Spain, country occupying about four-fifths of the Iberian Peninsula south of the Pyrenees in southwestern Europe.
Land and climate
Including the Balearic and Canary islands, Spain covers 194,898 sq mi (504,783 sq km). Peninsular Spain is bounded on the north by the Bay of Biscay. On the northeast, the Pyrenees mark the borders with France and Andorra. On the west, Spain is bounded by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean, and to the east and south, by the Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar.
About three-quarters of Spain is the great interior plateau called the Meseta, extending from the Cantabrian Mountains and the Ebro River in the north to the Sierra Morena and the Guadalquivir River in the south. In the west the plateau continues into Portugal; in the east low ranges separate it from the coastal plain. The Meseta is higher in the north than in the south, the dividing line being the central cordillera. It is traversed by the Douro, Tagus, and Guadiana rivers, which flow into the Atlantic. Except for irrigated areas and fertile valleys, the Meseta is mostly arid and large areas are barren. In the southeast, beyond the Guadalquivir River, are the Andalusian Mountains, which contain Spain's highest mountain range, the Sierra Nevada. Spain's coastal plains are mostly narrow, becoming broadest along the Gulf of Cádiz in the south. The north and northwest coasts, hemmed in by mountains, have rocky cliffs and long inlets providing good harbors and some fine beaches. The Mediterranean coast is also rocky but there are fine sand beaches north of Barcelona along the famed Costa Brava. Spain is mainly a dry country with hot summers and cool winters. But great extremes occur on the Meseta. The climate of northern Spain is more equable. Along the south and east coasts, winters are mild and summers hot.
The Spanish people are in many ways homogeneous, but certain traditional and ethnic differences distinguish several groups. The Basques are an ethnically distinct people and, together with the Catalonians and Galicians, have preserved their own languages. The official language is Castilian Spanish. The capital of the country is Madrid and Roman Catholicism is the established religion.
Tourism makes the most important contribution to Spain's income, followed by industry and agriculture. Mineral wealth includes mercury, iron ore, coal, pyrites, potash, and salt. Oil was found near Borgos in 1964. Manufacturing includes textiles, chemicals, iron and steel, paper, explosives, and armaments. Agriculture is about equally divided between crops and livestock. Oranges, olive oil, wine, and cork are exported. Fishing is also important.
Present-day Spain was settled successively from prehistoric times to the 3rd century B.C. by Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians. A more enduring influence was that of the Romans, who conquered Spain in the Second Punic War in the 2nd century B.C. and remained dominant until the Vandals and Visigoths invaded in the 5th century A.D. The last invaders were the Moors, who advanced in A.D. 711. The Christian kingdoms that remained, all in the north, undertook the gradual reconquest of the peninsula, which was not completed until 1492 with the fall of Granada in the reign of Ferdinand V (Ferdinand II of Aragon) and Isabella of Castile (1474–1504). The same monarchs financed the voyages of Columbus, expelled the Jews from Spain, and sponsored the Inquisition. Within a brief period, Spain acquired a vast empire in the New World and North Africa and became rich, particularly in gold and silver from the Americas. Spain's new holdings were augmented by Habsburg lands when Charles I (1516–56) was elected Holy Roman Emperor as Charles V. Under his son and successor, Philip II (1556–98), Spain was at the height of its political and cultural power, as evidenced in the works of Cervantes, Lope da Vega, Velásquez, and El Greco. But Philip's reign also saw the onset of Spain's decline. The Netherlands revolted in 1568, and the Armada was defeated by the English in 1588. The War of the Spanish Succession at the beginning of the 18th century resulted in huge losses for Spain. The French, under Napoleon, invaded in 1808 and were driven out in the Peninsular War, but with revolutions in the Latin American colonies and defeat in the Spanish-American War (1898), the empire was finished. Political division in the early 20th century culminated in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) between leftists and Fascists, which was won by the right wing under General Francisco Franco, who subsequently became dictator. After Franco's death in 1975, Juan Carlos de Bourbon restored the Spanish monarchy and also encouraged parliamentary democracy. In 1982 socialists won the elections to lead the first leftist government in Spain since the Civil War. In 1996 the socialists were defeated by José Aznar's Partido Popular.