From the late fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, the Hispanic Monarchy was one of the largest and most diverse political communities known in history. At its apogee, it stretched from the Castilian plateau to the high peaks of the Andes; from the cosmopolitan cities of Seville, Naples, or Mexico City to Santa Fe and San Francisco; from Brussels to Buenos Aires and from Milan to Manila. During those centuries, Spain left its imprint across vast continents and distant oceans contributing in no minor way to the emergence of our globalised era. This was true not only in an economic sense—the Hispano-American silver peso transported across the Atlantic and the Pacific by the Spanish fleets was arguably the first global currency, thus facilitating the creation of a world economic system—but intellectually and artistically as well. The most extraordinary cultural exchanges took place in practically every corner of the Hispanic world, no matter how distant from the metropolis. At various times a descendant of the Aztec nobility was translating a Baroque play into Nahuatl to the delight of an Amerindian and mixed audience in the market of Tlatelolco; an Andalusian Dominican priest was writing the first Western grammar of the Chinese language in Fuzhou, a Chinese city that enjoyed a trade monopoly with the Spanish Philippines; a Franciscan friar was composing a piece of polyphonic music with lyrics in Quechua to be played in a church decorated with Moorish-style ceilings in a Peruvian valley; or a multi-ethnic team of Amerindian and Spanish naturalists was describing in Latin, Spanish and local vernacular languages thousands of medicinal plants, animals and minerals previously unknown to the West. And, most probably, at the same time that one of those exchanges were happening, the members of the School of Salamanca were laying the foundations of modern international law or formulating some of the first modern theories of price, value and money, Cervantes was writing Don Quixote, Velázquez was painting Las Meninas, or Goya was exposing both the dark and bright sides of the European Enlightenment.
Actually, whenever we contemplate the galleries devoted to Velázquez, El Greco, Zurbarán, Murillo or Goya in the Prado Museum in Madrid; when we visit the National Palace in Mexico City, a mission in California, a Jesuit church in Rome or the Intramuros quarter in Manila; or when we hear Spanish being spoken in a myriad of accents in the streets of San Francisco, New Orleans or Manhattan we are experiencing some of the past and present fruits of an always vibrant and still expanding cultural community.
As the reader can infer by now, this book is about how Spain and the larger Hispanic world have contributed to world history and in particular to the history of civilisation, not only at the zenith of the Hispanic Monarchy but throughout a much longer span of time.