When was spain first discovered: La Moncloa. History of Spain [Spain/History]

Spanish Exploration | History of Western Civilization II

19.2.3: Spanish Exploration

The voyages of Christopher Columbus initiated the European exploration and colonization of the American continents that eventually turned Spain into the most powerful European empire.

Learning Objective

Outline the successes and failures of Christopher Columbus during his four voyages to the Americas

Key Points

  • Only late in the 15th century did an emerging modern Spain become fully committed to the search for new trade routes overseas. In 1492, Christopher Columbus’s expedition was funded in the hope of bypassing Portugal’s monopoly on west African sea routes, to reach “the Indies.”
  • On the evening of August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera with three ships. Land was sighted on October 12, 1492 and Columbus called the island (now The Bahamas) San Salvador, in what he thought to be the “West Indies.”  Following the first American voyage, Columbus made three more.
  • A division of influence became necessary to avoid conflict between the Spanish and Portuguese. An agreement was reached in 1494, with the Treaty of Tordesillas dividing the world between the two powers.
  • After Columbus, the Spanish colonization of the Americas was led by a series of soldier-explorers, called conquistadors. The Spanish forces, in addition to significant armament and equestrian advantages, exploited the rivalries between competing indigenous peoples, tribes, and nations.
  • One of the most accomplished conquistadors was Hernán Cortés, who achieved the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. Of equal importance was the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire under Francisco Pizarro.
  • In 1565, the first permanent Spanish settlement in the Philippines was founded, which added a critical Asian post to the empire. The Manilla Galleons shipped goods from all over Asia, across the Pacific to Acapulco on the coast of Mexico.

Key Terms

Christopher Columbus
An Italian explorer, navigator, and colonizer who completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean under the monarchy of Spain, which led to general European awareness of the American continents.
Treaty of Tordesillas
A 1494 treaty that divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between Portugal and the Crown of Castile, along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands, off the west coast of Africa. This line of demarcation was about halfway between the Cape Verde islands (already Portuguese) and the islands entered by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage (claimed for Castile and León).
Treaty of Zaragoza
A 1529 peace treaty between the Spanish Crown and Portugal that defined the areas of Castilian (Spanish) and Portuguese influence in Asia to resolve the “Moluccas issue,” when both kingdoms claimed the Moluccas islands for themselves, considering it within their exploration area established by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. The conflict sprang in 1520, when the expeditions of both kingdoms reached the Pacific Ocean, since there was not a set limit to the east.
A period in the history of the Iberian Peninsula, spanning approximately 770 years, between the initial Umayyad conquest of Hispania in the 710s, and the fall of the Emirate of Granada, the last Islamic state on the peninsula, to expanding Christian kingdoms in 1492.


While Portugal led European explorations of non-European territories, its neighboring fellow Iberian rival, Castile, embarked upon its own mission to create an overseas empire. It began to establish its rule over the Canary Islands, located off the West African coast, in 1402, but then became distracted by internal Iberian politics and the repelling of Islamic invasion attempts and raids through most of the 15th century. Only late in the century, following the unification of the crowns of Castile and Aragon and the completion of the reconquista, did an emerging modern Spain become fully committed to the search for new trade routes overseas. In 1492, the joint rulers conquered the Moorish kingdom of Granada, which had been providing Castile with African goods through tribute, and decided to fund Christopher Columbus’s expedition in the hope of bypassing Portugal’s monopoly on west African sea routes, to reach “the Indies” (east and south Asia) by traveling west. Twice before, in 1485 and 1488, Columbus had presented the project to king John II of Portugal, who rejected it.

Columbus’s Voyages

On the evening of August 3, 1492, Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera with three ships: Santa María, Pinta (the Painted) and Santa Clara. Columbus first sailed to the Canary Islands, where he restocked for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the ocean, crossing a section of the Atlantic that became known as the Sargasso Sea. Land was sighted on October 12, 1492, and Columbus called the island (now The Bahamas) San Salvador, in what he thought to be the “West Indies.” He also explored the northeast coast of Cuba and the northern coast of Hispaniola. Columbus left 39 men behind and founded the settlement of La Navidad in what is present-day Haiti.

Following the first American voyage, Columbus made three more. During the second, 1493, voyage, he enslaved 560 native Americans, in spite of the Queen’s explicit opposition to the idea. Their transfer to Spain resulted in the death and disease of hundreds of the captives. The object of the third voyage was to verify the existence of a continent that King John II of Portugal claimed was located to the southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. In 1498, Columbus left port with a fleet of six ships. He explored the Gulf of Paria, which separates Trinidad from mainland Venezuela, and then the mainland of South America. Columbus described these new lands as belonging to a previously unknown new continent, but he pictured them hanging from China. Finally, the fourth voyage, nominally in search of a westward passage to the Indian Ocean, left Spain in 1502. Columbus spent two months exploring the coasts of Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, before arriving in Almirante Bay, Panama. After his ships sustained serious damage in a storm off the coast of Cuba, Columbus and his men remained stranded on Jamaica for a year. Help finally arrived and Columbus and his men arrived in Castile in November 1504.


Shortly after Columbus’s arrival from the “West Indies,” a division of influence became necessary to avoid conflict between the Spanish and Portuguese. An agreement was reached in 1494 with the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided the world between the two powers. In the treaty, the Portuguese received everything outside Europe east of a line that ran 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands (already Portuguese), and the islands reached by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage (claimed for Spain—Cuba, and Hispaniola). This gave them control over Africa, Asia, and eastern South America (Brazil). The Spanish (Castile) received everything west of this line, territory that was still almost completely unknown, and proved to be mostly the western part of the Americas, plus the Pacific Ocean islands.

“The First Voyage”, chromolithograph by L. Prang & Co., published by The Prang Educational Co., Boston, 1893 A scene of Christopher Columbus bidding farewell to the Queen of Spain on his departure for the New World, August 3, 1492.


After Columbus, the Spanish colonization of the Americas was led by a series of soldier-explorers, called conquistadors. The Spanish forces, in addition to significant armament and equestrian advantages, exploited the rivalries between competing indigenous peoples, tribes, and nations, some of which were willing to form alliances with the Spanish in order to defeat their more powerful enemies, such as the Aztecs or Incas—a tactic that would be extensively used by later European colonial powers. The Spanish conquest was also facilitated by the spread of diseases (e.g., smallpox), common in Europe but never present in the New World, which reduced the indigenous populations in the Americas. This caused labor shortages for plantations and public works, and so the colonists initiated the Atlantic slave trade.

One of the most accomplished conquistadors was Hernán Cortés, who led a relatively small Spanish force, but with local translators and the crucial support of thousands of native allies, achieved the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the campaigns of 1519-1521 (present day Mexico). Of equal importance was the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. After years of preliminary exploration and military skirmishes, 168 Spanish soldiers under Francisco Pizarro, and their native allies, captured the Sapa Inca Atahualpa in the 1532 Battle of Cajamarca. It was the first step in a long campaign that took decades of fighting, but ended in Spanish victory in 1572 and colonization of the region as the Viceroyalty of Peru. The conquest of the Inca Empire led to spin-off campaigns into present-day Chile and Colombia, as well as expeditions towards the Amazon Basin.

Further Spanish settlements were progressively established in the New World: New Granada in the 1530s (later in the Viceroyalty of New Granada in 1717 and present day Colombia), Lima in 1535 as the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru, Buenos Aires in 1536 (later in the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776), and Santiago in 1541. Florida was colonized in 1565 by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.

The Portuguese Ferdinand Magellan died while in the Philippines commanding a Castilian expedition in 1522, which was the first to circumnavigate the globe. The Basque commander, Juan Sebastián Elcano, would lead the expedition to success. Therefore, Spain sought to enforce their rights in the Moluccan islands, which led a conflict with the Portuguese, but the issue was resolved with the Treaty of Zaragoza (1525). In 1565, the first permanent Spanish settlement in the Philippines was founded by Miguel López de Legazpi, and the service of Manila Galleons was inaugurated. The Manilla Galleons shipped goods from all over Asia across the Pacific to Acapulco on the coast of Mexico. From there, the goods were transshipped across Mexico to the Spanish treasure fleets, for shipment to Spain. The Spanish trading post of Manila was established to facilitate this trade in 1572.


  • Spanish Exploration
    • “Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_conquest_of_the_Aztec_Empire. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

    • “Treaty of Tordesillas.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Tordesillas. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

    • “Christopher Columbus.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

    • “Spanish colonization of the Americas.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_colonization_of_the_Americas. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

    • “Age of Discovery.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Discovery. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

    • “Reconquista.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconquista. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

    • “Treaty of Zaragoza.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Zaragoza. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

    • “Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_conquest_of_the_Inca_Empire. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

    • “Spanish Empire.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Empire. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0.

    • “Voyages of Christopher Columbus.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyages_of_Christopher_Columbus. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3. 0.

    • “First Voyage, Departure for the New World, August 3, 1492.” http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:First_Voyage,_Departure_for_the_New_World,_August_3,_1492.jpg. Wikimedia Commons Public domain.

Early Spanish Exploration in N. America – Georgia Historical Society

Early Spanish Exploration in N. America

Early Spanish Exploration in N. America

Hernando de Soto was not the first Spanish conquistador to explore the territory of La Florida. A handful of his fellow countrymen, including Juan Ponce de León, Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón, Pánfilo de Narváez, and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, preceded him.

Juan Ponce de León

Ponce de León. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs, LC-USZ62-3106.

Juan Ponce de León was the first Spanish explorer to set foot in the southeastern United States. He was born ca. 1460 into a noble family. He spent some time in the royal court of Spain before entering the military and gaining experience fighting against the Moors in Grenada. After they were effectively defeated in 1492, Ponce de León joined Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the Americas the following year. There, he became a provincial governor of Hispaniola (1502) and governor of Puerto Rico (1509) after he led an expedition to and settled the island.

The Spanish government encouraged the conquistador to use his experience to continue exploring the New World. Some historians suggest that this request was fueled by rumors that a fountain of youth existed on an island somewhere north of Spain’s current settlements in the Caribbean. Regardless of the motivation, Ponce de León set sail from Puerto Rico in March of 1513 to explore the areas north of the island. The next month, he landed on the east coast of the modern-day state of Florida near Daytona Beach. He believed that he had landed on an island, not the continent of North America. Nevertheless, he claimed the entire area for Spain and named it La Florida. After a short time, the expedition left and sailed around the Florida peninsula before returning to Puerto Rico.

Upon his return, Ponce de León began planning a second trip to the newly discovered region. He obtained permission from the King of Spain to conquer and settle the region after being granted the title of governor. In 1521, he set sail again for the region with approximately two hundred men and two ships. The entrada landed near Charlotte Harbor, located along the Gulf of Mexico. Soon after, the Calusa tribe attacked the invading Spaniards. Ponce de León was injured by an arrow in the fight. He and his men then retreated back to Spanish territory in Cuba, where he ultimately died as a result of this injury.

Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón

Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón was a Spanish explorer born around 1475. He owned a lucrative sugar plantation and served as a government official on the island of Hispaniola. After hearing from slave traders about a territory in North America that contained a large native population, he petitioned the Spanish crown for permission to explore and settle the area in hopes of enslaving the native population to grow cash crops such as sugar cane. He obtained a license in June of 1523 that instructed him to explore the area, learn about the region, search for valuable resources, and find out how the Spanish could conquer the territory.

De Ayllón set out to explore the region in 1525. He and his crew created a rough map of the land between modern day Florida and Delaware by sailing along the Atlantic coast of North America. The creation of this map fulfilled the exploration portion of his contract with the crown. After seeing the area, de Ayllón decided to fund and organize his own expedition to create a settlement. In 1526, he embarked for North America with approximately 600 colonists (including women and children) and six ships. They initially landed in Winyah Bay, South Carolina, but de Ayllón determined that this area was unsuitable for a settlement due to its acidic soils and relatively small native population.

The expedition then ventured south. They eventually found an area de Ayllón determined fit for their settlement. Although the exact location is not known, some historians believe that it was on one of Georgia’s barrier islands, Sapelo. There, de Ayllón established San Miguel de Gualdape on October 8, 1526, which became the first Spanish settlement in La Florida. The colonists built a community complete with houses and a church. However, they were unable to plant crops due to the lateness of the year. Colonists, including de Ayllón, soon began falling sick and dying at a relatively rapid rate. Three months after the colony was established, the remaining colonists began a deadly winter voyage back to Hispaniola. Only 150 out of the original 600 colonists returned alive.

To learn more about Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón’s settlement in Georgia, watch the Today in Georgia History episode.

Pánfilo de Narváez

Pánfilo de Narváez was a conquistador born around 1470. He originally participated in conquests of Jamaica and Cuba. He gained the majority of his leadership experience after these expeditions. In 1520 Diego Valásquez, governor of Cuba, ordered him to capture Hernán Cortés and take his place as the Governor of Mexico. De Narváez took an army of approximately 900 to the territory, but he was ultimately captured by Cortés and taken prisoner. He was set free the following year after Cortés received orders to release him. He returned to Cuba afterwards, where he began the process of planning an expedition to La Florida.

The Spanish crown granted de Narváez permission to conduct an expedition meant to capture and settle the territory of La Florida in 1526. After a year of preparation and enduring several setbacks, including a hurricane, he and his entrada of approximately 400 men landed near Tampa Bay in April of 1528. Soon after landing, he decided to split his men up. He took 300 of them on a journey over land while instructing the other 100 men to remain with the ships. De Narváez and his men struggled with the natives along their march inland. Meetings between the two parties often resulted in violent battles. By the end of July, the expedition reached the area near modern-day Tallahassee. At this point their supplies were extremely low, especially in the form of food, bringing the men to the brink of starvation. The members of the expedition left behind on the ships did not follow de Narváez and the overland forces up the coast, causing them to be effectively stranded with little supplies in a dangerous territory.

The men began building makeshift vessels (five in total) de Narváez wanted to use to reach Mexico. He split his forces between himself and his second-in-command, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, and they set sail down the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico in September. The men endured harsh weather conditions and storms throughout the journey, which caused vessels to drift off and disappear along the way. In November, de Narváez himself disappeared and was never seen again. Ultimately, only four men survived the expedition and made it back to Mexico City.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer born ca. 1488/90. He was born into Spanish nobility and eventually made a career for himself in the military. He was one of only four survivors of de Narváez’s expedition to La Florida. Additionally, his written narrative of the event is one of only two surviving accounts. He served as the treasurer and second-in-command of the expedition.

After de Narváez disappeared, de Vaca and his men continued in their attempts to make it back to Mexico on their makeshift boats. However, the storm that ultimately resulted in de Narváez’s demise (which was most likely a hurricane), swept them off track. They eventually reached land again near modern-day Galveston, Texas. There, they encountered a group of Native Americans that welcomed them into their culture. De Vaca and his comrades incorporated themselves into the culture throughout the course of the next four years. He worked as a trader and a healer. His role as healer became more important as several of the natives contracted an illness that we now know was smallpox. Smallpox took the lives of as much as 90 to 95 percent of Native Americans during the period of European exploration and settlement.

By the end of their four years living with the natives, only de Vaca and three other members of de Narváez’s initial entrada were still alive. In 1532 they decided to begin the journey inland, hoping to reach Mexico and return to their homelands. The group spent the next four years traveling throughout the modern-day American southwest by foot. Although a debate remains about exactly what route they took, historians believe that they traveled through modern-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico. At last, de Vaca and the other survivors ran into Spanish slave traders near Culicán. The slave traders helped them return to Mexico City. De Vaca eventually returned to Spain, where he met Hernando de Soto and inspired the young conquistador’s own expedition of La Florida through his favorable depictions of the territory.

Continue to Early Explorations

The story of a Russian woman about moving and Life in Spain

20. 05.2022

Reading time
4 minutes




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Six years ago, the Spanish Bureau helped make the dream of Elena Petrova, who was then chief news editor, come true. The girl visited Spain , fell in love with this country and wanted to live there. There was only one way for her to move — to enroll in a language course at a Spanish school and get a long-term student visa. Now Elena is an entrepreneur, teaches languages ​​and lives in Barcelona.

We asked her to talk about life abroad and give advice to those who also want to move to Spain.

Elena, why did you decide to move from Russia to Spain?

I wanted to leave Russia long before I ended up in Spain. I was 12-13 years old when I first found myself abroad, in the Czech Republic. I really liked the country. Then for a long time I thought about moving to Germany, I even studied German … But about ten years ago I flew on a tourist package to the Spanish city of Lloret de Mar. I started traveling around Catalonia and ended up in Barcelona. I fell in love with this city at first sight! Later I visited different regions of Spain, but I always wanted to return there.

I think Barcelona is one of the best and most beautiful European cities I’ve been to. It has everything: mountains, sea, amazing architecture. Every time a plane comes in to land and I see the lights of Barcelona, ​​I feel happy. I have the feeling that I am returning home.

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Why did you fall in love with Barcelona?

Barcelona has great weather almost all year round. Every free minute here you want to be on the street: drink coffee or wine on the terrace, walk near the sea or read a book in the park. When I lived in the center, I rode a bicycle around the city every day. I used public transport only when I needed to get to the areas on the mountain.

Now I live on the outskirts, I work from home and rarely use transport. The sleeping area has its advantages: a lot of greenery, no noise and crowds of people, a small river under the windows, and a mountain view from the balcony. Living with a dog here is much more comfortable than in the historical center. If you get up early, at 6 am, and go towards the Besos River, which is five minutes from us, you can meet different animals: rabbits, pheasants. And recently, literally under the windows, wild boars came. Luckily, they didn’t stay with us for long.

Is it possible to live in Spain without knowing the language?

Of course, knowing Spanish is very important. And it does not depend on which part of the country you are moving to. Foreign languages ​​are hard for the locals, very few people speak English. I studied Spanish even before moving: I went to the Instituto Cervantes for an intensive course for a whole year. I also had a private teacher, and, of course, I worked a lot every day myself: I studied grammar, listened, read.

When I arrived in Spain, I had an official B1 level. For those who, like me, are moving on a student visa, I would recommend writing the language level below in official documents. For example, if you have an A1 level, then you will take a course of A2, B1, B2 and so on. That is, you will be able to stay longer in Spain as a student who is learning the language. To modify a student visa into a work visa on the territory of the Kingdom, you need to study for three years, it will not work before.

If I could go back in time, I would indicate the A1 or A2 level in my visa application, they may refuse at all without knowing the language. This would save me strength, nerves and money: I would not have to go to a master’s program in order to be able to stay in Spain as a student.

What surprised you the most after moving to Spain?

I was surprised and continues to be surprised by the terrible Spanish bureaucracy. Everything is very long. You need to be patient, without it, I think it’s hard to live here. But it happens that in the same official institution one person will refuse to give you a document, and the other will do everything in 5 minutes.

Russian people, especially Muscovites, are used to having access to any service 24 hours a day. And here the banks are open until 14, well, maybe until 15 in the afternoon maximum. For a working person, solving a problem with an account or a card is quite difficult. Plus, everything is closed on weekends, even grocery stores. Although there are small street tents in Barcelona, ​​Pakistanis usually keep them where you can buy basic necessities, groceries.

How did you convert your student visa into a work visa?

After four years in Spain as a student, I applied for a modification from a student visa to an Autonomo self-employed visa. For this it was necessary: ​​

  • to write a business plan;
  • show letters of recommendation from potential clients;
  • have a certain amount of money in the account;
  • provide a certificate from the university confirming the successful completion of the course;
  • certificates of no scholarships in Spain;
  • a document confirming that I can carry out my professional activities;
  • pay two fees.

I have been transferring taxes to the Spanish kingdom as an individual entrepreneur for three years. Beginning entrepreneurs are given benefits here — in the first year they paid about 70 euros.

Gradually increase the amount. Now I pay about 290 euros every month — contributions to Seguridad Social, an analogue of the Russian pension fund. Plus income tax every three months at a rate of 20%.

What advice would you give to those who want to move to Spain?

Make advance translations of all documents, diplomas and powers of attorney to your relatives or closest friends, including bank ones. Solving problems remotely, in which case it will be quite difficult. In the Consulate General of Russia, as a rule, there are huge queues for registration. The situation has worsened due to the coronavirus. It is better to prepare all the documents in advance — even those that you may only theoretically need in Spain.

Anyone who wants to move to work in Spain, especially if they have children, I recommend saving a certain amount in reserve. It is naive to believe that in a month you will find some cool job and your status, both financial and social, will change. The unemployment rate is quite high. If you are not some kind of super specialist, for example, a programmer or a scientist, the work will be tight. Take off your rose-colored glasses — the first year, or maybe even two, you will have to live on savings.

More articles about «Moving to Spain» — here.

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Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn Magazine — Archive of the 1st issue of 2011 Formation of modern Russian-Spanish relations

After Franco died in November 1975, Spain entered a period of its history called «transition» — the transition from dictatorship to democracy. The Soviet Union followed with interest the process of democratization of the political life of Spain and wished her success on this path. In January 1977, the Spanish government offered the USSR to negotiate the establishment of diplomatic relations. Moscow gave a positive answer. On the Spanish side, the negotiations were entrusted to Antonio Elias Martinez, Director General of the European Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on the Soviet side, to me, at that time a member of the Collegium of the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The talks took place on 26 and 27 January and were constructive. It was decided to establish diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors. In order to emphasize the significance of this agreement, the notes were signed by the foreign ministers of the two countries: A. Gromyko — from the Soviet Union and M. Oreja Aguirre — from Spain. The successful conduct of negotiations on the establishment of diplomatic relations was evidence of the mutual desire of the two countries to open a new page in their relations.

The first ambassadors were S. Bogomolov — from the Soviet Union and J.A. Samaranch — from Spain.

The initial stage of our relationship was complicated. The past pressed. Everything somehow did not stick. Relations between the two countries have long remained, in fact, at zero. Moscow had a poor idea of ​​the situation in Spain, they did not know the people who were in power in Madrid. The figure of Don Juan Carlos I, who became king of Spain after the death of Franco, remained unclear — neither in terms of his political views, nor in terms of real weight in the system of emerging state power in the country. In general, the Soviet leadership did not show much interest in the Spanish theme. In Spain, the differences in approach to the question of the attitude towards the Soviet Union in Spanish society, the inertia of Francoism, were felt. These differences to a large extent ran along a watershed line between supporters of the transition to democracy and opponents of this process. Thus, efforts to develop Soviet-Spanish relations fit into the process of establishing a new, democratic Spain.

At the same time, the stock of mutual good feelings in our country and Spain was large. Such an important resource for the development of relations had to be used, and this work had to be started immediately. And when I was appointed Ambassador of the USSR to Spain in the fall of 1978, before flying to Madrid, with the support of A. Gromyko, I obtained the right to convey on behalf of the Soviet government an invitation to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain to pay an official visit to our country. The invitation was accepted in Madrid with satisfaction. The visit took place in January 1979 years old. This was the beginning of the development of relations between the two countries, which continues to this day.

At the same time, in order to transfer relations between the USSR and Spain to a qualitatively new level, some really large, striking action was required, an event significant for public opinion in both the Soviet Union and Spain, noticeable to the whole world. Such an event could be the visit to the Soviet Union of the King of Spain Juan Carlos I. There were many reasons for such a conclusion. The great role of Juan Carlos in establishing democratic institutions in Spain, strengthening respect on the part of the Spaniards for the head of state, representing all sectors of Spanish society and personifying the policy of national reconciliation, became more and more obvious. It was very important that the king was the supreme commander of the armed forces of Spain, and only he, with his high authority in the army, could ensure the loyalty of the Spanish generals to the normalization of relations with the Soviet Union. Thus, King Juan Carlos I was not only the main, but in fact the only figure who truly acted on behalf of all of Spain.

Yu.V. Dubinin’s acquaintance with Queen Sophia of Spain (1978)

Confidence that such a strategic goal as a visit principle feasible, gave me the very first conversation with the king on the occasion of the presentation of his credentials in October 1978. At that time he expressed the hope that a gradual increase in the level of relations between the Soviet Union and Spain would lead in the future to the Soviet Union and the Spanish king. It was difficult to expect an immediate response. The king did not give it, but the soft nod of his head and the smile that flashed across his face indicated that he not only heard these words well, but also treated them with interest.

At the moment in question, in the autumn of 1978, there was no project for such an action as the visit of the King of Spain to Moscow, even in the form of a working hypothesis. In order for such an action to appear on the agenda of Soviet diplomatic policy, the country’s leadership needed not only to step over a number of prejudices, but also to form a correct idea of ​​the personality of the Spanish king, of his true political portrait. However, A. A. Gromyko, then Minister of Foreign Affairs and one of the most influential leaders of the country, treated the idea I expressed with attention. As early as January 191979, during the first visit to Moscow in the history of our relations by Spanish Foreign Minister M. Oreja Aguirre, the Spanish king was given an invitation to pay an official visit to the Soviet Union. Thus, the start of a big policy towards Spain was given.

It can be rightfully noted that, having ascended the throne, don Juan Carlos I proved himself to be an outstanding statesman with a talent for looking far ahead, setting long-term goals and striving to achieve them, using the entire amount of favorable factors. At that moment, when the idea of ​​his visit to the Soviet Union was just emerging, the king could fully appreciate all the importance that the development of its relations with our country carried for Spain — an influential country, the second pole of the then political world — to get out of isolation, to doomed by her Francoist dictatorship, and the establishment of Spain as an active participant in international life. Another thing is also important: the visit of the head of the Spanish state to the Soviet Union was bound to cause a deep political resonance in Spain. This would not just be a bold, but perhaps a daring step, but its effect on the course taken by the new Spain to reconcile all the political forces of the country, primarily those who were at the forefront of hostility during the civil war, would have a positive significance.

These considerations were supported by the fact that in the very first conversation with the Soviet ambassador the king expressed gratitude for the hospitality with which our people met the Spaniards who found themselves in the Soviet Union during the difficult years of the civil war. The Spaniards the King had in mind were Republicans or their children. His seemingly natural words on this matter actually sounded like one of the most important elements of Spain’s new approach to relations with our country. It would be unthinkable to hear anything like this in decades of Francoist rule. Saying these words, the king acted in the spirit of his policy of gradual and consistent unification of all Spaniards, smoothing out the most severe internal confrontations between them throughout a long history.

The Soviet Union more than once undertook special actions aimed at encouraging the process of democratic reforms in Spain. In 1977, Deputy Foreign Minister A. Kovalev and I took the initiative to have the Soviet Union propose Madrid as a meeting place for the states participating in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, scheduled for 1980. This initiative was endorsed by other participants in the Pan-European Meeting. The gratitude to our country for this step was publicly expressed by the chairman of the Spanish government, A. Suarez, who energetically set about dismantling the past and saw in the development of relations with the USSR an effective way to disengage from Francoism.

The Madrid Meeting of the CSCE Participating States opened in 1980. It broke all records for the duration of events within the framework of the pan-European process and ended in 1983 with major positive results, despite the fact that the confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States was close to its climax at that time, and all other negotiations between East and West were curtailed. The name of Spain was thus inscribed in the history of the policy of détente aimed at ending the Cold War.

Yu.V. Dubinin’s meeting with the head of the SDC Adolfo Suarez (1981)

At the alarming moment for Spain of the coup attempt on February 23, 1981, the sympathies of our country were undividedly on the side of the Spanish democracy. The actions of the Spanish king, who resolutely defended the Constitution and thwarted the coup plot, made a great impression in the Soviet Union. Our leadership then publicly expressed solidarity with all the Spanish democratic forces.

The placement of our embassy was a difficult issue. It turned out that Russia never had its own real estate in Spain. A major Spanish businessman, later president of the famous Real Madrid football club, Ramon Mendoza, helped, at the request of the USSR ambassador, find one of the best villas for his residence at that time. However, the fundamental solution of the issue of a building for the embassy — a matter always difficult — in Spanish conditions acquired an hardly dramatic turn and took almost five years. The fact is that the plot of land bought by the embassy, ​​located in one of the most convenient areas of Madrid, turned out to be in the path of an electron beam between the Spanish General Staff and a transmission station through which communication was carried out with all Spanish military bases. It turned out that any command of the main military leadership of the country, before reaching the performers, had to sweep over the territory of the USSR embassy. The Spanish government did not take this circumstance into account when making the deal. Everything was cleared up when obtaining a building permit. The military, and their voice meant a lot, as they say, rebelled and blocked the path to the start of construction. The Spanish government must be commended: it showed extraordinary goodwill and went so far as to build a special additional transmission tower, thus diverting the electron beam away from our site. The impressive costs incurred by the government paid off a hundredfold: in Moscow, the way was opened for the deployment of the Spanish embassy in a prestigious area of ​​our capital.

Yu.V. Dubinin’s meeting with PSOE leader Felipe Gonzalez (1982)

It was characteristic that in a number of cases when situations arose that threatened to complicate relations between our countries during these years, Don Juan Carlos I found a way to relieve tension by using my authority in Spanish society. It was enough for him to publicly, in front of all Madrid and the diplomatic corps, talk with the USSR ambassador or attend a performance of the Soviet theater.

Preparations for the king’s visit to the USSR took more than five years. But during all this time, the visit remained a long-term goal for the Soviet embassy and served as a kind of pivot around which all the main events of Soviet-Spanish relations were grouped. In 1979, A. Gromyko visited Spain for the first time. The meeting with King Don Juan Carlos I made a strong impression on him. He found a lot of positive things in Spanish foreign policy, especially in its focus on defusing international tension in a principled approach to the Middle East problems based on a deep knowledge of the Arab world, and finally, in its subtle understanding of the situation in Latin America and an independent approach to the problems of this region, an approach respected by the Latin American states. May 1983 years the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain F. Moran visited the Soviet Union.

An important aspect of the activities of the Soviet embassy in Spain at that time was the fight against the slander left over from Francoism about our country’s involvement in Basque terrorism. The crowning achievement of our efforts was the first visit in the history of Soviet-Spanish relations by the Ambassador of the USSR in January 1983 to the Basque Country. From there, after meeting with the Chairman of the Government of the Basque Country, C. Garacoechea, I resolutely refuted this slander in front of representatives of the media throughout Spain. The fact that the words of the Soviet ambassador sounded from the very heart of the Basque Country, and even immediately after another terrorist attack, made a stronger impression on the Spaniards than our numerous previous statements at different levels. His words were heard. It became indecent to talk about the involvement of the Soviet Union in terrorism, and this topic went into oblivion.

Economic cooperation has taken on an innovative character. In Spain, there were several largest joint ventures at that time: in addition to Sovispan, these were Intramar, which served Soviet ships that called at Spanish ports, Maderas Rusas, which was engaged in the timber trade, and Socimex, which worked in the chemical goods market. A plant specially built in Spain produced superphosphoric acid for our country, the shipyards of Spain built the most modern tankers for its transportation to our ports. At 19In 82, we signed a contract for the provision of uranium enrichment services for Spanish nuclear power plants until 2010. It was about the export from the USSR not of raw materials, but of the most advanced technology chosen by the Spaniards in the competition with American and Western European uranium enrichment technology. Perhaps the very first joint venture of a production type in our country was the Soviet-Spanish one. It established the production of telephone sets.

Our cultural ties quickly went uphill. Madrid became the first Western European capital to erect a monument to A. Pushkin, a gift from Moscow at 1981, that is, long before the 200th anniversary of the great poet. Madrid, in turn, donated to Moscow a monument to M. Cervantes, installed in the Peoples’ Friendship Park. The greatest poet of Spain, Rafael Alberti, was awarded the Soviet order on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The outstanding Spanish sculptor Pablo Serrano was awarded the high honor of exhibiting his works in the Hermitage and, touched, donated to the museum one of his best creations — a bust of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Spain enthusiastically welcomed our best artistic teams and our best performers.

Since 1984, a regular exchange of parliamentary delegations has begun.

Finally, in May 1984, King of Spain Don Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia visited the Soviet Union.

On May 11, 1984, the king had a conversation with K. Chernenko in the Kremlin. It included an assessment of both the international situation and relations between the USSR and Spain, and most importantly, there were many good words about the warm feelings towards each other of the peoples of the two countries.

On the same evening a dinner was given in honor of distinguished guests in the Palace of Facets. “Today,” don Juan Carlos I declared there, “we can say with certainty that starting from 1977 years, when diplomatic relations were fully restored, we are on the right track, contributing to progress in mutual understanding and in enriching the diverse relations that exist between our countries.” It was emphasized on both sides that the time required honest cooperation, understanding, trust and mutual respect aimed at mutual benefit and at strengthening the international order. The next day A. Gromyko and F. Moran discussed international problems in detail.

In the following days, a wreath was laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Then Juan Carlos I unveiled a memorial plaque in the new building of the Spanish embassy in Moscow. Immediately after this, the royal couple went to Zagorsk to the Trinity-Sergius Lavra. These were Easter days and they were received by the Patriarch of All Rus’ Pimen IV.

Upon their return to Moscow, more than 400 Spaniards from among those who had to leave Spain during the civil war years, most of them in childhood, were waiting for the King and Queen in the Sovetskaya Hotel. The day ended at the Bolshoi Theater with a performance of Swan Lake.

May 12, 1984 began with a trip to Star City, the heart of Soviet cosmonautics. Acquaintance with Star City exceeded what the king expected when preparing the visit. He expressed his satisfaction to the Spanish journalists with the words: «The Soviet representatives showed us everything connected with their space training.»

Then, in the afternoon, the special plane with Don Juan Carlos and Dona Sofia headed for Tashkent. On May 14 and 15, the king’s acquaintance with Leningrad took place. “We arrived in Leningrad,” said don Juan Carlos, “filled with a sense of excitement, which is explained by the glory, the incomparable beauty of this city, but we had enough opportunities to make sure that reality far exceeds everything we heard.

The king’s visit to our country has caused a huge resonance in Spain. It already meant a lot that of all the foreign trips of Don Juan Carlos I during his eight and a half years on the throne, the visit to the Soviet Union, as noted by the Spanish media, was the longest in time and the most intense in political content. Even more important, however, was that the king visited a country that had been one of the factors that divided the Spaniards for decades. In light of this, his stay in the Soviet Union took on the significance of a call to unite all of them around a policy of national reconciliation.

Felipe González, an outstanding statesman of Spain, considered that in those six May days of 1984, which the royal couple spent with us, a huge, decisive step was taken for the future of relations between the two countries.

True, there were bursts of the past. So, shortly after the visit, the Soviet ambassador, at the entrance to one of the social events, ran into a married couple from high Spanish society leaving from there.

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