Tourist information about Spain

spain flagSpain, parliamentary monarchy in southwestern Europe, occupying the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula, and bounded on the north by the Bay of Biscay, France, and Andorra; on the east by the Mediterranean Sea; on the south by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean; and on the west by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. The British dependency of Gibraltar is situated at the southern extremity of Spain. The Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa are governed as provinces of Spain. Also, Spain administers two small exclaves in Morocco Ceuta and Melilla as well as three island groups near Africa Penon de Velez de la Gomera and the Alhucemas and Chafarinas islands. The area of Spain, including the African and insular territories, is 505,990 sq km (195,364 sq mi). Madrid is the capital and largest city.

Consuegra La Mancha Spain

Consuegra La Mancha Spain

Spain occupies about 85 percent of the Iberian Peninsula and is bounded by water for about 88 percent of its periphery; its Mediterranean coast is 1,660 km (1,030 mi) long, and its Atlantic coast is 710 km (440 mi) long. The long, unbroken mountain chain of the Pyrenees, extending 435 km (270 mi) from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea, forms the border with France on the north; in the extreme south the Strait of Gibraltar, less than 13 km (8 mi) wide at its narrowest extent, separates Spain from Africa. The most important topographical feature of Spain is the great, almost treeless, central plateau, called the Meseta Central, sloping generally downward from north to south and from east to west, and with an average elevation of 600 m (2,000 ft) above sea level. The tableland is divided into northern and southern sections by irregular mountain ranges, or sierras, of which the most important are the Sierra de Guadarrama, the Sierra de Gredos, and the Montes de Toledo. Between many of the mountains are narrow valleys, drained by rapid rivers. The coastal plain is narrow, rarely as much as 30 km (20 mi) wide and, in many areas, broken by mountains that descend to the sea to form rocky headlands, particularly along the Mediterranean coast, where the sole excellent harbor is Barcelona. The northwestern coastal area has several good harbors, particularly along the Galician coast. The six principal mountain chains have elevations greater than 3,300 m (11,000 ft). The highest peaks are the Pico de Aneto (3,404 m/11,168 ft) in the Pyrenees and Mulhacen (3,477 m/11,407 ft) in the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain. The highest point in Spain and its insular territories is Pico de Teide (3,715 m/12,188 ft) on Tenerife Island in the Canary Islands. The lowest point is sea level along the coast.

The principal rivers of Spain flow west and south to the Atlantic Ocean, generally along deep, rocky courses that they have cut through the mountain valleys. The Duero (Douro), Mino, Tajo (Tagus), and Guadiana rivers rise in Spain and flow through Portugal to the Atlantic. The Guadalquivir River, flowing through a fertile plain in the south, is the deepest river in Spain and the only one navigable for any extent. The Ebro River, in northeastern Spain, flows into the Mediterranean Sea, and is navigable by small craft for part of its course. Most Spanish streams are too small for interior navigation, and, with courses below the general ground level, are of little use for irrigation. The rivers are, however, a good source of electric power.

The climate of Spain is marked by extremes of temperature and, except in the north, generally low rainfall, and the variegated physical features of the country ensure pronounced climatic differences. The climate is most equable along the Biscayan and Atlantic coasts, which are generally damp and cool. The central plateau has summers so arid that nearly all the streams dry up, the earth parches, and drought is common. Most of Spain receives less than 610 mm (24 in) of precipitation per year; the northern mountains get considerably more moisture. At Madrid, winter cold is sufficient to freeze surrounding streams, while summer temperatures in Seville rise as high as 49°C (120°F). By contrast the southern Mediterranean coast has a subtropical climate. Malaga, in the extreme south, has an average winter temperature of 14°C (57°F).

The most valuable natural resource of Spain is the soil, with nearly one-third of the land suitable for cultivation. The country also has many mineral resources, including hard and brown coal, small petroleum and natural gas deposits, iron ore, uranium, mercury, pyrites, fluorspar, gypsum, zinc, lead, tungsten, copper, and potash.

Only a small part of Spain is forested, and forests are located mainly on mountain slopes, particularly in the northwest. A common Spanish tree is the evergreen oak. Cork oak, from which the bark may be stripped every ten years, is abundant, growing chiefly as second growth on timbered land. Poplar trees are grown throughout the country and the cultivation of olive trees is a major agricultural activity. Other Spanish trees include the elm, beech, and chestnut. Shrubs and herbs are the common natural vegetation on the central plateau. Grapevines flourish in the arid soil. Esparto grass, used for making paper and various fiber products, grows abundantly in both the wild and cultivated state. On the Mediterranean coast sugarcane, oranges, lemons, figs, almonds, and chestnuts are grown.

The Spanish fauna includes the wolf, lynx, wildcat, fox, wild boar, wild goat, deer, and hare. Among the more famous domesticated animals are the bulls bred near Seville and Salamanca for bullfighting, the Spanish national sport. Birdlife is abundant, with varieties of birds of prey. Insect life abounds. Mountain streams and lakes teem with fish such as barbel, tench, and trout.

Although Spanish soils need careful irrigation and cultivation, they are a rich and valuable resource. Semiarid chestnut-brown soils cover the central plateau, and red Mediterranean soils cover the southern area and the northeastern coastal region. A gray desert soil, often saline, is found in the southeast. The forest of northern Spain has gray-brown forest soils, and the forest in the Cantabrian Mountains has leached podzolic soils.

Spain faces numerous environmental threats. Deforestation and the erosion and river pollution that accompany it are major concerns. Other problems include the encroachment of agriculture onto land designated as protected, desertification in badly managed agricultural zones, and soil salinization in irrigated regions. Increased use of nitrogen fertilizers has added to the problem of nitrates in rivers.

In April 1998, a serious toxic waste spill occurred as the result of a burst reservoir at an iron ore mine in southern Spain. Attempts were made to divert the spillage from an important wetland area toward the Guadalquivir River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It was estimated that the toxic mud from the spill threatened millions of birds and other wildlife. The black toxic mud covered farms, fields, and orchards, causing farmers to suffer enormous economic losses.

Spain participates in an international convention on wetlands, with 17 sites designated. Fourteen biosphere reserves have been set aside under the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Program. Spain has ratified international environmental agreements concerning air pollution, biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, environmental modification, hazardous wastes, marine dumping, marine life, the ozone layer, ship pollution, tropical timber, and whaling. Regionally, Spain has designated several protected areas for wild birds as part of the European Wild Bird Directive and six protected marine sites under the Mediterranean Action Plan.

The Spanish people are essentially a mixture of the indigenous peoples of the Iberian Peninsula with the successive peoples who conquered the peninsula and occupied it for extended periods. These added ethnologic elements include the Romans, a Mediterranean people, and the Suevi, Vandals, and Visigoths (see Goths), Teutonic peoples. Semitic elements are also present. Several ethnic groups in Spain have kept a separate identity, culturally and linguistically. These include the Catalans (16 percent of the population), who live principally in the northeast and on the eastern islands; the Galicians (7 percent), who live in northwestern Spain; the Basques, or Euskal-dun (2 percent), who live chiefly around the Bay of Biscay; and the nomadic Spanish Roma (Gypsies), also called Gitanos.

The population of Spain at the 1991 census was 38,872,268. The estimate for 2001 is 40,037,995, giving the country an overall density of 79 persons per sq km (205 per sq mi). Spain is increasingly urban, with 77 percent of the population in towns and cities.

Spain comprises 50 provinces in 17 autonomous regions: Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Basque Country (Pais Vasco), Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile-La Mancha, Castile-Leon, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra, and Valencia.

gran via madrid

The Gran Via is a major thoroughfare in Madrid, Spain. Cinemas, tourist shops, and fast-food restaurants line the street, which passes through Madrid’s show business area.

The capital and largest city is Madrid (population, 1998 estimate, 2,881,506), also the capital of Madrid autonomous region; the second largest city, chief port, and commercial center is Barcelona (1,505,581), capital of Barcelona province and Catalonia region. Other important cities include Valencia (739,412), capital of Valencia province and Valencia region, a manufacturing and railroad center; Seville (701,927), capital of Seville province and Andalusia region, a cultural center; Zaragoza (603,367), capital of Zaragoza province and Aragon region, another industrial center; and Bilbao (358,467), a busy port.

The Gran Via is a major thoroughfare in Madrid, Spain. Cinemas, tourist shops, and fastfood restaurants line the street, which passes through Madrid’s show business area.

Roman Catholicism is professed by about 97 percent of the population. The country is divided into 11 metropolitan and 52 suffragan sees. In addition, the archdioceses of Barcelona and Madrid are directly responsible to the Holy See. Formerly, Roman Catholicism was the established church, but the 1978 constitution decreed that Spain shall have no state religion, while recognizing the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Spanish society. There are small communities of Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.

Most of the people of Spain speak Castilian Spanish. In addition, Catalan is spoken in the northeast, Galician (Gallego, akin to Portuguese) is spoken in the northwest, and Basque (Euskara, a pre-Indo-European language) is spoken in the north. See Spanish Language, Catalan Language, Basque Language.

The golden age of Spanish education occurred during the Middle Ages, when the Moors, Christians, and Jews established strong interreligious centers of higher education in Cordoba, Granada, and Toledo. The University of Salamanca (1218) served as a model for the universities of Latin America from the 16th century on, thereby extending the international influence of Spanish education. During the 16th century the University of Alcala (founded in Alcala de Henares in 1508 and moved to Madrid as the University of Madrid in 1836) was famous for its multilingual, parallel translations of the Bible. Important Spanish educators of that period include Juan de Huarte, a pioneer in the application of psychology to education; humanist and philosopher Juan Luis Vives, who interpreted new ideas on education and, in particular, advocated the education of women; and Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (see Jesuits). Others who made important contributions to education in the 19th and 20th centuries include Francisco Giner de los Rios, who sought reforms in higher education and the schooling of women; Francisco Ferrer Guardia, a nationalistic educator who advocated reform and democratization of education; and philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, whose writings on the mission of the university have been translated into several languages. The Royal Spanish Academy (founded 1713) and the Royal Academy of History (1738) are well known for scholarly publications.

Education in Spain is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16. The school system consists of preprimary schools (for children 3 to 5 years old), primary (ages 6 to 11), and secondary (ages 12 to 16, in 2 two-year cycles). Students may then take either a vocational training course for one or two years, or the two-year Bachillerato course in preparation for university entrance. The university system has three cycles. The first, leading to the degree of Diplomatura, lasts for three years. The second cycle lasts for two or three years and leads to the degree of Licenciatura. Students earning the degree of Doctor must complete the two-year third cycle and write a thesis.

In the 1998-1999 school year Spain’s primary schools were attended by 2.6 million pupils, and secondary schools (including high schools and technical schools) by 3.9 million. About 30 percent of all children receive their education in the Roman Catholic school system.

Spanish institutions of higher education enrolled 1.7 million students in 1996-1997. The major universities of Spain include the University of Madrid, the Polytechnic University of Madrid (1971), the University of Barcelona (1450), the University of Granada (1526), the University of Salamanca, the University of Seville (1502), and the University of Valencia (1510).

Any consideration of Spanish culture must stress the tremendous importance of religion in the history of the country and in the life of the individual. An index of the influence of Roman Catholicism is provided by the fervent mystical element in the art and literature of Spain, the impressive list of its saints, and the large number of religious congregations and orders. The Catholic marriage is the basis of the family, which in turn is the foundation of Spanish society.

Fiestas (festivals) are an outstanding feature of Spanish life. They usually begin with a high mass followed by a solemn procession in which venerated images are carried on the shoulders of the participants. Music, dancing, poetry, and singing often enliven these colorful occasions. The fiesta at Valencia, the April fair in Seville, and the San Fermin fiesta at Pamplona are several of the more important ones. In contrast, the feast of Corpus Christi in Toledo and Granada and the Holy Week observances in Valladolid, Zamora, and Cuenca are solemn affairs. The bullfight, so important a part of Spanish tradition, has been called a fiesta brava. It is far more than a mere spectator sport; fans applaud not only the bravery of the toreros but their dexterity and artistry as well.

A number of great painters have lived and worked in Spain. Among the most famous are El Greco, noted for his late-16th-century painting View of Toledo (Metropolitan Museum, New York City); Diego Velazquez, known for his depictions of the 17th-century Spanish court; Francisco Goya, whose work in the late 18th and early 19th centuries greatly influenced the development of modern art; Salvador Dali, surrealist painter; and Pablo Picasso, one of the most prolific artists in history and a major figure of 20th-century art.

The National Library in Madrid, founded in 1712 as the Royal Library, is the largest in Spain; it contains more than 4 million bound volumes. Rare books, maps, prints, and the magnificent Sala de Cervantes, devoted to the writings of the great Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, are among the special collections of the library. The Library of the Royal Palace (1760) in Madrid has many rare editions from the 16th century as well as fine collections of manuscripts, engravings, and music. One of the most complete libraries in Spain is the Complutense University of Madrid Library, which was founded in 1341; it contains nearly 1.7 million bound volumes and more than 270,000 pamphlets. The Escorial Library near Madrid is known for its collection of rare books. The Archives and Library of the Cathedral Chapter in Toledo is famous for its collection of some 3,000 manuscripts from the 8th and 9th centuries and more than 10,000 documents of the 11th century.

One of the greatest art collections in the world is in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The collection is particularly rich in works by El Greco, Velazquez, Spanish painter Bartolome Esteban Murillo, and Goya; by Italian painters Sandro Botticelli and Titian; and by Dutch painter Rembrandt. The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is a museum of contemporary art named for the current queen of Spain.

Spanish pottery, brocades, tapestries, and ivory carvings are in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, which houses also the most notable library on archaeology in the country. The National Ethnological Museum in Madrid contains objects from former Spanish possessions, including Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines, and Bolivia. Other museums in Madrid include the Natural Science Museum and the National Museum of Reproductions of Works of Art. Situated in Barcelona are the Maritime Museum and the Archaeological Museum, which has a large collection of prehistoric, Phoenician, Greek, Roman, and Visigothic art. In late 1997 the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao opened along the waterfront of the Basque city of Bilbao. The museum, which is noted for its unusual design by American architect Frank Gehry, houses a collection of modern art.

Spanish music has a vitality and a rhythm that reflect the many influences on the culture by the Christians and the Moors. The zarzuela, a form of opera, was introduced in the 17th century. A leading composer during the 18th century was Antonio Soler, and, during the 20th century, Joaquin Turina and Manuel de Falla were noted for their advanced styles. Famous Spanish performers of the 20th century include guitarist Andres Segovia and cellist Pablo Casals. Popular Spanish instruments include the guitar, tambourine, castanets, and the gaita, a kind of bagpipe. Spanish dance styles (each with its own music) include the bolero, the flamenco, the jota, and the fandango.

Agriculture is a mainstay of the Spanish economy, employing, with forestry and fishing, 8 percent of the labor force. The leading agricultural products are grapes, used to make wine, and olives, used to make olive oil. In 2000 Spain’s agricultural harvest (with production in metric tons) included fruits, particularly grapes, olives, oranges, and almonds (15.1 million); cereal grains such as barley, wheat, and rice (23.9 million); vegetables such as tomatoes and onions (12 million); and root crops, primarily potatoes and sugar beets (3.1 million).

Climatic and topographical conditions make dry farming obligatory for a large part of Spanish agriculture. The Mediterranean provinces, particularly Valencia, have irrigation systems that represent the work of many generations, and the formerly arid coastal belt has become one of the most productive areas of Spain. Combined irrigation and hydroelectric projects are found particularly in the valley of the Ebro River. Large sections of Extremadura are irrigated by means of government projects on the Guadiana River. Small-farm irrigation from wells is common.

The raising of livestock, especially sheep and goats, is an important industry. In 2000 livestock on farms included 23.7 million sheep, 21.9 million pigs, 6.1 million cattle, and 260,000 horses.

The cork-oak tree is the principal forest resource of Spain, and the annual production of cork, more than 52,000 metric tons in the late 1980s, placed Spain among the world leaders. The yield of Spain’s forests is insufficient for the country’s wood-pulp and timber needs.

The fishing industry is important to the Spanish economy. The catch, 1.3 million metric tons in 1997, typically consists mostly of sardines, mussels, tuna, hake, and squid.

The mineral wealth of Spain is considerable. In 1999 production, in metric tons, included hard and brown coal (24.3 million), iron ore (265,000), zinc (110,000), copper (2,000), and lead (18,000). Spain also produced 3,600 kg (7,900 lb) of gold and 25 metric tons of silver. In addition, 7.3 million barrels of petroleum were extracted. The principal coal mines are in the northwest, near Oviedo; the chief iron-ore deposits are in the same area, around Santander and Bilbao; large mercury reserves are located in Almaden, in southwestern Spain, and copper and lead are mined in Andalusia.

The unit of currency is the peseta (156 pesetas equal U.S.$1; 1999 average), formerly issued by the Bank of Spain (1829). The country is served by a large number of commercial banks. The principal stock exchanges are in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Valencia. Spain and 11 other members of the European Union (EU) are in the process of changing over from their national currencies to the single currency of the EU, the euro, for all transactions. The euro began to be used on January 1, 1999, for electronic transfers and for accounting purposes. Euro coins and bills will be issued in 2002, at which time the peseta will cease to be legal tender.

In addition to adopting the euro, the EU member countries also established the European Central Bank (ECB). On January 1, 1999, control over Spanish monetary policy, including things such as setting interest rates and regulating the money supply, was transferred from the Bank of Spain to the ECB. The ECB is located in Frankfurt, Germany, and is responsible for all monetary policies of the European Union. After the changeover, the Bank of Spain joined the national banks of the other EU countries that adopted the euro as part of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB).

The climate, beaches, and historic cities of Spain are an attraction for tourists, which make a significant contribution to the country’s economy. Spain received 51.8 million visitors in 1999, making it one of the world’s top tourist destinations. The $5.6 billion tourists spent helped make up for Spain’s considerable trade deficit.

Spain had 663,795 km (412,463 mi) of roads, and 389 passenger cars for every 1,000 inhabitants, in 1997. Rail service over 12,294 km (7,639 mi) of track is provided by both government-owned and private companies. In 1992 a high-speed railway line from Madrid to Seville began operating. The government-controlled Iberia Airlines operates domestic and international services. The airline, which needed financial rescue by the government in the mid-1990s, also serves Spain through a number of subsidiaries. In 2000 the merchant marine consisted of 1,503 vessels; the total capacity of the fleet was 1.6 million gross registered tons.

In 1999 the Spanish labor force included 17.3 million people. Some 30 percent were employed in manufacturing, mining, and construction; 8 percent in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; and 62 percent in services. Unemployment soared as high as 18.8 percent during this period. In the early 1990s, about 10 percent of Spain’s workforce was unionized.

Restaurants in Spain

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