How Much Do You Know About the History of Spain?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: Jakraphan Inchukul/Moment/Getty Images

About This Quiz

From a cultural crossroads in early European history, to a major, colonial world power during the Renaissance years, to an economic powerhouse of the European Union today, Spain's history has never been uneventful. Unfortunately, many Americans only learn the parts of Spanish history that influenced U.S. history — like a certain explorer's voyage in 1492. And, of course, you might have heard a little bit about a thing called the Spanish Inquisition. (Try not to look too long at the pictures). 

Maybe, though, you know a bit more than that about the history of Spain. After all, in recent years, it became a very popular tourist destination (though Iceland has recently surpassed it as That Place All Your Hipster Friends Are Going). If you traveled to Spain during its mid-2000s tourism boom, it's likely that you learned some things about this fascinating country. There's a lot to learn, and a lot of art and architecture to see. And historical sites: Spain was where some of the most adventurous, travel-happy peoples of the world rubbed elbows; this includes the Celts, the Moors, the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians. 

Are you ready to put your your knowledge of Spain to the test? Fix yourself some tapas and settle in to take our quiz!

The country of Spain occupies most of a region called the _________.

The Iberian Peninsula is the large "knob" of land that forms the southwest part of Europe. Most, but not all, of it is the nation of Spain. The Strait of Gibraltar, in contrast, is a body of water.

One of these peoples did NOT live on the Iberian peninsula in its very early history. Which one is it?

Greeks, Carthaginians and Phoenicians all ventured out from their Mediterranean homelands to the Iberian Peninsula. The Celts, whom we associate more the the British Isles, had a presence as well. But the Ainu were an early, indigenous Japanese people.

Who gave the peninsula the name "Hispania" around 200 B.C.?

200 B.C. was during the boom times of the Roman Empire, and they ruled much of the peninsula and gave us the name from which we derive our modern word "Hispanic." The Visigoths, one of the northern tribes that brought down the Roman empire, came later.

Which of these was NOT an early kingdom on the Iberian peninsula?

Latium was a region on the Italian peninsula prior to the Roman empire, and long before modern Italy. It's where we get the word "Latin." Aragon, Castile, Leon and Navarre, in contrast, were all important regions/kingdoms in early Spain.

In the ninth century, which of these became an independent country?

Portugal occupies much of the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula. Though it is considered to have been founded in 868, its independence was shaky until about the 12th century, when the Treaty of Zamora recognized its status.

Which of these Spanish cities is a port founded by the Phoenicians?

Cadiz might be the oldest continuously inhabited city in all of Europe. Today, this city on a bay is an important port for the Spanish navy, but not very highly populated compared to cities like Barcelona, Madrid or Toledo.

Which city, dating back to the 9th century, became the current capital of Spain?

Madrid is also Spain's largest city and its cultural center. Despite the similarity to the Spanish word "madre," for "mother," "Madrid" takes its name from an Arabic word meaning "place of plentiful water."

Queen Isabella the first was queen of which Spanish kingdom?

Isabella I married Ferdinand, the king of Aragon, and this paved the way for a united Spain under the rule of their son. She herself was known as an enlightened ruler who set up a time for citizens to come to her and Ferdinand with grievances, in an early version of the "town hall" that politicians use today.

Isabella also famously sponsored whose exploratory journey?

Many schoolchildren know the rhyme, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." It was Isabella who put the wind in his sails, metaphorically, by providing compensation for his expenses from the royal treasury.

What was the name of Isabella and Ferdinand's son?

Philip II was the great leader of the Spanish Golden Age, when the nation had an expansive empire, including England and Ireland. And, of course, he ruled over the chain of islands that still bears his name: the Philippines.

Philip II was part of which powerful royal house?

Isabella's daughter Joanna was married off to Philip I, and this began the era of Habsburg rule in Spain. The Habsburgs oversaw a sizable empire, and for good measure, the Habsburg king Charles I was named Holy Roman Emperor as well.

Torquemada was an infamous figure in what historical event?

The word "Inquisition" doesn't really convey the horror of what happened in Spain, (and also in Roman lands and in Portugal). Thousands were tortured or executed as the government tried to root out heretics among Jews and Muslims who supposedly had converted, but were suspected of still practicing their faiths in secret.

In the 16th century, Catherine of Aragon was famously married to which English king?

Catherine was the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand (it's almost impossible to overstate the importance of that royal couple). A powerful woman in her own right, Catherine took on her husband's royal duties when he was traveling. Unfortunately, Catherine's failure to have a surviving son paved the way for Anne Boleyn to replace her as queen.

Earlier, in 726, much of Spain became part of the Umayyad Caliphate. This means it was ruled by which people?

The Moors were Muslims from North Africa. However, the meaning of the word "Moors" expanded so much that by Shakespeare's day, his audiences would have understood it to mean indigenous people of the newly discovered Americas.

What were the "taifas"?

The Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba fractured into these small principalities, numbering about 33. The most powerful among them was the Taifa of Seville, which succeeded in conquering some of its neighbors.

The gradual re-taking of Spanish land from the Moors was called the ______.

This one was probably easy if you know some Spanish, or just the Spanish word "conquistador," meaning "conqueror." The Reconquista began with a Christian victory at the Battle of Covadonga, but wasn't over for another 800 years.

What is the Alhambra?

Though the name sounds Spanish to modern ears, it is actually Arabic, meaning "the red one." If you've got the travel bug, you can still see the Alhambra today; it is a beloved tourist destination in Spain.

What resource did the Spanish find in the New World and import in great quantities to Europe?

The true cost of Latin American silver, however, was very high. Native miners died in large numbers of mercury poisoning, because mercury was used to refine the silver. The influx of silver to Spain cause an economic boom at first, but then inflation and financial troubles.

Which of these explorers was chiefly responsible for the fall of the Aztec empire?

The history of Cortes's conquest and the downfall of Moctezuma, the Aztec leader, is too complicated to sum up here. Suffice it to say that it ended with Moctezuma's death and the establishment of "New Spain" in the Aztec capital — which we now know as Mexico City.

The incredible size of the Spanish Empire led to Spanish being, today, the world's _____ most-spoken language.

Only Mandarin Chinese has a larger group of speakers. Spanish is the official or most-spoken language of most Central American and South American countries, with the notable exception of Brazil, which uses Brazilian Portuguese.

One of the great writers of the Spanish Golden Age was Miguel Cervantes. What is he best known for?

Some literature scholars consider "Don Quixote" (as it's often called, for short) the first novel. However, others point of the earlier "The Tale of Genji" by Lady Murasaki. Either way, "Don Quixote" is an achievement that has stood the test of time.

What role did Spain have in World War I?

This doesn't mean that there wasn't strong feeling within the country about the rightness of one side or the other, which predictably fell along political lines. Spanish liberals favored the Allied Powers, but they were outnumbered by conservatives who supported the Central Powers — foreshadowing the political developments of the 1930s.

In what decade did the Spanish Civil War take place?

While religion fueled many of Spain's earlier wars, the Civil War was typical of the 20th century, in that it was a clash between political factions — liberals/anarchists versus fascists/nationalists — and the underlying tension was economic. The nationalist side, led by General Franco, won out.

What was General Franco's first name?

Most people are familiar with the last name "Franco," and the term "Francoist Spain," but fewer, probably, know his full name: Francisco Franco Bahamonde. (Sidebar: We're sorry about "James" and "Dave." Sometimes, we simply cannot help ourselves).

Which of these famous painters was NOT Spanish?

Spain has produced many world-renowned painters and sculptors, and all three artists above are among that number. Not to mention, of course, Spain's contributions to other art forms like music, literature and dance.

Another of Spain's famous painters wasn't Spanish by birth, as is clear from his nickname, _________.

This 16th-17th century artist (his life spanned the end of one century and the beginning of the next) was actually named Domenikos Theotokopoulos. If you haven't seen his "View of Toledo," Google it now — the gorgeous colors evoke a wild, windy, pre-thunderstorm afternoon.

What role did Spain play in World War II?

General Franco kept Spain out of World War II despite his and his government's strong ideological similarities to the Axis Powers. Franco did meet with Hitler about the possibility of entering the war, but demanded so much in the way of resources and military support that Hitler angrily departed. It's possible that Franco's demands were deliberately too high, a ploy to keep Spain out of the war without directly opposing Hitler.

By virtue of its nearness, Spain has had a strong influence on which African nation?

Morocco is a northwest African nation; on a world map, you can see that the tip of the Iberian Peninsula nearly touches it. Morocco was divided into French and Spanish protectorate territories in the early 20th century, but is independent today.

Pablo Picasso created a famous painting to commemorate the bombing of which city?

Guernica was a Basque town in northern Spain. The Nazis bombed it at the request of General Franco, as part of Franco's push northward to the strategically key city of Bilbao. Picasso's "Guernica" is notable for showing animals — a bull and horse — as among the suffering victims.

The form of the Spanish language now spoken in Spain is called ... ?

Castilian Spanish is named for the historical kingdom and region of Castile. It's known for its lisped "s," a custom that is not shared by Latin American Spanish.

What is Catalan?

Catalonia is a region in northeastern Spain; Barcelona is part of it, and its language is Catalan (though Spanish is still widely spoken. The region can trace its roots to the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand and the joining of their territories, and this legacy might be part of what fuels the desire for Catalan independence to this day.

True or false: The monarchy in Spain was never actually abolished.

Spain has a modern constitution and parliament, to be sure. But it also has a royal family. Felipe the Sixth took over after a long reign by his father, King Juan Carlos, who stepped down in 2014.

Which of these microstates is surrounded by Spain, but has been independent since 1278?

We should clarify: Andorra ceased to be part of Spanish Aragon in 1278. It was, however, a French holding until early in the 19th century. Today, this tiny landlocked state enjoys some of the highest life expectancy in the world.

Which of these Spanish cities hosted the Olympics in 1992?

Barcelona is a port city on Spain's northeastern coast. With or without a marquee event like the Olympic Games, Barcelona is a very popular tourist destination for travelers to Europe.

"Infanta" is the Spanish name for a ...?

The male version of this title was "Infante." Doesn't sound very mature, does it? Though you don't hear the term much anymore, there are today five "infantas" as part of Spain's royal family.

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