Spain (Spanish España), republic in southwestern Europe, occupying the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula, and bounded on the north by the Bay of Biscay, France, and Andorra; on the east by the Mediterranean Sea; on the south by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean; and on the west by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. The British dependency of Gibraltar is situated at the southern extremity of Spain. 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 MoroccoCeuta and Melillaas well as three island groups near AfricaPeñón de Vélez de la Gomera and the Alhucemas and Chafarinas islands. The area of Spain, including the African and insular territories, is 505,990 sq km (195,364 sq mi). Madrid is the capital and largest city.
Spain occupies about 85 percent of the Iberian Peninsula and is bounded by water for about 88 percent of its periphery; its Mediterranean coast is about 1660 km (about 1030 mi) long, and its Atlantic coast is about 710 km (about 440 mi) long. The long, unbroken mountain chain of the Pyrenees, extending about 435 km (about 270 mi) from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea, forms the border with France on the north; in the extreme south the Strait of Gibraltar, less than 13 km (less than 8 mi) wide at its narrowest extent, separates Spain from Africa. The most important topographical feature of Spain is the great, almost treeless, central plateau, called the Meseta Central, sloping generally downward from north to south and from east to west, and with an average elevation of about 600 m (about 2000 ft) above sea level. The tableland is divided into northern and southern sections by irregular mountain ranges, or sierras, of which the most important are the Sierra de Guadarrama, the Sierra de Gredos, and the Montes de Toledo. Between many of the mountains are narrow valleys, drained by rapid rivers. The coastal plain is narrow, rarely as much as 30 km (20 mi) wide and, in many areas, broken by mountains that descend to the sea to form rocky headlands, particularly along the Mediterranean coast, where the sole excellent harbor is Barcelona. The northwestern coastal area has several good harbors, particularly along the Galician coast. The six principal mountain chains have elevations greater than 3300 m (greater than 11,000 ft). The highest peaks are the Pico de Aneto (3404 m/11,168 ft) in the Pyrenees and Mulhacén (3477 m/11,407 ft) in the Sierra Nevada in southern Spain. The highest point in Spain and its insular territories is Pico de Teide (3715 m/12,188 ft) on Tenerife Island in the Canary Islands. The lowest point is sea level along the coast.
The principal rivers of Spain flow west and south to the Atlantic Ocean, generally along deep, rocky courses that they have cut through the mountain valleys. The Duero (Douro), Miño, Tagus (Tajo), and Guadiana rivers rise in Spain and flow through Portugal to the Atlantic. The Guadalquivir River, flowing through a fertile plain in the south, is the deepest river in Spain and the only one navigable for any extent. The Ebro River, in northeastern Spain, flows into the Mediterranean Sea, and is navigable by small craft for part of its course. Most Spanish streams are too small for interior navigation, and, with courses below the general ground level, are of little use for irrigation. The rivers are, however, a good source of electric power.
The climate of Spain is marked by extremes of temperature and, except in the north, generally low rainfall, and the variegated physical features of the country ensure pronounced climatic differences. The climate is most equable along the Biscayan and Atlantic coasts, which are generally damp and cool. The central plateau has summers so arid that nearly all the streams dry up, the earth parches, and drought is common. Most of Spain receives less than 600 mm (less than 24 in) of precipitation per year; the northern mountains get considerably more moisture. At Madrid, winter cold is sufficient to freeze surrounding streams, while summer temperatures in Seville rise as high as 49° C (120° F). By contrast the southern Mediterranean coast has a subtropical climate. Málaga, in the extreme south, has an average winter temperature of 14° C (57° F).
The most valuable natural resource of Spain is the soil, with nearly one-third of the land suitable for cultivation. The country also has many mineral resources, including hard and brown coal, small petroleum and natural gas deposits, iron ore, uranium, mercury, pyrites, fluorspar, gypsum, zinc, lead, tungsten, copper, and potash.
Only a small part of Spain is forested, and forests are located mainly on mountain slopes, particularly in the northwest. A common Spanish tree is the evergreen oak. Cork oak, from which the bark may be stripped every ten years, is abundant, growing chiefly as second growth on timbered land. Poplar trees are grown throughout the country and the cultivation of olive trees is a major agricultural activity. Other Spanish trees include the elm, beech, and chestnut. Shrubs and herbs are the common natural vegetation on the central plateau. Grapevines flourish in the arid soil. Esparto grass, used for making paper and various fiber products, grows abundantly in both the wild and cultivated state. On the Mediterranean coast sugarcane, oranges, lemons, figs, almonds, and chestnuts are grown.
The Spanish fauna includes the wolf, lynx, wildcat, fox, wild boar, wild goat, deer, and hare. Among the more famous domesticated animals are the bulls bred near Seville and Salamanca for bullfighting, the Spanish national sport. Birdlife is abundant, with varieties of birds of prey. Insect life abounds. Mountain streams and lakes teem with such fish as barbel, tench, and trout.
Although Spanish soils need careful irrigation and cultivation, they are a rich and valuable resource. Semiarid chestnut-brown soils cover the central plateau, and red Mediterranean soils cover the southern area and the northeastern coastal region. A gray desert soil, often saline, is found in the southeast. The forest of northern Spain has gray-brown forest soils, and the forest in the Cantabrian Mountains has leached podzolic soils.
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 parliaments 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 Spains 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.
Spain has many political parties. The two major groups in the 1993 general election were the Spanish Socialist Workers Party and the Popular Party (a conservative party that had absorbed the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party). Other significant parties in the legislature include the United Left (a coalition of left-wing parties) and the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties.
The 1978 constitution allowed for two types of autonomous regions, each with different powers. Catalonia, the Basque provinces, and Galicia were defined as "historic nationalities" and used a simpler process to achieve autonomy. The process for other regions was slower and more complicated. While the autonomous regions have assumed substantial powers of self-government, the issue of regional versus central governmental power is still under negotiation.
Each of Spains 17 autonomous regions elects a unicameral legislative assembly, which selects a president from among its own members. Seven autonomous regions are composed of only one province, the other ten are formed of two or more provinces. Each of the provinces, 50 in all, has an appointed governor and an elected council. Each of the more than 8000 municipalities is governed by a directly elected council, which elects one of its members as mayor.
The judicial system in Spain is governed by the General Council of Judicial Power, presided over by the president of the Supreme Court. The countrys 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 countrys other important court is the Constitutional Court, which monitors observance of the constitution.
The Law of Family Subsidy, enacted in 1939, provides Spains 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. Spain has 1 physician for every 244 inhabitants and 1 hospital bed for every 250 people.
Spain maintains armed services equipped with modern weapons; military service of nine months is compulsory for males aged 21 to 35. In 1997 the country had an army of 128,500, a navy of 39,000, and an air force of 30,000. A paramilitary Civil Guard had a strength of 75,000. The Spanish government has close defense ties with the United States, which maintains naval and air bases in Spain. The country became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1982, and reaffirmed that alliance in a public referendum in 1986.