The country of Spain lies on the continent of Europe. It is located forty degrees north and four degrees west. The capital of Spain, Madrid, is located in the central region known as the Centro-Meseta. The country of Spain is made up of four regions: El norte, El este, El sur, and Centro-Meseta. Spain’s large area of 195,988 square miles covers about five sixths of the Iberian Peninsula. It is one of the largest countries in Western Europe. At its widest point, Spain stretches 635 miles from east to west. It stretches about 550 miles north to south. Spain’s longest coastline lies along the Mediterranean Sea and stretches for almost 1700 miles from the eastern end of the Pyrenees mountain chain to the strait of Gibraltar. The Pyrenees, one of Europe’s largest mountain chains, is 270 miles long. They are practically impassable to humans because are formed from only steep gorges that lead higher summits.
Spain is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean called the Gulf of Cadiz. The Huelva, Rota, and Cadiz ports lie on this coast and further up the Guadalquivir River is the ancient transportation center Seville. Some other major rivers in Spain are the Douro, Tagus, and Ebro rivers. Spain’s currency is the peseta and is currently equal to one hundred centimos. The exchange rate has one U. S. Dollar for 134.61 pesetas.
More that thirty-nine million people reside in the country of Spain. That is because it is made up of a large ethnic diversity. Its location between Europe and Africa has resulted in a great mixing of races and cultures. The only distinct minority group generally recognized as outside the racial-cultural mainstream of Spanish society is made up of Gypsies, many of whom still follow nomadic life-style along the roads and highways. Fairly large communities of settled Gypsies are found in the cities of Mucia, Granada, Barcelona, and Madrid.
Spain is overwhelmingly urban, with seventy-six percent of its people living in towns and cities. This concentration of Spain’s people heightens the impression of emptiness that so often is commented on by the travelers, specially those who cross the Meseta.
Most of the Spanish portion of the Iberian Peninsula is very thinly populated. In the Centro-Meseta region only the areas around Madrid and Saragossa have dense settlement.
There are many different kinds of languages spoken in Spain. Modern Spanish also referred to as Castilian, is spoken throughout Spain and is the official language. Castilian is often a second language, not a mother tongue. In el norte two regional languages are widely spoken. One, the language of Basque people, is called Euskara. It is on of Europe’s oldest languages but is different from the Indo-European and Uralic languages spoken across the rest of Europe. The constitution of 1978 made Euskara an official local language and afforded increased political autonomy to the Basque provinces.
In the region of Galicia a language known as Gallego is widely used, and also since 1978 it too has been recognized as an official language to be taught in schools. Modern Portuguese evolved from Gallego, which resembles a cross between Portuguese and Spanish. From eighty to eighty five percent of Galicia’s three million inhabitants speak Gallego. Attempt have been made to standardize the spelling and grammar, but they have not been entirely successful. A kind of common Galician language is beginning to emerge as a spoken tongue in the province’s larger towns.
Catalan is another language that enjoys a special status under Spain’s constitution. It is a ‘romance’ language with highly developed literature. Most of the seven million people who speak Catalan are located in El este. It is the official language in the three communities Catalonia, Valencia, and Balearics. Catalan Speakers also live in the eastern fringe of Aragon, Andorra, southwestern France, and part of Sardinia. Catalonia’s government promotes its official language both at home and in other countries.
Religion is very important to most Spaniards. Many Spanish people are baptized, married and buried as members of the Roman Catholic church. Under the 1978 constitution the church is no longer Spain’s official or established faith, though financial support is still provided by the state. As a result, the church’s influence in Spanish society has declined sharply, though officially more than ninety four percent of the population is reported as being Roman Catholic. The church supported the democratic movement and so helped foster the new attitude of tolerance and personal freedom found in present-day Spain.
Many of Spain’s non-Catholic citizens are members of some Protestant Church. Small Eastern Orthodox congregations are found along with Muslim and Jewish groups. Among non-Christian Jews form the major community.
Spain’s culture revolves around many different things. Clothing styles are generally not that much than the ones in the U. S. Most Spaniards dress in modern clothes. The beret is still widely worn, especially in the Basque country, and Galician men still favor cloth caps. Jeans, T-shirts, and tennis shoes are now as popular in the Iberian Peninsula as everywhere else in Europe.
Cuisine is another important aspect of Spanish culture. The Spanish, like other Mediterranean people, are particularly fond of sidewalk cafes, where a cup of coffee, glass of wine, or a meal can be enjoyed with friends. Seafood is particularly favored on most Spanish menus. Olive oil is used abundantly in cooking, as are garlic, saffron, and peppers. Rice is popular, especially in el sur and along the Mediterranean coast. Rice and pulses dried beans, lentils, and chick peas cooked with fish, chicken, or pork are basics in Spanish cuisine.
One thing that sets the Spanish apart from most Europeans living beyond the Pyrenees is their national spectacle of bullfighting. Every city and most towns of any size host a bullring, where the crowds cheer their favorite but jeer the matador, as he faces the bull. The matador taunts and teases the bull until the end when he ultimately kills the bull with his sword. Many Northern Europeans are critically and condemn it as a cruel and blood sport. Most Spaniards do not see it this way. To them bullfighting is an exciting test of bravery, skill, and grace.
Mining activities over most of Western Europe, have declined sharply. In Spain, however mining continues to play a role in the economy. Spain produces almost all the copper mined in the twelve countries of the European communities, and it leads in the production of lead and zinc. Spain is also Europe’s leading producer of high-grade iron ore. In terms of total iron ore produced, Spain follows only France, where most of the ore is of far lower quality.
Spain’s coal mines located in Austria and along the Sierra Morena, showed a steady increase in production from 1975 to 1985. In 1985 Spain was Western Europe’s third largest coal producer, behind Britain and West Germany. In the production of lignite, a low-quality from of coal, Spain also ranked third.
Although its position has declined, agriculture a significant part of Spain’s national economy and landscape. Spain has more than twelve millions acres under permanent percent of Spain’s workers are employed in agriculture, and in 1987 they produced about six percent of the gross domestic product. They produce crops such as sugar cane, cotton, mulberries, citrus fruits, bananas, dates, figs, almonds, sunflowers, olives, tomatoes, green beans, avocados, wheat, rice barley, and tobacco.
There are many wild animals that roam the land of Spain. Sheep and cattle are usually used for livestock. Other animals such as bulls, horses and donkeys often drift around, unnoticed by the people that pass.