22. The Iberian Peninsula
No stretching here, folks. This land mass is a rectangle. And a rectangle full of history – home to wars, revolutions, colonists and lots of great culture.
So, the Iberian peninsula is made up of Spain and Portugal. Countries that, today, may churn out decent soccer players and ceramica, but not much else.
The Moors occupied the peninsula in the 8th century, offering much of the diversity and Muslim influence that touches the Iberian peninsula today. Coming from Northern Africa, these people tried to expand the Umayyad Empire. In 1100, Iberia banded up and launched a “reconquista,” pushing out the Moors and moving onto independent self-rule.
Interestingly, the roots of colonization live in this cute lil’ chunk-o’-rectangle. In 1415 Portugal conquered Madeira and the Azores in America, sending off thousands of ships, navigators and explorers. The most famous of those also came from the peninsula. Once upon a time, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand sent an explorer off to the New World, with three ships and a saga that lives on through holidays and schoolbooks forever. Christopher Columbus, as we know, sailed the ocean blue in 1492. In that same year, the Spanish Inquisition began, forcing all citizens to convert to Catholicism or face death.
Iberia managed to conquer most of South and Central America, including Brazil (Portuguese), Mexico and Colombia (Spanish). Many choose to call this group of countries “Iberian America” or “Ibero-America.”
I’d like to remind my readers that Iberia is not simply home to harsh rulers, brave conquistadors and rich Muslim-influenced art. It is also home to Ferdinand the Bull. A famous pacifist and a fellow lover of flowers, I would like to leave you with his image, and some inspiring words:
“Once upon a time in Spain, there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand. All the other little bulls he lived with would run and jump and butt their heads together, but not Ferdinand. He liked to sit just quietly and smell the flowers. He had a favorite spot out in the pasture under a cork tree. It was his favorite tree and he would sit in its shade all day and smell the flowers. Sometimes his mother, who was a cow, would worry about him. She was afraid he would be lonesome all by himself.
‘Why don’t you run and play with the other little bulls and skip and butt your head?’ she would say.
But Ferdinand would shake his head. ‘I like it better here where I can sit just quietly and smell the flowers.'”
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