Friday, September 10, 2021

Spain | Introduction

EuropeSpainSpain | Introduction

The Kingdom of Spain is a sovereign state, largely located on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe that has been a member of the EU since 1986. It comprises two large groups of islands, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands off the Atlantic coast of North Africa, the two towns of Ceuta and Melilla located on the North African continent, with many small islands in the Alboran Sea near the Moroccan coast. The mainland is bordered on the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea, with the exception of a small land border with Gibraltar, France, Andorra as well as the Bay of Biscay on the north and north-east, and with Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and northwest. It is the only European country to have a border with an African country (Morocco), and its African territory represents almost 5% of its population, mainly in the Canary Islands but also in Ceuta and Melilla. It is one of only 3 countries which have both an Atlantic and a Mediterranean coastline.

With a surface area of 505,990 km2, it is the 4th largest country on the European continent. In terms of population, Spain is the sixth largest country in Europe after Italy and the fifth largest in the European Union. Madrid is the capital and biggest city of Spain, while other large metropolitan areas are Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Bilbao and Malaga.

Modern man first reached the Iberian Peninsula about 35,000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, the region was conquered by Germanic tribes and later by the Moors. In the 15th century, after the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs and the completion of the secular reconquest (Reconquista) of the peninsula by the Moors in 1492, Spain became a unified country. At the beginning of the modern period, Spain became one of the world’s first colonial empires in history, leaving behind a vast cultural and linguistic heritage that includes more than 500 million Spanish speakers, making Spanish the second most widely spoken first language in the world, after Chinese and before English.

Spain is a democracy organised as a parliamentary government under a constitutional monarchy. It is a middle power and a developed country whose economy is fourteenth in the world in terms of nominal GDP and sixteenth in terms of purchasing power parity.


With an area of 505,992 km2, Spain is the fifty-second largest country in the world and the fourth largest in Europe. Mount Teide (Tenerife) is the highest mountain in Spain and, from its base, the third largest volcano in the world.

To the west, Spain has borders with Portugal; to the south, with Gibraltar (a British overseas territory) and Morocco, with its exclaves in North Africa (Ceuta and Melilla and the Vélez de la Gomera peninsula). To the north-east, along the Pyrenees, it borders France and the Principality of Andorra. A small enclave town called Llívia situated along the Pyrenees in Girona is surrounded by France.

The 1,214 km long border between Portugal and Spain is the longest uninterrupted border in the European Union.


Majorca (Mallorca)862,397
Gran Canaria838,397
Minorca (Menorca)92,434
La Palma85,933

Mountains and rivers

Continental Spain is a mountainous land that is dominated by plateaus as well as mountain ranges. After the Pyrenees, the most important mountain ranges are the Cantabrian Cordillera, the Iberian System, the Central System, the Toledo Mountains, the Sierra Morena and the Betic System, whose highest peak, the 3,478-metre Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada, is the highest on the Iberian Peninsula. The highest point in Spain is the Teide, an active volcano of 3,718 metres located in the Canary Islands. The Central Meseta (often translated as “Interior Plateau”) is a vast plateau in the heart of the Spanish peninsula.

In Spain there are several large rivers, including the Ebro, the Guadiana, the Douro , the Tagus, the Guadalquivir, the Segura, the Turia, the Júcar, and the Minho (Miño). Along the coast there are alluvial plains, the largest of which is that of the Guadalquivir in Andalusia.

Fauna and flora

The fauna presents a great diversity, largely due to the geographical location of the Iberian Peninsula between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and between Africa and Eurasia, as well as the wide variety both of habitats and biotopes, which are the result from a significant diversity of climates and well differentiated geographical areas.

Spain’s vegetation is very varied due to various factors such as the diversity of relief, climate and latitude. Spain comprises different phytogeographic regions, each with its own floristic characteristics, largely resulting from the interaction of climate, topography, soil type and fire, as well as biotic factors.


In 2008, the Spanish population officially reached 46 million people, as indicated in the Padrón municipal (the Spanish municipal register). The population density of Spain is lower than that of most Western European countries (91 km²) and its distribution over the territory is very unequal. With the exception of the region around the capital Madrid, the most densely populated areas are on the coast. The population of Spain has been more than doubled since 1900, when it amounted to 18.6 million people, mainly thanks to the massive population increase of the 60s and early 70s.

Ethnic Spaniards account for 88% of Spain’s total population. After the fall in the birth rate in the 1980s and the decline in population growth, the Spanish population has increased again, first with the return of many Spaniards from other European countries in the 70s, followed by a large number of immigrants, recently representing 12% of the population. Immigrants are mainly from Latin America (39%), North Africa (16%), Eastern Europe (15%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (4%). In 2005, Spain introduced a three-month amnesty programme that allowed some previously undocumented foreigners to be granted legal residence.

In 2008, Spain granted citizenship to 84,170 people, mainly from Ecuador, Colombia and Morocco. A significant proportion of foreign residents in Spain also come from other Western and Central European countries. These are mainly British, French, German, Dutch and Norwegian. They live mainly on the Mediterranean coast and in the Balearic Islands, where many spend their retirement or work as teleworkers.

Large populations of descendants of Spanish settlers and immigrants also exist in other parts of the world, particularly in Latin America. From the end of the 15th century onwards, many Iberian settlers settled in what later became Latin America. Currently, most white Latin Americans (who make up about a third of the population of Latin America) are of Spanish or Portuguese origin. Approximately 240,000 Spaniards emigrated in the 16th century, mainly to Peru and Mexico. There were still 450,000 left in the 17th century. Between 1846 and 1932, it is estimated that almost 5 million Spaniards emigrated to the Americas, mainly to Argentina and Brazil. Between 1960 and 1975, around 2 million Spaniards moved to other West-European countries. During the same period, about 300,000 people went to Latin America.


Roman Catholicism has long been the main religion in Spain, and although it no longer has official status by law, students in all Spanish public schools must choose a religion or ethics course, and Catholicism is the only religion officially taught. According to a study carried out in June 2016 by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, about 68% of Spaniards identify themselves as Catholics, 2% have another faith and about 27% do not identify with any religion. The majority of people in Spain do not attend religious services on a regular basis. The same survey shows that among Spaniards who declare themselves to be religious, 59% almost never or never go to church, 16% go several times a year, 9% go several times a month and 15% go every Sunday or several times a week. Recent polls and surveys have shown that atheists and agnostics make up between 20% and 27% of the Spanish population.

Overall, approximately 9% of the total Spanish population attends religious services at least once a month. Although Spanish society has become considerably more secular in recent decades, the influx of Latin American immigrants, who tend to be strongly Catholic, has helped the Catholic Church to recover.

There have been four Spanish popes. Damascus I, Calixtus III, Alexander VI and Benedict XIII. Spanish mysticism was a major intellectual battle against Protestantism, with the reformist nun Teresa of Avila at the head of the list. In the 1960s, the Jesuits Pedro Arrupe and Ignacio Ellacuríaw were part of the Liberation Theology movement.

The Protestant churches have around 1,200,000 members. There are about 105,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses.

According to a study by the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain, there were approximately 1,700,000 residents of Muslim origin living in Spain in 2012, which represents 3-4% of the total population of Spain. The vast majority were immigrants and descendants from Morocco and other African countries.

With recent waves of immigration, the number of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims has also increased. After the Reconquista in 1492, no Muslims lived in Spain for centuries. Colonial expansion at the end of the 19th century in north-west Africa provided full citizenship for a number of residents of Spanish Morocco and the Western Sahara. Their numbers have increased steadily since then with recent immigration, mainly from Morocco and Algeria.

Judaism was virtually non-existent in Spain from the expulsion of 1492 until the 19th century, when Jews were again allowed to enter the country. At present there are approximately 62,000 Jews in Spain, representing 0.14% of the total population. Most of them are newcomers from the last century, while some are descendants of earlier Spanish Jews. It is estimated that about 80,000 Jews lived in Spain before their expulsion.


Spain’s mixed capitalist economy is the 16th largest in the world and the 5th in the European Union, as well as the 4th in the eurozone.

The centre-right government of former Prime Minister José María Aznar worked successfully to join the group of countries that adopted the euro in 1999. In October 2006, their unemployment rate was 7.6%, which compares well with many other European countries. Persistent weaknesses in the Spanish economy include high inflation, a large underground economy and an education system that, according to OECD reports, is one of the worst in the developed world, along with the United States and the United Kingdom.

By the mid-1990s, the economy had resumed growth that had been interrupted by the global recession of the early 1990s. Strong economic growth helped the government to reduce public debt as a percentage of GDP, and Spain’s high unemployment rate began to fall steadily. With a balanced public budget and controlled inflation, Spain was admitted to the euro area in 1999.

Since the 1990s, some Spanish companies have acquired the status of multinationals, often extending their activities to culturally close Latin America. Spain is the second largest foreign investor in Latin America after the United States. Spanish companies have also expanded into Asia, particularly China and India. Such an early worldwide expansion is a major competitive benefit compared to its rivals and its European neighbours. The reason for this early expansion is the growing interest in the Spanish language and culture in Asia and Africa and a corporate culture that has learned to take risks in unstable markets.

Companies in Spain have been investing in fields including the commercialisation of renewable sources of energy, technology companies such as Telefónica, Abengoa, Mondragon Corporation, Movistar, Hisdesat, Indra, train manufacturers such as CAF, Talgo, global companies such as the textile company Inditex, oil companies such as Repsol and infrastructures, with six of the top ten international construction companies specialising in transport being Spanish.

In 2005, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality of life survey placed Spain among the top ten countries in the world.

In 2010, the Basque city of Bilbao received the Lee Kuan Yew World Cities Award, and its then mayor, Iñaki Azkuna, received the World Mayor’s Award in 2012. The Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz received the European Green Capital of 2012 award.