After the fall of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes invaded the former empire, several turned sedentary and created successor-kingdoms to the Romans in various parts of Europe. Iberia was taken over by the Visigoths after 410.
Almost exactly 3 centuries later the expanding forces of Islam, founded in the 7th century by prophet Muhammad, after dominating all the north of Africa, took advantage of a civil war in the Visigothic kingdoms in Iberia, jumped the Strait of Gibraltar, and dominated most of the peninsula. (See also Almohades.) Cordoba became one of the most beautiful and advanced cities of Europe, and an important scholarly center. (See also Abbadides, Almoravides).
In the 15th century, the Muslims were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula, and some of the Kingdoms unified. Spain began to transform itself in an empire, conquering most of South America and the West Indies. The empire reached its maximum extent under Charles V, who was also emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Spain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries ultimately yielded command of the seas to England. Subsequent failure to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions caused the country to fall behind Britain, France, and Germany in economic and political power. The Napoleonic invasion gave the opportunity to the American colonies to claim its independence. By the end of the 19th century, Spain had lost most of its colonial posessions. In the 20th century, monarchy was replaced by a short lived republic, that after the Spanish Civil War was replaced by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Spain remained neutral in World Wars I and II, but suffered through a devastating Civil War (1936-39). In the second half of the 20th century, it has played a catch-up role in the western international community; Francisco Franco ruled until his death on November 20th 1975 when control was given to Juan Carlos.
At present, Spain is a constitutional monarchy, and is comprised of 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities (Ceuta and Melilla). One of the most important problems facing Spain today is the Basque separatist movement, especially the terrorist group ETA.