Although Spain has now slipped from second to the fourth most visited country in the world, it still attracts over 60 million visitors a year, mostly from the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. The man who is credited with kicking off Spanish Tourism was General Franco in the 1930’s, but whether this is true or not is a subject of heated debate.
Characterised by beach resorts Spain has it its image problems over the years, but if you venture inland to the Moorish Cities of Cordoba, Seville, Granada and Toledo you will see cultural sights of the highest standards. Spain has no less than 13 Spanish cities granted UNESCO World Heritage status with 42 individual sites in total. City breaks to Madrid and Barcelona are hugely popular with us Brits, but cities like Gijon, Santiago de Compostela, and Vigo are attracting greater numbers owing to the introduction of low cost carriers to the Galica region.
The greatest attractor of tourists to Spain, however, is the sun. Spain has more sunshine than most places in Europe, which has led to the dramatic growth of the beach resorts in the Costa Brava, Costa Daurada, Costa del Sol and so on. Let’s not forget the Spanish Islands, The Canary Islands are out in the Atlantic but just a short distance to mainland Africa, while the Balearic Islands of Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza are practically run by tour operators. All of which receive charter flights in their thousands bringing sun worshippers in their millions.
Spain has only been a unified country since the 15th century when the lands were re-conquered from the Moorish invaders from the 8th Century. The Moors left a huge cultural, genetic, and architectural legacy in Spain which can be seen in south west Spain. Despite its relative youth, the Spanish Empire grew to one of the biggest in the world, which has made Spanish the second most widely spoken language.
Things started to take a turn for the worse when Napoleon invaded Spain in 1793. He forced the king to abdicate in favour of his brother, Joseph Napoleon. Numerous uprisings occurred with the assistance of British and Portugese armies, but the Peninsular Wars were won by the Duke of Wellington, and arguably lost by Napoleon due to his insistence on fighting a Russian front. The whole experience left Spain a greatly divided country, and much poorer after losing all of its South American colonies.
The 20th century brought precious little peace for Spain, with various conflicts including the Scramble for Africa, and the Spanish Civil War. The Nationalist forces of General Franco came out victorious with the support of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and managed to cling on to power until 1975 when he died. It was only then that the current King Juan Carlos was re-throned.