Spain has only recently begun to immerge from the legacy of a dictator named Franco into a parliamentary monarchy under King Juan Carlos. What makes Spain so unique is that it only achieved the status of parliamentary monarchy in 1978. Spain was a dictatorship for longer that it has been a parliamentary monarchy. This means that for the first time since the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 and the death of Franco in 1975, Spaniards are enjoying their relatively newfound freedom. Those studying abroad in Spain will become aware of the great turn-around of the country in the span of fewer than 25 years, and the number of tremendous opportunities available for researching and participating in Spain’s rebirth.
But Spain’s rich history goes back much farther than Franco. Few people realize that Muslims ruled Spain for roughly 800 years. Arabic, not Spanish, was the official language of Spain and it was considered the language of the educated and elite. The Muslims brought to Spain inventions, skills, and products ranging from algebra and saffron to irrigation and names for things like apricots, sugar, and rugs. People of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths all co-existed in Spain during its Muslim period; the influence of these three religions and cultures still exists in Spain’s architecture, language, and cuisine. In fact, there are thousands of Spanish words of Arabic origin used daily by Spaniards and other Spanish-speakers worldwide, and there are still synagogues and Muslim prayer towers to be found in the same neighborhoods as Catholic churches. Learning more about Spain’s Muslim past may help you to understand more about Muslim people worldwide and gain an interest in their faith and history.
Spain also boasts one of the oldest tribes of Western Europe. Anthropologists consider the Basques to be the descendents of an ancient people. Known for their ties to the sea, Basques are still famous for their methods of preparing seafood, and men-only cooking clubs are common. The Basques are located in four provinces in northern Spain and three provinces across the border in southern France. These regions are granted marginal autonomy by their governments, meaning that there is a Basque flag, Basque police force and certain rights afforded to the people in those regions in contrast to the separate national flag, police force, and laws. Basques speak a non-Latin based language called Euskara; the true origins of this language are unknown. Some linguists believe Euskara might even be the language of the lost city of Atlantis! Studying abroad in, or just visiting, the Basque country may give you a better appreciation for Spain’s cultural diversity, a chance to learn a mysterious language, and a more enlightened perspective on the region’s troubles surrounding the Basque terrorist group ETA.