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POPULATION: 40 million
LANGUAGE: Castilian Spanish; Catalan; Galician; Basque
RELIGION: Roman Catholic


Spain, the second-largest nation in Europe (after France) is a country of large geographical and cultural diversity, a land of contrasts and extremes. Its terrain includes Mediterranean beaches and snow-capped Pyrenees, dry plains and coastal rice paddies, volcanic islands and rolling hills. Its people have strong regional identities forged by this diverse geography and by the events of their history. After colonization by the Greeks and Romans and invasion by Germanic tribes, Spain was conquered by the Muslim Moors, who seized control in the 8th century ad and maintained it for nearly 800 years, introducing many cultural innovations. Isabel and Ferdinand, called the Catholic monarchs, conquered Granada, the last city held by the Moslems. They sponsored the discovery of America (l492) by Christopher Columbus. Spain became the greatest world power during Europe's Age of Discovery, reaping tremendous wealth for an empire that extended to virtually all areas of the globe.

After becoming a republic in 1931, the nation was torn apart by a Civil War (1936–1939), the end of which marked the beginning of General Francisco Franco's repressive 36-year regime, until his death in 1975. Since then, Spain has been a parliamentary monarchy under King Juan Carlos, joining the European Community (now European Union) in 1986. For administrative purposes, Spain is divided into seventeen Autonomic Regions (Autonomías), and two autonomous cities (Ceuta and Melilla) on the Northern Moroccan coast; each one of these regions is made of one or several provinces (Provincias). In 1992 Spain hosted the Olympic Games in Barcelona and the International Exposition in Seville.


Spain comprises approximately four-fifths of the Iberian peninsula (with Portugal accounting for the remainder). Its most outstanding geographic feature is its average elevation of 660 m (2,165 ft), the second-highest in Europe after Switzerland. In addition to its portion of the Iberian mainland, Spain also includes the Canary Islands in the Atlantic and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. Altogether, its total area of 504,739 sq km (194,880 sq mi) is slightly less than the combined area of Utah and Nevada. Th ree-fifths of the Spanish mainland is a broad plateau, or tableland, called the Meseta, located in the center of the country. Spain's other topographical regions are the northern coastal belt, Andalucía in the south, the Mediterranean coastal belt, and Catalonia and the Ebro Valley in the northeast.

Spain has a population of 44,708,964 people (as of January 2006), with a much lower population density than most other European countries. Geographic barriers have helped preserve a keen sense of identity in all six of Spain's major ethnic and local groupings. The Castilians, who live in the central meseta, are the nation's ethnically dominant group, and Castil-ian Spanish is Spain's national language. The other groups are the Galicians, who inhabit the northwest region of the country; the independent-minded Basques, their neighbors to the east; the Catalans, known for both commerce and in connection with artists such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali; the Levante, known for its oranges and paella; and the southern region of Andalucía, famous for its flamenco music and Moorish architecture.


According to the 1978 Constitution, Castilian Spanish is the national language. It is spoken by a majority of Spaniards and used in the schools and courts. Castilian derives from Latin as well as the regional languages which include Catalan and Galician, which is similar to Portuguese. Basque is a pre-Roman language whose origin has not been clearly determined. Together with Castilian, Catalan, Galician, and Basque are co-official languages in these autonomous regions.

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Spanish folkloric tradition is very rich and one finds elements with origins as diverse as Celtic, Roman, Germanic, Jewish and Moorish. Spain's ancient musical heritage is diversified with bagpipe music in Galicia and Asturias, sardanas in Catalonia, flamenco dancing accompanied by the guitar in Andalucia, or the lively Aragonese dance called the jota. Bullfighting is the most widely known Spanish tradition and some historians trace it to a cult of bull worship.


Historically, Spain has been one of Europe's most staunchly Catholic countries. Currently, about 76% of Spaniards are Roman Catholics and Catholicism is the country's established religion, although about 19% do not declare any religion. While observing baptism and other important Catholic rites many Spaniards do not participate regularly in religious services. Religious Spaniards, like the Catholics in other countries, believe strongly in intercession by the saints and especially by the Virgin Mary. Cofradías, Catholic lay societies devoted to particular saints, play an important role in religious life in many areas of the country. A 1967 law guarantees freedom of religion. The recent waves of immigration, especially during the 1990s, have led to an increasing number of Muslims—currently there are approximately one million Muslims living in Spain. Islam is today the second largest religion in Spain, after Roman Catholicism.


In addition to New Year's day and the major holidays of the Christian calendar, Spain's other national holidays include St. Joseph's Day (March 19), the Day of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29), St. James's Day (July 25), and a National Day on October 12. Every city or town also celebrates its local saint's days with processions, dancing, and bullfights. Joseph, the patron saint of Valencia, is commemorated with fireworks and the burning of wood and cardboard figures of satirical character and monumental size called fallas. Bonfires are lit on the Night of Saint John's Day, following ancestral pagan traditions. Pamplona is known for its celebration of San Fermin, when bulls are turned loose in the streets. Barcelona's town fiesta, the Feast of La Merced, is marked by a week of celebrations that include fire-breathing dragons. Madrid's Festival of San Isidro involves three weeks of parties, processions, and bullfights. The celebrations of Holy Week in many cities and towns of Spain include floats with scenes of the Passion and Death of Christ, and likenesses of the Madonna, each one sponsored by a different religious society. Among the civilian holidays are the celebrations of Carnival, that begins a week before Lent; Fiesta del Trabajo, equivalent to Labor Day, on May 1; Hispanidad Day or Día de la Raza on October 12; Constitution Day on December 6; and each autonomous community celebrates its own Autonomy Day at different dates.


Traditionally, besides baptism and marriage, the first Communion and military service were considered rites of passage for Spaniards. The first three of these events are the occasion, in most cases, for big and expensive social gatherings in which the family shows its generosity and economic status. At times, families dig into their savings or borrow money in order to pay for these status shows. Spain abolished compulsory military service in 2001. The armed forces are now all volunteer.


Since the 1960s there has been a steady improvement of the economy mainly due to industrial development and tourism, as well as an evolution in customs. Spaniards frequently travel abroad and have adopted customs from other cultures in the last 30 years or so. Although many people living in rural areas have moved to the city, the present generations have preserved the family house in the village and return there at the time of fiestas and for vacation and remain loyal to their community or pueblo. The economic prosperity enjoyed by Spain has allowed many people to also have a vacation home in the country or an apartment at the beach.

In the cities, office hours begin at 9:00 AM and traditionally include an extended afternoon lunch break beginning at 2:00 PM. Workers then return to their offices from 4:00 to 7:00 PM. The day typically ends with a walk (paseo) with friends or family and/or visits to neighborhood bars for a few drinks, appetizers (tapas) and conversation. Dinner is often eaten as late as 10:30 PM. In some locales, such as Barcelona, however, the traditional afternoon siesta is no longer the rule. Both blue and white collar workers have a paid month vacation which they usually spend by the sea, the mountains or travelling abroad. Travel to faraway or exotic places has become quite popular due to the affordable travel packages offered by travel agencies. Spaniards are considered to be friendly and outgoing. It is customary to shake hands and in a social setting women usually kiss their friends on both cheeks. Young groups are formed by co-workers, fellow students or people from the same town that go together to discotheques, organize parties and excursions, and date among themselves. The average citizen spends a great deal of time out of the house. There is an active street life; many people live downtown, frequent bars and restaurants, and go to bed late. Spaniards move from place to place less than Americans and, once they get a job, many aspire to return to their birthplace and settle there. Regional loyalties are usually strong and the new autonomous status of the old provinces has strengthened this feeling. It is not unusual to have lifelong friends known since kindergarten.


Spain today is a consumer society that relies on credit cards, loves to go shopping, and is interested in cars, gadgets and entertainment. Cars are commonplace and have become a problem in big cities (parking, pollution, congested traffic, car theft). The public transportation system in Spain is excellent and thus many people who work in cities have moved to towns in the periphery that are now part of suburbia. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a building boom and although rents and the price of apartments are high, there is no housing problem.

The average life expectancy in Spain is 78 years. There is a National Health Service and cities have both general practitioners and specialists in all medical fields. Madrid and Barcelona have modern subway systems. Today, Spain has an excellent system of highways. RENFE, Spain's national rail network, provides service between all major cities and is developing a service of ultrarapid trains, called AVE. The first of this kind was the Madrid-Sevilla line started for the 1992 World Expo, followed by the Madrid-Barcelona. Major ports include Barcelona, Tarragona, and Cartagena on the Mediterranean, Algeciras on the Strait of Gibraltar, and Cádiz, La Coruña, Santander, and Bilbao on the Atlantic.


Today's Spanish families are much smaller than in the past and usually have two children. The mother has most of the responsibility for rearing them, while a father's relationship with his children can be formal and remote. In general, when children reach adolescence, their relationship with their families diverges based on gender. A teenage male, while continuing to revere his mother, begins spending much of his time with other young men, while teenage daughters and their mothers grow closer than ever. Even after a daughter is grown and married, her mother continues to play a prominent role in her life. Yet these traditional patterns are also changing and young men and women are as independent as their economy allows it. Today people live longer lives, have fewer children than before (actually the birth rate is one of the lowest in Europe), and fewer people live in their homes with extended family. Spanish people usually marry within their own social class. Only church marriages were recognized in Spain until 1968, when civil ceremonies were first allowed by law. Divorce has been legal since the 1980s.


Both in town and in the country, Spaniards conform to the average European fashion standards, and boutiques and ready-to-wear shops can be found all over the country. Although many young people wear sports clothes and blue jeans, the average Spaniard pays more attention to personal appearance than his or her American counterpart. Businessmen wear a suit and tie, businesswomen dress fashionably in suits or dresses and high heels. The Spanish fashion industry has greatly developed and some firms, like Zara, Mango, and Camper, are known the world over. Children who attend some private schools wear school uniforms.


Being a large country with different geographic and climatic areas, Spain also has a wide variety of regional dishes. As in other Mediterranean countries, they make liberal use of olive oil, fresh vegetables, and garlic. Originally from the South, gazpacho is a cold soup made from tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and onions. Galicia is known for its seafood and stews, Catalonia for its fish casseroles and for cured and smoked meats, such as butifarra, a type of sausage. The regional dish paella, which originated in Valencia, has become a national delicacy. It consists of a rice-and-saffron base and commonly it can include mostly seafood (a la marinera), or several kinds of meats (mixta). Spaniards love cured ham (jamón serrano), several kinds of sausage, including chorizo and salchichón, and cheese, especially the variety called queso manchego. Popular seafood includes squid, crab, shrimp, fresh sardines and tuna, salmon, trout and dried and salted codfish. Spanish wine and champagne (cava), sherry and brandy are excellent and are exported both to Europe and the Americas. There are several areas in the country where different varieties of wine are produced like la Rioja, la Mancha, Rivera del Duero, and several zones in Andalucía. Spanish-made beer is also very good. Both wine and beer are drunk together with tapas or at mealtimes. For breakfast Spaniards usually take coffee with sweet rolls, and sometimes hot chocolate with strips of dried dough called churros. Fruit juice and a bowl of cereal are becoming popular for breakfast among young people.

Lunch in Spain, eaten between about 2:00 and 4:00 PM is a leisurely meal comparable to dinner in the U.S. Tapas, appetizer-like snacks, are served in bars together with drinks, and are usually eaten before lunch and dinner. Popular tapas include seafood such as small fried fish, boquerones (pickled fish), berberechos (cockles), calamares (squid), olives and almonds, in addition to cheese, ham and sausage. A tortilla in Spain is an egg omelette and not, like in Mexico, a flat and thin piece of corn bread.


School is free and compulsory from the ages of 6 to 16, with secondary education or vocational training available for students aged 14 to 16. Private schools, mostly run by the Roman Catholic church and subsidized by the government educate nearly one-third of Spain's children. The adult literacy rate is estimated at 98%. University education is general and students must sit for an entrance examination ( selectividad ) to enter the university system. Spain has 31 state-run universities and an increasing number of private ones. Students receive a diploma after three years of general study and a Licenciatura upon completing a program of specialized study lasting two or more years. Centralized public education is administered by the Ministry of Education.


Spain enjoyed a Golden Age of literature in the 16th and 17th centuries. Widely regarded as the first great novel, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes eventually became the most widely translated work other than the Bible. In modern times, poet and dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca won international acclaim. Several Spanish authors including playwright José Echegaray, poet Vicente Aleixandre and novelist Camilo José Cela have been recipients of the Nobel Prize. Musically, Spain gave the world the guitar, developed from a four-stringed instrument of the 12th-century Moors. Great Spanish composers have included Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla and Joaquín Rodrigo and virtuoso performers such as Pablo Casals and Andrés Segovia.

Spain is particularly known for its contribution to painting, which can be said to have begun with the prehistoric cave paintings at Altamira. El Greco and Dieg o Velázquez were among the artists of Spain's Golden Age, and the passionate works of Francisco Goya communicated an intensely personal vision at the end of the 18th and early 19th centuries. In the 20th century innovators in painting include Pablo Picasso, perhaps the single most powerful influence on 20th-century art, as well as Joan Miró, Salvador Dali, Antoni Tapies, Antonio Saura and others. Some of the best architects internationally are Spanish, such as Rafael Moneo, Ricardo Bofill, and Santiago Calatrava. Spanish films are at the avant-garde of the film industry. Movie director Pedro Almodovar is internationally known, as are Spanish actors Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem.


In the past, agriculture, livestock, and mining were the mainstays of the Spanish economy. Under the regime of General Franco industrial expansion was emphasized, and the bulk of Spanish employment shifted to industry. More recently, the service sector has expanded greatly. Farmers may work on large estates or small farms. Typical crops in the north are potatoes, beans, corn and vegetables; in the central areas, wheat, soybeans, sunflowers, lentils, chickpeas, grapes and other fruits. In the Mediterranean area, vegetables, rice and fruits, especially citrus, are grown. The fishing industry is also a major employer: Spain's fishing fleet is the largest in the world. Seeking higher living standards, many people migrate from rural areas to the cities. Spain's economic prosperity attracts a growing work force (some workers enter the country illegally) coming from economically or politically unstable areas. The new immigrant workers come mainly from North- and Sub-Saharan Africa, Spanish America, and Eastern Europe. The majority work in agriculture and in construction.

Since the early 1970s Spain has developed a prosperous tourism industry. Since the 1970s Spain has been the second most visited country in the world after France. In 2007 almost 60 million foreign visitors arrived in Spain. Parallel to summer tourism the country offers cultural tours, international conventions, and sports meetings as well as cruises. There is ample hotel accommodation and a network of beautiful de-luxe government-sponsored hotels ( paradores ) located in historical buildings.


The most popular sport is soccer (called fútbol ). League matches are played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from September through May, with tournaments in the summer. Madrid has two teams in the top division, and Barcelona's team, known as Barsa, is world-famous. It forms the basis of a sporting club with over 100,000 members, one of the oldest such clubs in Europe. Membership passes from father to son, and some 80,000 members have permanent seats for matches in the Camp Nou stadium, the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world. The 1992 Olympics were hosted in Barcelona. Basketball and tennis are also gaining popularity as spectator sports. Spanish world class champions today are cyclist Miguel Induráin, winner of the Tour de France five times, golfer Steve Ballesteros, tennis players Arancha Sánchez Vicario and Conchita Martínez, and motorcycle champions Sito Pons and Angel Nieto. In September 2007 Spain won Europe's Volleyball Championship in Moscow. Participant sports include hunting and fishing, sailing, fútbol, cycling, golf, horseback riding, and skiing.


The most characteristically Spanish form of entertainment is the bullfight (fiesta brava), whose history can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Popular throughout the country, this ritualized fiesta involves grace, courage, and spectacle. Bullfights take place in three stages, called tercios, or thirds. First comes the tercio de capa, when the matador tests the bull with his cape, becoming familiar with the animal. In the next part, the tercio de varas, the picadores and banderilleros weaken the bull with lances and brightly colored darts. Last comes the tercio de muleta, the final life-and-death confrontation between matador and bull. In an afternoon of bullfighting, six bulls are usually killed by three different matadors.

However, not all Spaniards today are fond of bullfighting. Many, especially the young, prefer to go to the beach in summer and to the countryside and the mountains for hikes and picnics. In the evenings, they go dancing or have a drink with friends. The mild Spanish climate has fostered an active night life, much of it outdoors in the streets, plazas, taverns, and restaurants. A dinner date may take place as late as 10:00 or 11:00 pm and be followed by a trip to a local club.

According to their cultural level, Spaniards go to concerts, to the theater, and to movies. People of all ages are fond of television, perhaps the main source of entertainment today.


Spanish handicrafts include lace and leather goods, gloves, basketry, tapestries, carpets, wrought iron, ceramics, and products of gold and silver. Each region has specialties, including leather in Cordoba, lace and carpets in Granada, pearls in the Balearic Islands, jewelry, swords and knives in Toledo and ceramics and pottery. The Spanish government has taken steps to assure that traditional crafts, or artesanía, survive against competition from mechanized industry. Spain is also known for its handmade musical instruments, especially guitars.


Terrorism by separatist groups, particularly the Basque ETA, has plagued Spain in recent years. On 11 March 2004 Spain suffered its most horrific terrorist attack: 191 people were killed and 1,400 were injured in bombings at Madrid's railway station; al Qaeda was responsible. A few days later, Prime Minister José María Aznar's Popular Party experienced a stinging defeat, and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of the Socialist Party became the new prime minister. After four decades of violence, responsible for more than 800 deaths and for terrorizing Spanish society with its bombings, ETA announced a permanent ceasefire on 24 March 2006; however, in June 2007, it renounced the ceasefire and vowed to begin a new offensive.

Another growing social problem is caused by illegal immigration (see Section 15 Work ). Finally, like the rest of the developed countries, Spain has an illicit drug problem and a high rate of crime in the big cities.


Women are playing ever-increasingly important roles in Spanish society. Approximately 15% of Spain's armed forces are women. For the first time, Spain's prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, upon being reelected in 2008, announced a 17-member cabinet that had more women than men. One of them was Spain's first female defense minister, Carme Chacón, who was also seven months pregnant when she was appointed. Many other women hold municipal and government posts as councilwoman, mayor, university professor, director general. Several Spanish women are ministers of the crown, manage businesses, and a large percentage go to the university.

Evidence of the secular nature of contemporary Spain can be seen in the widespread support for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Spain. In June 2005 a bill was passed to allow gay marriage, making Spain the third country in the European Union to allow same-sex couples to marry.


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—revised by S. Garcia Castañeda

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