What is Spain?
Spain is one of the countries that makes up the geopolitical map of our little mudball.
Spain is inhabited by approximately 40 million Spaniards, most of whom speak one of the three main Languages of Spain (Castilian, Catalan, or Galician) and most of whom are Roman Catholic. Though citizens can vote in its Parliamentary monarchy at the age of 18 (but only 65% do) for various political appointments and referenda, it does have a king, and the king is the king and theoretically has the final say on all matters relating to his kingdom, these days many consider him nothing more than a mere figurehead.
Spain is currently a voting member of the European Union and has replaced its former currency, the peseta, with the Euro The country has the highest unemployment rate in the EU, currently at 13%, and the majority of employed Spaniards work in the service sector. The average Spaniard earns 18,000€ a year, lives for 79 years, marries at 26, has 1.5 children, and is fully literate. In 1988 Approximately one out of every 100,000 Spanish marriages ends in divorce and only 5% of Spanish children are born to single parents, though these figures are surely rising. Spain's country code for the telephone is 34 and is .es for the internet.
As a whole, Spanish culture presents a mixture of old Catholic formality and the nonchalant attitude that characterizes the phenomenon of globalization. Offices are similar to offices elsewhere, with computers, cubicles, and operating hours of 08:00-17:00 but most shopkeepers keep the traditional hours of 07:00-13:00, 16:00-20:00 and use the break to siesta, fiesta, or just relax. There is a strong social pressure to always present one's best self when in the presence of others by dressing cleanly and fashionably, by offering what you can (and often cannot), by accepting what is offered and asked of you, and by being humble (especially to your elders) but the younger generations are certainly testing these old school standards.
What is its Geography like?
Spain is part of the European Continent.
The main chunk of Spain is situated on the Iberian Peninsula, and is occasionally referred to as Peninsular Spain. it is connected to the southwestern border of France, the southern border of Andorra, as well as the northern and eastern borders of Portugal The Kingdom of Spain also lays claim to the Canary Islands on its southwestern border, west of Morocco, in the Atlantic Ocean and the Balearic Islands which are on its western border, in the Mediterranean Sea It also claims sovereignty over a few small islands near Morocco and two cities connected to northern Morocco, all of which Morocco contests. Additionally, it wants control of Gibraltar but the details surrounding the peninsula are currently under negotiations with the British and the residents of the area.
Peninsular Spain is split up into 15 distinct and autonomous communities, and the Canary Islands and Balearic Islands are an additional 2, giving Spain a total of 17 autonomous regions. Starting from the top left corner of the country, just north of Portugal, and spiraling to the center, the Peninsular regions are:
- Galicia is the most fertile region in Spain and its culture has a strong Celtic influence.
- Asturias and Cantabria are very mountainous regions.
- The Basque Country, also known as the Pais Vasco, is the cultural home of the Basque people.
- La Rioja is a small region whose economy centers around its wine.
- Navarra, Aragon and Catalonia all border France and\or Andorra, and have lovely mountains and rivers and a culture strongly influenced by their geography.
- Valencia and Murcia have a great coastline and rugged interior full of cliffs, mountains and few rivers.
- Andalucia is perhaps the most geographical diverse region in Spain is very popular with the tourists.
- Extremadura, Castilla y Leon, Castilla-La Mancha, and Madrid are the areas most people picture when they think of Spain- dry, high (but pretty) plateaux with sleepy villages interspersed between hip towns.
And what about its Climate and Topography?
Physically, Spain can be thought of as one large plateau carved up by many mountain ranges and a few low land areas. It has many rivers but most are not dependable and have yearly fluctuations of length and water flow and even the largest, such as the Ebro, have a modest flow most of the time.
The heart of Spain's enormous plateau is considered the Meseta Central Cutting through the Meseta Central is the Sistema Central, a large mountain range that divides the Meseta into northern and southern halves. The Meseta Central consists of Madrid, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha as well as the southern half of Castilla y Leon. This area is marked by an average elevation of 650m and an average precipitation of 400mm. It is considered semi-arid or continental depending on who you ask. Regardless of how you define it, the Meseta Central has very hot, dry summers(that can often break 40°C/104°F), rainy autumns, cold winters, and rainy springs. In the Meseta Central, the rain is unpredictable, the soil is poor, dry, and eroded, making vegetation scarce and agriculture tedious.
The northern coast of Spain is marked by the hills of Galacia, blue beaches, and the Corillera Canabrica, a limestone range that reaches upwards of 2500m and that ends just as the Pyrenees begin. The climate on the northern coast of Spain is markedly different than that of the Meseta Central. This area, marked by Galacia on the west, Navarra on the East, and the Cantabrian Mountains on the south, is considered temperate or maritime climate marked by an average rainfall of 950mm and slight variations of its average temperature of 60°F/15°C, depending on the season.
The southern coast, from Andalucia up through Aragon, has a wonderful topography, with the great Andalucian Plain slowly turning into the mountainous Sistema Penibetico as it goes north. Being on the Mediterranean, the southern coast shows all the signs of a mediterranean climate, including a low annual precipitation, hot, dry summers, and cold, dry winters.
What has happened there?
Although there are numerous cave paintings dating as far back as 25,000 B.C. through-out Spain, it is believed that the first 'civilized' human occupation of Spain occurred around 3,000 B.C. by a group of people most likely from the east, across the Mediterranean. These people lived in small, isolated tribal groups that evolved to create their own political and cultural behaviors. By 1,000 B.C. there were several large city-states with economies based on metal currency and superiority in battle. It was around this time that the Greeks made their way to the country and began trade with the people whom they called Iberians. There was another group of people who lived in the Western Pyrenees who arrived before the Iberians, who spoke their own language and who had their own culture, they were eventually dubbed the Vascones by the Romans and are currently known as the Basques. Come 900 B.C., the Celts arrived and intermingled with the Iberians, creating Celtiberians - an unorganized group of people with great farming and metallurgic skills.
By 300B.C. the world knew about Spain and thought it a prime place to conquer. The Romans came down first and, after 200 years, conquered the land and started changing the local culture to better reflect their own. 400 AD saw the arrival of Germanic tribes known as the Visigoths, hell-bent on taking over the Iberian Peninsula for their own use- and they were successful. For 300 years the Germanic tribes ruled the area, but come 700 A.D., the African Muslims started arriving, and come 715 A.D., the Peninsula was theirs.
The Muslim reign was powerful to say the least, but never complete, the Visigoths had many small villages and strongholds around the perimeter of the country, most notably in the northwest. The moment the Muslim invasion claimed success, the Reconquest of Spain began. It took nearly 800 years, the Spanish Reconquest claimed most of its success by 1250 eradicating most of the Muslim rule throughout Spain, but there were still Muslim strongholds, particularly Granada, that wouldn't be conquered for another 250 years.
There were two main kingdoms throughout Spain after the Reconquest, Castilla in the north, and Aragon in the east. The Spanish middle ages were similar to those of other European countries, characterized by a feudal society, a growing interest in international relations, and monarchies of varying power. In 1469, Ferdinand of Aragon married his cousin Isabella of Castilla and created a mostly unified Spain, and in 1492 they reconquered the remaining cities still under Muslim rule, thus ending the Reconquest. The new Spanish rulers, in stark contrast to the relative tolerance shown by the Muslim rulers, believed that true Spanish unity would only come from a Spain pure in colour and religion, and so a ruthless purification project known as the The Spanish Inquisition was undertook. Though the religious purification was successful, and by 1525 all residents of Spain were officially Christian, Spain never became a country of only one race.
The Spanish Empire grew quickly and was considered perhaps the mightiest of Europe through 16th and 17th centuries, with much land and many armies all over Europe and the New World. In 1701 the War of the Spanish Succession began because Europe feared the growing power of Spain. The war lasted until 1714 when Spain lost, losing many of the large areas of land it had worked hard to conquer, including Belgium, Naples, and Luxemburg.
The 18th century was relatively calm, marked by a large number of intellectuals of both the science and art persuasions. The 19th century was not calm at all, and was very difficult for Spain, royal families were installed only to be removed, many armies were defeated, and much land was lost. Some notable events were the rise against Napoleonic rule in 1813 in the Spanish War of Independence and the loss of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines in 1898.
When the first World War came around in 1914, Spain remained neutral citing economic instability. For 20 years Spain remained highly instable, both politically and economically and in 1936 the instability lead to civil war, putting Republicans against the Nationalists\Fascists. The Spanish Civil War lasted for 3 years and was won by the Nationalists. The leader of the Nationalists, General Francisco Franco, ruled Spain for 35 years as a dictator who believed his mission was to protect Spain. In his efforts to protect his country from the world, he remained neutral for the second World War, he outlawed labour strikes, eliminated universal suffrage, denounced all political parties, and generally did things one would expect from a fascist-cum-authoritarian military dictator ruling a poor country trying to get rich.
Before he died, Franco named Juan Carlos, the grandson of a former king, his chosen successor. When Franco died in 1975, Juan Carlos claimed the throne, and in three years he transformed Spain into a more democratic. The following years saw failed coups by power hungry generals hoping to be like Franco and random skirmishes with the Basques. The Basques wanted sovereignty over the lands that they had inhabited for well over 5,000 years, and some of them decided to form a militant group known as the ETA and blow people up thinking that terrorism was a way to achieve their independence.
Today, Juan Carlos is still the King of Spain, the Prime Minister is the conservative Jose Aznar, the ETA is not as violent, and the Spanish economy is faring well.
What has Spain done for me?
The Spanish can claim a fair share of talented artists, successful explorers, and lucky scientists as well many interesting bits of their culture that have made influenced our modern world.
The first great artists of Spain were the early inhabitants who still mystify us all with their simple doodles. The next great artistic achievements from Spain came with the Moorish Invasion and consisted of glorious architecture. Then came the Renaissance and Spain flourished. Spanish writers, such as Iñigo López de Mendoza Santillana, carved a niche for Spanish poetry while others worked on plays, such as the pivotal Tragicomedia de Calixto y Melibea aka La Celestina. Then came the Renaissance, and Spain reached what many believe to be its artistic peak.
Poets such as Juan Boscan, Luis de Gongora, and Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas continued to write some of the most beautiful poetry of the time while writers such as Miguel de Cervantes wrote novels that set the standard for fiction, Spanish or otherwise. Painters, starting in the 16th century with the Greek who called Spain home and ending in the 17th with the great Diego Velazquez.
Since the Renaissance, Spain has produced such material artists as:
Writers, poets and playwrights such as:
And musicians such as:
The Spanish Empire of Ferdinand and Isabella was kind to explorers, and often financed their voyages. They financed many explorers, including Christopher Columbus and, after his discovery of the New World, they set to explore and conquer the New World. Although it is likely that places as large as North and South America would have been found and explored by others, history has not written it as such, so we have people like Ponce de Leon who went to Florida looking for the Fountain of Youth and Francisco Pizarro who landed in Peru looking for El Dorado, conquistadores such as Hernando Cortes, Hernando de Soto, Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado and Vasco Núñez de Balboa to credit, whether or not we agree with their methods, reasons or results.
Aside from the explorers of the physical world, however, Spain has also participated in fine philosophical exploration of life. Bartolomé de Las Casas, Baltasar Gracian, Maria Zambrano, Rosalia de Castro, Curros Enriquez, Miguel de Unamuno, Maimonides, George Santayana and José Ortega y Gasset all contributed the philosophical search for the meaning of life.
Spain also claims a number of physical scientists with notable achievements. The most famous of Spanish scientists is certainly Santiago Ramon y Cajal, the Nobel Prize winner who was the first to put forth the notion that the brain is composed of neurons. Jaime Ferran discovered the vaccine for cholera, Leonardo Torres y Quevedo was an inventor/engineer who created an analog chess playing computer, José Celestino Mutis classified many plants of the newfound Colombia, Dominique Arago found many properties of magnetism and optics, and Severo Ochoa de Albornoz uncovered some of the mysteries of RNA.
If there was no Spain, there would be no Spanish. Would our lives be the same if people didn't have Spanish names? There would be no Spanish Fly, Spanish Flu, or Spanish Brandy! We wouldn't have been able to laugh at the Spanish Inquisition Sketch or annoy our friends while sword fighting like Inigo Montoya. Spanish Ladies and Spanish Dolls simply wouldn't be and there would be no Spanish Caravan to take us away. Flamenco, bullfighting, or the running of the bulls? Forget it.
As an exporter of numerous textiles, Spain, especially the Valencia region, supplies many of the raw materials that make up much of the world's clothes. There is a good chance, at least a piece of the clothing you are wearing, was made in Spain. As a member of the EU, Spain has at least some clout in the political and economic affairs and future of the European continent. Spainish cuisine has permeated nearly all corners of the world, as have the traditional Spanish staples, meaning a local restaurant might very well be importing recipes, foodstuffs, or culinary opinions that originated there. What's more, rumour has it that Spain is a major gateway for the international drug trade, so remember to thank some Spanish smugglers next time you shoot up.
Why should I go there?
Spain is a large enough and diverse enough to have something for everyone. Standard tourist attractions, such as theme parks, museums, shops, and beach resorts are available to those who wish to visit them. Backpackers can easily find a place to stay that suits their needs for the week, be it a cozy beach town on the Cabo de Gato or an empty national park to camp in. Likewise, Spain offers many larger cities to cater to the needy business traveler. But no matter who you are or where you go, Spain will attempt to befriend you by giving you pretty landscapes, nice people, fun times, and yummy food.
Spain has several cities, each which offers a glimpse of Spain and Spanish culture with a unique flare. Larger cities, such as Barcelona, Madrid, Pamplona, Valencia, and Zaragoza, all offer the amenities that large cities have a tendency to do, but also have many unique places and events to take advantage of. The medium sized cities of Spain are constantly balancing between trying to lessen the effects of tourism on the city and its culture while, at the same time, try to bring in more tourists\tourist dollars. There are many medium sized cities that have much to offer- Bilbao, Toledo, Santiago de Compostela, Granada, Sevilla, Cordoba, San Sebastian and Salamanca are some of the more popular. The smaller towns come in two flavours, and those that are no longer Spanish and those that are. Nearly every small town, from Franza to Aguilent to Mojacar, is still very traditional, but there are many that are not, and one should be wary of these. Places such as Benidorm, Marbella, Málaga, and San Antonio have become ugly and shallow holiday destinations for those that who want to visit them.
Spain has a plethora of beaches scattered across its 5,000km of coast. No matter what one's taste, be it for long beaches, short beaches, wavy beaches, calm beaches, busy beaches, or quiet beaches there are plenty of beaches for one to beach at! Some of the most popular beaches are those on the south-eastern coast and the Canary and Balearic Islands. If one seeks less touristy beaches, the south-western coast is good place to look. Regardless of where you decide to go, you will be on a beach, in Spain no less!, and that is a very good thing.
Every country has its unique gastronomy and Spain is no exception. Spanish cooking uses traditional Mediterranean ingredients such as garlic, tomatoes, olives, olive oil, wine, and bread, but often combines them with traditionally Moorish flavours, such as nuts (most notably almonds), saffron, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Furthermore, peppers, ham, pork sausages, and seafood are often used in traditional Spanish dishes.
Mexican food did not come from Spain, the Spanish do not traditionally eat Mexican food, Mexican food, in restaurants or grocery stores, is rare in Spain. That said, Spain does have some dishes that did originate in Spain - most notable of which are paella, gazpacho, and tapas. Paella is a combination of this and that and rice and spice. Gazpacho is a cold soup with a zillion variations. Tapas (plural form of tapa) are various snacks served at nearly every bar in Spain, they range from simple olives to omelette like tortillas to ham sandwiches and are usually very tasty and very cheap. Spanish wines, Spanish beers, and Spanish spirits are often imbibed during meals.
If you plan on going to Spain, which I highly recommend, I suggest a few language lessons, getting a rough idea of where you want to go, and warning the locals.
Please, please, please /msg me if you see anything wrong, anything missing, or anything you would change.
The excellent Excalibre
and me own experience