Spain is the country located in the extreme southwest of the European continent. It occupies about 85 percent of the Iberian Peninsula, which it shares with its smaller neighbor, Portugal. Spain is bordered on the west by Portugal; in the northeast it borders France, from which it is separated by the Pyrenees Mountains. Spain's only other land border is in the far south with Gibraltar, an enclave that belonged to Spain until 1713. Elsewhere, the country is surrounded by water: by the Mediterranean Sea to the east and southeast, by the Atlantic Ocean to the northwest and southwest, and by the Bay to the northwest. The Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwestern African mainland, and the Balearic Islands, in the Mediterranean, also form parts of Spain, as do Ceuta and Melilla, two small areas in North Africa that Spain has ruled for centuries. The total area of the national territory is 194,898 square miles. The capital of Spain is Madrid.
Spain's location at the crossroads of Europe and Africa, and at the junction of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, has given its long history a richness and complexity not shared by that of other European countries. The existence of a number of Islamic states on much of its territory for close to 800 years, makes Spain different among the countries of western Europe.
Spaniards were the first Europeans to establish a permanent spot in the Americas.
Spain was also the first European country in modern times to possess a large overseas empire, which it ruled from the end of the 15th to the end of the 19th century. Spain's period of imperial power left a major legacy: a Hispanic world made up of 18 Latin American states, Puerto Rico, and the large and growing Spanish-speaking minority in the United States.
Spain was the most powerful country in Europe in the 16th century, and the first part of the 17th century, but its power declined quickly, and by the 19th century, Spain had become marginal to international politics. Spain has had large patterns of development in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as industrialization, population growth, urbanization, migration and emigration, and the introduction of constitutional, representative political systems.
Since the late 1970s, Spain has become fully emerged into the western European world. It is a member of the United Nations and its specialized agencies, as well as of the Council of Europe and most of the international technical organizations of western Europe. It joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1982 and the Western European Union in 1988, and it became a full member of the European Community in 1986. Spain also retains close diplomatic, commercial, and economic links with many Latin American countries.
Catholic Christianity was made the official religion of Spain in AD 589, and it has stayed somewhat that way with the country ever since. The beginning of political liberalism at the beginning of the 19th century led to a series of conflicts between church and state, especially over land ownership and control of education.
Even so, Catholicism did not lose its status as the official religion of the state until the Second Republic. It was regained as the state religion after the Spanish Civil War by General Francisco Franco and retained that status until the proclamation of the Constitution of 1978. Since then Spain has had no official religion, but the Roman Catholic church continues to receive financial support from the state. The legalization of divorce and abortion and educational reforms in the 1980s brought the church into conflict with the government once again.
The vast majority of the population is Roman Catholic. Yet for many, and especially those born after 1950, this doesn t mean much beyond being baptized, married, and buried within the church. By the 1980s only about 25 percent of Spaniards attended church on Sundays.
There are approximately 250,000 non-Catholic Christians in Spain. In addition, there are about 300,000 Muslims, whose numbers are growing rapidly because of immigration, and over 12,000 Jews.
Spain has had one of Europe's most important and varied mining industries for a long time now. Coal accounts for more than half of its total production. Other major products include iron, pyrites, copper, lead, zinc, tungsten, uranium, mercury, potash, sylvinite, and chloride.
Despite its abundant resources, Spain's mining industry has been unable to keep up with the country's demand for mineral products. Once a mineral-exporting country, Spain has had to import minerals on a large scale. At the same time, the mining industry has been faced with the need to restructure itself in order to face competition from other countries.
Spain has virtually no petroleum of its own, and the commercial potential of natural gas fields are limited. This shortage has contributed to the adoption of a nuclear energy program. The first nuclear power plant came on line in 1968. In 1991 there were nine plants in operation, which provided just over one-third of the country's electricity. A serious accident, at the Vandell s nuclear generator in Tarragona province in 1989, led the government to close it in early 1990. At the beginning of 1991, the government announced a nine-year plan on the construction of five nuclear power plants.
Spain's early industrialization took place behind high tariff walls, and most industries remained small in scale. The liberalization of the economy in the 1960s, and the influx of foreign investment, however, added a number of large firms. It also made Spanish industry much more varied than it had been. The most powerful example of this change is the automobile industry. Before 1960, Spain built few motor vehicles, but by the end of the 1980s, it was producing 1.5 million in factories owned by Ford, Renault, General Motors, and the Spanish firm SEAT. At the end of 1991, Mazda was planning to open a factory in Spain.
Well into the 19th century, movement within much of Spain was difficult. The rivers are not adequate for transportation, and the many mountain ranges formed major barriers to overland travel. The situation began to improve with the construction of railroads. The first line, between Barcelona and Matar , was built in 1848 and the second, between Madrid and Aranjuez, was built three years later.
Most of the railroads were built by foreign investors, although the Spanish government provided for some of them. At the end of the 19th century, two groups of French investors controlled 80 percent of the railways in Spain.
The rail system was nationalized in 1941, and virtually all the lines were incorporated into the Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Espa oles (the National Network of Spanish Railroads). New equipment, including the Talgo, a light train designed by a Spaniard, was introduced in the 1960s and '70s, and much of the track was electrified. However, the system constantly ran up huge losses, and in the 1980s, the government eliminated a number of lines. In 1990, the government announced a massive, long-term investment program, the main goal was the introduction of superspeed trains on a number of lines. These trains were first used on the Madrid-Seville line for the Expo '92 world's fair.
There are 42 airports and air bases receiving commercial air traffic. The busiest airport in the country is Madrid's Barajas Airport. The largest Spanish airline, Iberia, is government-owned; it flies both domestic and international routes. Several other domestic and foreign airlines operate both regularly scheduled and charter flights.
Spain has been invaded and inhabited by many different people. The peninsula was originally settled by groups from North Africa and western Europe, including the Iberians, Celts, and Basques. It was a constant point of attraction for the more advanced civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean.
From about 1100 BC, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Carthaginians began to establish settlements and trading posts, especially on the eastern and southern coasts.
These outsiders found a mosaic of peoples collectively known as the Iberians, who, however, did not have a single culture or even share a single language. There was a kingdom called Tartessus which flourished between 800 and 550 BC, that ruled much of the valley of the Guadalquivir. Elsewhere, political organization was less sophisticated, consisting of a number of city-states in the coastal regions and of clans in the interior and the northwest.