POPULATION: 40 million
LANGUAGE: Castilian Spanish; Catalan; Galician; Basque
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism
Spain is the second-largest nation in Europe, after France. It is a land of contrasts and extremes. Its terrain includes Mediterranean beaches, snow-capped Pyrenees Mountains, dry plains, coastal rice paddies, volcanic islands, and rolling hills. Its people have strong regional identities forged by this diverse geography and by the events of their history.
After colonization by the Greeks and Romans and invasion by Germanic tribes, Spain was conquered by the Muslim Moors in the eighth century AD . The Moors maintained control for nearly 800 years, and heavily influenced the culture. Finally, in the late fifteenth century, Isabel and Ferdinand, called the Catholic monarchs, conquered Granada, the last city in Spain held by the Muslims. The monarchs sponsored Christopher Columbus's voyage to America in l492. Spain became the greatest world power during Europe's Age of Discovery. It reaped tremendous wealth from an empire that extended to virtually all areas of the globe.
After becoming a republic in 1931, the nation was torn apart by a civil war (l936–39). The end of the Spanish Civil War marked the beginning of General Francisco Franco's repressive thirty six-year regime, which lasted until his death in 1975. Since then, Spain has been a parliamentary monarchy (having both a legislature and a ruler) under King Juan Carlos. Spain joined the European Community in 1986. In 1992 Spain hosted the Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona and the International Exposition in Seville.
Spain comprises approximately four-fifths of the Iberian peninsula (with Portugal accounting for the remainder). Spain also includes the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Altogether, its total area is slightly less than the combined areas of the states of Utah and Nevada. Spain's average elevation is the second-highest in Europe after Switzerland. Three-fifths of the Spanish mainland is a broad plateau, called the Meseta , located in the center of the country.
Spain has a population of some 40 million people, with a much lower population density than most other European countries. Geographic barriers have helped preserve a keen sense of identity in all six of Spain's major ethnic groups. The Castilians, who live in the central Meseta, are the nation's dominant group, and Castilian Spanish is Spain's national language. The other groups are the Galicians, Basques, Catalans, Levante, and Andalusians.
According to the 1978 Constitution, Castilian Spanish is the national language. It is spoken by a majority of Spaniards and used in the schools and courts. Castilian is a Romance (Latin-based) language, as are most of the other regional languages, including Catalan and Galician. Basque is a pre-Roman language whose origin has not been clearly determined.
Spanish folkloric tradition is very rich. Its origins include Celtic, Roman, Germanic, Jewish, and Moorish influences. Spain's ancient musical heritage includes bagpipe music in Galicia and Asturias, sardanas (circle dances) in Catalonia, flamenco dancing accompanied by the guitar in Andalusia, and the lively Aragonese dance called the jota . Bullfighting is the most widely known Spanish tradition. Some historians trace it to a cult of bull worship.
Historically, Spain has been one of Europe's most staunchly Catholic countries. Over 95 percent of the Spanish people (about 38 million) are Roman Catholic. Many Spaniards observe baptism and other important Catholic rites but do not attend church regularly. A 1967 law guarantees freedom of religion. As of 1993, Spain had 300,000 Muslims, 250,000 Protestants, and 15,000 Jews. Spaniards, like the Catholics in other countries, believe strongly in divine help from the saints and especially from the Virgin Mary. Cofradías , Catholic lay societies devoted to particular saints, play an important role in religious life in many areas of the country.
Spaniards celebrate New Year's Day (January 1) and the major holidays of the Christian calendar. Other national holidays include St. Joseph's Day (March 19), the Day of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29), St. James's Day (July 25), and a National Day on October 12. Every city or town also celebrates the feast day of its patron saint with processions, dancing, and bullfights. Pamplona is known for its celebration of San Fermin, when bulls are turned loose in the streets. Barcelona's town fiesta, the Feast of La Merc, is marked by a week of celebrations. Madrid's Festival of San Isidro involves three weeks of parties, processions, and bullfights. The celebrations of Holy Week in many cities and towns of Spain include floats with scenes of the Passion and Death of Christ, and likenesses of the Madonna.
Baptism, first communion, marriage, and military service are considered rites of passage for Spaniards. The first three of these events are usually the occasion for big, expensive social gatherings in which the family shows its generosity and economic status. Quintos are the young men from the same town or village going into military service in the same year. They form a closely knit group that collects money from their neighbors to organize parties and serenade girls. In the mid-1990s, the government planned to replace required military service with an all-volunteer army.
Spaniards are considered to be friendly and outgoing. It is customary to shake hands, and in a social setting women usually kiss their friends on both cheeks. Groups of young people go together to discos, organize parties and excursions, and date among themselves. The average citizen spends a great deal of time outside of the house. There is an active street life; many people live downtown, frequent bars and restaurants, and go to bed late. Workers typically finish their day with a walk (paseo) with friends or family and/or visits to neighborhood bars for drinks, appetizers (tapas), and conversation. Dinner is often eaten as late as 10:30 PM .
Spaniards move from place to place less than Americans do. When Spaniards do move, it is typically for a job and many hope to return to their birthplace and settle there. Regional loyalties are usually strong.
Spain today is a consumer society that relies on credit cards. Spaniards love to go shopping and are interested in cars, gadgets, and entertainment. Cars are commonplace and have become a problem in big cities (due to limited parking, pollution, congested traffic, and car theft). The public transportation system in Spain is excellent. Consequently, many people who work in cities have moved to towns on the outskirts that are now part of suburbia. In the 1970s and 1980s there was a building boom, so there is no housing shortage. Rent and the price of apartments are high.
Today's Spanish families, much smaller than in the past, usually have two children. The mother has most of the responsibility for child-rearing. The father's relationship with his children can be formal and remote. When children reach adolescence, their relationship with their families changes based on gender. A teenage male, while continuing to honor his mother, begins spending much of his time with other young men. Teenage girls and their mothers tend to grow closer than ever. Even after a daughter is grown and married, her mother generally continues to play an important role in her life. Spanish people usually marry within their own social class. Only church marriages were recognized in Spain until 1968, when civil ceremonies were first allowed by law. Divorce has been legal since the 1980s. Women have an ever-increasing role in Spanish society.
Both in town and in the country, Spaniards conform to the average European fashion standards. Boutiques and ready-to-wear shops can be found all over the country. Many young people wear sports clothes and blue jeans. However, the average Spaniard pays more attention to personal appearance than his or her American counterpart. Children who attend private schools wear school uniforms.
Spain has a wide variety of regional dishes. As in other Mediterranean countries, Spaniards use lots of olive oil, fresh vegetables, and garlic. Galicia is known for its seafood and stews. Catalonia is known for its fish casseroles and for cured and smoked meats. The regional dish paella originated in Valencia and has become a national delicacy. It consists of a rice-and-saffron base and can include mostly seafood (a la marinera) or several kinds of meats (mixta). Spaniards love cured ham (jamón serrano), several kinds of sausage (including chorizo and salchichón ), and cheese (especially a variety called queso manchego ). A wide variety of seafood is also popular. Spanish wine, champagne (cava), sherry, brandy, and beer are all excellent.
School is free and required between the ages of six and fourteen. Secondary education or vocational training is available for students aged fourteen to sixteen. Private schools, mostly run by the Roman Catholic Church and subsidized by the government, educate nearly one-third of Spain's children. The adult literacy rate (ability to read and write) is estimated at 98 percent. Spain has thirty-one state-run universities and an increasing number of private ones. Students receive a diploma after three years of general study and a Licenciatura (degree) upon completing a program of specialized study lasting two or more years.
Spain enjoyed a Golden Age of literature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is widely regarded as the first great novel. It eventually became the most widely translated work other than the Bible. In modern times, poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca won international acclaim. Several Spanish authors, including playwright José Echegaray, poet Vicente Aleixandre, and novelist Camilo José Cela, have been recipients of the Nobel Prize. Musically, Spain gave the world the guitar. Great Spanish composers have included Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, and Joaquín Rodrigo. Spain has also produced virtuoso performers such as Pablo Casals and Andrés Segovia.
Spain is particularly known for its contribution to painting. In earlier centuries, El Greco (c.1541–c.1614), Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), and Francisco Goya (1746–1828) were among Spain's great artists. In the twentieth century, great painters include Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), perhaps the single most powerful influence on twentieth-century art, as well as Joan Miró (1893-1983), Salvador Dali (1904-89), and others.
In the past, agriculture, livestock, and mining were the mainstays of the Spanish economy. Under the regime of General Francisco Franco, (1939-75) industrial expansion was emphasized and the bulk of Spanish employment shifted to industry. Jobs in the service sector (directly serving the public) were the most common, as of 1991 statistics, followed by industry. Agriculture and fishing together came in third. Typical crops grown in the north are potatoes, beans, corn, and vegetables. In the central areas, crops include wheat, soybeans, sunflowers, lentils, chickpeas, and grapes and other fruits. In the Mediterranean area, vegetables, rice, and fruits, especially citrus, are grown. Spain's fishing fleet is the largest in the world.
The most popular sport is soccer (called fútbol ). League matches are played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from September through May, with tournaments in the summer. Madrid has two teams in the top division, and Barcelona's team, known as Barsa, is world-famous. It forms the basis of a sporting club with more than 100,000 members, one of the oldest such clubs in Europe. Basketball and tennis are also gaining popularity as spectator sports. Spanish world-class champions today are cyclist Miguel Induráin, golfer Seve Ballesteros and tennis players Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and Conchita Martínez. Participant sports include hunting and fishing, sailing, soccer, cycling, golf, horseback riding, and skiing.
The most characteristically Spanish form of entertainment is the bullfight (fiesta brava). Popular throughout the country, this ritualized fiesta involves grace, courage, and spectacle. In an afternoon of bullfighting, six bulls are usually killed by three different matadors.
Young people enjoy going to the beach in the summer, and to the countryside and the mountains for hikes and picnics. In the evenings, they go dancing or have a drink with friends. The mild Spanish climate has encouraged an active night life, much of it outdoors in the streets, plazas, and sidewalk taverns and restaurants.
Spaniards go to concerts, to the theater, and to movies. People of all ages are fond of television, perhaps the main source of entertainment today.
Spanish handicrafts include lace and leather goods, gloves, basketry, tapestries, carpets, wrought iron, ceramics, and products of gold and silver. Each region has specialties, including leather in Córdoba; lace and carpets in Granada; pearls in the Balearic Islands; and jewelry, swords, and knives in Toledo. The Spanish government has taken steps to assure that traditional crafts, or artesanía, survive against competition from mechanized industry. Spain is also known for its handmade musical instruments, especially guitars.
Terrorism by separatist groups, particularly Basque rebels, has plagued Spain in recent years. The nation has also faced major economic adjustments following its 1986 entry into the European Community (EC). Spain suffers from a high rate of unemployment, with a notably large percentage of unemployed university graduates. Finally, like the rest of the developed countries, Spain shares a drug problem, crime in big cities, and illegal immigration from Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.
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Steinberg, Rolf, ed. Continental Europe. Insight Guides. Singapore: APA Publications, 1989.