National Geographic: The Soul of Spain


In the courtyard of Madrid's Royal Palace

the King's Guard recalls an era of

regal splendor, privilege

and might in Spain's past


But the saga of Juan Carlos is

distinctly modern

When he became king in 1975

he took the reins of government

from Europe's last fascist dictator

He was to inherit a land touched by

forces unlike the rest of Europe...

a land chosen by destiny to become the

greatest power on earth...

then doomed to lapse into decades of

decline and stagnation

In the extraordinary reign of Juan Carlos

Spain has leapt into the 20th century

Un, dos, y...

But as new ideas

concepts, and values flood in

the Spanish people cherish the ways

that are uniquely theirs

Mindful of the grandeur of their past

even as they create a new unknown future

they nurture and treasure the timeless


that illuminate the Soul of Spain

Spain. Dramatic, mysterious, complex

Greatness and tragedy resonate in

its soul

It gave the world the essence of

chivalry in Don Quixote...

the quintessence of cruelty

in the Inquisition

Long after the rest of Europe


Spain remained poor and agrarian

Hereditary noblemen and wealthy families

still owned much of the land

controlled it by the laws and privileges

of their class

Inward looking

the people proudly clung to their

ancient heritage, customs, and beliefs

Who are they?

Where did they come from?

What shaped the Spanish soul?

Lying astride the Atlantic and

Mediterranean on the Iberian Peninsula

Spain has been called "that country

ripped from hot Africa

soldered crudely to inventive Europe

First settled by wandering tribes

from Europe and North Africa

it would be colonized by Phoenicians

Carthaginians, and Greeks

By 19 B.C.

the triumphant Romans dominated the


They would leave their indelible imprint

of architecture, law, and language

Later, Roman missionaries would

introduce Christianity

Led by Arab warriors

in 711 Berbers from North Africa swept

into Spain

Soon their rule and Muslim religion

gripped the land

Working side by side

Muslim, Christian

and Jewish scholars relit the torch of


that led Europe out of the Dark Ages

Cordoba, capital of Muslim Spain

became Europe's most cultured city

boasting half a million inhabitants

when London and Paris were only villages

But through the eight centuries of

Muslim rule

the Christians waged war to reconquer

the land

until only Granada survived as a

Muslim stronghold

In 1492 the last Muslim king

surrendered his crown to the Catholic

sovereigns Ferdinand and Isabella

Through war and Inquisition Spain would

expel not only the Muslims

but all Jews who refused to be baptized

Seeking a westward route to

the riches of India

Ferdinand and Isabella would provide

Christopher Columbus with financial


On the 33rd day of his voyage

Columbus landed in the New World

and claimed it in the name of the

Spanish crown

Spain would conquer huge empires

in the Americas

Gold wrested from native peoples would

finance wars in faraway Europe...

and Spain would become the world's

mightiest power

But two centuries later

its navy defeated

its empire in shambles

Spain's era of supremacy was over

A long eclipse had begun

With the Second Republic torn

by political turmoil

Spain is plunged into bloody civil war

An alliance of army officers,


and the Catholic Church joins the

fascists in rebellion

They are supported by

Hitler and Mussolini

in a conflict that becomes a dress

rehearsal for the Second World War

The death toll from combat

and executions will cost

the nation half a million lives

With the fall of Madrid

General Francisco Franco

commander of the

victorious Nationalist troops

assumes powers greater than those of

any monarch in Spain's history

Nationalist, rightist, and authoritarian

the dictator Franco embarks on 36 years

of repressive control

When World War II rages across Europe

the wily Franco manages to keep Spain

out of the conflict

The role of women remains static

circumscribed by church tradition

and male domination

Physically shattered and spiritually

crippled in the long aftermath of war

the nation will need years to heal

Franco orders construction of the

Valley of the Fallen

to commemorate the Civil War dead

Although named E1 Caudillo

The Leader for life

he knows that someday he too will

find his final resting place here

Believing a monarchy would best

serve Spain

Franco selects as his successor

the grandson of the last king

Born in exile

Juan Carlos first set foot

on Spanish soil at age ten

His father

legitimate heir to the throne

had acquiesced to Franco's desire

to educate the boy

The prince would spend four years

in the Army, Navy

and Air Force academies

attend university

and complete his studies at a number

of government ministries

The nation observes the end of an era

For nearly four decades Franco had made

all of Spain's important decisions

Juan Carlos, rarely seen except

in Franco's shadow

was perceived to be molded in his image

Would the nation again erupt in rebellion?

Juan Carlos swore his allegiance

to the constitution and the people

"Desde la motion en el recuerdo Franco,

viva elrey!"


Viva Espagna!


Perceptive and intelligent

he had privately concluded Spain

must embark on a new course secretly

he had prepared himself for it

To everyone's surprise

he deftly led his people from

dictatorship to democracy

A king who pays taxes lives modestly

and is an avid sports enthusiast

he soon became the most popular man

in the country

His greatest test came in 1981

when parliament was invaded by

Civil Guards

commanded by a right-wing colonel

As an amazed public watched on television

the colonel called for a return to

a Francoist regime

Working through the night

as parliament was held hostage

the king obtained pledges of loyalty

from his principal military leaders

and quelled the attempted coup

His reassuring address to the people

included these words

The Crow... cannot tolerate actions

attempting to interrupt by force

democratic process

Under his leadership a vital and dynamic

New Spain has become an economic

success story

The nation is an eager new member of

the European Community

Its thirty-nine million citizens

have a higher standard of living than

ever in their history

And there is freedom

of religion, of expression

The repression of old has evaporated

A burst of growth has transformed

the nation

Every year Spain attracts 50 million


more than the country's total population

They bring billions of dollars

new ideas and customs

The Spaniards

once Europe's poor relations

have become conspicuous consumers

But behind the facade of modern Spain

echoes of an older way of life still


In the same year that Franco died

so did Don Fernando de la Camara

one of the wealthy landowners who

had supported the dictator

Camar's presence can still be felt

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Miriam Birch

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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