Welcome to Spain
Explore Our Best Destinations Spain
Passionate, sophisticated and devoted to living the good life, Spain is both a stereotype come to life and a country more diverse than you ever imagined. Spain’s diverse landscapes stir the soul. The Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa are as beautiful as any mountain range on the continent, while the snowcapped Sierra Nevada rises up improbably from the sun-baked plains of Andalucía; these are hiking destinations of the highest order.
The wildly beautiful cliffs of Spain’s Atlantic northwest are offset by the charming coves of the Mediterranean. Food and wine are national obsessions in Spain, and with good reason. The touchstones of Spanish cooking are deceptively simple: incalculable variety, traditional recipes handed down through the generations, and an innate willingness to experiment and see what comes out of the kitchen laboratory.
Poignantly windswept Roman ruins, cathedrals of rare power and incomparable jewels of Islamic architecture speak of a country where the great civilisations of history have risen, fallen and left behind their indelible mark. More recently, what other country could produce such rebellious and relentlessly creative spirits as Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Antoni Gaudí and place them front and centre in public life?
For all the talk of Spain’s history, this is a country that lives very much in the present and there’s a reason ‘fiesta’ is one of the best-known words in the Spanish language – life itself is a fiesta here and everyone seems to be invited. Perhaps you’ll sense it along a crowded, postmidnight street when all the world has come out to play.
Capital of Spain: Madrid
Official language: Castilian Spanish
The currency: Euro
Population: 46.157.822 (INE 2008)
The country is a Presidential Spanish Republic
President of the Republic: Mr. Mariano Rajoy
Calling code: The international calling code is +34
LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
Occupying the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain is the third-largest country in Europe, with an area of 504,782 sq km (194,897 sq mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by Spain is slightly more than twice the size of the state of Oregon. This total includes the Balearic Islands (Islas Baleares) in the western Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands (Islas Canarias) in the Atlantic Ocean west of Morocco; both island groups are regarded as integral parts of metropolitan Spain. The Spanish mainland extends 1,085 km (674 mi) e–w and 950 km (590 mi) n–s. Bordered by the Bay of Biscay, France, and Andorra on the n, by the Mediterranean on the e and s, by Gibraltar and the Strait of Gibraltar on the s, by the Gulf of Cádiz on the sw, and by Portugal and the Atlantic on the w, Spain has a total land boundary of 1,918 km (1,192 mi) and a coastline of 4,964 km (3,084 mi). Spain also holds Ceuta, Melilla, and other “places of sovereignty” in the north of Morocco.
Spain has long claimed Gibraltar, a narrow peninsula on the south coast, which was taken by a British-Dutch fleet in 1704 and became a British colony under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713). In 2003, Gibraltar residents voted to remain a British colony and demanded greater participation in talks between the United Kingdom and Spain concerning the future of Gibraltar. The United Kingdom plans to grant Gibraltar greater autonomy, but Spain do not agree with this plan.
Spain’s capital city, Madrid, is located in the center of the country.
The climate of Spain is extremely varied. The northern coastal regions are cool and humid, with an average annual temperature of 14°c (57°f); temperatures at Bilbao range from an average of 10°c (50°f) in January-March to 19°c (66°f) during July-September. The central plateau is cold in the winter and hot in the summer; Madrid has a winter average of about 8°c (46°f) and a summer average of 23°c (73°f). In Andalucía and the Levante, the climate is temperate except in summer, when temperatures sometimes reach above 40°c (104°f) in the shade. The northern coastal regions have an average annual rainfall of 99 cm (39 in); the southern coastal belt has 41–79 cm (16–31 in); and the interior central plain averages no more than 50 cm (20 in) annually.
The population of Spain in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 43,484,000, which placed it at number 29 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 17% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 15% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 96 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 0.1%, a rate the government viewed as too low. The projected population for the year 2025 was 46,164,000. The population density was 86 per sq km (223 per sq mi).
The UN estimated that 76% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.21%. The capital city, Madrid, had a population of 5,103,000 in that year. Other large urban areas and their estimated populations include Barcelona (4,424,000), Valencia (796,549), Sevilla (704,154), Zaragoza (647,373), and Málaga (558,287).
According to the 1978 constitution, Spanish is the national language. Castilian, the dialect of the central and southern regions, is spoken by most Spaniards (74%) and is used in the schools and courts. Regional languages—Catalan (spoken by 17% of the population), Galician (7%), Basque (2%), Bable, and Valencian—are also official in the respective autonomous communities, where education is bilingual.
Regional languages are spoken by over 16 million persons in Spain. A majority of those who live in the northeastern provinces and the Balearic Islands spoke Catalan, a neo-Latin tongue. Galician, close to Portuguese, was used in Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain. The Basques in northern Spain spoke Basque, a pre-Roman language unrelated to any other known tongue and using an ancient script. Bable, a form of Old Castilian was spoken in Asturias (northwest), and Valencian, a dialect of Catalan, was used by inhabitants of the eastern province of Valencia.
In 2003, the Center for Sociological Investigations reported that about 81% of respondents were nominally Catholic, but 42% admitted that they never attend Mass. In the same survey, 11.6% claimed to be agnostics and 4.1% claimed to be atheists. Protestants, numbering about 350,000, are represented by the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities. The Federation of Spanish Islamic Entities (FEERI), located in Córdoba, reports that there are about one million Muslims, including both legal and illegal immigrants. There are about 40,000–50,000 Jews in the country. There are also about 9,000 practicing Buddhists.
Roman Catholicism was once the official religion of Spain, but the constitution of 1978 established the principles of religious freedom and separation of church and state. The Roman Catholic Church does, however, continue to maintain certain privileges, as well as monetary support, from the state.
In 2002, Spain had an estimated 346,858 km (215,538 mi) of roadways, of which 343,389 km (213,382 mi) were paved highways, including 9,063 km (5,632 mi) of expressways. The Mediterranean and Cantábrico routes are the most important. In 2003, there were 19,293,263 passenger cars and 4,255,275 commercial vehicles.
In 2004, the National Spanish Railway Network encompassed 14,781 km (9,194 mi) of broad, standard and narrow gauge railways, of which broad gauge was the largest portion at 11,829 km (7,358 mi), followed by narrow gauge at 1,954 km (1,215 mi), and standard gauge at 998 km (621 mi). A total of 7,718 km (4,801 mi) of railway (broad, standard and narrow gauge) were electrified.
Of Spain’s 200 ports, 26 are of commercial significance. The largest are Barcelona, Tarragona, and Cartagena on the Mediter-ranean, Algeciras on the Strait of Gibraltar, La Coruña on the Atlantic, and Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canaries. The port of Bilbao, on the Bay of Biscay, can accommodate tankers of up to 500,000 tons. Substantial improvements were made during the 1970s at Gijón, Huelva, and Valencia. Scheduled ferry services connect Spain with neighboring countries and North Africa. In 2005, the merchant fleet was comprised of 182 vessels of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 1,740,974 GRT. As of 2003, Spain had 1,045 km (650 mi) of navigable inland waterways.
Spain had an estimated 156 airports and airfields in 2004. As of 2005, a total of 95 had paved runways, and there were also eight heliports. Principal airports include Alicante, Prat at Barcelona, Ibiza, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria at Las Palmas, Barajas at Madrid, Málaga, Menorca, Son San Juan at Palma Mallorca, and Valencia. The state-owned Iberia Air Lines has regular connections with 50 countries and 89 cities in Europe, Africa, Asia (including the Middle East), and the Western Hemisphere. Other Spanish airlines are Aviaco, Air Europa, Viva Air, Binter Canarias, and Spanair. In 2003, about 42.507 million passengers were carried on domestic and international flights, and 879 million ton-km (546 million ton-mi) of freight.
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
Spain, a member of the European Union and the World Trade Organization, adheres to EU and GATT trading rules. Spain determines customs duties based on cost, insurance, and freight (CIF), and applies the EU Common External Tariff to non-EU imports. Most customs costs amount to 20–30% of CIF (cost, insurance, freight), including the duty, the VAT, and customs agent and handling fees.
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
The National Library in Madrid (four million volumes), the Library of Catalonia in Barcelona (one million volumes), the university libraries of Santiago de Compostela (one million volumes), Salamanca (906,000 volumes), Barcelona (two million volumes), and Sevilla (777,000 volumes), Valladolid (500,000 volumes), and the public library in Toledo (with many imprints from the 15th to the 18th centuries) are among the most important collections. Spain also has 61 historical archives, among them the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla, with 60,000 volumes and files, and the archives of Simancas, with 86,000 volumes and files. In total, Spain’s public library collection holds more than 32.8 million volumes. There are over 2,500 public libraries nationwide. In the province of Barcelona there are about 143 public libraries and 8 mobile services.
The Prado, in Madrid, with its extensive collection of Spanish art, is the most famous museum of Spain and one of the best in the world, featuring Picasso’s world-famous Guernica. The National Archaeological Museum, also in Madrid, contains the prehistoric cave paintings of Altamira. The Museum of Modern Art, in Barcelona, houses excellent cubist and surrealist collections. There are also important art collections in the Escorial and Aranjuez palaces, near Madrid. Also in Madrid are the Museum of America, withartifacts from Spain’s colonial holdings; the African Museum, with exhibits of many African cultures, especially Makonde art from Mozambique; and the Antiquities Collection of the Academy of History, founded in 1738, which houses Iberian and Visigoth artifacts, Islamic art, 4th century relics, including the Silver Dish of Theodosius, general European art, and 11th century documents. Barcelona also has the Museum of Ceramics, the Museum of Decorative Arts, a Picasso museum, the National Museum of Catalonian Art, and the Museum of Perfume. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by American architect Frank Gehry, opened in 1997 as a joint project of the Guggenheim Foundation and the Basque regional government. The innovative design of the 24,000-sq-m (257,000 sq-ft) metal-and-stone structure has won world-wide attention and acclaim.
In prehistoric times various people have crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, coming from Africa, as show the archeological findings in the caves of Altamira. Ligurians and Iberians originally have African roots. Mycean sailors played an important part in the trade with Spain. Since the 7th century BC. the Greek also participated in the trade. The Phoenicians from Carthage conquered part of Spain at the end of the 5th century BC and met with the Celts in the north of the peninsula who had arrived between 900-600 BC.
But soon all people in Spain were dominated by the Romans. The three provinces Tarraconensis, Baetica and Lusitana became important centres of Roman civilisation and the economy thrived. Spain had become totally romanised. But the prosperity and civilisation waned after the invasions of German tribes in the 3rd century AD. In 411 tribes sign an alliance with Rome, which enables them to establish military colonies within the Empire.
415-711, Visigothic Kingdom
The Visigoths considered themselves the heirs of the defunct imperial power. Around the middle of the 5th century, the threefold pressures of the Suevi, from the west (Galicia), the Cantabrian-Pyrenaic herdsmen from the north and the Byzantines from the south, the Betica, forced them to establish their capital in Toledo, in the centre of the Peninsula. This was a first attempt to form a peninsular unity, independent of the rest of the empire, and therefore the Visigoths are still considered as the creators of the first Peninsular kingdom.
The Visigoths defended themselves well against the Suevi in Galicia and subdued them in the 6th century AD.; however, in the north, the Basques, Cantabrians and Asturians were more successful in resisting the Visigoth onslaught than they had been in resisting the Romans, and were almost as adept as they would be against the Moors. The Betica, from the 6th to the 11th century AD., constituted an exception within western Europe. Facing a continental Europe which was increasingly closed and fragmented, it would maintain its urban culture and its commercial and cultural connections within the Mediterranean domain; firstly, with the eastern Roman Empire, with Byzantium and later with the Muslim Caliphate.
711-ca. 1250, Muslim rule
Quarrels between the leaders became the downfall of the Visigoths. Some of them asked the Muslims from Northern Africa for help, but they had their own plans. The Muslim troops crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and defeated the Visigoth king Rodrigo at the battle of Guadalete in 711 AD. Muza ben-Nosair completes the Muslim conquest in 712 In Cordoba the Caliphate of Cordoba was proclaimed, indepent of Damascus. The caliphs strenghtened their kingdom and consolidated the economic relationship with east-Byzantium. By 950, the Germano-Roman empire was exchanging ambassadors with the Cordoban Caliphate. The small Christian strongholds in the north of the Peninsula became modest feudal holdings of the Caliphate, recognizing its superiority and arbitrage. The Cordoban caliphate had a currency-based economy, and the injection of coinage played a central role in its financial splendour. The gold Cordobes coin became the principal currency of the period and was probably imitated by the Carolingian empire. Therefore, the Cordoban caliphate was the first urban and commercial economy that had flourished in Europe since the disappearance of the Roman Empire. The capital and most important city of the Caliphate, Cordoba, had some 100,000 inhabitants, making it Europe’s principal urban concentration during that epoch.
Muslim Spain produced a flourishing culture, above all after the Caliph Al-Hakam II (961-976) came to power. He is credited with founding a library of hundreds of thousands of volumes, which was practically inconceivable in Europe at that time. The most distinctive feature of this calture was the early readoption of classical philosophy by Ibn Masarra, Abentofain, Averroes and the Jew Maimonide. But the Spanish-Muslim thinkers stood out, above all in medicine, mathematics and astronomy.
The fragmentation of the Cordoban Caliphate took place at the end of the first decade of the 11th century; this came about as a result of the enormous war effort deployed by the last Cordoban leaders and the suffocating fiscal pressures. The thirty-nine successors of the united Caliphate became known as the first (1009-1090) Ta’ifas (petty kingdoms), a name which has passed into the Spanish language as a synonym for the ruin generated by the fragmentation and disunity of the Peninsula. This division occurred twice again, thereby creating second and third Ta’ifas and producing a series of new invasions from the north of Africa. The first time the Almoravides (1090), invaded the Peninsula, the second time it was the Almohads (1146) and the third, the Banu Marins (1224). This progressive weakening meant that by the middle of the 13th century, Islamic Spain was reduced to the Nasrid Kingdom in Granada. Located between the Strait of Gibraltar and Cape Gata, this historical relic did not capitulate until 2 January 1492, at the end of the Reconquest.
1250-1504, Completion of the Reconquista
In 1250 Spain had a christian rulership, except for the Nasrid Kingdom in Granada. But for 2 centuries the country was divided over several states: Castile, Aragon, Navarra and Portugal. Isabel I of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon are married in 1469, thus restoring the unity of a great part of Spain.
They complete the Reconquest by taking Granada (January 2nd), taking advantage of the rivalry of the last Muslim governors of Spain. Fernando III unites Castile and Leon.
1504-1700, The Habsburgs, the Catholic Monarchs
One of the most significant dates during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs was 12th October 1492: the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. Spain became rich by the conquests in America and expanded it’s empire throughout Europe. The new rulers came from the house of Habsburg, starting with Charles V of Germany who became Charles I of Spain. The setting up of the Inquisition probably was one of the worst things that happened in this time. Countless people died, guilty or innocent. Wars wear the empire out, financially. With the death of Charles II, the dinasty of the Habsburg comes to an end and the War of the Spanish Succession breaks out, in which France, England and Austria are involved.
1700-1868, The Bourbons, War of Independence
During the reign of Felipe V of Bourbon, Spain lost the its provinces in the Netherlands and Italy. But he led Spain into the Enlightenment, an epoch of harmonious foreign relations, reform and interior development. The English occupy Gibraltar. After a brief period of enforced alliance with France, which cultimated in the British defeat of a Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar, Napoleon’s troops invaded Spain. The bloody six-year war which followed – the Peninsular War, known in Spain as the War of Independence – in which guerrilla tactics and a scorched-earth policy were applied, dealt a death blow to the Spanish economy. In 1808 The Spanish people rose against French domination (May 2nd, 1808) and with English help defeated Napoleon.
Fernando VII and later his daughter Isabel II rue the country until 1868. During the reign of Fernando VII, the Spanish colonies of America gain their independence, except Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 1868 generals head a revolution which overthrows Isabel II.
1868-1923, The Restauracion
The first Spanish Replublic is proclaimed in 1873, but a year later the kingdom is restored with Alfonso XII as king. This period is known as the Restoration, with a liberal constitution. The war with the United States puts an end to the remains of the Spanish colonial empire: Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines are turned over to the victors in 1898. In World War I Spain remains neutral.
In 1923 the elections are won by the socialist party.1923-1939
Dictatorship, Civil War Reacting on this, General Primo de Rivera gained power by a coup d’etat and rules as a dictator.
After the municipal elections, the (second) Republic is proclaimed in 1931. Niceto Alcala Zamora is named president. But right-wing party obtained a majority in 1933 and after a period of fascist terror Civil War broke out, 1936. It ends in 1939 and is won by the Nationalists. General Franco becomes dictator, supported by the only allowed political movement, the Falange.
1939-1975, The Spain of Franco
Franco started to get rid of all his political opponents and is quite successful in it. Spain stayed out of the 2nd World War, but volunteers of the Falange took part in the war against teh Soviet Union and German submarines were allowed to use Spanish harbors.
In 1947 Franco announces the restoration of the monarchy when he dies or retires and appoints Juan Carlos de Bourbon y Bourbon as successor with the title of King. Franco dies November 1975. King Juan Carlos The new king was as determined as he was prudent in his efforts to assure Spain a rapid democratic process. The first free democratic elections for Parliament were held in 1977 and the Spanish people approve by an 88% majority the new Constitution, which defines Spain as a Parliamentary Monarchy in 1978.
Spain joined the European Union and NATO in 1982.
Although historical sites and unique cultural features have always made Spain attractive to foreign visitors, the tourist boom that began in the mid-1950s was based primarily on the recreational assets of the Mediterranean seashore areas. The most popular areas are the Costa Brava, Costa del Maresme, Costa Dorada in the east and Costa del Sol in the south of Spain. The popularity of the Costa de la Luz in the south along the Atlantic Ocean is growing fast over the last few years. But the government tries to prevent too much building of supersized luxurious hotels and apartments (like the Mediterranean coast) because the biggest and most beautiful nature reserve of Europe is also in this area, the Coto Doñana. Every year, millions of migratory birds stay here for the winter. But the winter of 1999 was so dry that most of the swamps dried out and the birds left to another place.
Next to it’s beautiful climate, beaches and nature, Spain als has a rich cultural history. The many beautiful cities, like Sevilla and Córdoba in Andalucia and Barcelona, are very popular among tourists who want to see something more than only sea and beaches.