The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The Kingdom of Spain or Spain (Spanish: Reino de España or España; Catalan: Regne d'Espanya; Basque: Espainiako Erresuma; Galician: Reino da España) is a country located in the southwest of Europe. It shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal, Gibraltar and Andorra. To the northeast, along the Pyrenees mountain range, it borders France and the tiny principality of Andorra. It includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, the cities of Ceuta and Melilla in the north of Africa, and a number of minor uninhabited islands on the Mediterranean side of the strait of Gibraltar, such as the Chafarine islands, the "rocks" (es: peñones) of Vélez and Alhucemas, and the tiny Parsley Island. Strong economic growth and an expansion in trade following membership of the European Union in 1986 made the country's economy the tenth largest in the world in 2002. Life expectancy, public transportation, sanitation, infrastructure, and health care are first-rate, although the GDP per capita remains at 87% of that of the four leading European economies.

Reino de España
Flag of Spain Spain: Coat of Arms
(In Detail)
National motto: Plus Ultra
(English: Further Beyond)
Location of Spain
Official language Spanish1
Capital Madrid
Largest City Madrid
King: Juan Carlos I
Prime Minister: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 50th
504,782 km²
 - Total (2004)
 - Density
Ranked 29th
Currency Euro (€)2
Time zone
 - in summer
Canary Islands (UTC+0)
Canary Islands (UTC+1)
National anthem Marcha Real
Internet TLD .es
Calling Code +34

1 In some autonomous communities, Catalan, Basque, and Galician are co-official; in the Val d'Aran, the Aranese dialect of Occitan is co-official.
2 Prior to 1999: Spanish Peseta.



Main article: History of Spain


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

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

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

Roman Empire

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

Medieval Spain

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

Modern Spain began to take form during the Reconquista, the struggle between the Christian kingdoms arising in the northern regions left unconquered by the Moors and the Muslim kingdoms into which Al-Andalus eventually split.

Three states came to dominate Christian Spain: Portugal, Aragon and Castile. During the last half of the XV century two heirs of Castile married, Isabella of Castile with Ferdinand II of Aragon de Aragón and Juana la Beltraneja with Alfonso V of Portugal. After a sucession war, Isabella and Ferdinand overtook the Kingdom, and Portugal remained separate. In 1492, Granada, the last of the Moorish kingdoms, was conquered by the Catholic monarchs.

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

Just before the conquest of Granada, Isabel funded Christopher Columbus in his attempts to reach Asia through a western route across the Atlantic Ocean - resulting in the "discovery" of the "New World". In 1492, Granada was taken and America discovered.

In 1499, about 50,000 Moors in Granada were coerced into taking part in a mass baptism. During the uprising that followed, people who refused the choices of baptism or deportation to Africa, were systematically eliminated. What followed was a mass flight of Moors, Jews and Gitanos from the city of Granada and the surrounding villages to the mountain regions (and their hills) and the rural country.

Renaissance in Spain

By 1512, most of the kingdoms of present-day Spain were politically unified, although not as a modern centralized state. The grandson of Isabel and Fernando, Carlos I, extended his crown to other places in Europe and the rest of the world. And the unification of Iberia was complete when Carlos I's son, Felipe II, became King of Portugal in 1580, as well as of the other Iberian Kingdoms (collectively known as "Spain" since this moment).

During the 16th century,with Carlos I (Charles I) and Felipe II (Philip II), Spain became the most powerful European nation, its territory covering most of South and Central America, the Iberian peninsula, southern Italy, Germany, and the Low Countries. This was later known as the Spanish Empire.

It was also the wealthiest nation but the uncontrolled influx of goods and minerals from Spanish colonisation of the Americas resulted in rampant inflation and economic depression.

In 1640, under Felipe IV, the centralist policy of the Count-Duke of Olivares provoked wars in Portugal. Portugal became an independent kingdom again. A series of long and costly wars and revolts followed in the 17th century, beginning a steady decline of Spanish power in Europe. Controversy over succession to the throne consumed the country during the first years of the 18th century (see War of the Spanish Succession). It was only after this war ended and a new dynasty was installed - the French Bourbons (Borbones) (see House of Bourbon) - that a centralized Spanish state was established and the first Borbon King Felipe V de España (Philip V of Spain) in 1707 canceled the Aragón court and changed the title of king of Castilla and Aragón for the current King of Spain.

French occupation

Spain was occupied by Napoleon in the early 1800s, but the Spaniards raised in arms. After the War of Independence (1808-1814), a series of revolts and armed conflicts between Liberals and supporters of the ancien régime lasted throughout much of the 19th century, complicated by a dispute over dynastic succession by the Carlists which led to three civil wars. After that, Spain was briefly a Republic, from 1871 to 1873, a year in which a series of coups reinstalled the monarchy.

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

20th century

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

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

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

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

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

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


Main article: Politics of Spain

Spain is a constitutional monarchy, with a hereditary monarch and a bicameral parliament, the Cortes Generales or National Assembly. The executive branch consists of a Council of Ministers presided over by the Prime minister, proposed by the monarch and elected by the National Assembly following legislative elections.

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

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

Terrorism is a problem of present-day Spain, since ETA (Basque Homeland and Freedom) is trying to achieve Basque independence through violent means, including bombings and murders. Although Basque Autonomous government does not condone any kind of violence, the different approaches to the problem are a source of tension between Central and Basque governments. Besides ETA violence, the conflict in the Basque Country is also shaped by the non-acceptance on the part of the Spanish state of the right of Basque people to choose freely their political status. Recently, 2 political parties - which in previous elections had received the support of around 15% of the popular vote- have been banned due to their negative to condemn publicly ETA violence in the terms that the main Spanish political parties wanted.

On February 20th 2005, Spain became the first country to allow its people to vote on the European Union constitution that was signed in October 2004. The rules states that if any country rejects the constitution then the constitution will be declared void. The final result was very strongly in affirmation of the constitution, making Spain the first and so far only country to approve the constitution via referendum (Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia approved it before Spain, but they did not hold referenda).

Administrative divisions

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

Autonomous communities

Autonomous communities of Spain
Autonomous communities of Spain

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

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


Main article: Provinces of Spain

The Spanish kingdom is also divided in 50 provinces (provincias). Autonomous communities group provinces (for instance, Extremadura is made of two provinces: Cáceres and Badajoz). The autonomous communities of Asturias, the Balearic Islands, Cantabria, La Rioja, Navarre, Murcia, and Madrid are each composed of a single province. Traditionally, provinces are usually subdivided into historic regions or comarcas (main article: Comarcas of Spain).

Ceuta and Melilla

Ceuta and Melilla are administered as autonomous cities, an intermediate status between cities and communities; the islands of the Islas Chafarinas, Peñón de Alhucemas, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera are under direct Spanish administration.


Main article: Geography of Spain

Map of Spain

Mainland Spain is dominated by high plateaus and mountain ranges such as the Pyrenees or the Sierra Nevada. Running from these heights are several major rivers such as the 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, in the east there are alluvial plains with medium rivers like Segura, Júcar and Turia. Spain is bound to the east by Mediterranean Sea (containing the Balearic Islands), to the north by the Bay of Biscay (Golfo de Vizcaya) and to its west by the Atlantic Ocean, where the Canary Islands off the African coast are found.

Spain's climate can be divided in four areas:

  • The Mediterranean: mostly temperate in the eastern and southern part of the country; rainy seasons are spring and autumn. Mild summers with pleasant temperatures.
  • Inner spain: Very cold winters (frequent snow in the north) and hot summers. Low records: Guadalajara -25,0º.
  • Northern Atlantic coast: precipitations mostly on winter, with mild summers (slightly cold).
  • The Canary Islands: subtropical weather, with mild temperatures (18º to 24 º celsius) throughout the year.

Biggest metropolitan areas

  1. Madrid 5,603,285
  2. Barcelona 4,667,136
  3. Valencia 1,465,423
  4. Sevilla 1,294,081
  5. Malaga 1,019,292

For a more complete list, see List of cities in Spain

Territorial disputes

Spain has called for the return of Gibraltar, a tiny British possession on its southern coast. It changed hands during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704.


Main article: Economy of Spain

Spain's mixed capitalist economy supports a GDP that on a per capita basis is 87% that of the four leading West European economies. The center-right government of former President Aznar successfully worked to gain admission to the first group of countries launching the European single currency, the euro, on 1 January 1999. The Aznar administration continued to advocate liberalization, privatization, and deregulation of the economy and introduced some tax reforms to that end. Unemployment fell steadily under the Aznar administration but remains high at 11.7%. Growth of 2.4% in 2003 was satisfactory given the background of a faltering European economy. Incoming President Rodríguez Zapatero, whose party won the election three days after the Madrid train bombings in March, plans to reduce government intervention in business, combat tax fraud, and support innovation, research and development, but also intends to reintroduce labor market regulations that had been scrapped by the Aznar government. Adjusting to the monetary and other economic policies of an integrated Europe - and reducing unemployment - will pose challenges to Spain over the next few years.


Main article: Demographics of Spain

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

The Castilian-derived Spanish (called both Español and Castellano in the language itself) is the official language throughout Spain, but other regional languages are also spoken. Without mentioning them by name, the Spanish Constitution recognizes the possibility of regional languages being coofficial in their respective autonomous communities. The following languages are coofficial with Spanish according to the appropriate Autonomy Statutes .

Catalan, Galician, Aranese (Occitan) and Spanish (Castilian) are all descended from Latin and have their own dialects, some championed as separate languages by their speakers (the Valencià of València, a dialect of Catalan, is one example).

In the touristic areas of the Mediterranean costas and the islands, German and English are spoken by tourists, foreign residents and tourism workers.


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

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

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

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

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

Until 1714, Spain was a loose confederation of kingdoms and statelets, under the same king, until King Philip V removed the autonomous status of the Aragonese crown. Moreover, the creation of a unified state in the 19th and 20th centuries has lead to the present situation, apparently simple, but sometimes extremely confusing. During the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1936), the Basque and Catalan were given limited self-government, which was lost after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and restored in 1978 during the transition to democracy .


Roman Catholicism is, by far, the most popular religion in the country, with four in five Spaniards (85%) self-identifying as Catholics. The next group (one in eight, or 12%) is represented by atheists or agnostics. Minority religions account for one in seventy (1.4%) of all Spaniards.

According to membership [1], the second religion of Spain is the organization of the Jehovah's Witnesses with 103,784 active publishers; there are also many Protestant denominations, all of them with less than 50,000 members, and about 20,000 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 in number.

The recent waves of immigration have led to an increasing number of Muslims, who have about 800,000 members. Muslims were forcibly converted in 1492 and then expelled in the 16th century. Since the expulsion of the Sephardim in 1492, Judaism was practically nonexistent until the 19th century.

Over the past thirty years, Spain has become a more secularised society. The number of believers has decreased significantly and for those who believe the degree of accordance and practice to their church is quite diverse.

According to the latest official poll (CIS, 2002), 80% of Spaniards self-identify as Catholic, 12% as non-believer, and 1% as other (the remaining 7% declined to state). Of the 1.4% identifying as other, 29% identified as Evangelical Christian, 26% as Jehovah's Witnesses and 3% as Muslim (the rest either mentioned smaller religions or declined to state). According to the same poll, 73% believe in God, 14% don't and 12% are unsure (1% declined to state). Additionally, according to this poll, only 41% believe in Heaven. 24% of the Spaniards think that the Bible is just a fable. Only 25% of Catholics go to church at least once a week.

According to the CIA World Factbook, 94% of Spaniards are Roman Catholic. This is consistent with the Catholic Church's practice to claim all baptized as Catholic regardless of self-identification, and with the CIS poll's finding that 91% to 96% of all parents are remembered as being Catholics. While 80% of Spaniards self-describing as Catholics, 94% report having baptized their children but only 79% being inclined to baptize new children. 90% had a religious wedding.


Main article: Culture of Spain

International rankings

Further reading

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

Miscellaneous topics

Main article: List of Spain-related topics

External links

Last updated: 10-11-2005 15:10:04
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