Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a country located in Southern Europe, with two small exclaves in North Africa (both bordering Morocco). The mainland of Spain is bounded on the south and east by Mediterranean Sea (containing the Balearic Islands), on the north by the Bay of Biscay and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean (containing the Canary Islands off the African coast). Spain shares land borders with Portugal, France, Andorra, Gibraltar and Morocco. It is the largest of three sovereign states that make up the Iberian Peninsula — the others being Portugal and Andorra.
In relation to many other countries of the world Spain, with its surface area of 505,957 square kilometers, takes up only a small part of the map. In terms of the European continent, however, Spain is the third largest country after the Community of Independent Sates and France.
Flag of Spain
Population. The population of Spain is 39 million, according to 1991 figures, which supposes an average density of 78 inhabitants per square kilometre, that is to say, one of the lowest rates of density of the European Union, somewhat higher than Greece and Ireland and sic times less than that of the Netherlands. The unequal distribution of the population throughout the territory has created an imbalance among the regions, presenting widely different population densities. There is a growing tendency for the population to concentrate in the coastal regions and of depopulation in the interior, with the exception of Madrid and a few other cities, owing to industrialization and urbanization.
Spain’s population density, at 87.8/km² (220/sq. mile), is lower than that of most Western European countries and its distribution along 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 twentieth century, due to the spectacular demographic boom by the 60’s and early 70’s. The pattern of growth was extremely uneven due to large-scale internal migration from the rural interior to the industrial cities during the 60’s and 70’s. No fewer than eleven of Spain’s fifty provinces saw an absolute decline in population over the century. Then, after the birth rate plunged in the 80’s and Spain’s population became stalled, a new population increase started based initially in the return of many Spanish who emigrated to other European countries during the 70’s and, more recently, it has been boosted by the large figures of foreign immigrants, mostly from Latin America (38.75%), Eastern Europe (16.33%), North Africa (14.99%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (4.08%). In 2005, Spain instituted a 3-month amnesty program through which certain hitherto undocumented aliens were granted legal residency. Also some important pockets of population coming from other countries in the European Union are found (20.77% of the foreign residents), specially along the Mediterranean costas and Balearic islands, where many choose to live their retirement or even telework. These are mostly English, French, German, and Dutch from fellow EU countries and, from outside the EU, Norwegian.
Sports. Sport in Spain has been traditionally dominated by football (soccer) (since the early 20th century), cycling and bullfighting (since the 17th century). 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 great touristic attraction of the country has caused an improvement of the sports infrastructure, especially for water sports, golf and skiing.
Bullfighting was started in the village squares and became formalized with the building of the bullring in Ronda in the late 18th century.
Bullfighting follows this sequence of events: the entrance of the bull, the picador, the banderillos, and finally the matador (bullfighter). Spanish-style bullfighting is called a corrida de toros, and is also named fiesta brava. In a traditional corrida three toreros, also called matadores (or in French, toreadores), each fight two out of a total of six bulls, each of which is at least four years old and weighs up to about 600 kg.
Bullfighting season in Spain runs from March to October. The fights that attract the most people are the ones held during a fiesta. The most prestigious of such fights is held for the fiesta of San Isidro in Madrid. Another day Spaniards celebrate is the feast day of San Pedro Regalado. Tradition has it that on this day in Valladolid there is a bullfight.
Football is is the most played sport in Spain. The highest division of football is La Liga, and is widely regarded as one of the world’s strongest, containing clubs such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia CF.
The Spanish national football team has made it to the World Cup finals eleven times, reaching every tournament since 1978. However, at the finals they are regarded as perennial underachievers: once there, Spain’s best finish was fourth place in 1950 and apart from that they have never progressed past the quarter-finals. Their record in the European Championship is slightly better: they were champions in 1964 and runners-up in 1984, but again have not progressed past the quarter-finals since then.
Spain won a silver medal in 2000 at the Sydney Games. They took the gold in Barcelona in 1992.
Government / Parties. 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 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.
Geography . At 194,884 mi² (504,782 km²), Spain is the world’s 51st-largest country. It is comparable in size to Turkmenistan, and is somewhat larger than the U.S. state of California.
On the west, Spain borders Portugal, on the south, it borders Gibraltar (a British overseas territory) and Morocco, through its cities in North Africa (Ceuta and Melilla). 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, the “rocks” (peñones) of Vélez and Alhucemas, and the tiny Isla Perejil. In the northeast along the Pyrenees, a small exclave town called Llívia in Catalonia is surrounded by French territory.
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 Tajo, 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.
Due to Spain’s geographical situation and orographic conditions, the climate is extremely diverse; it can be roughly divided in three areas:
A temperate version of the Continental climate takes place in the inland areas of the Peninsula (largest city, Madrid).
The Mediterranean climate region, which roughly extends from the Andalusian plain along the southern and eastern coasts up to the Pyrenees, on the seaward side of the mountain ranges that run near the coast (largest city, Barcelona).
An Oceanic climate takes place in Galicia and the coastal strip by the Bay of Biscay (largest city, Bilbao). This area is often called Green Spain.
The map of Spain
Religion in Spain. Roman Catholicism is the main religion in the country. About 76% of Spaniards self-identify as Catholics, about 2% with another religious faith, and about 19% identify as non-believers or atheists. A study conducted in October 2006 by the Spanish Centre of Sociological Investigations shows that from the 76% of Spaniards who identify as Catholics or other religious faith, 54% hardly ever or never go to church, 15% go to church some times a year, 10% some time per month and 19% every Sunday or multiple times per week. About 22% of the whole Spanish population attend religious services at least once a month.
Barcelona CathedralEvidence of the secular nature of contemporary Spain can be seen in the widespread support for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Spain — over 66% of Spaniards support gay marriage according to a 2004 study by the Centre of Sociological Investigations. Indeed, in June 2005 a bill was passed by 187 votes to 147 to allow gay marriage, making Spain the third country in the European Union to allow same-sex couples to marry after Belgium and the Netherlands.
Protestant denominations are also present, all of them with less than 50,000 members, about 20,000 in the case of the Latter-day Saints (Mormons). Evangelism has been better received among Gypsies than among the general population; pastors have integrated flamenco music in their liturgy. Taken together, all self-described “Evangelicals” slightly surpass Jehovah’s Witnesses (105,000) in number.
The recent waves of immigration have led to an increasing number of Muslims, who have about 1 million members. Muslims had not lived in Spain for centuries; however, colonial expansion in Northern and Western Africa gave some number of residents in the Spanish Morocco and the Sahara Occidental full citizenship. Nowadays, Islam is the second largest religion in Spain, after Roman Catholicism, accounting for approximately 3% of the total population.
Along with these waves of immigration, an important number of Latin American people, who are usually strong Catholic practitioners, have helped the Catholic Church to recover.
Judaism was practically non-existent until the 19th century, when Jews were again permitted to enter the country. Currently there are around 50,000 Jews in Spain, all arrivals in the past century and accounting less than 1% of the total number of inhabitants. Spain is believed to have been about 8% Jewish on the eve of the Spanish Inquisition.
Culture and famous people. Julio José Iglesias de la Cueva (born September 23, 1943 in Madrid, Spain) is Spain’s best selling singer and the best-selling Spanish singer of all time. Julio Iglesias has sold over 250 million records in different languages and released 77 records. He thus far has performed approximately 5,000 concerts during his career.
Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí Domènech Marquis of Pubol (May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989), popularly known as Salvador Dalí, was a Spanish (Catalan) artist and one of the most important painters of the 20th century. He was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking, bizarre, and beautiful images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in 1931. Salvador Dalí’s artistic repertoire also included film, sculpture, and photography. He collaborated with Walt Disney on the Academy Award-nominated short cartoon Destino, which was released posthumously in 2003. Born in Catalonia, Spain, Dalí insisted on his “Arab lineage,” claiming that his ancestors descended from the Moors who invaded Spain in 711, and attributed to these origins, “my love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes.”
Widely considered to be greatly imaginative, Dalí had an affinity for doing unusual things to draw attention to himself. This sometimes irked those who loved his art as much as it annoyed his critics, since his eccentric manner sometimes drew more public attention than his artwork. The purposefully sought notoriety led to broad public recognition and many purchases of his works by people from all walks of life.
Bullfighting or tauromachy (Spanish toreo, corrida de toros or tauromaquia; Portuguese tourada, corrida de touros or tauromaquia) is a tradition that involves professional performers (in Spanish toreros or matadores, in Portuguese toureiros) who execute various formal moves with the goal of appearing graceful and confident, while masterful over the bull itself. Such manoeuvers are performed at close range, and conclude (in Spanish-style bullfighting) with the death of the bull by a well-placed sword thrust as the finale. In Portugal the finale consists of a tradition called the pega, where men (Forcados) are dressed in a traditional costume of damask or velvet, with long knit hats as worn by the famous Ribatejo campinos (bull headers).
Labeled as a blood sport and considered a traditional event by some, or an example of animal cruelty by others, the practice generates heated controversy in many areas of the world, including Spain where the “classic” bullfighting was born. There is contention between supporters of bullfighting — who claim it is a long held and culturally important tradition — and animal rights groups — who oppose bullfighting due to the suffering of the bull and horses during the bullfight.