It is a country of stone castles, snowcapped mountains, vast monuments, and sophisticated cities, all of which have made it a favoured travel destination for tourists from all over the world.
Sagrada Familia in the Catalonian Capital, Barcelona.
Spain’s countryside is quaint, speckled with castles, aqueducts, and ancient ruins, but its cities are resoundingly modern. The Andalusian capital of Seville is famed for its musical culture and traditional folkways; the Catalonian capital of Barcelona for its secular architecture and maritime industry; and the national capital of Madrid for its winding streets, its museums and bookstores, and its around-the-clock lifestyle. Madrid is the largest city and is also its financial and cultural centre, as it has been for hundreds of years.
The many and varied cultures that have gone into the making of Spain—those of the Castilians, Catalonians, Lusitanians, Galicians, Basques, Romans, Arabs, Jews, and Roma (Gypsies), among other peoples—are renowned for their varied cuisines, customs, and prolific contributions to the world’s artistic heritage.
The country’s Roman conquerors left their language, roads, and monuments, while many of the Roman Empire’s greatest rulers were Spanish, among them Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius.
In 1492, ships under the command of Christopher Columbus reached America. In the following 300 years, Spanish explorers and conquerors travelled the world, claiming huge territories for the Spanish crown, a succession of Castilian, Aragonese, Habsburg, and Bourbon rulers.
For generations Spain was arguably the richest country in the world, with the steady erosion of its continental and overseas empire throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, however, Spain was all but forgotten in world affairs, save for the three years that the ideologically charged Spanish Civil War (1936–39) put the country at the centre of the world’s stage, only to become ever more insular and withdrawn during the four decades of rule by dictator Francisco Franco. Following Franco’s death in 1975, a Bourbon king, Juan Carlos, returned to the throne and established a constitutional monarchy. The country has been ruled since then by a succession of elected governments, some socialist, some conservative, but all devoted to democracy.
Spain’s only other land border is in the far south with Gibraltar, an enclave that belonged to Spain until 1713, when it was ceded to Great Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession.
The Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean off the north western African mainland, and the Balearic Islands, in the Mediterranean, also are parts of Spain, as are Ceuta and Melilla, two small enclaves in North Africa (northern Morocco) that Spain has ruled for centuries.