. When the trade later declined, so did the region’s wealth and influence. Gibraltar was lost to the British in 1713 and the countryside was torn by plague. While other Spanish regions benefited from the industrialisation, Andalusia remained traditional with large differences between wealthy landowners and the agricultural working class.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the region was politically unstable and in economic decline. When the Civil War began in 1936, the region split along class lines and atrocities were committed by both sides. The years following the war were hard, and 1.5 million Andalusians left to find work in other parts of Spain or Northern Europe.
Franco died in 1975, and Spain became a democratic monarchy under King Juan Carlos II. Andalusia became an Autonomous Region that elected its first parliament in 1982. Subsidies from the European Union and the growing tourism industry helped defeat poverty on the Andalusian countryside, but the region still struggles with the highest unemployment rates in Spain.
Andalusia’s rich historical heritage makes it an extraordinary destination for tourists. With beautifully preserved buildings from the Roman and Moorish times, and a rich culture still influenced by the past, Andalusia continues to fascinate and enthuse its visitors today.