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The Kingdom of Spain is a country located in the southwest of Europe. It shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal and Gibraltar. To the northeast, along the Pyrenees mountain range, it borders France and the tiny principality of Andorra. It includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, the cities of Ceuta and Melilla in the north of Africa, and a number of minor uninhabited islands on the Mediterranean side of the strait of Gibraltar, such as the Chafarine islands, the "rocks" (es: peñones) of Vélez; and Alhucemas, and the tiny Parsley Island.

Spain has been a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy since the Spanish Constitution of 1978 was approved.

Regne d'Espanya (Catalan)
Reino de España (Galician)
Espainiako Erresuma (Basque)
Reino de España (Spanish)
(In Detail) Coat of Arms
National motto: Plus Ultra (further beyond)
Official languages Spanish (Castilian)
(in some autonomous communities, Catalan¹, Basque or Galician are co-official)
Capital Madrid
Largest City Madrid
Capital´s coordinates
40° 24' N, 3° 41' W
King Juan Carlos I (since 1975)
Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 50th
504,782 km²
 - Total (2003)
 - Density
Ranked 29th
Currency Euro (€)², Spanish euro coins
Time zones Mainland: UTC+1 (Canary Islands UTC 0). DST.
National anthem Marcha Real
Internet TLD .ES
Calling Code 34
(1)Aranese (a Gascon dialect ) is granted a special status in the Val d'Aran (Catalonia)
(2) Prior to 1999: Spanish peseta

Table of contents
1 History
2 Politics
3 Administrative divisions
4 Geography
5 Economy
6 Languages
7 Identities
8 Religion
9 Culture
10 International rankings
11 Further Reading
12 Miscellaneous topics
13 External links


Main article: History of Spain

The original peoples of the Iberian peninsula (in the sense that they are not known to have come from elsewhere), consisting of a number of separate tribes, are given the generic name of Iberians. This includes the Basque, the only pre-Roman Iberian people surviving to the present day as a separate ethnic group. The most important culture of this period is that of the city of Tartessos. Beginning in the 9th century BC, Celtic tribes entered the Iberian peninsula through the Pyrenees and settled throughout the peninsula, becoming the Celt-Iberians.

The seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians successively settled along the Mediterranean coast and founded trading colonies there over a period of several centuries.

Around 1,100 BC Phoenician merchants founded the trading colony of Gadir (modern day Cádiz;) near Tartessos. In the 8th century BC the first Greek colonies, such as Emporion (modern Empúries), were founded along the Mediterranean coast on the East, leaving the south coast to the Phoenicians. The Greeks are responsible for the name Iberia, after the river Iber (Ebro in Spanish). In the 6th century BC the Carthaginians arrive in Iberia as while struggling with the Greeks for control of the Western Mediterranean. Their most important colony is Carthago Nova (Latin name of modern day Cartagena).

The Romans arrived in the Iberian peninsula during the second Punic war in the 2nd century BC, and annexed it under Augustus after two centuries of war with the Celtic and Iberian tribes and the Phoenician, Greek and Carthaginian colonies becoming the province of Hispania. Some of Spain's present languages, religion, and laws originate from this Roman period.

As the Roman empire declined, the Suebi, Vandals and Alans each took control of part of Hispania. In the 5th century CE the Visigoths, a romanized germanic tribe, conquered all of Hispania and established a relatively stable kingdom lasting until 711, when it fell to an invasion by Islamic North African Moors and became part of the expanding Umayyad empire, under the name of Al-Andalus. When the Umayyad empire gave way to the Abbaside empire, an Umayyad exile established the Califate of Cordoba, effectively making Al-Andalus independent from the empire.

Modern Spain began to take form during the Reconquista, the struggle among the Christian kingdoms that the moors left unconquered in northern peninsula and the kingdoms into which Al-Andalus had split. In 1492, Granada, the last Moorish kingdom was defeated by the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I of Castile (Isabel La Católica) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (Fernando el Católico or Ferran el Catòlic).

The kingdom of the Catholic Monarchs then imposed the Christian religion: in 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand ordered the expulsion of all Jews from their dominions, having imposed physical segregation in 1480 (two years after the establishment of the Inquisition), and in 1502 Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity or be banished.

After the conquest of Granada, Isabella funded Christopher Columbus' in his attemps to reach Asia through a western route across the Atlantic Ocean what became the arrival of the Spaniards to the "New World".

By 1512, most of the kingdoms of present-day Spain were politically unified (with the exception of Navarre) although not as a modern centralized state. The grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand, Charles I, extended his crown to other places in Europe and the rest of the world. And the unification of Iberia was complete when Charles I's son, Philip II, became King of Portugal in 1580, as well as of the other Iberian Kingdoms (collectively know as "Spain").

In 1640, under Philip IV, the centralist policy of the Count-Duke of Olivares provoked wars in Portugal and Catalonia: Portugal became an independent kingdom again and Catalonia enjoyed some years of French-supported independence, but was quickly returned to the Spanish Crown.

During the 16th century, Spain became the most powerful nation in Europe, due to the immense wealth derived from the Spanish colonisation of the Americas. But a series of long, costly wars and revolts began a steady decline of Spanish power in Europe. Controversy over succession to the throne consumed the country during the first years of the 18th century (see War of the Spanish Succession). It was only after this war ended and a new dynasty (the French Bourbons) was installed that a centralized Spanish state was established.

Spain was occupied by Napoleon in the early 1800s, but the Spaniards raised in arms. After the war of Independence (1808-1812), a series of revolts and armed conflicts between Liberals and supporters of the Ancient Regime lasted throughout much of the 19th century, complicated by a dispute over dynastic succession by the Carlists which led to three civil wars. After that, Spain was briefly a Republic, from 1871 to 1873, year in which a series of coups reinstalled the monarchy.

In the meantime, Spain lost most of its colonies in the Americas during the 19th century, a trend which ended with the loss of Cuba and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The 20th century initially brought little peace; colonisation of Western Sahara, Spanish Morocco and Equatorial Guinea was attempted as a substitute for the loss of the Americas. A period of dictatorial rule (1923-1931) ended with the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic. The Republic afforded political autonomy to the Basque Country and Catalonia and gave voting rights to women. However, with increasing political polarisation and pressure from all sides, coupled with growing and unchecked political violence, the Republic ended with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936. Following the victory of the nationalist forces in 1939, General Francisco Franco ruled a nation exhausted politically and economically until his death in 1975.

After World War II, being one of few surviving fascist regimes in Europe, Spain was politically and economically isolated, and kept out of the United Nations until 1955, when it became strategically important for US president Eisenhower to establish a military presence in the Iberian peninsula. The opening to Spain was aided by Franco's rabid anticommunism.

In the 1960s, more than a decade later than other western European countries, Spain began to enjoy economic growth and gradually transformed into a modern industrial economy with a thriving tourism sector. Growth continued well into the 1970s, with Franco's government going to great lengths to shield the Spanish people from the effects of the oil crisis.

Upon the death of the dictator General Franco in November 1975, his personally designated heir Prince Juan Carlos assumed the position of king and head of state. He played a key role in guiding Spain further in its growth into a modern democratic state, notably in opposing an attempted coup d'etat in 1981. Spain joined NATO in 1982 and became a member of the European Union in 1986.

With the approval of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and the arrival of democracy, the old historic nationalities — Basque Country, Catalonia and Galicia — were given far-reaching autonomy, which was then soon extended to all Spanish regions, resulting in one of the most decentralized territorial organizations in Western Europe.

See also: List of Spanish monarchs, Kings of Spain family tree, List of Prime Ministers of Spain


Main article:
Politics of Spain

Spain is a constitutional monarchy, with a hereditary monarch and a bicameral parliament, the Cortes or National Assembly. The executive branch consists of a Council of Minister presided over by the President of Government (comparable to a prime minister), proposed by the monarch and elected by the National Assembly following legislative elections.

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 or 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.

Spain is, at present, what is called a State of Autonomies, formally unitary but, in fact, functioning as a Federation of Autonomous Communities, each one with different powers (for instances, some have their own educational and health systems, others do not) and laws. There are some problems with this system, since some autonomous governments (especially those dominated by nationalist parties) are seeking a more federalist kind of relationship with Spain, while the Central Government is trying to restrict what some see as excessive autonomy of some autonomous communities (ex. Basque Country and Catalonia).

Terrorism is a problem of present-day Spain, since ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom) is trying to achieve Basque independence through violent means, including bombings and murders. Although Basque Autonomous government does not condone any kind of violence, the different approaches to the problem are a source of tension between Central and Basque governments.

Administrative divisions

Administratively, Spain is divided into 50 provinces, grouped into 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities with high degree of autonomy.

Autonomous communities

Main article: Autonomous communities of Spain

Spain consists of 17 autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas) and 2 autonomous cities (ciudades autónomas; Ceuta and Melilla).

The Spanish constitution recognises historic nationalities, but does not grant a special status for them. Navarre and the Basque Country have a special tax revenue system.


Main article: Provinces of Spain

The Spanish kingdom is also divided in 50 provinces (provincias). Autonomous communities group provinces (for instance, Extremadura is made of two provinces: Cáceres and Badajoz). The autonomous communities of Asturias, the Balearic Islands, Cantabria, La Rioja, Navarre, Murcia, and Madrid are each composed of a single province.

Places of sovereignty

There are also five places of sovereignty (plazas de soberanía) on and off the African coast: the cities of Ceuta and Melilla are administered as autonomous cities, an intermediate status between cities and communities; the islands of the Islas Chafarinas, Peñón de Alhucemas, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera are under direct Spanish administration.

The Canary islands, Ceuta and Melilla, although not officially historic communities, enjoy a special status.


Main article: Geography of Spain

Mainland Spain is dominated by high plateaus and mountain ranges such as the Pyrenees or 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. Spain is bound to the east by Mediterranean Sea (containing the Balearic Islands), to the north by the Bay of Biscay and to its west by the Atlantic Ocean, where the Canary Islands off the African coast are found.

Spain's climate can be divided in four areas:

Territorial disputes

Spain has called for the return of possession of
Gibraltar, a tiny British possession on its southern coast. It changed hands during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713. The most recent talks dealt with the idea of "total shared sovereignty" over Gibraltar, subject to a constitutional referendum by Gibraltarians, who have expressed opposition to any form of cession to Spain. The talks have been frozen, after the result of a referendum in Gibraltar where 91% of the people opposed them. See Gibraltar for more information.

Morocco disputes the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and the uninhabited Vélez;, Alhucemas, Chafarinas, and Perejil ("Parsley") islands, all on the northern coast of Africa.

The town of Olivenza (Extremadura) and its country is claimed by Portugal, but the Spanish public is not generally aware of that claim.


Main article: Economy of Spain

Spain's mixed capitalist economy supports a GDP that on a per capita basis is 80% that of the four leading West European economies. Its center-right government successfully worked to gain admission to the first group of countries launching the European single currency on January 1, 1999. The administration of José María Aznar has continued to advocate liberalisation, privatisation, and deregulation of the economy and has introduced some tax reforms to that end. Unemployment has been steadily falling under the Aznar administration but remains the highest in the EU at 11.7%. The government intends to make further progress in changing labour laws and reforming pension schemes, which are key to the sustainability of both Spain's internal economic advances and its competitiveness in a single currency area. A general strike in mid-2002 reduced co-operation between labor and government. Growth of 2.4% in 2003 was satisfactory given the background of a faltering European economy. Adjusting to the monetary and other economic policies of an integrated Europe — and reducing unemployment — will pose challenges to Spain over the next few years.

Spain is the second tourism destination in the World after France. They welcome 52 million tourists per year.

See also: List of Spanish companies


Main article:
Demographics of Spain

The Spanish Constitution, although affirming the sovereignty of the Spanish Nation, recognises historical nationalities.

Along with Spanish (official language throughout Spain), other major languages are spoken in Spain, which are official in certain autonomous communities:

Catalan, Galician, Aranese (Occitan) and Spanish (Castilian) are all descended from Latin and have their own dialects; there are also some other surviving Romance minority languages such as Asturian, Astur-Leonese or Bable in Asturias and part of León;; and Aragonese or fabla in part of Aragon. However, unlike Catalan, Galician, and Basque, these do not have any official status. Berber language is spoken among Muslims in Ceuta and Melilla. In the touristic areas of the Mediterranean costas and the islands, German and English are spoken by tourists, foreign residents and tourism workers.

Many linguists claim that most of the Spanish language variants spoken in Latin America (Mexican, Argentinian, Columbian, etc. variants) descended from the Spanish spoken in southwestern Spain (Andalusia).


Spain is considered by many, including a large part of Spanish population, to be a group of nations unified under a single State, much like Belgium, Switzerland or the United Kingdom. Despite this, the policy of many Spanish governments has led to a "Spanish nationhood" which is the one people identify with Spain internationally.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 recognizes historic entities ("nationalities", not "nations") such as Catalonia, Galicia, the Basque Country or Navarre. In the 19th and 20th centuries, similar recognition was rare and short-lived.

But Spain's identity is, in fact, an overlap of different national identities, some of them even conflicting.

Castile is considered to be by many the "core" of Spain. However, this may just be a reflection of the fact that the Castilian national identity was the first one to be quashed by the Spanish Empire in the revolt of the Communards (comuneros). Today, Castilians generally consider themselves to be Spanish first, with regional identity being of lesser importance.

The opposite is the case of Galicians, Catalans and Basques, who quite frequently identify primarily with Galicia, Catalonia and the Basque Country first, with Spain only second, or even third, after Europe.

The situation is even more confusing, since there are regions with ambiguous identities, like Navarre, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, etc. There has been a lot of internal migration (rural exodus) from regions like Galicia, Andalusia and Extremadura to Madrid, Catalonia, Basque Country and the islands.

Until 1714, Spain was a loose confederation of kingdoms and statelets, under the same king, until — Philip V — removed the autonomous status of the Aragonese crown. Moreover, the creation of a unified state in the 19th and 20th centuries has lead to the present situation, apparently simple, but sometimes extremely confusing. During the Second Spanish Republic, the Basque and Catalan were given limited self-government, which was restored after 1978.

Yet, relationships betweeen Hispanic peoples have created strong ties between them, which are more apparent to foreigners than differences.

Minority groups

The most important minority group in the country are the gipsies.

Other indigenous minorities are Mercheros (or Quinquis) and Vaqueiros de alzada.


Spain is a predominantly (94%) Roman Catholic country, although the recent waves of immigration have lead to an increasing number of Muslims. The second religion of Spain according to membership is the church of the Jehovah's Witnesses; there are also many protestant branches, all of them with less than 50,000 members, and about 20,000 Latter Day Saints. Evangelism has been better received among Gypsies than among the general population; pastors have integrated flamenco music in their lithurgy. Since the expulsion of the Sephardim, Judaism was practically nonexistent until the 19th century.


Main article: Culture of Spain

International rankings

Further Reading

John Hickman and Chris Little, "Seat/Vote Proportionality in Romanian and Spanish Parliamentary Elections" Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans Volume 2, Number 2, November 2000.

Miscellaneous topics

External links

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