Four centuries after the passing of its Golden Age, Spain persists less as an empire—once vast and vainglorious—than as a state of mind, a land of the imagination inhabited largely by bullfighters and flamenco dancers. But 500 years ago Spain ruled the earth, holding dominion over much of Europe, sending explorers like Columbus and Cortès west to reinvent the world and bring back treasures from the Americas, Mexico and the Philippines, and staking claim to the New World. For much of the 16th century, the sun never set on the Spanish flag.
In 1992, with the Summer Olympics unfurling in July in Barcelona, a vastly reordered world will bring its flags of conquest to a new Spain. This is a nation that, since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, has shaken off the pall of political incorrectness and emerged as a prospering partner in the European community, and now is celebrating its modern stature with the Year of Spain. In April a world's fair called the Universal Exposition begins in Seville, to be followed by the Olympics and, finally, by the festivities surrounding the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to America.
Fittingly, then, it is Spain where the sun also rises on our annual swimsuit spectacular and on Barcelona native Judit Masco (center). Salute her, pledge allegiance to her, sing your national anthem of choice to her. And contemplate the difference between flags of the New World and those of the new world order: Every half millennium or so, just when you aren't paying attention, they go from being symbols of national sovereignty to bikiniwear.
Though the outer reaches of the Spanish empire have steadily receded since the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, visitors to this slenderized Spain will find that its borders are worthy of the highest SPF rating. The SI swimsuit caravan journeyed from the resort towns of Cadaquès, Figueras and S'Agaró on the Costa Brava to the seaside village of Port Lligat (where you can say "Hello, Dalí!" at the late surrealist's home), and hopped from the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean to the islands of Grand Canary and Lanzarote in the Atlantic, discovering in the process that Spain spins a coastline of formidable measure: nearly 3,500 miles, in fact. Think of it as Europe's Florida. Then think it three more times, once for each of Spain's four distinct dialects. When you feel yourself about to burst into a Castilian rendition of The Impossible Dream, start turning the pages. In Spain, no dream is impossible.
In the company of Olympic mascot Cobi, Roshumba Williams gives Montju‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√≤c Olympic Stadium in Barcelona a sneak preview of red-white-and-blue for '92. Her star-spangled suit is from TYR Sport ($50).
Judit signals a banner year for Spain in her bikini by Darling Rio ($60). Paulina Porizkova (right) presages an Olympic gold rush in a suit by Robert Mannino ($95).
With Olympian mettle, Kathy Ireland legs it out and goes for the gold: a glittering Lycra suit by Monika Tilley Swim ($165).
During a pit stop in Cadaquès, Judit dallies with a digital dessert, giving Vendela Kirsebom pause for reflection. Judit's three-piece cotton Lycra ensemble is by Look & Sea ($85).
Naomi Campbell glows in the golden sunlight of Cadaquès and a golden suit by Gottex ($76). In a thong ($49) and cover-up ($98) by Randolph Duke, Vendela's net worth is ample, even with nothing in her pockets.
In the vineyards on the island off Lanzarote, a multiply-exposed Ashley Montana is thrice as nice in a patent-and-nylon-spandex suit by Karla Colletto ($100).
In Port Lligat, Naomi rows to the occasion in her Speedo America maillot ($58). Vendela sparkles in a hologram-studded suit from Lisa Lomas ($295).
With all eyes on her Ohs, Judit navigates past the cafe crowd in Cadaquès in her exclamatory suit from Lisa Lomas ($90).
Radiant in ruffles, Kathy drips from a dip. Her bikini is from Lisa Lomas ($190) In Lanzarote, Angie Everhart takes a bold step in her stretch hologram suit by Gottex ($500).
Part shimmer, part shadow, Naomi lends her form to the substance of a lace bandeau top and Lycra thong by Monika Tilley Swim ($85).
Paulina braves the breezes of S'Agaró in a bikini by Darling Rio ($80), while Roshumba decorates the dunes of Grand Canary in an authentic matador's jacket, worn over a suspender suit from Monika Tilley Swim ($125).
Stacey Williams exhibits poolside patriotism during an afternoon siesta on the island of Mallorca. Her suit is from La Blanca ($57).
Roshumba brightens a gray day by donning a scarlet towel to top off her patent-and-nylon-spandex suit from Karla Colletto ($100). Paulina's morning suit is a Lycra-and-crystal bikini from Giorgio di Sant' Angelo ($145).
Who's more statuesque: Paulina, in nylon and Lycra by Robert Mannino ($90), or this stony se‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±orita? There's no question, though, that Naomi emerges a winner in satin-finish Lycra by Giorgio di Sant'Angelo ($660).
For this grinning beast it's no burden when the passenger is Roshumba. Her dazzling desertwear—bikini ($96) and tights ($122)—is from Gottex.
At the Dali museum gift shop in Figueres, Judit's suit (by Karla Colletto, $100) has surreal appeal. Stacey's sequined suit (by Gideon Oberson, $430) has appeal that's clearly real.
A top a windy dune on Grand Canary island, Vendela grins through a gritty performance in her bikini by Darling Rio ($38).
Judit joins the ni‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±as of Cadaquès, who race while balancing water-filled jugs. Judit's bikini ($62) and jacket ($22) are from Mossimo. Paulina exhibits star quality in her bejeweled bikini by Gottex ($420).
Heating the Olympic pool back in Barcelona are Ashley (in a paper-Lycra suit by TYR Sport, $195), Gail O'Neill (Speedo America, $58) and Roshumba (TYR Sport, $50). Our games are concluded. Let the real Games begin.