Spain Country Profile - Facts

     
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Country factfile

Capital city: Madrid

Population: 46.5 million (INE)

Government: Unitary parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy

Currency: Euro (EUR, €)

Main languages: Spanish

Main religions: Catholicism

Country profile

Occupying the majority of the Iberian Peninsula and sharing land borders only with France, Andorra, Gibraltar and Portugal, Spain is one of only three countries to have both Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines. The country also has numerous island territories including the Balearic Islands of the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands located off the south west Moroccan coast, and several exclaves in North Africa. After spending much of the twentieth century as a dictatorship, democracy was restored along with the monarchy in 1975 and Spain has since developed into a tourist haven.

Culture

Spain’s ancient history has seen many cultures pass through and there are definite Roman, Moorish and Catholic influences present today. Modern Spaniards have a reputation for being relaxed and welcoming, and quality of life is an important commodity within the country. The population is predominantly made up of ethnic Spaniards, but regional identities are strong and several areas continue to seek autonomous rule.

Popular activities

From tiny villages to sprawling cities, Spain is known for its vibrant party spirit. A number of fiestas are celebrated around the year, bringing people together for fireworks, parade and other celebrations. Family is at the heart of Spanish society and it is not unusual for several generations to get together regularly for meals. Football is the country’s biggest spectator sport, but cycling, basketball and golf are also popular and the more controversial tradition of bullfighting continues to draw crowds. Extensive coast and northern mountain ranges mean Spain is also home to watersports and winter sports. There are also hundreds of arts and cultural destinations all around Spain.

Food and drink

Spanish cuisine has much in common with other Mediterranean nations, but regional influences are distinct and the way even simple dishes are prepared varies hugely across the country. Tapas-style meals are the traditional way to enjoy Spanish food, and great for tourists wishing to sample the many meats and cheeses of the country. Seafood is important to the Spanish, and seafood paellas are popular sharing dishes. Garlic is also prevalent in Spanish cooking. Typically Spaniards eat late, often arriving at restaurants for 11pm or later. Morning and evening coffee is a ritual, although it is typically rather strong! Spain also produces a large selection of wines, beers and sherries.

Languages

The official language of Spain is Spanish, which is among the most widely spoken languages in the world. However, Spain is actually extremely multilingual as a nation, and while Spanish (known as Castellano) is intelligible by most Spaniards, there are a number of other languages spoken around the country. Four are co-official languages of their respective regions: Euskara (Basque), Catalan and Aranese (Catalonia) and Galician (Galicia). Three more, Aragonese (Aragon), Asturian (Asturias) and Leonese (Castile and León) are recognised as languages but are not official, while several other minority languages and dialects still exist but are considered endangered.

Weather

The famous Spanish sunshine is what brings the tourists in, and Spain certainly enjoys more than its share of sunny spells. The majority of the country enjoys a warm Mediterranean climate with dry summers. Don’t believe anyone who says that Spain has year-round sunshine though – winters can be unsettled and stormy. Northern areas such as the Basque region see greater rainfall, and places like the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada mountains have their own unique climates.

Safety and security

Spain is usually a safe place to live and work. Although various separatist groups have been active in the country over the last few decades, recent years have seen little violent activity. The country remains on alert due to the ongoing threat from Islamic extremists, but generally speaking this threat has little impact on day-to-day life. Tourists and expats are advised to be wary of petty crime, particularly at airports where it is not uncommon for thieves to attempt to steal passports. Scams such as fake timeshares and lotteries are also not uncommon, but as long as you remain wary the risks are fairly low.

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