The History of Spain in a Dozen Maps

Leer esto en castellano

1. Prehistory, 30 000 B.C.

In prehistoric times, the Iberian Peninsula was clearly the place to be – as attested by this map:

Prehistoric sites in Spain / Sitios prehistóricos en España [Courtesy of Jesús of the blog La Mar de Historias]
Now a year ago I had a great holiday in Ribadesella in Asturias – one of those places where only the Spanish (and American surfers) go on holiday to and it’s very useful to be actually able speak Spanish. You can find it on the map above where it says Tito Bustillo.

The Tito Bustillo Cave, some ten-fifteen minutes walk from the centre of Ribadesella, is a UNESCO World Heritage site (like the much better known Altamira). It was only discovered in the 1960s by a group of young people who evidently had nothing better to do and it’s named after one of them who died young in a caving accident. Cave paintings and stone age tools were found in the cave, the oldest paintings being about 30 thousand years old. In a hidden corner there are some paintings of… er… female genitalia which were, appropriately enough, discovered by a female member of the caving party who looked for some privacy to relieve herself. Or at least, so the tour guide says. 🙂

2. Carthaginian and Greek Settlements 300 BC

The first division of this continent towards the west is Iberia, as we before stated. The greater part of this country is but little fitted for habitation; consisting chiefly of mountains, woods, and plains covered with a light meagre soil, the irrigation of which is likewise uncertain The part next the north, which borders on the ocean, is extremely cold, and besides its rugged character, has no communication or intercourse with other [countries], and thus to dwell there is attended with peculiar hardship. Such is the character of this portion; on the other hand, almost the whole of the south is fertile, especially what is beyond the Pillars [of Hercules]…

Geography by Strabo

Phoenician/Carthaginian and Greek colonies on the Iberian peninsula 3rd century B.C. [Map by CanBea87 via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0]
The Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons were clearly not the only people who appreciated the Iberian Peninsula. In addition to the ubiquitous Celts inhabiting the inland, the enterprising Phoenicians (Carthaginians) soon showed up on the Mediterranean coast, closely followed by the Greeks.

Recommended reading: Geography, Book III by Strabo

3. Hispania (Roman Spain, 125 A.D.)

Roman aqueduct in Segovia / Acueducto romano en Segovia

The Romans bequeathed Spain their language, their laws and their aqueducts, among other things. Spain for her part gave the Romans Trajan, Hadrian and Seneca.

This Hispania produces tough soldiers, very skilled captains, prolific speakers, luminous bards. It is a mother of judges and princes; it has given Trajan, Hadrian, and Theodosius to the Empire.

(Latinius Pacatus Drepanius)

The following map speaks for itself if you are blessed with some linguistic ability and/or a basic knowledge of the geography of the Iberian peninsula:

The Roman province of Hispania in 125 A.D. [Public domain via Wikipedia]
A Game of Spot the Towns 🙂


  • Cordóba
  • Toledo
  • Valencia


  • Cádiz
  • Cartagena
  • Tarragona


  • Zaragoza
  • Mérida
  • León

Plus points for identifying which modern town is Brigantium (without looking it up on Widipedia)!

Feel free to leave your solutions in the comments below. :) Or wait to find out the answers on Waterblogged next week.

4. Visigothic Spain, 700 AD

The provinces of Visigothic Spain [Image by Medievalista via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0]
Really, it was a procession… one nation after another, as bad as the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe, that infamous graveyard of nomadic nations.

Celts, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans… and after the Romans came the Visigoths. (Nor were they the last ones!)

The Visigoths came, saw, conquered and then were conquered in due course by the Moors from Africa. The honour of losing the kingdom to the Moors fell to King Roderick – of whom I have already written as much elsewhere as was worth writing (link at the end of the post).

Recommended reading: The Lament of King Roderick

5. Reconquista – The Reconquering of Spain from the Moors, 756 AD – 1492 AD

Out through the Quarter Towers full armed away they went.
The lord Cid and his henchmen did counsel and consent.
Levies they left behind them, the gates to watch and keep.
On the steed Bavieca sprang the lord Cid with a leap.
Fair trappings and caparisons girded that steed about.
With the standard from Valencia forthwith they sallied out.

Were with the Cid four thousand less but a score and ten,
They came gladly to a battle against fifty thousand men.

The Poem of the Cid

The progress of the reconquista 914-1492 [By Macucal via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0]

The Mural El Cid Campeador by Cándido Pérez Calma [Photo by Lumiago via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
For a much more detailed and interactive map with photos and and explanations (only for Spanish speakers, although Google Translate could be your friend if you don’t speak Spanish), see Explore the Med.

One of my favourite times of Spanish history and literature, the reconquista – the reconquering of the peninsula from the Moors – was a period of confusion, legends, strange alliances and El Cid.

Recommended reading: 
The Poem of the Cid 
Sidi by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

6. Castile, the Land of Castles

The Alcázar of Segovia

I don’t know how many of you know but Castile, originally a county of the kingdom of León and then an independent kingdom in her own right, got her name from the castles that proliferated on her land during the reconquista. The following map is taken from and only shows the fortications in what is now the province of Castile and León. They amount to a whopping 627 and many still are standing. Castle buffs, Spain can keep you happy for a lifetime! 🙂

Castile and León: 627 fortifications. [Map by]

7. Cortés in Mexico 1520 A.D.

And Pizarro in Peru. And Balboa in Panama. Not to mention the man who started it all – Colombus in the Caribbean…

So, with luck on our side, we boldly entered the city of Tenochtitlan or Mexico on 8 November in the year of our Lord 1519…

The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz del Castillo

A map of the Spanish discoveries would have been perhaps more informative here, but I ended up choosing a simple city map (I couldn’t resist it):

Map of Tenochtitlan, 1520 [Public domain via Wikipedia]
One of the great cities of the world at the time: Tenochtitlán- before Cortés destroyed it.

Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular - A Swimming Challenge!

Although this is not a 'sporty' blog, I'm in fact a keen swimmer and the search for this map resulted in my devising a new swimming challenge: the Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular Swim - which with a bit of necessary geographic licence I make out to be 14,700 metres.

If anybody has a better estimate of the distance involved in swimming around Tenochtitlán before Cortés destroyed it, please leave a comment below. I mainly based the estimate on the map of the Mexico Valley in 1519, available on Wikipedia.

Health permitting I'll be swimming the Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular later this year (I'm currently doing a different challenge) - you're welcome to join in. :) 

As Juvenal wrote: Mens sana in corpore sano. (A healthy mind in a healthy body.)
Recommended reading: 
The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz del Castillo
Flight into Immortality by Stefan Zweig

8. The Empire on which the Sun Never Set

Diachronic map of the Spanish Empire [By Nagihuin via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0]
There must be maps out there that are much easier to make sense of (there’s such a thing as too much information) but this diachronic map of the Spanish Empire was clearly a work of love and once again, I couldn’t resist. I seldom upload full size images to Waterblogged, but the only way you can truly enjoy this map is by zooming in – so go right ahead. 🙂 Explore!

At its fullest expansion the Spanish Empire consisted of some 20 million square kilometres and was present on every continent minus Antarctica. Many English speakers are familiar with the phrase the empire on which the sun never set (which, by the way, originated with my darling Herodotus) – well, contrary to popular belief, it was not coined for the British Empire but for the Spanish, by a courtier of Carlos V.

Recommended reading: 
The Samurai by Shusaku Endo
Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa
No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel García Márquez

9. The Wanderings of Don Quijote

The travels of Don Quijote [Map by lclcarmen3, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]
Can’t talk about Spanish history, and especially not on a blog of books, without mentioning Don Quijote. If you belong to the hiking fraternity, there is in fact a Ruta de Don Quijote in Castile-La Mancha, a series of walking routes which traces the footsteps of the famous and ingenious hidalgo… to places like this:

Campo de Criptana, Castilla-La Mancha
Recommended reading: 
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene

10. The Peninsular War

The Spanish War of Independence – in the province of Cuenca [By Mira via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0]
Originally, I was going to treat you to a full map of the Peninsula with all the battles marked by the traditional crossed swords but I thought better of it. To begin with, it’s not easy to find such a map, and when you consider that the page listing in Wikipedia on the battles of the Spanish War of Independence, better known in English as the Peninsular War, runs to a full 150 entries, it’s not difficult to see the reason why. So instead enjoy this map of the neighbourhood of the charming Cuenca in Castile-La Mancha, fully developed with battle locations, armories, army routes and military hospitals…!

Recommended reading:
The Siege by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

11. The Bible in Spain, 1830s

The travels of George Borrow during the 1830s

I could have put here a map of the Carlist Wars, but there is such a thing as too many wars, even when we’re talking of Spanish history. Or especially when we’re talking of Spanish history.

So instead, another literary map (much more appropriate to a book blog): the travels of George Borrow, a lowly employee of the Bible Society in London, who peddled a forbidden translation of the Bible up and down the land of Spain during the Carlist Wars. His various journeys are shown in red, blue, yellow and green – a combined effort on Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s and my part. And I warmly recommend you all The Bible in Spain, the book that resulted from his experiences. A truly entertaining read!

Recommended reading: The Bible in Spain by George Borrow (of course!)

12. UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain [By NordNordWest via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0]
As we had too many wars already, we’re now going to shamelessly bypass the Civil War of 1936-39. Instead, we’re going to finish with something much more pleasant: a map of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Spain. (And it doesn’t even mark Covadonga or Campo de Criptana and many other charming places.) Why not use it to pick your next holiday destination? 🙂

You might also like:
A Brief (Literary) History of the ReconquistaAsturias Is Spain... Castillosnet.orgTito Bustillo CaveLand of GiantsSave the Trinidad (The Unwritten Biography of Cayetano Valdés)Ruta de Don Quijote (Don Quixote Route) - a hiking trail

One thought on “The History of Spain in a Dozen Maps

  1. Pingback: The History of Spain in a Dozen Maps — Waterblogged Arwen1968, follow this to their pages foor much more. Presented this addition to the History of Spain. My DNA says that I am 2% Iberian. Probably from the sunken Spanish Armada and Ireland taking in fl

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