At the end of the 15th century, Portugal and Castilla competed to find a new commercial route to India. While Portugal went towards Africa, Castilla began the search for a route to the West across the Atlantic Ocean, in an expedition led by Christopher Columbus.
On the 12th of October 1492, Columbus, with his three caravels, set foot on American soil and this upset the Portuguese who forced through the Treaty of Tordesillas which divided the new territories between both powers .
Two of the most famous Spanish explorers were Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro. Hernan Cortes carried out the conquest of the Aztec empire (nowadays Mexico) and of its capital Tenochticlán in 1521, capturing their leader Montezuma.
Cortes had the help of several tribes who were under the yoke of the Aztecs and also from a local woman known as La Malinche, who acted as a translator between the conquerors and indians and with whom Cortes had a child who he recognised as legitimate. The Spanish language absorbed hundreds of Aztec words such as coyote, tomato or chocolate.
Francisco Pizarro, the other great conqueror, started the conquest of the huge Inca Empire (whose centre would be Peru nowadays) in 1529, taking advantage of a civil war between its leaders, the brothers Huascar and Atahualpa. Pizarro managed to capture the emperor Atahualpa and took the capital of Cuzco in 1537, finishing his conquests in 1572, as a consequence of which, words such as lancha (boat), cancha (court), puma, carpa (tent) and papa (potato) came into the Spanish language from Quechua, the Inca language.
The Spanish territories were organized into viceroyalties under the common code called Indian law. In the colonies, two ethnic and cultural communities lived together: Indians, who were the rural workers, and Spaniards, who were the nobles from Spain. The Indians had individual rights established through the laws of Burgos in 1512,an anticipation of the Declaration of Human Rights. In contrast with other Empires, the mixture between communities resulted in half-bloods.
The American economy transformed quickly thanks to the draft animals and to the cultivation of spices brought from Europe. The European economy also benefitted from the import of products such as the potato, tomato and tobacco.
The missions were very important too, with a big evangelical and educational influence on the indigenous people and their rights. Many of the religious orders present in America founded, along with the crown, the first universities in America, most importantly in Mexico and Lima, which were both established in 1551.
Spanish dominance lasted until the early 19th century, when a conflict between the Creoles, of Spanish descent but born in America, and the Spanish broke out as the former were seen as second class citizens.
In 1817 General San Martín liberated the United Provinces of the Rio De la Plata (Argentina and Uruguay) and in 1821 General Bolivar did the same for Venezuela. After that, Paraguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Peru were made independent. In 1823 Mexico was also given independence, as were the United Provinces of Central America.
Finally in 1898 Spain lost its last overseas colonies in America: namely Cuba, after a war with the United States caused by the sinking of the battleship The Maine, and Puerto Rico.
Nowadays there exists a strong brotherhood between Spain and the Latin American countries, notable not only in the language, the culture, the music and the gastronomy, but also in the hospitality and mutual good reception between the two.