The first explorers, the ancient Phoenicians, found to their surprise that there was a lively commerce already going on in southern Spain.
Around the modern Seville and the river Betis, now called the Guadalquivir, barges came and went upriver, where there were many towns. The local people of Cadiz caught a fish called sisisis and dried and salted it. The Phoenician explorers filled their ships with it to sell around the Mediterranean. They also loaded them up with good Spanish olives and olive oil, and Spanish wine.
And it didn’t take long for their prospectors to find even better stuff. Just north of Gades there was an enormous copper mine—the modern Riotinto mine—already in operation. The whole Betis region was full of minerals: there were iron mines, silver mines….and gold mines! It was true: Spain was full of unbelievable wealth! The Greek geographer Strabo writing as late as the time of Christ can’t restain himself:
“One might be surprised at so much wealth in agriculture and fishing; but he won’t be less surprised—on the contrary—when he learns of the generosity of her mines; because the land of the Iberians is full of them. It is rare to have both resources; but it is rare too that the same land is full of so many different minerals in so small an area. …..The region around [the mouth of the Betis] leaves one absolutely speechless—you can’t find words to praise her great wealth. No place on earth has ever produced such an amount and of such quality of gold or silver or copper or iron.”