Spain, a country occupying the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula, and bounded on the north
by the Bay of Biscay, France, and Andorra, and on the east by the Mediterranean Sea. The Balearic
Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa are
governed as provinces of Spain. Also, Spain administers two small exclaves in Morocco-Ceuta and
Melilla. The area of Spain, including the African and insular territories, is 194,885 sq mi. Madrid is the
capital and largest city.
The Spanish people are essentially a mixture of the indigenous peoples of the Iberian Peninsula with the
successive peoples who conquered the peninsula and occupied it for extended periods. These added
ethnologic elements include the Romans, a Mediterranean people, and the Suevi, Vandals, and Visigoths,
Teutonic peoples. Semitic elements are also present.
The population of Spain at the 1991 census was 38,872,268. The estimate for 1995 is 39,276,000, giving
the country an overall density of about 202 per sq mi. Spain is increasingly urban, with more than 80
percent of the population in towns and cities.
The capital and largest city is Madrid (population, greater city, 1991, 3,010,492), also the capital of
Madrid autonomous region; the second largest city, chief port, and commercial center is Barcelona, capital
of Barcelona province and Catalonia region. Other important cities include Valencia, capital of Valencia
province and Valencia region, a manufacturing and railroad center; Seville, a cultural center; Saragossa,
and Bilbao (369,839), a busy port.
Roman Catholicism is professed by about 97 percent of the population. The country is divided into 11
metropolitan and 52 suffragan sees. In addition, the archdioceses of Barcelona and Madrid are directly
responsible to the Holy See. Formerly, Roman Catholicism was the established church, but the 1978
constitution decreed that Spain shall have no state religion, while recognizing the role of the Roman
Catholic church in Spanish society. There are small communities of Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.
Spanish institutions of higher education enrolled nearly 1.3 million students in the early 1990s. The major
universities of Spain include the University of Madrid, the Polytechnical University of Madrid (1971), the
University of Barcelona (1450), the University of Granada (1526), the University of Salamanca, the
University of Seville (1502), and the University of Valencia (1510).
Any consideration of Spanish culture must stress the tremendous importance of religion in the history of
the country and in the life of the individual. An index of the influence of Roman Catholicism is provided by
the fervent mystical element in the art and literature of Spain, the impressive list of its saints, and the large
number of religious congregations and orders. The Catholic marriage is the basis of the family, which in
turn is the foundation of Spanish society.
Spain has traditionally been an agricultural country and is still one of the largest producers of farm
commodities in Western Europe, but since the mid-1950s industrial growth has been rapid. A series of
development plans, initiated in 1964, helped the economy to expand, but in the later 1970s an economic
slowdown was brought on by rising oil costs and increased imports. Subsequently, the government
emphasized the development of the steel, shipbuilding, textile, and mining industries. Spain derives much
income from tourism. The annual budget in the early 1990s included revenues of about $97.7 billion and
expenditures of about $128 billion. On January 1, 1986, Spain became a full member of the European
Community (now the European Union, or EU).
Agriculture is a mainstay of the Spanish economy, employing, with forestry and fishing, about 10 percent
of the labor force. The leading agricultural products, in order of value, are grapes and olives, used to make
olive oil. In the early 1990s annual production of grapes was 5.7 million metric tons and of olive oil was
597,000 metric tons. Other important commodities included potatoes (5.3 million tons), barley (6 million),
wheat (4.5 million), almonds (425,000), tomatoes (2.6 million), oranges and mandarins (4.2 million),
sugar beets (7.5 million), and onions (995,000).
The raising of livestock, especially sheep and goats, is an important industry. In the early 1990s livestock
on farms included about 24.6 million sheep, 17.2 million pigs, 4.9 million cattle, and 240,000 horses.
Currency and Banking
The unit of currency is the peseta (126 pesetas equal U.S.$1; 1995), issued by the Bank of Spain (1829).
The country is served by a large number of commercial banks. The principal stock exchanges are in
Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Valencia.
In early 1995 Spain's currency was devalued 7 percent against eight other European currencies, in part to
slow selling by currency traders concerned about the country's internal politics and continued high budget
deficit. The devaluation was the fourth in less than four years and raised doubts about achieving the goal
of producing a unified European currency by 1997, as called for by the Treaty on European Union.
In the early 1990s, Spain annually imported goods valued at about $92.5 billion and exported goods
valued at about $72.8 billion. Principal imports include machinery, mineral fuels, transportation
equipment, food products, metals and metal products, and textiles. Exports include motor vehicles,
machinery, basic metals, vegetable products, chemicals, mineral products, and textiles. Spain's chief
trading partners are France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Portugal, the United States, the Netherlands,
Japan, and Belgium and Luxembourg.
The climate, beaches, and historic cities of Spain are an attraction for tourists, which make a significant
contribution to the country's economy. More than 57 million people visit Spain each year, making it one of
the world's top tourist destinations. The $20 billion tourists spend each year helps make up for Spain's
considerable trade deficit.
In the late 1970s the government of Spain underwent a transformation from the authoritarian regime of
Francisco Franco (who ruled from 1939 to 1975) to a limited monarchy with an influential parliament. A
national constitution was adopted in 1978.
The head of state of Spain is a hereditary monarch, who also is the commander in chief of the armed
forces. Executive power is vested in the prime minister, who is proposed by the monarch on the
parliament's approval and is voted into office by the Congress of Deputies. Power is also vested in a
cabinet, or council of ministers. There is also the Council of States, a consultative body.
In 1977 Spain's unicameral Cortes was replaced by a bicameral parliament made up of a 350-member
Congress of Deputies and a Senate of 208 directly elected members and 47 special regional
representatives. Deputies are popularly elected to four-year terms by universal suffrage of people 18 years
of age and older, under a system of proportional representation. The directly elected senators are voted to
four-year terms on a regional basis. Each mainland province elects 4 senators; another 20 senators come
from the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Ceuta, and Melilla.
The judicial system in Spain is governed by the General Council of Judicial Power, presided over by the
president of the Supreme Court. The country's highest tribunal is the Supreme Court of Justice, divided
into 7 sections; it sits in Madrid. There are 17 territorial high courts, one in each autonomous region, 52
provincial high courts, and several lower courts handling penal, labor, and juvenile matters. The country's
other important court is the Constitutional Court, which monitors observance of the constitution.
Health and Welfare
The Law of Family Subsidy, enacted in 1939, provides Spain's workers with monthly allowances
proportionate to the number of children in the family; the necessary funding is collected from employers
and employees. A program of old-age pensions and health and maternity benefits has been in effect since
1949. A fund derived from public collections provides for the support of the poor, nursery schools, and
health clinics. In the early 1990s Spain had about 153,300 physicians and 175,400 hospital beds.
The Christian Conquest
The Umayyad dynasty had ruled Muslim Spain for about three centuries. The greatest of its rulers was
Abd-ar-Rahman III, who in 929 proclaimed himself caliph. His capital, Córdoba, became the most
splendid city in Europe except for Constantinople, and Spanish civilization during the Moorish supremacy
was far in advance of that of the rest of the continent. Numerous schools were built, many of them free
and for the education of the poor. At the great Muslim universities medicine, mathematics, philosophy,
and literature were cultivated; the work of Greek philosopher Aristotle was studied there long before it
was well known to Christian Europe. An extensive literature developed, the caliphs themselves being
poets and authors of note, and art and architecture flourished (see Islamic Art and Architecture). The
Umayyads also encouraged commerce and agriculture and constructed effective irrigation systems
throughout the southern region.
Spain in the Early Modern Era
In 1469 the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand V of Aragón initiated the developments that
made Spain a great power. They became joint rulers of Castile in 1474 and of Aragón in 1479, although
no actual union of the two kingdoms occurred and each monarch exercised sovereign power only in his or
her own realm. Aragón, the smaller and poorer kingdom, tended to be neglected. Attention was focused
instead on strengthening royal authority in richer and more populous Castile. Also important for the pious
monarchs (who took the title "Catholic Kings") was the establishment in 1478 of the Inquisition to enforce
purity of the faith. The Inquisition was also a powerful tool for increasing and consolidating royal power.
Inquisitors were royally appointed, invested with both civil and church power, exempt from normal
jurisdiction, and served by a multitude of informants and bodyguards. Proceedings were secret and the
property of the condemned was consfiscated and distributed among the crown, the Inquisition, and the
The Economic Miracle
From 1961 on, unprecedented socioeconomic change occurred. The economy boomed because of rapid
industrial growth and an extraordinary rise in tourism, as well as foreign investment in Spain and money
sent home by Spanish workers abroad. Owing to a growing labor shortage, wages increased, unofficial
trade unions were organized, and agriculture was mechanized rapidly to avoid high labor costs. Greater
worker prosperity brought rapid social change: there was massive migration from rural to urban areas;
secondary and university education expanded enormously; and the people became more secularized and
sophisticated as their exposure to contemporary ways of life increased. The Franco regime, fundamentally
pragmatic and technologically oriented after 1957, provided the framework within which growth could
occur. The massive housing program the government sponsored greatly eased the social costs of Spain's
transition from a rural to an urban society.
The Restoration of Democracy
In 1978 the Cortes passed a new democratic constitution, providing for a constitutional monarchy,
freedom for political parties, and autonomy for Spain's "nationalities and regions." The constitution was
enthusiastically accepted by most sectors of society, but the Basque provinces still resented being tied to
Spain and supported the ETA, which stepped up its terrorist activities. Meanwhile, Catalans pushed for
greater control over local affairs, and demanded greater language rights. The use of Catalan and
nationalist sentiments increased in and around Barcelona. The Galicians consistently distanced themselves
from Madrid, though ethnoregionalism remained weaker in Galicia than in either Catalonia or Basque
Country. Suárez governed through consensus, consulting all nonextremist parties when formulating basic
policy. Catalonia and the Basque Country were granted home rule, and their languages were officially
recognized. The constitution extended similar privileges to 15 other regions. Thus, the movement toward
political centralization begun by Ferdinand and Isabella some 500 years earlier was reversed, and a "Spain
of autonomous communities" was created.
In recent years, concerns over Spain's environmental problems have grown. The country has experienced
increased air-pollution problems in Madrid and along the northeastern coast, water pollution in
agricultural and coastal areas, and soil erosion. Controversies arose over rapid development along the
Mediterranean coast and threats to scenic attractions.