“Spain is different,” claimed a popular 1960s tourist slogan. At that time, Spain was one of the most centralized countries in Europe under the dictatorship of Franco. Following his death (Nov 1975) it soon transformed itself into perhaps the most decentralized country in Europe, and at the same time restored the monarchy after some 40 years.

Tension between unity and diversity has been a constant in Spain’s history, whether under Romans, Muslims or Christians. Rome controlled Spain for about 600 years, far longer than it did any other European country. The Muslims (better known as Moors in the Spanish context) were there for about 800 years before the Christians took complete control. And until 1492, the Jews played a fundamental role in the events that shaped the country.

To understand Spain today, we need to explore the impact of these important civilizations on the culture of the country: its literature, art, architecture etc. Spanish contributions to these fields are significant. For example, experts have voted Don Quixote the world’s greatest fictional work, Velazquez’s Las Meninas the world’s greatest painting and the Alhambra Palace one of the world’s greatest buildings. And there are many other aspects to explore. How did Spain, the world’s first superpower, quickly become the poor cousin of Europe? Why is the Inquisition associated with Spain? How do Spanish cuisine and wine reflect the country’s history? What are the origins of flamenco, bullfighting and the Don Juan myth? There’s much more to explain what makes Spain different.