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Geography and Landscape


Spain (officially: Reino de España, = Kingdom of Spain), is a kingdom in Southwestern Europe and is located on the Iberian Peninsula sharing it with Portugal. The total area of Spain is 505,782 km2, including the Balearic Islands, the Pityusic Islands and the Canary Islands. Spain thus takes up more than four fifths of the Iberian Peninsula. Spain is the fourth largest country in Europe after Russia, France and Ukraine.

Spain Satellite photoSpain Satellite photoPhoto: Public domain

In addition to the mentioned island groups, Spain also includes the so-called Plazas de Soberanía and el Norte de Africa, comprising the Plazas mayores: Ceuta and Melilla, and the Plazas menores: Peñon de los Vélez, Peñon de Alhucemas and the Islas Chafarinas.

Spain is bordered to the north by Andorra (64 km) and France (623 km), to the west by Portugal (1214 km), and to the south by Gibraltar (1.2 km). The total coastline is 4964 kilometers. Spain largely has natural borders: mountains, coast and rivers.

The Balearic Islands consist of several islands, including the famous holiday destinations Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The thirteen Canary Islands lie off the coast of Morocco. They are of volcanic origin and the most famous islands are the holiday destinations Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Palma, Gomera, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.

Spain also has two more enclaves in Morocco, Melilla and Ceuta, which acquired limited autonomy in 1995.

Meseta SpainMeseta SpainPhoto: Dietmar Giljohann CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

After Switzerland, Spain is the country with the highest average altitude in Europe: an average of 660 meters above sea level. Only 11% is lower than 200 meters and 42% is higher than 1200 meters; Madrid (667 m) is, after Andorra laVella of Andorra (approx. 1050 m), the highest capital in Europe.


The central landscape of Spain is the Meseta, a very vast plateau, which is split in two by the granite-rich Central System (Cordillera Central; 600 kilometers long): the Submeseta Norte and the Submeseta Sur, also known as Old Castile and New Castile.

The highest peak is Pico Almazor (2592 m). The northern part of the Meseta is at an altitude of 800-900 meters, the southern part is at an altitude of 600-700 meters.

The southern boundary is formed by the Sierra Morena, the north-eastern boundary by the younger Iberian System (Systema Ibérico), which borders the young Ebro basin. The Ebro breaks in the lower reaches through the Catalan Mountains along the coast. The Pyrenees, with peaks above 3000 m (highest peak, Pico de Aneto, 3404 m), are quite wide in the east and get narrower to the west.

This connects to the Asturian-Cantabrian mountains (highest peak Picos de Europa, 2648 km) with the Galician massif. To the southeast lies the Andalusian mountain range, also called the Betische Cordillera, which stretches from Gibraltar, and in fact extends to the Balearic Islands. The highest part of this young mountain range is formed by the Sierra Nevada with Mulhacén (3481 meters) as the highest peak on the Spanish mainland.

It is remarkable that the highest peak on Spanish territory is the Pico de Teide on the Canary Island of Tenerife (3707 meters).

North side of Mulhacén, highest mountain on the Spanish mainlandNorth side of Mulhacén, highest mountain on the Spanish mainlandPhoto: Carlos Serra CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

At the foot of the many mountain ranges, there are just as many landscapes, such as the green valleys in the north, the desert areas of Extremadura, the rice fields of the Levante, the olive and apple orchards of Andalusia, the palm forest of Elche in Alicante and many rocky shores.


Ebro Delta SpainEbro Delta SpainPhoto: Gordito1869 CC 4.0 International no changes made

The major rivers Duero, Tajo (Tagus) and Guadiana follow the west-sloping Meseta and flow, like the Guadalquivir, which originates in the Andalusian Mountains, west to south-west towards the Atlantic Ocean. The Duero flows in the northern part of the Meseta (895 km) and the Tajo (1007 km) in the southern part. The capital Madrid lies between these two rivers. The Ebro, which originates in the Cantabrian Mountains and flows in a southeasterly direction, is the only major river that flows to the Mediterranean.

In general, the Spanish rivers have a very irregular water supply with a minimal summer level and are therefore of little significance to shipping. Only the Guadalquivir is navigable downstream from Seville. The Ebro and Duero often contain a lot of water but are unusable for shipping due to the many height differences.

The Ebro and Guadalquivir Basins are used for irrigation and the Tajo is used for power generation.

Due to the strong soil erosion, the rivers generally transport a lot of sediment, as a result of which deltas have been formed near the Ebro and the Guadalquivir, among others. In Galicia in the far north-east, the rivers have wide estuaries.

The Guadiana is special by its sudden disappearing underground and rising above the ground kilometers further. Other major rivers not yet mentioned are the Júcar and the Segura.

Climate and Weather

Climate types SpainClimate types SpainPhoto: FDV CC 4.0 International no changes made

As a result of the terrain, there are large climatic differences in Spain between the different areas as well as within these areas. There are also big differences between the seasons and the day and night temperatures.

Large parts of Spain have more of a continental climate than a Mediterranean climate. The inland in particular has a typical continental climate. There are large temperature differences with summer temperatures of an average of 24° C and winter temperatures of an average of 2 to 4° C with regular night frost. In summer the temperatures sometimes reach around 40° C, while in winter temperatures are down to –10° C. In some places in the interior, precipitation is so low that it approaches a steppe climate.

The continental character of the climate is also strongly determined by the cold "norte" wind in winter and the hot, dry and dusty "solano" and "leveche" in summer.

The entire east coast has a Mediterranean climate with hot and very sunny summers and slightly increasing temperatures to the south (July: Barcelona 23.3° C; Cartagena 23.9° C). Winters on the Mediterranean coast are mild (10-12° C) with little rainfall.

The north coast has a moderately humid maritime climate and it is much cooler in the summer (18-22° C) than the inland and the winters are mild (7-10° C).

Average annual rainfall is 1600 mm in Santiago de Compostela in the northwest, against for example no more than 540 mm in Barcelona and 420 mm in Madrid. Spain is also divided into "green Spain" or España Verde or la España húmeda in the north and northwest and "dry Spain" or la España seca.

The Tabernas Desert in Almeria SpainThe Tabernas Desert in Almeria SpainPhoto: Amjad Sheikh CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The "dry" Spain sometimes has a succession of dry years in which on average there is far too little rain. About 40% of the Spanish soil is already too dry and that percentage is increasing. Closely linked to the water shortage (disappearance of vegetation) and the large amounts of precipitation once it rains, is the major problem of the erosion, which causes millions of tons of earth to be blown or washed off the mountains every year. Desertification occurs in Murcia, Andalusia, Aragón, Castile and Valencia.

The Balearic Islands have mild winters and warm, dry summers. The Canary Islands, on the other hand, have a much more constant climate with temperatures of 27° C in summer and 22° C in the rest of the year. Rainfall in the Canary Islands decreases sharply from the wetland western La Palma to the very dry western islands. Fuerteventura even partially has a desert climate.

Plants and Animals


Cork oak SpainCork oak SpainPhoto: Unodeaquí CC 4.0 International no changes made

Due to the greater variation in climate, altitude and soil conditions, Spain has a very varied flora with about 8,000 species. Due to the Pyrenees, Spain is relatively isolated from the rest of Europe, resulting in a large number of endemic species.

The Mediterranean flora predominates and the traditional forest formations with holm oaks almost no longer exist and have been replaced by maquis, a fairly low vegetation with rosemary, oleander, lavender, thyme, cork oak, heather broom, Cistus, Spartium and Genista. The main cork oak areas are Catalonia and Extremadura. More to the south the vegetation becomes more subtropical in nature with agaves, prickly pears and palms. The only date palm forest in Europe can be found at Elche in Alicante.

Deciduous forests with oak, beech, chestnuts, ash, poplars and birch trees are mainly found in Northern Spain. The coniferous forests in the high mountains consist mainly of larch and arve, and there are also mosses and lichens here. The silver fir is common in the Pyrenees and the Sistema Ibérico, while the Spanish fir is only found in the Ronda area of Andalusia. The Scottish pine with its mottled red bark is common in the cool northern mountain regions. The umbrella pine occurs on the coast.

The national flower of Spain is the red carnationThe national flower of Spain is the red carnationPhoto: Rick Kimpel CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

A striking feature is the common downy oak that grows in somewhat wetter places. The Pyrenees are home to about 150 unique species and the much smaller Sierra Nevada in the south has 60 unique species. Above the tree line in the various mountain areas, plants such as gentian, crocus, narcissus, sundew and orchids occur. Well-known places where many species of orchids occur are the mountain meadows of the Picos de Europa with about 40 species and the Serranía de Cuenca in the Sistema Ibérico. Spain's national flower is a red carnation.

The plateau has, among other things, a steppe-like flora with for example melde, lye herb and in general a mixture of the vegetation of the steppe regions, the Mediterranean region and the high mountains. In the northwest we find on the mountain slopes heaths with red heather, shrub heather and gorse species.

The steppe areas can be found in the Ebro Valley, the Castilla-La Mancha and the almost desert-like Cabo de Gata in Andalusia. These areas only show their fantastic richness of colors after rain showers.

The subtropical Canary Islands have quite large differences in vegetation, but cacti, low scrub, palm trees and pine trees (Pinus Canariensis) in the higher parts are quite common.


Barbary Macaque at the Rock of Gibraltar, SpainBarbary Macaque at the Rock of Gibraltar, SpainPhoto: AlexCurl CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Spain's animal world is partly Southern Euro-Mediterranean in character with some African elements such as the chameleon, the genet cat and the Egyptian mongoose. The magot or Barbary macaque found on the rock of Gibraltar is a species of monkey that was probably introduced by humans.

The large mammals include brown bear, wolf, otter, lynx, wild cat, wild boar, fallow deer, red deer, roe deer, the very rare Spanish ibex and chamois. Some of these animals have become very rare and much attention is being given to the protection of some of them.

There are only a few dozen brown bears left in Spain, mainly in the Picos de Europa and the more westerly Cordillera Cantábrica. In the Pyrenees especially on the French side of the mountains. Although the hunting and killing of bears has been banned since 1973, their numbers are still declining.

About a thousand wolves still live in the northwestern mountain areas and a further number in the southwestern Meseta and the Sierra Morena.

It is better with the ibex, a mountain goat with long horns. Almost wiped out in 1900, the population has recovered and it is estimated that there are now about 70,000 specimens living in the Sierra de Gredos and Andalusia in particular.

Iberian Lynx, SpainIberian Lynx, SpainPhoto: CC 3.0 Spain no changes made

The Iberian lynx is a uniquely Spanish predator, smaller than its Northern European counterpart. In 2004, only 150 of these animals were left in two small colonies in Andalusia. In 2007 it became known that there are now about 250 lynxes and that 44 cubs were born in that year. Scientists determined that the animals are returning to their original habitat, north of Andalusia in Castilla-La Mancha.

The very rare monk seal is found on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Biscaje is an important gathering place for whales and dolphins. Most European butterflies can be seen in Spain. Furthermore twenty special bat species, four salamander species, the midwife toad, snakes and countless lizards. Venomous snakes are a viper species, the Montpellier snake and the Lataste's viper.

Blue magpie, SpainBlue magpie, SpainPhoto: Luis Garcia CC 3.0 Spain no changes made

The bird world is very rich; the stork and a number of species of large birds of prey (golden eagle, imperial eagle, snake eagle) are still relatively common here and there. One of the most striking bird species is the blue magpie, which is found in central and southern Spain and is only found in China next to Portugal. An impressive sight is the great bearded vulture (quebrantahuesos = bone breaker because of the habit of throwing its prey on the rocks) which is found in the high Pyrenees and has been reintroduced in the Sierra de Cazorla. The population of black vultures is the largest in the world. Other scavengers and birds of prey are the griffon vulture, the Egyptian vulture, the kestrel, the buzzard, the sparrowhawk, and the red and black kite.

In the spring, Spain is very attractive for large groups of migratory birds, including the largest concentration of cranes in Europe. The world famous and very important Coto Doñana (officially: El Parque Natural Entorno de Doñana) is one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the world where more than 160 species breed annually, for example approx. 600,000 geese from Northern Europe, 3000 flamingo pairs and many coasts , water and marsh birds.

Cranes, SpainCranes, SpainPhoto: Arturo de Frias Marques CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Other important coastal wetlands are Albufera de Valencia, the Ebro Delta and Aiguamolls de l'Empordà in Catalonia. Inland, thousands of ducks hibernate in Tablas de Daimiel, Castilla-La Mancha and Laguna de Gallocanta, Spain's largest natural lake, 50 kilometers south of Calatayud in Arágon. Laguna de Fuente de Piedra is the main breeding ground for about 13,000 flamingo pairs.

Two rare species are the great bustard and the capercaillie, both known for their beautiful courtship behavior. About 8,000 grand staircases live in Spain, more than in all other countries in Europe combined.

The most colorful birds include golden oriole, hoopoe and bee-eater. These birds are most common in the south of Spain.

In 1997 Spain had ten National Parks and 695 protected areas. In these areas there are thousands of species of plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else (anymore) in Europe.

Model of a Concavenator corcovactus, SpainModel of a Concavenator corcovactus, SpainPhoto: PePeEfe CC 4.0 International no changes made

Paleontologists discovered a new dinosaur species in 2010: the Concavenator corcovatus. The four-meter-long predator lived on Earth 130 million years ago. The bones were found in the Los Hoyas plains of central Spain. At the time, it was a swamp area, comparable to the Florida Everglades.



Prehistoric Rock paintings from Altamira, SpainPrehistoric Rock paintings from Altamira, SpainPhoto: Public domain

Bone splinters found in the Sierra de Atapuerca near Burgos showed that ancestors of the Neanderthals lived in this region 780,000 years ago. The "woman of Gibraltar", a skull of about 50,000 BC, found in 1848, dates back to the Neanderthals. The Neanderthals are thought to be expelled about 40,000 BC, during the last Ice Age by migrants of African origin, the Cro-Magnon people. They hunted mammoths, bison and reindeer. Cave paintings (including Cueva Remigia) with hunting scenes of these people have been found on the east coast. From the beginning of the Neolithic, numerous sites of so-called Impreso objects, including decorated pottery, are found on the east coast of Spain.

In Murcia and Andalusia arose around 3000 BC. the Almeria culture characterized by megalithic tombs and so-called idols or cult statues. Between 3000 and 2000 BC. the use and processing of copper was introduced by the Los Millares - a culture near Almeria. The people of this culture already lived in small walled settlements and already had contacts with communities in southern France, Italy and even northwest Africa.

From around 1600 to 1200 BC. the El Algar culture was found in the southeast of Spain. People lived in walled mountainside settlements and were already in contact with the Egyptian empire and forged weapons and made silver and copper jewelry. At the beginning of the late Bronze Age, this culture suddenly disappeared.

Lady of Elche, Spain 4th century BCLady of Elche, Spain 4th century BCPhoto: Carole Raddato CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The first Phoenician trading posts originated around 1000 BC. along the south coast, including, in the vicinity of Cádiz, Huelva and Málaga. Approx. 600 BC. they were followed by the Greeks, who founded colonies along the east coast, including Emporion (now: Empúries). The north and west of Spain were then under the influence of Celtic culture. From these three cultures slowly emerged the Iberian culture, in which the Mediterranean characteristics predominate.

The Carthaginian Phoenicians closed in the 7th century BC. the Strait of Gibraltar for Greek navigators and the Phoenician residents of Tire had partially conquered Spain by the end of the 5th century BC. They called the south coast I-shephan-im; Hispania was later created from this name, followed by the current name España.

Carthage, under Hannibal among others, expanded its power over most of Spain, but lost these conquests again in the Punic Wars (First Punic War 264-241 BC; Second Punic War 218-201 BC) with the new strong rising power: Rome. Despite fierce resistance from the Iberians, Spain was conquered by the Romans and at the time of Emperor Augustus, the Iberian Peninsula was divided into three areas: Tarraconensis, Baetica and Lusitania, and these quickly became prosperous areas, partly due to mining. In the 3rd century AD. Prosperity and culture declined sharply, partly due to the raids of barbarians.

The Visigoth Empire (415-711)

Pair of Eagle Fibula, Spain 6th centuryPair of Eagle Fibula, Spain 6th centuryPhoto: Public domain

At the beginning of the 5th century, the Roman Empire was so weakened that Germanic tribes such as the Vandals, Alans and Suevi invaded Spain and settled in Galicia, Lusitania and Andalusia. Catalonia was conquered in 415 by the Visigoth king Athaulf, followed by other Gothic conquerors who conquered the entire peninsula in 50 years. Only the Suevi could maintain their independence.

Although the Roman landowners lost a lot of land, the social structure was practically maintained. The cities maintained the Roman organization and the Catholic religion could also be preserved, despite the Visigoths adhering to a different religion. The Visigoth Empire at one point extended to the Pyrenees when the Suevi were also subdued. In the southeast, the Byzantines were expelled.

When Reccared I of the Visigoths converted to Catholicism, all differences between occupiers and native inhabitants disappeared. As a result, the bishops maintained their powerful position, which even extended to the legislature. Not much changed for the ordinary population, they were still exploited by the nobility and the church.

Moorish Spain, the Reconquista and the Catholic Kings (711-1504)

Moorish Alhambra palace in Granada, SpainMoorish Alhambra palace in Granada, SpainPhoto: Jebulin in gthe public domain

The Visigothic era actually ended in 711 when the Moorish soldier Tarik was called to the rescue of conflicts among themselves. By 720 he had conquered the entire peninsula, except for Asturias. Under the Umayyad Dynasty, which lasted from 756 to 1031, a Moorish-Spanish culture developed at a high level.

The city of Córdoba was then the center of this culture, at a time that brought great prosperity and when the arts, literature and sciences flourished. Under the caliphs Abd al-Hahman III and his son Hakam II (period 912 to 976), the Moorish empire was at its peak and Córdoba, for example, had an incredible population of about one million.

From the north, small Christian states such as Navarre, Aragón and Léon threatened the Moorish empire. The general of Hisjam II, Al-Mansur, initially managed to push the Christians far back and destroyed, for example, Santiago de Compostela. In 1002 Al-Mansur died and from then on the Umayyad Empire began to slowly but surely disintegrate into principalities called "taifas".

However, this "reconquista", the reconquest of the Moorish empire by the Christians, was not without a struggle. For example, the important city of Toledo was conquered in 1085 by Alfonso VI of Castile, but in 1086 it was again defeated by the Almoravids led by Ali ibn Yusuf, who came to the aid of their Muslim brothers from North Africa. They managed to restore unity and were succeeded by the Almohads, Berbers from North Africa, who managed to push back the Christians. However, after the Battle of Navas de Tolosa in 1212, Moorish rule was over. Apart from the Moorish kingdom of Granada, southern Spain was conquered by Castile / Leon. However, the Moorish and Christian culture could coexist and develop further because Moors and also Jews retained their rights and freedoms.

In 1469, Catholic Ferdinand II of Aragón and Isabella of Castile married, uniting Spain, although both empires kept their own political structure. Church and state worked closely together from that time, as a result of which the Inquisition and Hermandad (police) suppressed all dissenting opinions and organizations. For example, at the end of the 15th century, more than 120,000 Jews were expelled from Spain for refusing to convert to Christianity.

The Habsburgs (1504-1700)

Charles I of SpainCharles I of SpainPhoto: Public domein

After the death of Ferdinand and Isabella, Charles I came to power, and had inherited the Burgundian lands from his father Philip the Fair. In addition, he became Emperor of the German Empire in 1519 as Charles V. The discovery of America made Spain the center of the first real world empire, but it was also in constant conflict with France over hegemony in Europe. The wars of religion following the Reformation also affected Spain as a leading country in the Counter-Reformation.

Many Italian possessions meant that Spain effectively controlled the Mediterranean and was obliged to defend itself against the advancing Turks. Inland, there was resistance from the cities and the nobility to non-Spanish politics and the increasing power of the central government. From 1520 to 1521 this led to the revolt of the Comuneros, which was, however, suppressed.

In the meantime, a large colonial empire was built up in America, with which trade was conducted from Seville. This income, in addition to that of the mostly looted gold and silver, went directly to the treasury and not to the development of Spain as a modern country.

Spain's political power in Europe suffered a severe blow during the reign of Philip II. He still conquered Portugal, but lost the battle against the Netherlands, England and Turkey. In Spain itself, supporters of non-Catholic faiths were brutally exterminated and persecuted. Marranos, converted Jews, and Moriscos, Christian Muslims, were particularly affected. For example, in 1609, during the reign of Philip III, about 800,000 Moriscos were expelled from the country. However, this was not a smart move by Philip because it, along with the money-devouring wars, brought Spain to the brink of bankruptcy.

Under Philip IV the economic situation deteriorated even further, because he too plunged into wars with Germany, Italy and France, among others. Extremely high taxes to finance all this led to the exploitation of the own population and a number of revolts in Catalonia, Naples and Andalusia were the logical consequence. In addition, Portugal managed to break free from Spain in 1640, the Northern Netherlands were declared independent in 1648 by the Treaty of Münster and Roussillion had to be ceded to France and Franche-Comté to the Southern Netherlands. At that time, Spain was not a world power any more.

The Bourbons (1700-1868)

Philip V of SpainPhilip V of SpainPhoto:Rijksmuseum in the public domain

After the death of Charles II in 1700, Philip V of Bourbon became king of Spain. Under this king, Spain again lost a lot of territory, such as Gibraltar, Italian territory and the Southern Netherlands, but regained claims to Naples-Sicily and Parma in Italy through his marriage to Elisabeth of Parma. The centralism and absolutism brought by the Bourbons from France led, among other things, to a protracted uprising in Catalonia (1702-1714) and the parliaments of Aragón and Castile were dissolved. Under the enlightened despot Charles III, who ruled from 1759 to 1808, the people again benefited somewhat from increasing prosperity and a reduction in corruption. However, new wars against England ensured that the bad times returned completely under Charles IV and his minister Godoy.

During the French Revolution, Spain first sided with Austria and England (1793-1795), but plunged with the French into a war with England in 1796, which was only briefly interrupted by the Peace of Amiens in 1802-1803. In 1805, Spanish fleet units were defeated at Finistère and Trafalgar. In May 1808, French troops invaded Spain and the king and his son abdicated under pressure from Napoleon. The ensuing popular uprising in Madrid was bloody suppressed by Murat and Napoleon's brother Joseph Bonaparte was made king of Spain.

In response, a bloody nation-wide uprising from 1808 to 1813, supported from Portugal by the British led by Wellington, severely defeated the French at Talavera de la Reina in 1809. In 1812 a constitution on the French model was issued by the "Cortes" in Cadiz.

In May 1813, Joseph Bonaparte left Madrid and on June 21, Wellington's decisive victory over the French followed. The "Cortes" entered Madrid in January 1814 and Ferdinand VII was enthroned after recognizing the new constitution. However, this Ferdinand did not care much about the constitution and soon reigned as an absolute ruler.

During that time, many independence movements also emerged in Spanish America, and many countries broke away from Spain without much difficulty. In the end, only Puerto Rico and Cuba in Spanish America and the Philippines in Asia remained as colonies.

The constitution was restored in 1820 after a military coup (pronunciamiento) by General Riego. An enormous French army, sent by the Holy Alliance, managed to restore absolutism in 1822-1823 and another difficult time for the bourgeoisie followed. The whole of the 19th century was also dominated by the uprisings and civil wars between reactionaries and liberals and the "moderados" between the parties, the moderates, who managed to rule the political scene.

After Ferdinand's death in 1833, he was succeeded by Isabella II under the tutelage of her mother Maria Cristina. Don Carlos, Ferdinand's reactionary brother, started the First Carlist War which lasted until 1839 in northern Spain. Maria Cristina formed a left-wing counterweight to the Vatican-supported Carlists and in 1836 the church's large property was sold by Mendizabel. The moderate politicians and the court developed in a right-wing and a clerical direction after the Carlist War, interrupted only during a liberal interim period from 1854 to 1856, following a successful military coup by O'Donnell.

Revolution and restoration (1868-1923)

Alfonso XIII of SpainAlfonso XIII of SpainPhoto: Public domain

In 1868, Isabella was deposed and briefly succeeded by General Prim. The Cortes drafted a new constitution and in 1870 elected a new king, Amadeus of Aosta, who came from the Italian royal family. Amadeus of Aosta resigned in 1873 and the "First Republic" was proclaimed which lasted until December 29, 1874. A federal constitution was drawn up and a democratic structure organized.

The newly-baked republic was faced with the Second Carlist War and an uprising with Cartagena as the center. An anarchist movement in the labor movement also caused major problems in agricultural Andalusia and industrial Catalonia. Another military coup or "pronunciamiento" led by General Martínez de Campos soon ended the First Republic and Isabella's son, Alfonso XII, was proclaimed king.

Politically, the period from 1874 to 1923 is known as the "Restoration" and was characterized by alternating liberal and reactionary governments. All of this was based on a relatively liberal 1876 constitution by Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. Cánovas was a so-called "moderado", a moderate politician. These "moderados" made liberals and reactionaries fight for supremacy and largely determined government policy themselves. The people had little to say at the local level in this system. The local and regional rulers were in charge in their area and the influence of the people was minimal. This system was called "caciquismo" and the church also increased its political power.

Cánovas was assassinated in 1897 and the defeat in the Spanish-American War, which also resulted in the loss of the last colonies, plunged Spain into a state of permanent crisis.

Various movements in the political, cultural and nationalist field made themselves heard loudly. Thus the "Generation of '98" aimed for a political and cultural revival and a modern Spain. National movements in the Basque Country and Catalonia became increasingly political and the workers' movement became more and more revolutionary in its actions.

Liberal cabinets, meanwhile, had provided universal suffrage, freedom of trade unions and minimal social legislation in 1890. In practice, however, it all did not amount to much. Internationally, Spain was cast in a bad light after the torture of prisoners in 1896 and the execution by an enraged mob of Francisco Ferrer Guardia, a progressive leader of the rational "modern school". Furthermore, Catalonia and Andalusia were in the negative news due to sometimes bloody social conflicts.

Spain remained neutral in the First World War, with the left strongly sympathizing with the Allies. The right, especially the church, was strongly anti-French. Furthermore, Spain mainly benefited economically through war deliveries. After the First World War, a social revolutionary movement arose throughout Europe, which also afected Spain. The Spanish government responded in 1919 by forcibly repressing a general strike and imprisoning socialist leaders. Later even some well-known members of the trade union movement CNT were killed by police officers. 1923 was an important year. In elections, the socialists first gained ground and the Spanish army suffered a major defeat in Morocco. In the same year on September 13, General Primo de Rivera staged a coup d'état with the knowledge and consent of King Alfonso XIII.

Dictatorship, Second Republic and Civil War (1923-1939)

Primo de Riveira, SpainPrimo de Riveira, SpainPhoto: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-09414 CC 3.0 Germanyno changes made

Under Primo, Spain became a dictatorship in which the "Cortes" were dissolved, the freedom of the press was abolished and the administration was strongly centralized. From 1929 resistance to this regime increased and in January 1930 Primo resigned and was succeeded by General Berenguer. After the municipal elections of April 1931, all major cities were given a republican administration and that was the sign for Alfons XIII to leave the country, so that Spain quietly became a republic again.

This so-called Second Republic lasted until 1939 and a new constitution was drawn up, this time with a progressive democratic character. Alcalá Zamora became President and Manuel Azaña of the Acción Republicana became Prime Minister. It was important in this period that the separation of church and state was arranged and that education was only given by lay people. Catalonia was also given autonomy with its own government in 1932 and the Basque Country followed in 1936. Abolition of land ownership, military reform and social issues have been slow or not addressed at all. Workers' movements soon alienated from the republic and the logical strikes and anarchist revolts were bloody crushed.

The November 1933 elections were won by the right, but successive right-wing governments did not make much of it, and these two years were called the "bieno negro", two black years. In 1934, a clash ensued between workers' movements and the military in Asturias, which would prove to be the precursor to the later civil war. Many thousands of insurgents went to prison and Catalonia lost its autonomy after it declared independence.

Republican and left parties, united in the Popular Front, won the parliamentary elections in February 1936, and Manuel Azaña became president. The government immediately got into big trouble when the socialists did not want to participate in the government, and a very troubled period followed with strikes and political violence, especially by the Falange, a small but rapidly growing fascist movement.

In the meantime, the right was preparing for a coup. This was deployed by elements of the army on July 17, 1936 from Spanish Morocco. The workers fiercely opposed this and the Spanish Civil War was a fact. The civil war ended on April 1, 1939 with a victory of the "nationalists" of General Francisco Franco Y Bahamonde, who had been the leader of rebel generals since 1936. The sad balance of the civil war left hundreds of thousands of people mistreated, killed or imprisoned.

Franco's Spain (1939-1975)

Franco, SpainFranco, SpainPhoto: Public domain

Franco was an absolute ruler supported by the only permissible political movement, the right wing Falange, and by the army and the church. So-called "Francoism" wanted only one thing: the revival of Catholic Spain to its former glory and the renunciation of all forces and internal and foreign enemies who had made that former glory disappear. This was not done too gently and affected Catalans, Basques and workers movements, among others.

Socio-economic life was dominated by vertically organized syndicates following the fascist-corporate model, but for a long time caused poverty, hunger, corruption (black market), economic stagnation and cynicism. Economically, Spain did not return to the level of 1936 until 1956. All illegal organizations and exiles could not seriously threaten the regime.

In World War II, Franco supported Germany and Italy, to whom he partly owed his victory in the Spanish Civil War. Spain itself did not become a war zone; a volunteer army, the Blue Division, did take part in the fight against the Soviet Union.

In 1943 he appointed the monarchist Jordana as minister of foreign affairs and in 1947 he formally restored the monarchy without appointing a king. After 1945, Spain became isolated and the Franco regime was condemned by the United Nations. It was not until the mid-1950s that Spain emerged from this isolation by joining the United Nations in 1955 and the OEEC, the Organization for European Economic Cooperation, the predecessor of the OECD in 1959. From 1953 onwards things went better economically due to a number of economic treaties with the United States. The Spanish colonies of Morocco, Spanish Guinea (now: Equatorial Guinea) and Spanish Sahara (now: Western Sahara) were abandoned in 1956, 1968 and 1975 respectively. Alfons XIII's grandson, Juan Carlos de Bourbon, was appointed by Franco as his successor in 1969. Juan Carlos was even brought up under Franco's supervision.

In the 1960s, Spanish society changed due to an influx of foreign capital, the rise of tourism and the Spanish migrant workers who brought home a lot of money. As a result of all these developments, industrialization and urbanization increased sharply and the economy grew well. With modernization, the influence of the Falange and the syndicate system became less and less important.

Within the regime of Franco there was also an increasing effort to liberalize the system. For example, the modernist Roman Catholic lay organization Opus Dei occupied important economic government posts and new opposition movements were set up. In Catalonia nationalism revived and in the Basque Country a new liberation movement, the ETA, started an armed struggle with the established order. Many terror attacks were to follow and the regime was very tough on ETA and other terror groups.

In 1973, Prime Minister Carrero Blanco, the regime's second man behind Franco, was killed in an attack by ETA, and on November 20, 1975, dictator Franco himself died.

Spain becomes a parliamentary democracy

Proclamation and swearing-in of Prince Juan Carlos as King of SpainProclamation and swearing-in of Prince Juan Carlos as King of SpainPhoto: Nationaal archief in the public domain

On November 22, 1975, King Juan Carlos was sworn in. To everyone's surprise, he immediately paved the way to a parliamentary democracy that was achieved by legal means through a number of referendums. Franco's last prime minister, Arias Navarro, was succeeded by Adolfo Juarez who started the period of transition ("transición). All civil liberties were allowed again, exiles returned and banned parties such as the socialist and the communist were legalized.

In 1977, free parliamentary elections were held for the first time since 1936 and were won by the UcdD, Union of the Democratic Center, led by Prime Minister Suarez. The second party was the PSOE led by Felipe González.

The new 1978 constitution officially made Spain a parliamentary democracy. The 1979 elections were also won by the Juarez party, and in the early 1980s Catalonia and the Basque Country became autonomous first, followed by all other regions. However, the ETA of the Basque Country wanted more and reinforced that with more attacks. In the army, too, there were certain elements against the further democratization. On February 23, 1981, an attempted military coup led by a colonel of the Guardia Civil, Tejero, followed. The attempt failed because King Juan Carlos, as commander in chief of the armed forces, strongly opposed this coup attempt.

The period Felipe González

Felipe González, Spain meets Joop den UYl, The NetherlandsFelipe González, Spain meets Joop den UYl, The NetherlandsPhoto: Hans van Dijk / Anefo in the public domain

Just before the coup attempt took place, Suarez had been succeeded by L. Calvo Sotelo. The 1982 parliamentary election was won by the PSOE and the right-wing alliance now became the main opposition party. Felipe González became the new prime minister and although his first term was ravaged by corruption scandals, he also won the 1986 and 1990 elections. The expected process of renewal and the reduction of unemployment failed to materialize under his rule. After a referendum, Spain joined NATO in 1982 and the European Community in 1986.

In 1992, 500 years after Columbus' discovery of the Americas, Spain was in the spotlight worldwide through the Olympic Games held in Barcelona and the World's Fair held in Seville. In 1992 and 1993, several important ETA leaders were arrested and the Basque population increasingly turned away from the terrorist organization. The González government, meanwhile, faced increasing difficulties due to financial and political scandals and could only continue to rule with the support of Basque and Catalan nationalists who demanded even more autonomy in return.

Municipal and provincial elections were held in May 1995 and were won by the conservative People's Party (PP) of opposition leader José María Aznar. In December, the Secretary of State, Javier Solana, was appointed Secretary General of NATO. Early elections in March 1996 for both houses were just won by the PP for the PSOE. There was a minority government headed by Prime Minister Aznar, which was based on an alliance with Basque and Catalan parties together with the Canary Islands coalition. Again, this alliance was established after promises for more autonomy.

The period Aznar

Aznar, SpainAznar, SpainPhoto: CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The economic policy of the Aznar government was aimed at stable economic growth and they wanted to meet the conditions for joining the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Cutbacks and privatizations made it possible to meet the conditions. Economic growth in 1998 was 3.5% and inflation remained consistently low at 2.4%. Spain was therefore admitted to EMU on 1 January. The only thing that the Aznar government failed to do was reduce the high unemployment rate.

ETA meanwhile carried out more and more attacks despite massive demonstrations against political violence. The conviction of 23 leaders of Herri Batasuna (HB), the political arm of ETA, led to new clashes at the end of 1997 between the supporters and opponents of Basque independence.

In early 1998, demonstrations against the verdict followed in several Basque cities, and attacks against local PP politicians were intensified. One problem was that the various political parties did not agree on the strategy with regard to ETA. The Basque Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV) maintained the view that only negotiations with Herri Batasuna could lead to success. However, the PP and the PSOE disagreed and the Aznar government opted for the hard line. In March 1998, another eight ETA members of the notorious Arab Command were arrested and a few months later the Basque newspaper Egin was banned and the related radio station Egin-Irratia was taken off the air. Following the so-called "Irish consultation", the nationalist Basque parties were able to persuade ETA to institute an armistice for the partial elections in the Basque Country, which were to take place on 25 October. The PP and PSOE made surprisingly small gains, but the nationalist parties still gained a majority. Direct negotiations with ETA were announced by the Aznar government in November.

In 1997, González was again discredited for his alleged involvement in a number of corruption cases and illegal activities. In June 1997 he stepped down as party leader and was temporarily replaced by the ex-minister Joaquín Almunia. In April 1998, the ex-Minister of Public Works, José Borelli, became the new party leader of the PSOE.

Later that year, politicians from the ruling PP made negative headlines over corruption allegations, and Spain joined NATO in December. These new cases of corruption embarrassed the Aznar government for pledging to end the corruption practices.

In the last years of the 20th century, the question surrounding the English enclave of Gibraltar came back to the corner. The Aznar government proposed that after a transition period of 100 years, during which Gibraltar would come under Spanish-British rule, the colony should be transferred to Spain.

In March 1999 tensions arised again between Great Britain and Spain because of Gibraltar. Spain accused Britain of insufficiently supervising organized crime, which would have turned Gibraltar into a haven for criminals. However, Britain denied everything, claiming that the allegations were intended to bolster Spain's claim to Gibraltar. Spain responded with tighter border controls. The ceasefire with ETA announced in 1998 was unilaterally terminated by ETA at the end of 1999.

Internationally, Spain came to the fore with the international arrest warrant for the Chilean ex-dictator Pinochet, issued by Spanish judge Baltazar Garzón. On October 16, 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London.

In March 2000, Aznar's party won a major electoral victory and the PSOE suffered its worst defeat in more than twenty years. In April Aznar formed a new cabinet, in which many ministers remained in the same post.

The period Zapatero

Zapatero, SpainZapatero, SpainPhoto: Monika Flueckiger CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Since the elections of 14 March 2004, the socialist party 'PSOE' has taken office as the governing party with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as MP. Elections were held three days after the Madrid bombings (March 11). Compared to the policies of the previous Aznar government, the MP-Zapatero government is more focused on social-democratic themes: raising the minimum wage and basic pension, legislation against domestic violence and gender discrimination, and reform of the rules on divorce. The most notable reform is the introduction of same-sex marriage on June 30, 2005. Zapatero also wins the parliamentary elections in March 2008 and will form a new cabinet in April that for the first time has more women than men. In January 2009, Spain was hit hard by the economic crisis and went into recession for the first time since 1993. In March 2009, the unemployment rate has grown to a record high of 17.4% of the labor force. In March 2010, unemployment will even rise to over 20%.

Social unrest and strikes break out as a result of the government's cutbacks due to the credit crisis. In May 2010, parliament approved a 15 billion euro austerity package.

The period Rajoy

Rajoy, SpainRajoy, SpainPhoto: European People's Party CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The Conservative party wins the elections in November 2011. A month later, the new government, led by Mariano Rajoy, takes office. In the summer of 2012, the unemployment rate will rise to over 25% and Spain will have to ask for help from the EU. In the autumn of 2012, the banking crisis hit hard and the government created so-called "bad banks" at the request of the EU to stop bad loans. In 2013, Spain was ravaged by corruption scandals involving the Royal House. Economically, Spain is progressing and in September 2013 there is a slight growth of 0.1%. This development appears to be continuing at the beginning of 2014.

King Felipe VI of SainKing Felipe VI of SainPhoto: Cancillería Ecuador CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

In May 2014, Prime Minister Rajoy announced the resignation of King Juan Carlos. On June 19, 2014, he will be succeeded as head of state by his son Felipe VI. In May 2015, Podemos, the anti-austerity party, wins big in regional and local elections. In June 2016, the Conservatives win in a repeated parliamentary election, but fall short of seats for an absolute majority. Spain is in an impasse because the country is not used to a coalition government. Rajoy claims he wants to form a new government. In October 2016 he succeeds because the socialists abstained from voting in the formation of a minority cabinet. In March 2017, the former Catalan president Artus Mas is banned from declaring a public office for civil disobedience around the refrendum on Catalonia's independence. In August 2017 there is a major terrorist attack on the Rambla in Barcelona. In September 2017, Rajoy's Spanish government appealed the referendum on the secession of Catalonia. The Spanish Constitutional Court has called the referendum illegal. In October 2017, the referendum will be held and the Spanish police will intervene hard. The majority of the population supports the Seperatists and the Catalan government declares independence. Puigdemont leaves for Brussels and an arrest warrant is issued against him. In December 2017, the Spanish government is organizing elections in the hope that the majority will now vote for Spain. The pro-Spanish party is becoming the largest, but the majority of the population unexpectedly supports seperatist movements. There is a stalemate. In 2018 Eta announces rhat it will cease all political activities, Rajay looses a vote of confidence. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez becomes prime minister

The period Sánchez

Sanchez, SpainSanchez, SpainPhoto: European Parliament CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

In 2019 several election are held. The socialists are on the winning hand but fail to reach an absolute majority, but in January 2020 Pedro Sánchez wins a barrow parliamentary vote of confidence and he forma a minority government with left wing Podemos party.


Major urban areas of SpainMajor urban areas of SpainPhoto: Diegheman CC 4.0 International no changes made

The population of Spain is very unevenly distributed across the country. On average, approximately 97 inhabitants per km2 live in Spain. This makes Spain one of the most sparsely populated countries in the European Union, after Ireland, Sweden and Finland. Due to the enormous migration to the cities since 1950, about 80% of the population lives in cities. The most densely populated area is around the capital Madrid with about 625 inhabitants per km2. Madrid are surrounded by four regions with an average of less than 30 inhabitants per km2: Castilla Leon, Extremadura, Castilla La Mancha and Aragón.

Overall, a quarter of the population lives in the interior and three quarters of the population lives in the coastal provinces. The four most populous provinces are Madrid, Barcelona, Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa. The population is declining in forty of the fifty provinces.

The largest cities in Spain are (population 2017):

Spain has been an emigration country since the sixteenth century; millions of Spaniards have emigrated to Spanish America over the centuries. This wave of emigration lasted until around 1930. From 1960 emigration increased again. Now it were the guest workers who went to work in Europe.

As an immigration country, Spain came into the picture from 1980 and especially Portuguese, South Americans and North Africans entered Spain, whether or not illegally. The number of legal foreigners has increased sharply in recent years.

The problems with illegal foreigners are increasing, especially in the province of Andalusia and the Canary Islands, where Africans are often smuggled into the country by human smugglers on a daily basis. Many do not even make it to shore and are drowned because their rickety boats sink.

About 500,000 gypsies live in Spain. Half of them are the so-called "béticos" from Andalusia. Another large group are the "Catalanes" from Catalonia. These groups are generally best integrated into Spanish society.


Spanish language mapSpanish language mapPhoto: Michael Jester in the public domain

Castellano (Castilian) has been the official state language since around 1250. In other countries, Castellano is actually always called "Spanish". Castellano is a Romance language with many derivations from Latin, but also from many other languages. Spanish contains about 100 words that were brought to the peninsula by the Visigoths, among others. During the rule of the Moors, approximately 4000 words were introduced into the Spanish language. Furthermore, many words have been taken from French and Italian and more recently from English.

Examples of derivations are:

Castellano differs greatly from other Romance languages in some respects, especially in pronunciation. The letters of the Spanish alphabet are: a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, rr, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.

The main dialects of Castellano are Andaluz, Leonés, Navarro, Aragonés and Asturiano.

In addition to Spain itself, Spanish is spoken in the Canary Islands and the enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in Morocco. Furthermore, in all South American countries except Brazil, Guyana and Suriname; all Central American countries except Belize; the Caribbean islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic; Philippines and Equatorial Guinea. In the United States, there are large Spanish-speaking communities (30 million) in Florida and California. In total, Spanish is spoken by more than 300 million people.

Spanish dialects mapSpanish dialects mapPhoto: Stephen Shaw at the English Wikipedia CC 3.0 no changes made

Important regional languages were not officially recognized until the 1978 constitution. In the Franco period it was even forbidden to speak Euskera, Gallego or Catalán.

In the Basque provinces, Basque, Vascuence or Euskera is the second official language. It is spoken on both sides of the Western Pyrenees by approximately 2.5 million people. Only a quarter of them still actually speak the language. Six deviating dialects can be distinguished and therefore a kind of standard Euskera has only been established since 1968, which is also used in official publications.

In Catalonia, Catalan or Catalán is the first official language. Catalán is a language that lies between French and Castellano and is spoken and understood by about six million people. The two main dialects of Catalán are Mallorquín and Valenciano.

Gallego or Galego is heavily influenced by Portuguese and is spoken by about 1 million people, including some in Portugal. Since Galicia is an autonomous province, all official documents are written in Spanish and Gallego.

The Gypsies or Rom normally speak Romani, a language related to Sanskrit. In Spain, Romani is mixed with Spanish and is called "Lengua Caló".

To clarify the differences between Castellano and Euskera, Gallego and Catalán, below is a sentence from the constitution about the language:

El castellano es la lengua española oficial del Estado. Todos los españoles tienen el deber de conocerla y el derecho a usarla.

Gaztelania da Espainiako Estatuaren hizkuntza ofiziala. Espainol guztiek jakin behar dute eta erabiltzeko eskubidea dute.

O castelán é a lingua española oficial do Estado. Todos os españoles teñen o deber de coñecela e o dereito a usala.

El castellà és la llengua espanyola oficial de l'Estat. Totally espanyols toes el door de conèixer-la i el dret d'usar-la.

A few words:


Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella, SpainCathedral of Santiago de Compostella, SpainPhoto: NielsB CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

From the year 394, when Spain was still part of the Roman Empire, Roman Catholicism has been the state religion. It was Emperor Theodosius who took care of this. In 589 this status was reaffirmed by the Visigoth king Recaredo. In 711 Spain was conquered by the Moors and Islam was the main religion.

It was not until the early seventeenth century that the Catholic Church regained its powerful position and a close collaboration between church and state emerged. In 1931, at the time of the Second Republic, this undesirable situation came to an end. The church had become unpopular in all those centuries and this led to the death of about 6,000 clergymen in the Spanish Civil War. It was therefore not surprising that the church developed close ties with the Franco regime. Franco declared Roman Catholicism the state religion in 1939.

Thus church life was woven throughout society. It was very remarkable that the church was only allowed to appoint bishops on the recommendation of Franco. This close collaboration with the dictator made the church very unpopular among the population again. Although the Second Vatican Council demanded the separation of state and church, Franco refused to comply.

Village church SpainVillage church SpainPhoto: Agracier-NO VIEWS CC 3.0 Unportedno changes made

Only after Franco's death was the 1978 constitution reintroduced the separation of church and state and freedom of religion guaranteed. All this on the initiative of the newly appointed King Juan Carlos.

The Spanish population is approximately 95% Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church comprises a total of 14 archdioceses and 53 dioceses. Together they form the eleven church provinces. The Archdioceses of Barcelona and Madrid-Alcalá fall directly under the Holy See of Rome. The primate of Spain is the Archbishop of Toledo. Approx. 870,000 people profess a faith other than Roman Catholicism, including Muslims (approx. 500,000), Jews and Protestants (approx. 70,000).

Involvement with the church has declined sharply in recent decades. More than 4 million people say they no longer adhere to any religion. The number of parish priests, monks and nuns is also declining sharply. Despite this decline, there is still massive participation in the important religious festivals. It is clear that at the moment it is more and more tradition instead of religious belief.

In the countryside there is a lot of participation in so-called "romerías", pilgrims / images to the shrine of a certain saint or to much revered images of Mary or Jesus. One of the best known is the Pentecostal romerías of Huelva, La Virgen del Rocío. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims still flock here every year.

"Opus Dei"

San Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus DeiSan Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus DeiPhoto: Oficina de Información de la Prelatura del Opus Dei en España cc-by-sa-2.0 no changes made

The organization "Opus Dei", also called "La Obra" in Spain, wants a better and more prosperous society, but strongly based on traditional Christian values. This organization was founded in 1928 by the priest Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer whose maxims, the "Camino", published in 1931, serve as a guide for the supporters of the organization. He found that prosperity among the population was increasing, but that at the same time religiosity and secularisation increased.

Under the Franco regime, the movement had an increasing influence on social life, in 1941 on education and in 1957 even on the economy. The movement currently has about 80,000 members worldwide, of which about 27,000 are in Spain. With the canonization of Escrivá in 1998, Opus Dei has penetrated into the heart of the Roman Catholic Church.

A certain group, the "numerarios", live in communes and donate their incomes to the organization. This gives the organization a lot of money.

Obviously, these types of organizations receive a lot of criticism, the question of which is true. Opus Dei is also accused of taking people away from their own responsibility and people who disengage or want to disengage do not have an easy time. Furthermore, strict confidentiality is required of the members about internal affairs.


State structure

Cortes SpainCortes SpainPhoto: Ben Bender CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

On November 22, 1975, Spain became a parliamentary constitutional monarchy again. The constitution is based on the constitution (Constitución) which was approved on December 6, 1978 after a referendum. The large degree of autonomy of the different peoples and regions was also regulated by this.

The Spanish Parliament, the "Cortes Generales", consists of the Congress of Deputies (Congreso de los Diputados), and the Senate (Senado). These two chambers are called together by the king and can also be dissolved by him. Only the Congreso can force the government to resign after a vote of no confidence, a "moción de censura".

The 350-member Congress is elected for four years. The provinces form the electoral districts and the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco are each represented in Congress by one delegate. The Spanish electoral system is a combination of a district system and proportional representation. All Spaniards aged eighteen and older are allowed to vote.

The Senate has 255 members, regional deputies with a term of four years and almost every province can appoint four senators. As a result, the vote of the smallest province is just as important as the vote of the largest province. This is not considered a good course of events and therefore plans to change the whole set-up of the Senate. The intention is that the Senado will become the representation in the government of the autonomous regions, and therefore no longer of the provinces. For the time being, however, that are no more than plans.

After a draft government program has been drawn up, Congress elects the Prime Minister (Presidente del Gobierno). At the proposal of the Prime Minister, the King can appoint or dismiss ministers. The Prime Minister is very powerful in Spain and can be compared to the British Prime Minister or the German Chancellor. The Spanish ministers may also be members of parliament.

After Congress has given its consent, the king, on the proposal of the prime minister, can call a referendum. These referendums are purely of a consultative nature. For the current political situation see chapter history.

Royal palace, SpainRoyal palace, SpainPhoto: Rodrig RM CC 4.0 International no changes made

Spain's hereditary head of state is the king, the "Rey de España", also the symbol of unity. The person of the king is inviolable and takes no responsibility whatsoever. All decisions of the king are therefore countersigned by the Prime Minister. Thus, the ultimate responsibility always rests with the person who signs the decisions.

The king has so many, albeit formal powers, that he has a great influence on a number of important matters.

Some of its powers are:

Administrative division

Spain Administrative divisionSpain Administrative divisionPhoto: TUBS CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Spain had a highly centralized form of government under the dictator Franco. In 1978, the form of government changed into a decentralized structure with seventeen autonomous regions (comunidades autónomas), each with its own president, parliament, executive and supreme court. Spain is composed at a lower level of 52 provinces, including the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco, which in 1995 were declared "Ciudad Autónoma", autonomous cities with limited powers. These provinces are governed by provincial councils (Diputaciones Provincial). The members of the provincial council are elected from among their number following municipal elections by the councilors in the province. The executive committee of the provinces is the "Comisión de Gobierno".

The municipalities (municipios) are governed by mayors and councilors (Ayuntamiento). The mayors are elected by the councilors and the councilors are elected by the residents of the municipalities. In 1998 there were 8 097 municipalities in Spain. Spain has many very small municipalities, sometimes with less than 100 inhabitants. Approx. 86% of all municipalities have less than 500 inhabitants. Some small municipalities have a so-called "Asamblea Vecinal" in which all residents form a kind of neighborhood council that takes the decisions.

On December 18, 1979, Catalonia and the Basque provinces were the first to have a form of self-government. The Basque population elects a Basque National Council that has many powers in matters such as trade, agriculture, education and health care. This National Council elects a prime minister who then forms a government. There is even a fiscal autonomy that allows people to levy taxes themselves.

A parliament is elected in Catalonia. This parliament itself elects the prime minister and the government.

The parliament, the president and the government collectively bear the historical name "Generalitat" (Generality). The competences lie in the fields of education, tourism, energy supply, media and financial institutions. The Generality can levy taxes itself and, just like in the Basque provinces, Catalonia has its own police force.


Library of the University of Salamanca, SpainLibrary of the University of Salamanca, SpainPhoto: Antoine Taveneaux CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Education in Spain has long lagged behind the rest of modern Europe. Especially the countryside, where the distances are great and the connections were poor, had a large number of illiterate people. The money spent on education also contrasted sharply with other countries in Europe. The change started from 1962 under the Franco regime. In barely fifteen years, the budget for education has increased by 100%. Illiteracy, especially among the elderly, was tackled by the Servicio de Educación Permanente de Adultos. This organization provides lower education courses for the elderly. Moreover, control over education is in the hands of the autonomous governments. Distance education, the Educación de Distancia ", also ensures that more and more people can make use of the education system, and that applies to primary to university education. In 1999 more than 130,000 people followed university education in this way through the Universidad Nacional de Educación de Distancia, which even has branches abroad.

One-third of the pupils attend private schools owned by private or religious people. Most of these schools are 100% funded by the government. They are then obliged to have a school board and in principle to admit any student. Education at the state schools is free.

According to the new education law of 1990, the Ley Orgánica de Ordenación General del Sistema Educativo (LOGSE), there are the following school types in Spain:

First of all, the Educación Infantil, pre-school and kindergarten. This non-compulsory education consists of a three-year or six-year cycle.

This is followed by Educación Primaria, the primary education that is provided from six to twelve years of age and is compulsory. There are three cycles of two years each with a number of compulsory and a number of optional subjects. The introduction of a foreign language is already started in group three.

Compulsory secondary education is the Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (ESO), from 12 to 16 years old, after which compulsory education ends. The ESO has two two-year cycles. The second cycle contains most of the courses taught in the first cycle, supplemented with a number of electives that increase to 30%.

After the ESO, the pupils receive a certificate that gives access to the "Bachillerato". One can also study in vocational training.

The Bachillerato gives access to the university. One gets compulsory core subjects and subjects of the direction one chooses: engineering, art, natural sciences or social sciences. In addition, there are again a number of electives.

Secondary vocational education, the Formación Profesional Grado Medio, is not very popular in Spain. It takes an average of about two years and the students, in addition to general subjects, mainly receive vocational subjects.

Higher professional education or Formación Profesional Grado Superior can be followed with a Bachillerato diploma.

University education is divided into three cycles:

After the first three years one is "Diplomado" and with that obtained diploma the second cycle can be followed, which lasts two years. One is then a "Licenciado", roughly comparable to "master's degree". After this one can continue studying for the title of "Doctor".

Spain currently has 62 universities, 19 of which are private. The University of Salamanca is the oldest in Spain and dates back to 1218. The Universidad Complutense of Madrid/ Alcalá is one of the largest in the world with more than 100,000 students. Other major universities are those of Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Granada and País Vasco. The number of university students has doubled in ten years to more than 1.5 million in 1999.


Hospital Sant Pau, Barcelona, SpainHospital Sant Pau, Barcelona, SpainPhoto: Thomas Ledl CC 4.0 International no changes made

In Spain, a lot of money is traditionally spent by the government on healthcare. A number of autonomous regions regulate healthcare themselves. The Compulsory Health Insurance, set up in 1942, was very inadequate, and it was only after the Seguridad Social was set up in 1966 that much changed for the better. In 1971, 75% of the population was already covered by this scheme and by 1982 that percentage had already risen to 86%. In 1986 the Ley General de Sanidad was adopted, making it possible to house the entire population in the Sistema Nacional de Salud, the National Health System. From 1991, 99% of the Spanish population is covered by this system. There are plans to privatize this scheme.

Spain also has a large number of private clinics. Approx. 25% of medical care is provided in private clinics and other private institutions.

Due to the much improved medical care, it is currently among the best in the world. The life expectancy of the population is therefore very high and the infant mortality is very low. The number of doctors per 1000 inhabitants and the number of organ transplants per million inhabitants are also among the highest in the world.


Plaza de toros Valencia, SpainPlaza de toros Valencia, SpainPhoto: Dorieo CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Bullfighting dates back to ancient times, the bull is therefore the national animal of Spain, and this "sport" was also practiced in the Middle Ages and the time of the Habsburgs. At first only by the nobility but later more and more "matadores" emerged from the common people.

There are currently about 700 bull farms where fighting bulls or "toros bravos" are bred. The most expensive bulls cost around 15,000 euros and a matador, the torero that kills the bull, earns up to 50,000 euros per "corrida", per bullfight. Six bulls are killed per corrida. More than 13,000 corridas are held annually with 50 million visitors and about 30,000 bulls.

Corridas only take place in the summer and usually start in the afternoon. The performance begins with a parade of three matadores with their helpers, the "cuadrilla". Accompanied by typical Spanish music, they parade through the arena, the "plaza de toros". Then the fight begins and the cuadrillas test and challenge the bull.

Next, the "picador" sitting on a horse comes into play, injuring the bull in the withers, making the bull weakened by the blood loss. After the picador come the "banderillos", who stick their sharp "banderillas" in the shoulder of the bull. Finally comes the matador who puts an end to the often unequal battle with a sword thrust. Although all bulls eventually die, there are also regular deaths and injuries among the matadors.

Despite many protests from around the world, this Spanish popular entertainment (fiesta nacional) still continues with ever-increasing numbers of visitors. Moreover, it is a real industry that earns many millions of euros and in which 170,000 employees are directly involved. Corridas in this form are prohibited in the Canary Islands, as well as in some mainland municipalities.

The national Spanish public broadcaster, RTVE, stopped broadcasting bullfighting in January 2011. The channel finds it too violent for possibly watching children. In Spain, a debate has been raging about the bloody tradition for a long time. Catalonia in the meantime banned bullfighting, the second region after the Canary Islands, where bullfights have not been held since 1991.



Central bank of Spain in MadridCentral bank of Spain in MadridPhoto: Jorge Láscar CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Spain has long remained an agricultural country. It was not until the late 1950s that a start was made on building an industry that quickly became a major economic sector. The service sector has also undergone enormous development. Internationally, Spain is currently the fifth largest industrial country in Europe, with the automotive, steel and chemical industries as the most important industries. Shipyards are also among the most important in the world. Other important sources of income are, of course, tourism, but also still the money that emigrated workers transfer to Spain.

The structure of the labor force changed considerably due to the rapid economic growth. In 1999, for example, only 7.3% of the labor force worked in agriculture; in 1950 this was still about 50%. Per capita income also rose dramatically from $ 500 in 1960 to $ 18,239 in 1999.

The lack of technically trained personnel was one of the main causes of the economic downturn in the 1970s. Much of the industry had focused on the production of cheap mass products that could be made much cheaper in developing countries. Exports of those products declined rapidly, but heavy industries also found it increasingly difficult to sell their products. Unemployment rose quickly as a result and an economic crisis was a fact.

In the 1980s, economic policy was dominated by the imminent accession to the European Union in 1986. In the early 1990s, economic growth slowed again but recovered after 1996. Only unemployment remained a major problem because officially still 20% of the working population is unemployed.

Spain went through a protracted recession in the wake of the global financial crisis. GDP declined 3.7% in 2009, ending a 16 year trend of growth. The contraction continued until the end of 2013. Economic growth resumed at the end of 2013, albeit modestly, as private sector credit, fiscal austerity and high unemployment negatively impacted domestic consumption and investment. The export sector remained resilient during the economic downturn, partially offsetting the decline in domestic consumption and contributing to Spain's balance sheet surplus in 2013 for the first time since 1986. Unemployment rose from a record low of about 8% in 2007 to more than 26% in 2013. Spain's budget deficit peaked (or rather bottomed out) of 11.4% of GDP in 2009. This was caused by the decline in Spanish public finances, the increase in social spending. benefits increased and tax revenue decreased. Spain gradually reduced the deficit to just under 7% of GDP in 2013. Government debt has increased significantly from 60.1% of GDP in 2010 to 98.4% in 2017. Increasing labor productivity, lowering labor costs and lower inflation has contributed to lowering investor interest and the cost of government debt. The government is making constant efforts to implement reforms in labor, retirement, health, tax and education. Efforts are aimed at improving investor sentiment. Some figures about the economy in 2017 are: Economic growth 3% and the Gross Domestic Product per capita is $ 38,400

Arable farming, livestock farming, forestry and fishing

Olives SpainOlives SpainPhoto: Bj Schoenmakers in the public domain

Since 1950, the share of agriculture in the gross national product (GNP) has fallen sharply to 2.6% in 2017. Large land holdings still exist in Central and Southern Spain, but most farms do not exceed 10 ha.

Wheat is grown all over Spain, potatoes in the northern coastal regions and rye and barley in Castile and in the northern provinces. Viticulture and the production of olive oil are important for exports. Spain is the third largest wine producer in Europe and the largest olive oil producer in the European Union. Other important products are sugar beet, flax, corn, tobacco and cotton.

As far as horticultural products are concerned, Spain is the largest producer in Europe and even fifth in the world of citrus fruits. The citrus fruit production naturally takes place mainly in the sunny regions, the Mediterranean coast, Andalusia and the region around Valencia.

Livestock farming makes up approximately 40% of total agricultural production. Livestock farming in particular occupies an important place, due to the ever-increasing demand for meat. A well-known cattle area is Galicia with its pasturage. A special industry is bull breeding in the area of Madrid, Seville, Salamanca and Córdoba. These bulls are bred for bullfighting.

Catalonia has large pig farms, which largely supply Spain with pork.

Sheep are mainly kept on the vast high plains in the center of the country. Most dairy farms can be found in Cantabria, Galicia, Asturias and Basque Country. The Madrid region has many chicken farms.

Forests cover 33% of the total area and the aim is to increase this percentage. This forest planting is intended, among other things, to combat the increasing erosion, which has ensured that 13% of Spain is desert-like.

One of the main forest products is cork, which comes from the cork oaks from the extensive oak forests in Extremadura. Many Spanish forests are owned by the state and the municipalities.

Spain is one of the largest fishing countries in Europe, only Russia, Norway, Denmark and Iceland are even bigger. Both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean are mainly fished for tuna, cod and sardines. In Galicia, fishing is an important source of income. The Spanish fishing fleet consists of approximately 17,000 ships. Half of these are inshore fishing vessels in northwestern Galicia. Europe's largest fishing port is Vigo, on the Spanish west coast in northwestern Galicia. Here are also approximately 2000 vessels suitable for deep-sea fishing. Per capita consumption of fish is the second largest in the world after Japan.

Industry, mining and energy supply

Solar thermal power plant in SpainSolar thermal power plant in SpainPhoto: Afolresm CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Industry contributed 23.2% to GDP in 2017. The main industrial areas are in the provinces of Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Vizcaya, Asturias, Alicante and Zaragoza. Important sectors are petroleum refining and chemicals and the production of transport equipment and electrical machines. The textile and heavy industry are currently less important than they used to be.

Spain is one of the largest producers of tools and machines in Europe. Most of the companies are located in the Basque provinces of Guipuzcoa and Vizcaya, in addition to Catalonia, and Aragón.

The construction sector has traditionally been important and a large part of the workforce is employed in this sector. Residential construction is the largest sub-sector, followed by restoration and maintenance, infrastructure works and non-residential construction. Over time, the infrastructure sub-sector is expected to become increasingly important to the construction industry.

Spain is an important production country, especially in the field of small passenger cars. About 2 million employees work in the automotive industry. Spain is very interesting for French and German car manufacturers due to its relatively low labor costs (half the German labor costs!).

Thanks to, among other things, substantial investments and automation, Spanish shipbuilding is flourishing again and the shipyards have a richly filled order book again. The restructuring has ensured a competitive and high-quality shipbuilding industry.

More than a thousand companies are active in the chemical industry. Three of the largest companies in the raw material chemistry are of German origin. Approx. 90% of the companies work locally or for the region and have a modest annual turnover. The pharmaceutical industry is mainly located in the Madrid and Barcelona area.

The Spanish textile and clothing industry, especially in Catalonia, Valencia and Galicia, has almost 8,000, mostly small companies. Within the European Union, Spain is fifth on the list of textile manufacturers. The textile industry had a very difficult time in the early 1990s due to competition from East Asia, but is now recovering from the recession.

The Spanish leather goods industry still occupies an important place in the world market. The shoe industry mainly consists of small companies. The highest production growth was achieved in the bags and small leather goods sector. The fur industry is also flourishing in Spain, with nearly 3000 companies and 27,500 employees.

Spain is relatively rich in minerals. The main mining products are coal, lignite, iron ore, zinc ore and lead. Other minerals that are extracted are tungsten, potash, mercury and uranium. Petroleum is extracted at the mouth of the Ebro.

The main energy sources in Spain are hydro and thermal electricity and, in addition, increasingly solar energy. But nuclear energy is also very important for the electricity supply. Natural gas is mainly imported from Algeria.


Export SpainExport SpainPhoto: Celinaqi CC 4.0 International no changes made

The main exports are wine, tropical fruits, cars, machinery, textiles and ores.

Imports are mainly fuels, means of transport, foodstuffs, machinery and chemical products.

The most important trade partners in terms of imports are: France, Germany, China, Italy, United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In terms of exports, the main trading partners are France, Germany, Portugal, Italy and the United Kingdom.

The total value of exports was $ 314 billion in 2017 and the total value of imports was $ 339. So Spain has a negative trade balance.


Hi speed train SpainHi speed train SpainPhoto: Rastrojo CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The rail network is operated by the RENFE and covers a total of more than 15,000 km. Not all routes still meet European standards. Rail traffic is constantly being expanded to reduce the position of road traffic.

Spain has more than 68,000 registered road transport companies, of which 48,000 companies do not own more than one truck. But 35 companies have more than sixty cars. The Spanish transport market therefore consists largely of self-employed drivers who are mainly engaged in domestic transport. International road transport is in the hands of only five large companies. The road network has a length of more than 350,000 km, of which 16,000 km is highway. The major cities are interconnected by highways and most of the cities are ring roads.

The main ports are Barcelona on the Mediterranean and Bilbao on the Atlantic. The Catalan port of Tarragona is the third largest port in Spain and especially important as a terminal for oil and chemicals. Valencia, Gijón, Tenerife and Las Palmas also have important ports. The ports on the Mediterranean are currently growing twice as fast as the Atlantic ports.

There are many international airports, including Madrid, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Las Palmas, Malaga, Tenerife and Ibiza. The national airline is Iberia. Madrid's Barajas airport is the largest in Spain.

Holidays and Sightseeing

Nerja, Costa del Sol, SpainNerja, Costa del Sol, SpainPhoto: Tuxyso CC 3.0 Unportedno changes made

The tourism industry is becoming increasingly important to the economy due to large employment opportunities and as a major foreign exchange source. There are approximately 1.5 million people working in the Spanish tourist sector. In 2000, Spain was visited by a record 48 million foreign tourists. Spain manages to book the most overnight stays in Europe every year. Nowadays, this does not only happen in the summer, but Spain is also increasingly chosen as a winter destination. Especially the Canary Islands are popular in the winter period.

Various regions are almost entirely dependent on tourism, especially holiday areas such as Catalonia, Andalusia, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands. Approx. 80% of foreign tourism takes place on the east coast, the famous Costas.

Most tourists come from France, Germany, the Netherlands, England and Italy.

Mosaic Dragon at the Entrance to Parc Güell Barcelona, SpainMosaic Dragon at the Entrance to Parc Güell Barcelona, SpainPhoto: Alex Proimos CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Barcelona is the city with the most tourist visits in Spain. There are many sights related to the architect Gaudi, such as the Sagrada Familia and the park Güell. There are also interesting museums in Barcelona such as the Picasso museum and the Miro museum. Landenweb has included a separate page dedicated to Barcelona.

Tapas bar in Madrid, SpainTapas bar in Madrid, SpainPhoto: Brian Snelson CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Madrid is the capital of Spain and a fascinating city to visit. A visit to Museo del Prado is a must during a city trip to Madrid. This is one of the most famous museums in Europe with a collection of 8,600 paintings, not even including all drawings, coins and medals in the collection. The works of the greatest Spanish painters, such as Diego Velázquez, hang there. You can also find work by painters from other countries, including Jeroen Bosch, Rubens and Rembrandt. In Madrid you can really eat delicious food on every corner of the street, especially tapas. Tapa means lid and this name is derived from the lid on the glasses on which the tapas were once served. The lid on the glasses served as a protector against flies and other insects. You simply eat tapas at the bar with a nice glass of Spanish wine or a beer. Read more on the Madrid page of countries web.

Museum Guggenheim in Bilbao, SpainMuseum Guggenheim in Bilbao, SpainPhoto: Kennisland CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Bilbao is a beautiful city with several attractive sights that attract visitors. Bilbao has several museums such as the Guggenheim Museum. It is especially the titanium shell that makes Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao special. The illuminated material is like a magnet to the eye and gives the building a unique place in architectural history. The graceful, sensual curves give the impression of ships that used to lie all along Bilbao's docks. In keeping with the maritime theme, the skylights of the main gallery (known as the Fish gallery) are designed to resemble the fins of a fish. Many parts of the building are purely decorative. The permanent collection is not very special, but the museum always has guest curators who often create fascinating temporary exhibitions. Often one also sees masterpieces from the other Guggenheim collections.

Absolutely worth a visit are also: Torremolinos, Salou, Nerja, Benidorm, Blanes, Valencia

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Grabowski, J.F. / Spain
Lucent Books

Lonely Planet

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated December 2021
Copyright: Team Landenweb