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Kingdom of Spain
Reino de España
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: " Plus Ultra"  (Latin)
"Further Beyond"
Anthem: " Marcha Real"  (Spanish)
"Royal March"
Location of  Spain  (dark green)– in Europe  (green & dark grey)– in the European Union  (green)  —  [Legend]
Location of  Spain  (dark green)

– in Europe  (green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (green)  —  [ Legend]

and largest city
40°26′N 3°42′W
Official languages Spanish
Recognised regional languages Aranese, Basque, Catalan/Valencian and Galician
Ethnic groups 87.8% Spanish, 12.2% ( Romanian, Moroccan, Germans, Ecuadorian, British) other (2010)
Demonym Spanish, Spaniard
Government Parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy
 -  King Juan Carlos I
 -  Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero ( PSOE)
Legislature Cortes Generales
 -  Upper house Senate
 -  Lower house Congress of Deputies
Formation 15th century
 -    Traditional date 569 (ascension to the throne of Liuvigild) 
 -     Dynastic 1479 
 -     De facto 1516 
 -     De jure 1715 
 -     Nation state 1812 
 -     Constitutional democracy 1978 
 -  Total 504,030 km2 ( 51st)
195,364 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.04
 -  2010 estimate 46,030,109 ( 27th)
 -  Density 93/km2 ( 106th)
231/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2010 estimate estimate
 -  Total $1.364 trillion
 -  Per capita $29,651
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate estimate
 -  Total $1.374 trillion
 -  Per capita $29,875
Gini (2005) 32
Error: Invalid Gini value
HDI (2010) Increase 0.863
Error: Invalid HDI value · 20th
Currency Euro ( €) ( EUR)
Time zone CET ( UTC+1)
 -  Summer ( DST) CEST ( UTC+2)
Date format (Spanish; CE)
Drives on the right
Calling code 34
ISO 3166 code ES
Internet TLD .es

Spain (pronounced  /ˈspeɪn/ spayn; Spanish: España, pronounced:  [esˈpaɲa]), officially the Kingdom of Spain (Spanish: Reino de España), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Its mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar; to the north by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the northwest and west by the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal.

Spanish territory also includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the African coast, and two autonomous cities in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, that border Morocco. Furthermore, the town of Llívia is a Spanish exclave situated inside French territory. With an area of 504,030 km², it is the second largest country in Western Europe and the European Union after France.

Because of its location, the territory of Spain was subject to many external influences since prehistoric times and through to its dawn as a country. Spain emerged as a unified country in the 15th century, following the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs and the completion of the reconquest, or Reconquista, of the Iberian peninsula in 1492. Conversely, it has been an important source of influence to other regions, chiefly during the Modern Era, when it became a global empire that has left a legacy of over 500 million Spanish speakers today, making it the world's second most spoken first language.

Spain is a democracy organised in the form of a parliamentary government under a constitutional monarchy. It is a developed country with the twelfth largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, and very high living standards (20th highest Human Development Index), including the tenth-highest quality of life index rating in the world, as of 2005. It is a member of the United Nations, European Union, NATO, OECD, and WTO.


After a long and hard conquest, the Iberian Peninsula became a region of the Roman Empire known as Hispania. During the early Middle Ages it came under Germanic rule but later was conquered by Muslim invaders. Through a very long and fitful process, the Christian kingdoms in the north gradually rolled back Muslim rule, finally extinguishing its last remnant in Granada in 1492, the same year Columbus reached the Americas. A global empire began which saw Spain become the strongest kingdom in Europe and the leading world power in the 16th century and first half of the 17th century.

Continued wars and other problems eventually led to a diminished status. The French invasion of Spain in the early 19th century led to chaos, triggering independence movements that tore apart most of the empire and left the country politically unstable. In the 20th century it suffered a devastating civil war and came under the rule of an authoritarian government, leading to years of stagnation, but finishing in an impressive economic surge. Democracy was restored in 1978 in the form of a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. In 1986, Spain joined the European Union, experiencing a cultural renaissance and steady economic growth.


The true origins of the name España and its cognates "Spain" and "Spanish" are disputed. The ancient Roman name for Iberia, Hispania, may derive from poetic use of the term Hesperia to refer to Spain, reflecting Greek perception of Italy as a "western land" or "land of the setting sun" (Hesperia) and Spain, being still further west, as Hesperia ultima.

It may also be a derivation of the Punic Ispanihad, meaning "land of conies" or "edge", a reference to Spain's location at the end of the Mediterranean; Roman coins struck in the region from the reign of Hadrian show a female figure with a cony at her feet. There are also claims that España derives from the Basque word Ezpanna meaning "edge" or "border", another reference to the fact that the Iberian peninsula constitutes the southwest of the European continent.

The humanist Antonio de Nebrija proposed that the word Hispania evolved from the Iberian word Hispalis, meaning "city of the western world". According to new research by Jesús Luis Cunchillos published in 2000 with the name of Gramática fenicia elemental (Basic Phoenician grammar), the root of the term span is spy, meaning "to forge metals". Therefore i-spn-ya would mean "the land where metals are forged".

Prehistory and pre-Roman peoples

Altamira Cave paintings, in Cantabria

Archaeological research at Atapuerca indicates the Iberian Peninsula was populated by hominids 1.2 million years ago. Modern humans first arrived in Iberia, from the north on foot, about 32,000 years ago. The best known artifacts of these prehistoric human settlements are the famous paintings in the Altamira cave of Cantabria in northern Iberia, which were created about 15,000 BCE by cro-magnons.

Archaeological and genetic evidence strongly suggests that the Iberian Peninsula acted as one of several major refugia from which northern Europe was repopulated following the end of the last ice age.

The two main historical peoples of the peninsula were the Iberians and the Celts, the former inhabiting the Mediterranean side from the northeast to the southwest, the latter inhabiting the Atlantic side, in the north and northwest part of the peninsula. In the inner part of the peninsula, where both groups were in contact, a mixed, distinctive culture known as Celtiberian was present. Basques occupied the western area of the Pyrenees mountain range and adjacent areas. Other ethnic groups existed along the peninsula's southern coastal areas.

In the south of the peninsula appeared the semi-mythical city of Tartessos (c.1100 BC), whose flourishing trade in items made of gold and silver with the Phoenicians and Greeks is documented by Strabo and the Book of Solomon. Between about 500 BC and 300 BC, the seafaring Phoenicians and Greeks founded trading colonies along the Mediterranean coast. The Carthaginians briefly exerted control over much of the Mediterranean side of the peninsula, until defeated in the Punic Wars by the Romans.

Roman Empire and the Gothic Kingdom

Roman Theatre of Mérida, in Badajoz

During the Second Punic War, an expanding Roman Empire captured Carthaginian trading colonies along the Mediterranean coast from roughly 210 BC to 205 BC. It took the Romans nearly two centuries to complete the conquest of the Iberian peninsula, though they had control of much of it for over six centuries. Roman rule was bound together by law, language, and the Roman road.

Cathedral of the Holy Saviour, in Asturias

The cultures of the Celt and Iberian populations were gradually romanized (Latinized) at differing rates in different parts of Hispania. Local leaders were admitted into the Roman aristocratic class. Hispania served as a granary for the Roman market, and its harbors exported gold, wool, olive oil, and wine. Agricultural production increased with the introduction of irrigation projects, some of which remain in use. Emperors Trajan, Theodosius I, and the philosopher Seneca were born in Hispania. Christianity was introduced into Hispania in the 1st century CE and it became popular in the cities in the 2nd century CE. Most of Spain's present languages and religion, and the basis of its laws, originate from this period.

The weakening of the Western Roman Empire's jurisdiction in Hispania began in 409, when the Germanic Suevi and Vandals, together with the Sarmatian Alans crossed the Rhine and ravaged Gaul until the Visigoths drove them into Iberia that same year. The Suevi established a kingdom in what is today modern Galicia and northern Portugal. As the western empire disintegrated, the social and economic base became greatly simplified: but even in modified form, the successor regimes maintained many of the institutions and laws of the late empire, including Christianity.

The Alans' allies, the Hasdingi Vandals, established a kingdom in Gallaecia, too, occupying largely the same region but extending farther south to the Duero river. The Silingi Vandals occupied the region that still bears a form of their name –Vandalusia, modern Andalusia, in Spain. The Byzantines established an enclave, Spania, in the south, with the intention of reviving the Roman empire throughout Iberia. Eventually, however, Hispania was reunited under Visigothic rule.

Muslim Iberia

The Alhambra palace complex, in Granada.

In the 8th century, nearly all of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered (711–718) by largely Moorish Muslim armies from North Africa. These conquests were part of the expansion of the Umayyad Islamic Empire. Only a small area in the mountainous north-west of the peninsula managed to resist the initial invasion.

Under Islamic law, Christians and Jews were given the subordinate status of dhimmi. This status permitted Christians and Jews to practice their religions as people of the book but they were required to pay a special tax and to be subject to certain discriminations.

Conversion to Islam proceeded at a steadily increasing pace. The muladies (Muslims of ethnic Iberian origin) are believed to have comprised the majority of the population of Al-Andalus by the end of the 10th century.

La Giralda, the bell tower of Seville Cathedral

The Muslim community in the Iberian peninsula was itself diverse and beset by social tensions. The Berber people of North Africa, who had provided the bulk of the invading armies, clashed with the Arab leadership from the Middle East. Over time, large Moorish populations became established, especially in the Guadalquivir River valley, the coastal plain of Valencia, the Ebro River valley and (towards the end of this period) in the mountainous region of Granada.

Córdoba, the capital of the caliphate, was the largest, richest and most sophisticated city in western Europe. Mediterranean trade and cultural exchange flourished. Muslims imported a rich intellectual tradition from the Middle East and North Africa. Muslim and Jewish scholars played an important part in reviving and expanding classical Greek learning in Western Europe. The Romanized cultures of the Iberian peninsula interacted with Muslim and Jewish cultures in complex ways, thus giving the region a distinctive culture. Outside the cities, where the vast majority lived, the land ownership system from Roman times remained largely intact as Muslim leaders rarely dispossessed landowners, and the introduction of new crops and techniques led to a remarkable expansion of agriculture.

In the 11th century, the Muslim holdings fractured into rival Taifa kingdoms, allowing the small Christian states the opportunity to greatly enlarge their territories. The arrival from North Africa of the Islamic ruling sects of the Almoravids and the Almohads restored unity upon the Muslim holdings, with a stricter, less tolerant application of Islam, and saw a revival in Muslim fortunes. This re-united Islamic state, experienced more than a century of successes that partially reversed Christian gains.

Fall of Muslim rule and unification

Loarre Castle, in Huesca
Ávila city walls
King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile: the Catholic Monarchs.

The Reconquista ("Reconquest") is the centuries-long period of expansion of Iberia's Christian kingdoms. The Reconquista is viewed as beginning with the Battle of Covadonga in 722, and was concurrent with the period of Muslim rule on the Iberian peninsula. The Christian army's victory over Muslim forces led to the creation of the Christian Kingdom of Asturias along the northwestern coastal mountains. Muslim armies had also moved north of the Pyrenees, but they were defeated by Frankish forces at the Battle of Poitiers, Frankia.

Subsequently, they retreated to more secure positions south of the Pyrenees with a frontier marked by the Ebro and Duero valleys. In 739 Muslim forces were driven from Galicia, which was to host one of medieval Europe's holiest sites, Santiago de Compostela. A little later, Frankish forces established Christian counties on the southern side of the Pyrenees; these areas were to grow into kingdoms. These territories included Navarre, Aragon and Catalonia.

Alcázar of Segovia

The breakup of Al-Andalus into the competing Taifa kingdoms helped the Christian kingdoms. The capture of the strategically central city of Toledo in 1085 marked a significant shift in the balance of power in favour of the Christian kingdoms of Iberia. After a great Muslim resurgence in the 12th century, the great Moorish strongholds in the south fell to Christian Spain in the 13th century— Córdoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248—leaving only the Muslim enclave of Granada as a tributary state in the south.

In the 13th and 14th centuries the Marinids Muslim sect based in North Africa invaded and established some enclaves on the southern coast but failed in their attempt to re-establish Muslim rule in Iberia and were soon driven out. The 13th century also witnessed the Crown of Aragon, centred in Spain's north east, expand its reach across islands in the Mediterranean, to Sicily and even Athens. Around this time the universities of Palencia (1212/1263) and Salamanca (1218/1254) were established. The Black Death of 1348 and 1349 devastated Spain.

In 1469, the crowns of the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united by the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. 1478 commenced the completion of the conquest of the Canary Islands and in 1492, the combined forces of the Castile and Aragon captured the Emirate of Granada, ending the last remnant of a 781-year presence of Islamic rule in Iberia. The Treaty of Granada guaranteed religious tolerance toward Muslims.

The year 1492 also marked the arrival in the New World of Christopher Columbus, during a voyage funded by Isabella. That same year, Spain's Jews were ordered to convert to Catholicism or face expulsion from Spanish territories during the Spanish Inquisition. A few years later, following social disturbances, Muslims were also expelled under the same conditions.

As Renaissance New Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand centralized royal power at the expense of local nobility, and the word España, whose root is the ancient name Hispania, began to be commonly used to designate the whole of the two kingdoms. With their wide-ranging political, legal, religious and military reforms, Spain emerged as the first world power.

Imperial Spain

The Spanish Empire's historical influence

The unification of the crowns of Aragon and Castile laid the basis for modern Spain and the Spanish Empire. Spain was Europe's leading power throughout the 16th century and most of the 17th century, a position reinforced by trade and wealth from colonial possessions. It reached its apogee during the reigns of the first two Spanish HabsburgsCharles I (1516–1556) and Philip II (1556–1598). This period saw the Italian Wars, the revolt of the comuneros, the Dutch revolt, the Morisco revolt, clashes with the Ottomans, the Anglo-Spanish war and wars with France.

The Spanish Empire expanded to include great parts of the Americas, islands in the Asia-Pacific area, areas of Italy, cities in Northern Africa, as well as parts of what are now France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. It was the first empire of which it was said that the sun never set.

This was an age of discovery, with daring explorations by sea and by land, the opening-up of new trade routes across oceans, conquests and the beginnings of European colonialism. Along with the arrival of precious metals, spices, luxuries, and new agricultural plants, Spanish explorers brought back knowledge from the New World, and played a leading part in transforming the European understanding of the globe. The cultural efflorescence witnessed is now referred to as the Spanish Golden Age. The rise of humanism, the Protestant Reformation and new geographical discoveries raised issues addressed by the influential intellectual movement now known as the School of Salamanca.

A Spanish galleon

In the late 16th century and first half of the 17th century, Spain was confronted by unrelenting challenges from all sides. Barbary pirates under the aegis of the rapidly growing Ottoman empire, disrupted life in many coastal areas through their slave raids and renewed the threat of an Islamic invasion. This at a time when Spain was often at war with France.

The Protestant Reformation schism from the Catholic Church dragged the kingdom ever more deeply into the mire of religiously charged wars. The result was a country forced into ever expanding military efforts across Europe and in the Mediterranean.

By the middle decades of a war- and plague-ridden 17th century Europe the Spanish Habsburgs had enmeshed the country in the continent-wide religious-political conflicts. These conflicts drained it of resources and undermined the European economy generally. Spain managed to hold on to most of the scattered Habsburg empire, and help the imperial forces of the Holy Roman Empire reverse a large part of the advances made by Protestant forces, but it was finally forced to recognise the separation of Portugal (with whom it had been united in a personal union of the crowns from 1580 to 1640) and the Netherlands, and eventually suffered some serious military reverses to France in the latter stages of the immensely destructive, Europe-wide Thirty Years War.

El Escorial, built in Philip II's reign, near Madrid.

In the latter half of the 17th century, Spain went into a gradual relative decline, during which it surrendered a number of small territories to France. However it maintained and enlarged its vast overseas empire, which remained intact until the beginning of the 19th century.

The decline culminated in a controversy over succession to the throne which consumed the first years of the 18th century. The War of Spanish Succession was a wide ranging international conflict combined with a civil war, and was to cost the kingdom its European possessions and its position as one of the leading powers on the Continent.

During this war, a new dynasty originating in France, the Bourbons, was installed. Long united only by the Crown, a true Spanish state was established when the first Bourbon king, Philip V, united the crowns of Castile and Aragon into a single state, abolishing many of the old regional privileges and laws.

The 18th century saw a gradual recovery and an increase in prosperity through much of the empire. The new Bourbon monarchy drew on the French system of modernising the administration and the economy. Enlightenment ideas began to gain ground among some of the kingdom's elite and monarchy. Military assistance for the rebellious British colonies in the American War of Independence improved the kingdom's international standing.

Napoleonic rule and its consequences

Second of May, 1808: the people revolt against the Bonapartist regime

In 1793, Spain went to war against the new French Republic, which had overthrown and executed its Bourbon king, Louis XVI. The war polarised the country in an apparent reaction against the gallicised elites. Defeated in the field, peace was made with France in 1795 and it effectively became a client state of that country; In 1807, the secret treaty of Fontainebleau between Napoleon and the deeply unpopular Godoy led to a declaration of war against Britain and Portugal. French troops entered the kingdom unopposed, supposedly to invade Portugal, but instead they occupied Spanish fortresses. This invasion by trickery led to the abdication of the ridiculed Spanish king in favour of Napoleon's brother, Joseph Bonaparte.

This foreign puppet monarch was widely regarded with scorn. The 2nd of May 1808 revolt was one of many nationalist uprisings against the Bonapartist regime across the country. These revolts marked the beginning of what is known to the Spanish as the War of Independence, and to the British as the Peninsular War. Napoleon was forced to intervene personally, defeating several badly coordinated Spanish armies and forcing a British army to retreat. However, further military action by Spanish guerrillas and armies, and Wellington's British-Portuguese forces, combined with Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia, led to the ousting of the French imperial armies from the Spain in 1814, and the return of King Ferdinand VII.

The French invasions devastated the economy, and left Spain a deeply divided country prone to political instability. The power struggles of the early 19th century led to the loss of all of its colonies in the Americas (which stretched from Las Californias to Patagonia), with the sole exception of Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Spanish–American War

Amid the instability and economic crisis that afflicted Spain in the 19th century there arose nationalist movements in the Philippines and Cuba. Wars of independence ensued in those colonies and eventually the United States became involved. Despite the commitment and ability shown by some military units, they were so mismanaged by the highest levels of command that the Spanish–American War, fought in the Spring of 1898, did not last long. "El Desastre" (The Disaster), as the war became known, helped give impetus to the Generation of 98 who were already conducting much critical analysis concerning the country. It also weakened the stability that had been established during Alfonso XII's reign.

Spanish Civil War

The 20th century brought little peace; Spain played a minor part in the scramble for Africa, with the colonisation of Western Sahara, Spanish Morocco and Equatorial Guinea. The heavy losses suffered during the Rif war in Morocco helped to undermine the monarchy. A period of authoritarian rule under General Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923–1931) ended with the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic. The Republic offered political autonomy to the Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia and gave voting rights to women.

General Franco and US President Eisenhower in Madrid (1959)

The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) ensued. Three years later the Nationalist forces, led by General Francisco Franco, emerged victorious with the support of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Popular Front government side was supported by the Soviet Union and Mexico and International Brigades, including the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade, but it was not supported officially by the Western powers due to the British-led policy of Non-Intervention.

The Civil War claimed the lives of over 500,000 people and caused the flight of up to a half-million citizens. Most of their descendants now live in Latin American countries, with some 300,000 in Argentina alone. The Spanish Civil War has been called the first battle of the Second World War; under Franco the country was neutral in the Second World War, although sympathetic to the Axis.

The only legal party under Franco's post civil war regime was the Falange Española Tradicionalista y de las JONS, formed in 1937; the party emphasised anti-Communism, Catholicism and nationalism. Given Franco's opposition to competing political parties, the party was renamed the National Movement ( Movimiento Nacional) in 1949.

After World War II Spain was politically and economically isolated, and was kept out of the United Nations. This changed in 1955, during the Cold War period, when it became strategically important for the U.S. to establish a military presence on the Iberian peninsula as a counter to any possible move by the U.S.S.R into the Mediterranean basin. In the 1960s, Spain registered an unprecedented rate of economic growth in what became known as the Spanish miracle, which resumed the much interrupted transition towards a modern economy.

Spanish Constitution of 1978

With Franco's death in November 1975, Juan Carlos assumed the position of King of Spain and head of state in accordance with the law. With the approval of the new Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the arrival of democracy, the State devolved much authority to the regions and created an internal organization based on autonomous communities.

In the Basque Country, moderate Basque nationalism has coexisted with a radical nationalist movement led by the armed organisation ETA. The group was formed in 1959 during Franco's rule but has continued to wage its violent campaign even after the restoration of democracy and the return of a large measure of regional autonomy.

On 23 February 1981, rebel elements among the security forces seized the Cortes in an attempt to impose a military backed government. King Juan Carlos took personal command of the military and successfully ordered the coup plotters, via national television, to surrender.

On 30 May 1982 Spain joined NATO, following a referendum. That year the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) came to power, the first left-wing government in 43 years. In 1986 Spain joined the European Community; what became the European Union. The PSOE was replaced in government by the Partido Popular (PP) after the latter won the 1996 General Elections; at that point the PSOE had served almost 14 consecutive years in office.

21st century

Spain issued a new currency, the euro, in 2002

On 1 January 2002, Spain ceased to use the peseta as currency replacing it with the euro, which it shares with 15 other countries in the Eurozone. Spain has also seen strong economic growth, well above the EU average, but well publicised concerns issued by many economic commentators at the height of the boom that the extraordinary property prices and high foreign trade deficits of the boom were likely to lead to a painful economic collapse were confirmed by a severe property led recession that struck the country in 2008/9.

A series of bombs exploded in commuter trains in Madrid, Spain on 11 March 2004. After a five month trial in 2007 it was concluded the bombings were perpetrated by a local Islamist militant group inspired by al-Qaeda. The bombings killed 191 people and wounded more than 1800, and the intention of the perpetrators may have been to influence the outcome of the Spanish general election, held three days later.

Though initial suspicions focused on the Basque group ETA, evidence soon emerged indicating possible Islamist involvement. Because of the proximity of the election, the issue of responsibility quickly became a political controversy, with the main competing parties PP and PSOE exchanging accusations over the handling of the aftermath. At the 14 March elections, PSOE, led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, obtained a plurality, enough to form a new cabinet with Rodríguez Zapatero as the new Presidente del Gobierno or Prime Minister of Spain, thus succeeding the former PP administration.


Bosost ( Lérida), in the Pyrenees

At 504,782 km2 (194,897 sq mi), Spain is the world's 51st-largest country. It is some 47,000 km2 (18,000 sq mi) smaller than France and 81,000 km2 (31,000 sq mi) larger than the U.S. state of California. The Teide ( Tenerife, Canary Islands) is the highest peak of Spain and the third largest volcano in the world from its base.

El Sardinero beach, in Santander ( Cantabria)

On the west, Spain borders Portugal; on the south, it borders Gibraltar (a British overseas territory) and Morocco, through its exclaves in North Africa ( Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera). On the northeast, along the Pyrenees mountain range, it borders France and the tiny principality of Andorra.

Spain also includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean and a number of uninhabited islands on the Mediterranean side of the Strait of Gibraltar, known as Plazas de soberanía, such as the Chafarine islands, the isle of Alborán, Alhucemas, and the tiny Isla Perejil. Along the Pyrenees in Catalonia, a small exclave town called Llívia is surrounded by France. The little Pheasant Island in the River Bidasoa is a Spanish-French condominium.

Mainland Spain is dominated by high plateaus and mountain ranges, such as the Sierra Nevada. Running from these heights are several major rivers such as the Tagus, the Ebro, the Duero, the Guadiana and the Guadalquivir. Alluvial plains are found along the coast, the largest of which is that of the Guadalquivir in Andalusia.


Climatic areas of Spain according to the Köppen climate classification

Due to Spain's geographical situation and orographic conditions, we can find three main climatic zones :

  • The Mediterranean climate, characterized by dry and warm summers. According to the Köppen climate classification, it is dominant in the peninsula, with two varieties : the typical Mediterranean climate (Csa climate), present in most of the country, and the Galician variant (Galicia and North-West Castilla), with summers less hot due to the proximity of the ocean (Csb climate ) or the altitude.
  • The semiarid climate (Bsk), located in south-eastern quarter of the country, especially in the region of Murcia and in the Ebro valley. In contrary to the Mediterranean climate, the dry season extends beyond the summer.
  • The Oceanic climate: Winter and summer temperatures are ponderated by the ocean, and have no seasonal drought.In the coastal strip near the Basque Country, the Asturias, and in some highlands, we find essentially a "southern" nuance (sometimes called "Aquitanian"), which differs from the typical type by hotter summers (mean temperature of July between 20 °C (68.0 °F) and 22 °C (71.6 °F)) , and much stormy than in north-west Europe - (average July temperature of 21 °C (69.8 °F) in Santander, vs 16 °C (60.8 °F) in Brest or Liverpool).

For some authors, Galicia presents an oceanic climate too, because of lower temperatures in summer than in the typical Mediterranean climate. Nevertheless, North-west Spain is often concerned by forest fires due to the summer drought, and has more shunshine duration than the typical oceanic regions.

In a less extend, we can find other sub-types like the alpine climate in the Pyrenees, and a Humid subtropical climate in the Canary Islands.

The rain in Spain does not fall mainly in the plain. It falls mainly in the northern mountains.


Islander population:

Teide, the highest mountain in Spain ( Tenerife, Canary Islands)
The city of Palma of Mallorca
  • 1. Tenerife 899,833
  • 2. Mallorca 862,397
  • 3. Gran Canaria 838,397
  • 4. Lanzarote 141,938
  • 5. Ibiza 125,053
  • 6. Fuerteventura 103,107
  • 7. Menorca 92,434
  • 8. La Palma 85,933
  • 9. La Gomera 22,259
  • 10. El Hierro 10,558
  • 11. Formentera 7,957
  • 12. Arosa 4,889
  • 13. La Graciosa 658
  • 14. Tabarca 105
  • 15. Ons 61


King Juan Carlos I

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 is the culmination of the Spanish transition to democracy. The constitutional history of Spain dates back to the constitution of 1812. Impatient with the pace of democratic political reforms in 1976 and 1977, Spain's new King Juan Carlos, known for his formidable personality, dismissed Carlos Arias Navarro and appointed the reformer Adolfo Suárez as Prime Minister. The resulting general election in 1977 convened the Constituent Cortes (the Spanish Parliament, in its capacity as a constitutional assembly) for the purpose of drafting and approving the constitution of 1978. After a national referendum on 6 December 1978, 88% of voters approved of the new constitution.

As a result, Spain is now composed of 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities with varying degrees of autonomy thanks to its Constitution, which nevertheless explicitly states the indivisible unity of the Spanish nation as well as that Spain has today no official religion but all are free to practice and believe as they wish.

As of November 2009, the government of Spain keeps a balanced gender equality ratio. Nine out of the 18 members of the Government are women. Under the administration of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain has been described as being "at the vanguard" in gender equality issues and also that "[n]o other modern, democratic, administration outside Scandinavia has taken more steps to place gender issues at the centre of government". The Spanish administration has also promoted gender-based positive discrimination by approving gender equality legislation in 2007 aimed to provide equality between genders in the Spanish political and economic life (Gender Equality Act). However, in the legislative branch, as of July 2010 only 128 out of the 350 members of the Congress are women (36.3%). Nowadays, it positions Spain as the 13th country with more women in its lower house. In the Senate, the ratio is even lower, since there are only 79 women out of 263 (30.0%). The Gender Empowerment Measure of Spain in the United Nations Human Development Report is 0.794, the 12th in the world.

Branches of government

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Prime Minister.

Spain is a constitutional monarchy, with a hereditary monarch and a bicameral parliament, the Cortes Generales. The executive branch consists of a Council of Ministers of Spain presided over by the Prime Minister, nominated and appointed by the monarch and confirmed by the Congress of Deputies following legislative elections. By political custom established by King Juan Carlos since the ratification of the 1978 Constitution, the king's nominees have all been from parties who maintain a plurality of seats in the Congress.

The legislative branch is made up of the Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados) with 350 members, elected by popular vote on block lists by proportional representation to serve four-year terms, and a Senate (Senado) with 259 seats of which 208 are directly elected by popular vote and the other 51 appointed by the regional legislatures to also serve four-year terms.

  • Head of State
    • King Juan Carlos I, since 22 November 1975
  • Head of Government
    • Prime Minister of Spain (Spanish Presidente del Gobierno literally President of the Government): José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, elected 14 March 2004.
      • First Vice President and Minister of Interior: Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba.
      • Second Vice President and Minister of Economy and Finance: Elena Salgado.
      • Third Vice President and Minister of Territorial Policy: Manuel Chaves.
  • Cabinet
    • Council of Ministers (Spanish Consejo de Ministros) designated by the Prime Minister.

The Spanish nation is organizationally composed in the form of called Estado de las Autonomías (" State of Autonomies"); it is one of the most decentralized countries in Europe, along with Switzerland, Germany and Belgium; for example, all Autonomous Communities have their own elected parliaments, governments, public administrations, budgets, and resources; therefore, health and education systems among others are managed regionally, besides, the Basque Country and Navarre also manage their own public finances based on foral provisions. In Catalonia and the Basque Country, a full fledged autonomous police corps replaces some of the State police functions (see Mossos d'Esquadra, Ertzaintza, Policía Foral and Policía Canaria).

Administrative divisions

La Rioja
La Mancha
and León
Basque Country
Bay of Biscay
Flag of the Balearic Islands.svg
Flag of Andalucía.svg
Flag of Castile and León.svg
Bandera de la Comunidad Valenciana (2x3).svg
Bandera Castilla-La Mancha.svg
Flag of Aragon.svg
Flag of the Community of Madrid.svg
Flag of La Rioja (with coat of arms).svg
Flag Melilla.svg
Flag Ceuta.svg
Flag of Catalonia.svg
Flag of Cantabria.svg
Flag of the Basque Country.svg
Flag of Galicia.svg
Flag of Extremadura with COA.svg
Bandera de Navarra.svg
Flag of Asturias.svg
Flag of the Canary Islands.svg
Flag of the Region of Murcia.svg

The basic institutional law of the autonomous community is the Statute of Autonomy. The Statutes of Autonomy establish the denomination of the community according to its historical identity, the limits of their territories, the name and organization of the institutions of government and the rights they enjoy according the constitution.

The government of all autonomous communities must be based on a division of powers comprising:

  • a Legislative Assembly whose members must be elected by universal suffrage according to the system of proportional representation and in which all areas that integrate the territory are fairly represented;
  • a Government Council, with executive and administrative functions headed by a president, elected by the Legislative Assembly and nominated by the King of Spain;
  • a Supreme Court of Justice, under the Supreme Court of the State, which head the judicial organization within the autonomous community.

Besides Andalusia, Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, which identified themselves as nationalities, other communities have taken that denomination in accordance to their historical regional identity, such as the Valencian Community, the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, and Aragon.

The autonomous communities have wide legislative and executive autonomy, with their own parliaments and regional governments. The distribution of powers may be different for every community, as laid out in their Statutes of Autonomy. There used to be a clear de facto distinction between so called "historic" communities (Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, Andalusia) and the rest. The "historic" ones initially received more functions, including the ability of the regional presidents to choose the timing of the regional elections (as long as they happen no more than four years apart).

As another example, the Basque Country, Navarre and Catalonia have full-range police forces of their own: Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, Policía Foral in Navarre and Mossos d'Esquadra in Catalonia. Other communities have more limited forces or none at all (like the Policía Autónoma Andaluza in Andalusia or the BESCAM in Madrid).

However, the recent amendments made to their respective Statute of Autonomy by a series of "ordinary" Autonomous Communities such as the Valencian Community or Aragon have weakened this original de facto distinction.


Autonomous communities are composed of provinces (provincias), which serve as the territorial building blocks for the former. In turn, provinces are composed of municipalities (municipios). The existence of these two subdivisions is granted and protected by the constitution, not necessarily by the Statutes of Autonomy themselves. Municipalities are granted autonomy to manage their internal affairs, and provinces are the territorial divisions designed to carry out the activities of the State.

The current fifty province structure is based—with minor changes—on the one created in 1833 by Javier de Burgos. The communities of Asturias, Cantabria, La Rioja, the Balearic Islands, Madrid, Murcia and Navarre are counted as provinces as well, but were granted autonomy as single-provinces for historical reasons.

Foreign relations

Spain was a founding member of the European Union in 1993 and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.

After the return of democracy following the death of Franco in 1975, Spain's foreign policy priorities were to break out of the diplomatic isolation of the Franco years and expand diplomatic relations, enter the European Community, and define security relations with the West.

As a member of NATO since 1982, Spain has established itself as a major participant in multilateral international security activities. Spain's EU membership represents an important part of its foreign policy. Even on many international issues beyond western Europe, Spain prefers to coordinate its efforts with its EU partners through the European political cooperation mechanisms.

With the normalization of diplomatic relations with North Korea in 2001, Spain completed the process of universalizing its diplomatic relations.

Spain has maintained its special identification with Latin America. Its policy emphasizes the concept of an Iberoamerican community, essentially the renewal of the historically liberal concept of hispanoamericanismo, or Hispanism as it is often referred to in English, which has sought to link the Iberian peninsula with Latin America through language, commerce, history and culture. Spain has been an effective example of transition from dictatorship to democracy for formerly non-democratic Latin American states, as shown in the many trips that Spain's King and Prime Ministers have made to the region.

Territorial disputes

Spain claims Gibraltar, a 6 square km Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom in the southernmost part of the Iberian Peninsula. Then a Spanish town, it was conquered by an Anglo-Dutch force in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession on behalf of the Archduke Charles, pretender to the Spanish throne.

Port of Melilla

The legal situation concerning Gibraltar was settled in 1713 by the Treaty of Utrecht, in which Spain ceded the territory in perpetuity to the British Crown stating that, should the British abandon this post, it would be offered to Spain first. Ever since the 1940s Spain has called for the return of Gibraltar. The overwhelming majority of Gibraltarians strongly oppose this, along with any proposal of shared sovereignty. UN resolutions call on the United Kingdom and Spain, both EU members, to reach an agreement over the status of Gibraltar.

However, the Spanish claim handles in a different way the Rock and the city of Gibraltar, ceded by the Treaty of Utrecht, and, on the other hand, the isthmus that connects the Rock to the Spanish mainland. Spain notes that this territory was not ceded by said Treaty and therefore asserts that the "occupation of the isthmus is illegal and against the principles of the International Law". The United Kingdom relies on de facto arguments of possession by prescription in relation to the isthmus, as there has been "continuous possession [of the isthmus] over a long period".

Spain claims the sovereignty over the Perejil Island, a small, uninhabited rocky islet located in the South shore of the Strait of Gibraltar. The island lies 250 meters just off the coast of Morocco, 8 km from Ceuta and 13.5 km from mainland Spain. Its sovereignty is disputed between Spain and Morocco. It was the subject of an armed incident between the two countries in 2002. The incident ended when both countries agreed to return to the status quo ante which existed prior to the Moroccan occupation of the island. The islet is now deserted and without any sign of sovereignty.

Morocco claims the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla and the plazas de soberanía islets off the northern coast of Africa. Portugal does not recognise Spain's sovereignty over the territory of Olivenza.

Emblem of Spanish Armed Forces


The armed forces of Spain are known as the Spanish Armed Forces (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Españolas). Their Commander-in-chief is the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I.

The Spanish Armed Forces are divided into three branches:

  • Army (Ejército de Tierra)
  • Navy (Armada)
  • Air Force (Ejército del Aire)


Madrid: Cuatro Torres Business Area

Spain's capitalist mixed economy is the twelfth largest worldwide and the sixth largest in Europe. It is also the third largest world investor.

The centre-right government of former prime minister José María Aznar worked successfully to gain admission to the group of countries launching the euro in 1999. Unemployment stood at 7.6% in October 2006, a rate that compared favorably to many other European countries, and especially with the early 1990s when it stood at over 20%. Perennial weak points of Spain's economy include high inflation, a large underground economy, and an education system which OECD reports place among the poorest for developed countries, together with the United States and UK.

However, the property bubble that begun building from 1997, fed by historically low interest rates and an immense surge in immigration, imploded in 2008, leading to a rapidly weakening economy and soaring unemployment. By the end of May 2009 unemployment already reached 18.7% (37% for youths).

Spain is part of a monetary union, the Eurozone (dark blue), and of the EU single market.

Before the current crisis, the Spanish economy was credited for having avoided the virtual zero growth rate of some of its largest partners in the EU. In fact, the country's economy created more than half of all the new jobs in the European Union over the five years ending 2005, a process that is rapidly being reversed. The Spanish economy has been until recently regarded as one of the most dynamic within the EU, attracting significant amounts of foreign investment.

The city of Valencia

The most recent economic growth benefited greatly from the global real estate boom, with construction representing an astonishing 16% of GDP and 12% of employment in its final year. According to calculations by the German newspaper Die Welt, Spain was on course to overtake countries like Germany in per capita income by 2011. However, the downside of the now defunct real estate boom is a corresponding rise in the levels of personal debt: as prospective home owners struggled to meet asking prices, the average level of household debt tripled in less than a decade. This placed especially great pressure upon lower to middle income groups; by 2005 the median ratio of indebtedness to income had grown to 125%, due primarily to expensive boom time mortgages that now often exceed the value of the property.

In 2008/2009 the credit crunch and world recession manifested itself in Spain through a massive downturn in the property sector. Fortunately, Spain's banks and financial services avoided the more severe problems of their counterparts in the USA and UK, due mainly to a stringently enforced conservative financial regulatory regime. The Spanish financial authorities had not forgotten the country's own banking crisis of 1979 and an earlier real estate precipitated banking crisis of 1993. Indeed, Spain's largest bank, Banco Santander, took part in the UK government's bail-out of part of the UK banking sector.

A European Commission forecast predicted Spain would enter a recession by the end of 2008. According to Spain’s Finance Minister, “Spain faces its deepest recession in half a century”. Spain's government forecast the unemployment rate would rise to 16% in 2009. The ESADE business school predicted 20%.


During the last four decades the Spanish tourism industry has grown to become the second biggest in the world, worth approximately 40 billion Euros, about 5% of GDP, in 2006. Today, the climate of Spain, historical and cultural monuments and its geographic position together with its facilities make tourism one of Spain's main national industries and a large source of stable employment and development. The Spanish hotel star rating system has requirements much more demanding than other European countries, so at a given rating Spanish accommodations worth higher.

PS10 Seville solar power tower


Spanish territory lacks petroleum so alternative sources of energy is a strategic point. It has reached important records. In 2010 Spain overtook United States as the solar power world leader, with a massive power station plant called La Florida, near Alvarado, Badajoz. In 2009, more than 50% of the produced energy in Spain was generated by wind mills, and the highest total production record was reached with 11.546 eolic Megawatts.


AVE Barcelona-Madrid

The Spanish road system is mainly centralized, with 6 highways connecting Madrid to the Basque Country, Catalonia, Valencia, West Andalusia, Extremadura and Galicia. Additionally, there are highways along the Atlantic ( Ferrol to Vigo), Cantabrian ( Oviedo to San Sebastián) and Mediterranean ( Girona to Cádiz) coasts.

Spain currently has a total of 1272 km of high speed train linking Málaga, Seville, Madrid, Barcelona and Valladolid. Should the aims of the ambitious AVE program (Spanish high speed trains) be met, by 2020 Spain will have 7000 km (4300 mi) of high-speed trains linking almost all provincial cities to Madrid in less than 3 hours and Barcelona within 4 hours.

The busiest airport in Spain is the airport of Madrid (Barajas), with 50.8 million passengers in 2008, being the world's 11th busiest airport. The airport of Barcelona (El Prat) is also important, with 30 million passengers in 2008. Other airports are located in Gran Canaria, Málaga, Valencia, Seville, Mallorca, Alicante and Bilbao.

Spain aims to put 1 million electric cars on the road by 2014 as part of the government's plan to save energy and boost energy efficiency. The Minister of Industry Miguel Sebastian said that "the electric vehicle is the future and the engine of an industrial revolution."


Geographical distribution of the Spanish population in 2008

In 2008 the population of Spain officially reached 46 million people, as recorded by the Padrón municipal. Spain's population density, at 91/km² (235/sq mi), is lower than that of most Western European countries and its distribution across the country is very unequal. With the exception of the region surrounding the capital, Madrid, the most populated areas lie around the coast. The population of Spain doubled during the 20th century, principally due to the spectacular demographic boom in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Native Spaniards make up 88% of the total population of Spain. After the birth rate plunged in the 1980s and Spain's population growth rate dropped, the population again trended upward, based initially on the return of many Spaniards who had emigrated to other European countries during the 1970s, and more recently, fuelled by large numbers of immigrants who make up 12% of the population. The immigrants originate mainly in Latin America (39%), North Africa (16%) Eastern Europe (15%), and Sub-Saharan Africa (4%). In 2005, Spain instituted a three-month amnesty program through which certain hitherto undocumented aliens were granted legal residency.

In 2008, Spain granted citizenship to 84,170 persons, mostly to people from Ecuador, Colombia and Morocco. A sizeable portion of foreign residents in Spain also comes from other Western and Central European countries. These are mostly British, French, German, Dutch, and Norwegian. They reside primarily on the Mediterranean costas and Balearic islands, where many are choosing to live their retirement or telework.

Substantial populations descended from Spanish colonists and immigrants exist in other parts of the world, most notably in Latin America. Beginning in the late 15th century, large numbers of Iberian colonists settled in what became Latin America and at present most white Latin Americans (who make up about one-third of Latin America's population) are of Spanish or Portuguese origin. In the 16th century perhaps 240,000 Spaniards emigrated, mostly to Peru and Mexico. They were joined by 450,000 in the next century. Between 1846 and 1932 nearly 5 million Spaniards went to the Americas, especially to Argentina and Brazil. From 1960 to 1975, approximately two million Spaniards migrated to other Western European countries. During the same time period, about 300,000 people left Spain for Latin America.


Map of the main metropolitan areas


The city of Las Palmas de G.C.



The city of Girona



The city of Toledo


See also List of metropolitan areas in Spain by population Source: ESPON, 2007

Pos. City Region Prov. population
1 Madrid Madrid Madrid 6,103,000
2 Barcelona Catalonia Barcelona 4,851,000
3 Valencia Valencian Community Valencia 1,499,000
4 Seville Andalusia Seville 1,262,000
5 Bilbao Basque Country Biscay 1,000,000
6 Málaga Andalusia Málaga 900,000
7 Oviedo– Gijón Asturias Asturias 844,000
8 Alicante– Elche Valencian Community Alicante 793,000
9 Las Palmas de G.C. Canarias Las Palmas 750,000
10 Zaragoza Aragon Zaragoza 730,000
Pos. City Region Prov. population
1 Madrid Madrid Madrid 3,213,271
2 Barcelona Catalonia Barcelona 1,615,908
3 Valencia Valencian Community Valencia 810,064
4 Seville Andalusia Seville 703.206
5 Zaragoza Aragon Zaragoza 699.240
6 Málaga Andalusia Málaga 566,447
7 Murcia Murcia Murcia 430,571
8 Palma de Mallorca Balearic Islands Balearic Islands 401,570
9 Las Palmas de G.C. Canary Islands Las Palmas 381,723
10 Bilbao Basque Country Biscay 353,340


The Spanish Constitution of 1978, in its second article, recognises historic entities ("nationalities", a carefully chosen word in order to avoid the more politically charged "nations") and regions, within the context of the Spanish nation. For some people, Spain's identity consists more of an overlap of different regional identities than of a sole Spanish identity. Indeed, some of the regional identities may even conflict with the Spanish one. Distinct traditional regional identities within Spain include the Basques, Catalans, Galicians and Castilians, among others.

It is this last feature of "shared identity" between the more local level or Autonomous Community and the Spanish level which makes the identity question in Spain complex and far from univocal.

Minority groups

Spain has a number of descendants of populations from former colonies (especially Equatorial Guinea) and immigrants from several Sub-Saharan and Caribbean countries have been recently settling in Spain. There are also sizeable numbers of Asian immigrants, most of whom are of Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Middle Eastern and South Asian origins; the population of Latin Americans (who can also be of Spaniard descent) is sizeable as well and a fast growing segment. Other growing groups are Britons, 760,000 in 2006, Germans and other immigrants from the rest of Europe.

The arrival of the Gitanos, a Romani people, began in the 16th century; estimates of the Spanish Gitano population fluctuate around 700,000. The Mercheros (also Quinquis) are a minority group, formerly nomadic, that share a lot of the way of life of Gitanos. Their origin is unclear.


According to the Spanish government there were 4.5 million foreign residents in Spain in 2007; independent estimates put the figure at 4.8 million people, or 11% of the total population. According to residence permit data for 2005, about 500,000 were Moroccan, another 500,000 were Ecuadorian, more than 200,000 were Romanian, and 260,000 were Colombian. Other sizeable foreign communities are British (8%), French (8%), Argentine (6%), German (6%) and Bolivian (3%). Spain has more than 200,000 migrants from West and Central Africa. Since 2000, Spain has experienced high population growth as a result of immigration flows, despite a birth rate that is only half the replacement level. This sudden and ongoing inflow of immigrants, particularly those arriving clandestinely by sea, has caused noticeable social tension.

Within the EU, Spain has the second highest immigration rate in percentage terms after Cyprus, but by a great margin, the highest in absolute numbers. There are a number of reasons for the high level of immigration, including Spain's cultural ties with Latin America, its geographical position, the porosity of its borders, the large size of its underground economy and the strength of the agricultural and construction sectors, which demand more low cost labour than can be offered by the national workforce.

Another statistically significant factor is the large number of residents of EU origin typically retiring to Spain's Mediterranean coast. In fact, Spain was Europe's largest absorber of migrants from 2002 to 2007, with its immigrant population more than doubling as 2.5 million people arrived. According to the Financial Times, Spain is the most favoured destination for West Europeans considering a move from their own country and seeking jobs elsewhere in the EU.

The number of immigrants in Spain has grown up from 500,000 people in 1996 to 5.2 million in 2008 out of a total population of 46 million. In 2005 alone, a regularisation programme increased the legal immigrant population by 700,000 people. Unemployment among immigrants has risen 67% in 2007. Spain's new Plan of Voluntary Return encourages immigrants to leave Spain for three years and offers up to €25,000, but so far, only 186 Ecuadorans have signed up to return. In the program's first two months last year, just 1,400 immigrants took up the offer.


The languages of Spain (simplified)
  Spanish official and spoken all over the country
   Catalan/Valencian, co-official
   Basque, co-official
   Galician, co-official
   Aranese, co-official (dialect of Occitan)
   Asturian, recognised
   Aragonese, recognised
   Leonese, unofficial
   Extremaduran, unofficial
   Fala, unofficial

Spanish (español or castellano, Castilian) is spoken all over the country and so is the only language with official status nationwide. But a number of regional languages have been declared co-official, along with Spanish, in the constituent communities where they are spoken:

  • Basque (euskera) (2%) in the Basque Country and Navarre;
  • Catalan (català) (17%) in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands; Valencian (valencià), a distinct variant of Catalan, is official in the Valencian Community;
  • Galician (galego) (7%) in Galicia.

There are also some other surviving Romance minority languages such as the Astur-Leonese group, which includes two languages in Spain: Asturian (officially called " Bable") which has protected status in Asturias, and Leonese, which is protected in Castile and León. Aragonese is vaguely recognized in Aragon. Unlike Basque, Catalan/Valencian and Galician, these languages do not have any official status. This might be due to their very small number of speakers, a less significant written tradition in comparison to Catalan or Galician, and lower self-awareness of their speakers which traditionally meant lack of strong popular demand for their recognition in the regions in which they are spoken.

In the North African Spanish city of Melilla, Riff Berber is spoken by a significant part of the population. In the tourist areas of the Mediterranean coast and the islands, English and German are widely spoken by tourists, foreign residents, and tourism workers.


State education in Spain is free and compulsory from the age of 6 to 16. The current education system was established by an educational law of 1990, Ley Orgánica de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativo – Law on the General Organization of the Educational System.


Religions in Spain
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Numbers from the following source:

Roman Catholicism has long been the main religion of Spain,and although it no longer has official status by law,in all public schools in Spain students have to choose either religion or ethics and Catholic is the only religion officially taught although in some schools there are large numbers of Muslim students together. According to a July 2009 study by the Spanish Centre of Sociological Research about 73% of Spaniards self-identify as Catholics, 2.1% other faith, and about 22% identify with no religion among which 7.3% are atheists. Most Spaniards do not participate regularly in religious services. This same study shows that of the Spaniards who identify themselves as religious, 58% hardly ever or never go to church, 17% go to church some times a year, 9% some time per month and 15% every Sunday or multiple times per week.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral ( A Coruña), the destination of the Way of St. James

But according to a December 2006 study, 48% of the population declared a belief in a supreme being, while 41% described themselves as atheist or agnostic. Altogether, about 22% of the entire Spanish population attends religious services at least once per month. Though Spanish society has become considerably more secular in recent decades, the influx of Latin American immigrants, who tend to be strong Catholic practitioners, has helped the Catholic Church to recover.

Protestant churches have about 1,200,000 members. There are about 105,000 Jehovah's Witnesses. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has approximately 46,000 adherents in 133 congregations in all regions of the country and has a temple in the Moratalaz District of Madrid.

The recent waves of immigration have also led to an increasing number of Muslims, who number approximately one million in Spain. Presently, Islam is the second largest religion in Spain, accounting for approximately 2.3% of the total population. After their expulsion in 1492, Muslims did not live in Spain for centuries. Late 19th-century colonial expansion in northwestern Africa gave a number of residents in Spanish Morocco and Western Sahara full citizenship. Their ranks have since been bolstered by recent immigration, especially from Morocco and Algeria.

Judaism was practically non-existent in Spain from the 1492 expulsion until the 19th century, when Jews were again permitted to enter the country. Currently there are around 62,000 Jews in Spain, or 0.14% of the total population. Most are arrivals in the past century, while some are descendants of earlier Spanish Jews. Approximately 80,000 Jews are thought to have lived in Spain on the eve of the Spanish Inquisition. Currently, Jews of Sephardic origin are given preferential status in the acquisition of Spanish citizenship.


The Hemispheric at the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Valencia

Spain is known for its culturally diverse heritage, having been influenced by many nations and peoples throughout its history. Spanish culture has its origins in the Iberian, Celtiberian, Latin, Visigothic, Roman Catholic, and Islamic cultures.

The definition of a national Spanish culture has been characterized by tension between the centralized state, dominated in recent centuries by Castile, and numerous regions and minority peoples. In addition, the history of the nation and its Mediterranean and Atlantic environment have played strong roles in shaping its culture. After Italy, Spain has the second highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, with a total of 40.


Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote is considered to be the first modern novel.

The term Spanish literature refers to literature written in the Spanish language, including literature composed in Spanish by writers not necessarily from Spain. For literature from Spain in languages other than the Spanish, see Catalan literature, Basque literature and Galician literature. Equally, for Spanish-American literature specifically, see Latin American literature. Due to historic, geographic and generational diversity, Spanish literature has known a great number of influences and it is very diverse. Some major literary movements can be identified within it.

Miguel de Cervantes is probably Spain's most famous author and his Don Quixote is considered the most emblematic work in the canon of Spanish literature and a founding classic of Western literature.


The Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española or RAE, in Spanish) is the institution responsible for regulating the Spanish language. It is based in Madrid, but is affiliated with national language academies in 21 Spanish-speaking nations through the Association of Spanish Language Academies. Its emblem is a fiery crucible, and its motto is Limpia, fija y da esplendor ("It cleans, sets, and gives splendor").

The Institute for Catalan Studies (Institut d'Estudis Catalans or IEC, in Catalan) is an academic institution which seeks to undertake research and study into "all elements of Catalan culture". The IEC is known principally for its work in standardizing the Catalan language. The IEC is based in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Officially the IEC provides standards for Catalonia proper, Northern Catalonia (located in France), the Balearic Islands, and the Principality of Andorra (the only country where Catalan is the sole official language). The Valencian Community has its own language academy, the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua. In an area known as the Franja de Ponent, the eastern edge of Aragon adjacent to Catalonia where Catalan is spoken, the rules are used de facto although Catalan is not an official language.


Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

Artists from Spain have been highly influential in the development of various European artistic movements. Due to historical, geographical and generational diversity, Spanish art has known a great number of influences. The Moorish heritage in Spain, especially in Andalusia, is still evident today in cities like Córdoba, Seville, and Granada. European influences include Italy, Germany and France, especially during the Baroque and Neoclassical periods.


Spanish cinema has achieved major international success including Oscars for recent films such as Pan's Labyrinth and Volver. In the long history of Spanish cinema, the great filmmaker Luis Buñuel was the first to achieve world recognition, followed by Pedro Almodóvar in the 1980s. Spanish cinema has also seen international success over the years with films by directors like Segundo de Chomón, Florián Rey, Luis García Berlanga, Carlos Saura, Julio Medem and Alejandro Amenábar.


The Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid

Spanish architecture refers to architecture carried out during any era in what is now modern-day Spain, and by Spanish architects worldwide. The term includes buildings within the current geographical limits of Spain before this name was given to those territories, whether they were called Hispania, Al-Andalus, or were formed of several Christian kingdoms.

Nativity facade of the Sagrada Família Temple in Barcelona

Due to its historical and geographical diversity, Spanish architecture has drawn from a host of influences. An important provincial city founded by the Romans and with an extensive Roman era infrastructure, Córdoba became the cultural capital, including fine Arabic style architecture, during the time of the Islamic Umayyad dynasty. Later Arab style architecture continued to be developed under successive Islamic dynasties, ending with the Nasrid, which built its famed palace complex in Granada.

Simultaneously, the Christian kingdoms gradually emerged and developed their own styles; developing a pre-Romanesque style when for a while isolated from contemporary mainstream European architectural influences during the earlier Middle Ages, they later integrated the Romanesque and Gothic streams. There was then an extraordinary flowering of the gothic style that resulted in numerous instances being built throughout the entire territory. The Mudéjar style, from the 12th to 17th centuries, was developed by introducing Arab style motifs, patterns and elements into European architecture.

Auditorio de Tenerife in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The arrival of Modernism in the academic arena produced much of the architecture of the 20th century. An influential style centered in Barcelona, known as modernisme, produced a number of important architects, of which Gaudí is one. The International style was led by groups like GATEPAC. Spain is currently experiencing a revolution in contemporary architecture and Spanish architects like Rafael Moneo, Santiago Calatrava, Ricardo Bofill as well as many others have gained worldwide renown.


Spanish music is often considered abroad to be synonymous with flamenco, a West Andalusian musical genre, which, contrary to popular belief, is not widespread outside that region. Various regional styles of folk music abound in Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Castile, the Basque Country, Galicia and Asturias. Pop, rock, hip hop and heavy metal are also popular.

Spanish bagpipers or gaiteros, in Celanova ( Ourense)

In the field of classical music, Spain has produced a number of noted composers such as Isaac Albéniz, Manuel de Falla and Enrique Granados and singers and performers such as Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Montserrat Caballé, Alicia de Larrocha, Alfredo Kraus, Pablo Casals, Ricardo Viñes, José Iturbi, Pablo de Sarasate, Jordi Savall and Teresa Berganza. In Spain there are over forty professional orchestras, including the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona, Orquesta Nacional de España and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid. Major opera houses include the Teatro Real,the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Teatro Arriaga and the El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.

Thousands of music fans also travel to Spain each year for internationally recognised summer music festivals Sonar which often features the top up and coming pop and techno acts, and Benicasim which tends to feature alternative rock and dance acts . Both festivals mark Spain as an international music presence and reflect the tastes of young people in the country.

The musical instrument originating in Spain most popular is undoubtedly the guitar. Also typical of the northern bands of bagpipers (gaiteros), mainly in Galicia and the Principality of Asturias.


Paella, a dish originating in the Valencian Community, Spain

Spanish cuisine consists of a great variety of dishes which stem from differences in geography, culture and climate. It is heavily influenced by seafood available from the waters that surround the country, and reflects the country's deep Mediterranean roots. Spain's extensive history with many cultural influences has led to a unique cuisine. In particular, three main divisions are easily identified:

  • Mediterranean Spain – all such coastal regions, from Catalonia to Andalusia: heavy use of seafood, such as pescaíto frito; several cold soups like gazpacho; and many rice-based dishes like paella from Valencia and arroz negro from Catalonia.
  • Inner Spain – Castile: hot, thick soups such as the bread and garlic-based Castilian soup, along with substantious stews such as cocido madrileño. Food is traditionally conserved by salting, like Spanish ham, or immersed in olive oil, like Manchego cheese.
  • Atlantic Spain – the whole Northern coast, from Galicia to Navarre: vegetable and fish-based stews like pote gallego and marmitako. Also, the lightly cured lacón ham.


The Camp Nou, in Barcelona: the largest football stadium in Europe

Sport in Spain has been dominated by football since the early 20th century. Real Madrid C.F. and F.C. Barcelona are two of the most successful football clubs in the world. The country's national football team won the UEFA European Football Championship in 1964 and 2008 and the FIFA World Cup in 2010.

Basketball, tennis, cycling, handball, motorcycling and, lately, Formula One are also important due to the presence of Spanish champions in all these disciplines. Today, Spain is a major world sports power, especially since the 1992 Summer Olympics that were hosted in Barcelona and promoted a great variety of sports in the country. The tourism industry has led to an improvement in sports infrastructure, especially for water sports, golf and skiing.

Rafael Nadal is the leading Spanish tennis player and has won several Grand Slam titles including the Wimbledon 2010 men's singles. In north Spain is the game of pelota is very popular. Alberto Contador is the leading Spanish cyclist and has won several Grand Tour titles including the 3 Tour de France titles.

Public holidays

Public holidays celebrated in Spain include a mix of religious (Roman Catholic), national and regional observances. Each municipality is allowed to declare a maximum of 14 public holidays per year; up to nine of these are chosen by the national government and at least two are chosen locally. Spain's National Day ( Fiesta Nacional de España) is October 12, the anniversary of the Discovery of America and commemorate Our Lady of the Pillar feast, patroness of Aragón and throughout Spain.

The city of San Sebastián in Guipúzcoa
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