Spain occupies about 85 percent of the Iberian peninsula, with Portugal on its western border. Other entities in Iberia are the Principality of Andorra in the Pyrenees and Gibraltar, which is under British sovereignty and is located on the south coast. The Pyrenees range separates Spain from France. The Atlantic Ocean washes Spain's north coast, the far northwest corner adjacent to Portugal, and the far southwestern zone between the Portuguese border and the Strait of Gibraltar.
Spain is separated from North Africa on the south by the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea, which also washes Spain's entire east coast. Spain also holds two cities, Ceuta and Melilla, on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco. Spain's perimeter is mountainous, the mountains generally rising from relatively narrow coastal plains.
The country's interior, while transected by various mountain ranges, is high plateau, or meseta, generally divided into the northern and southern mesetas. Great local diversity flourishes on Spanish terrain and is part of Spain's essence. The people of hamlets, villages, towns, and cities—the basic political units of the Spanish population—and sometimes even neighborhoods barrios hold local identities that are rooted not only in differences of local geography and microclimate but also in perceived cultural differences made concrete in folklore and symbolic usages.
Throughout rural Spain, despite the strength of localism, there is also a perception of shared culture in rural zones called comarcas. The comarca is a purely cultural and economic unit, without political or any other official identity.
In what are known as market communities in other parts of the world, villages or towns in a Spanish comarca patronize the same markets and fairs, worship at the same regional shrines in times of shared need such as drought , wear similar traditional dress, speak the language similarly, intermarry, and celebrate some of the same festivals at places commonly regarded as central or important.
The comarca is a community of concrete relationships; larger regional identities are more easily characterized as imagined but emerge from a tradition of local difference and acquire some of their strength from that tradition. A recognition of difference among Spaniards is woven into the very fabric of Spanish identity; most Spaniards begin any discussion of their country with a recitation of Spain's diversity, and this is generally a matter of pride.
Spaniards' commitment to Spain's essential Spain diversity is the benchmark from which any student of things Spanish must depart. It is essential to realize that outsiders can legitimately consider some of Spain's diversity as imagined every bit as much as its unity might be—that is, Spaniards sort their differences with a fine-toothed comb and create measures of local and regional differences which might fail tests of general significance by other measures.
The majority of Spaniards endorse the significance of local differences together with an overarching unity, which makes them regard Spain's inhabitants as Spanish despite their variety.
This image of variety is itself a shared element of Spanish identity. The populations least likely to feel Spanish are Catalans and Basques, although these large, complex regional populations are by no means unanimous in their views.
The Basque language is unrelated to any living language or known extinct ones; this fact is the principal touchstone of a Basque sense of separateness. Even though many other measures of difference can be questioned, Basque separatism, where it is endorsed, is fueled by the experience of political repression in the twentieth century in particular.
There has never been an independent Basque state apart from Spain or France. The Catalan language, like Spanish, is a Romance language, lacking the mysterious distinction that Basque has. This growing power was soon to be enhanced by the Crown's monopoly vis-a-vis other regions and the rest of Europe on all that accrued from Christopher Columbus's discovery of the New World, which occurred under Crown sponsorship.
Madrid, already at the time an ancient Castilian town, was selected as Spain's capital in , replacing the court's former home, Valladolid. The motive of this move was Madrid's centrality: The Puerta del Sol is at kilometer zero for Spain's road system.
Spain's population of 39,, in early represented a slight decline from levels earlier in the decade. The population had increased significantly in every previous decade of the twentieth century, rising from under nineteen million in Spain's declining birthrate, which in was the lowest in the world, has been the cause of official concern. The bulk of Spain's population is in the Castilian provinces including Madrid , the Andalusian provinces, and the other, smaller regions of generalized Castilian culture and speech.
The Catalan and Valencian provinces including the major cities of Barcelona and Valencia , along with the Balearic Islands, account for about 30 percent of the population, Galicia for about 7 percent, and Basque Country for about 5 percent. These are not numbers of speakers of the minority languages, however, as the Catalan, Gallego, and Basque provinces all hold diverse populations and speech communities.
Spain's national language is Spanish, or Castilian Spanish, a Romance language derived from the Latin implanted in Iberia following the conquest by Rome at the end of the third century B.
Two of the minority languages of the nation—Gallego and Catalan—are also Romance languages, derived from Latin in their respective regions just as Castilian Spanish hereafter "Spanish" was. These Romance languages supplanted earlier tribal ones which, except for Basque, have not survived. The Basque language was spoken in Spain prior to the colonization by Rome and has remained in use into the twenty-first century. It is, as noted earlier, unique among known languages.
Virtually everyone in the nation today speaks Spanish, most as a first but some as a second language. The regions with native non-Spanish languages are also internally the most linguistically diverse of Spain's regions.
In them, people who do not speak Spanish even as a second language are predictably older and live in remote areas. None of the regional languages has ever been in official use outside its home region and their speakers have used Spanish in national-level exchanges and in wide-scale commerce throughout modern times.
Under the democratic government that followed Franco's death in , Gallego, Basque, and Catalan have come into official use in their respective regions and are therefore experiencing a renaissance at home as well as enhanced recognition in the rest of the nation. Proper names, place-names, and street names are no longer translated automatically into Spanish. The unique nature of Basque has always brought personal, family, and place-names into the general consciousness, but Gallego and Catalan words had been easily rendered in Spanish and their native versions left unannounced.
This is no longer so. In Basque Country, the easy use of Basque is increasing among Basques themselves as the language regains status in official use. The same is true in Galicia in circles whose language of choice might until recently have been Spanish. An important literary renaissance expectedly accompanies these developments. In those parts of Spain in which Spanish is the only language, dialectical patterns can remain significant.
As with monolingualism in Basque, Catalan, or Gallego, deeply dialectic speech varies with age, formal schooling, and remoteness from major population centers.
However, in some regions—Asturias is one—there has been a revival of traditional language forms and these are a focus of local pride and historical consciousness.
Asturias, which in pre-modern times covered a wider area of the Atlantic north than the modern province of Asturias, was a major seat of early Christian uprising against Islam, which was established in southern Spain in C.
Events in Asturian history are thus emblematic of the persistence and reemergence of the Christian Spanish nation; the heir to the Spanish throne bears the title of Prince of Asturias. Thus the Asturian dialect, like the province itself, is emblematic of the birth of the modern nation.
Spain's different regions, or smaller entities within them, depict themselves richly through references to local legend and custom; classical references to places and their character; Christian heroic tales and events; and the regions' roles in Spain's complex history, especially during the eight-century presence of Islam. Examples already cited here are the association of Madrid with a site at which a bear and a strawberry tree were found together, of Asturias with tales of local Christian resistance early in the Islamic period, and of Basque country with a pre-Roman language and a defiant resistance to Rome.
Many such images are stable in time; others less so as new touchstones of identity emerge. Current symbolism at the national level respects the mosaic of more local depictions of identity and joins Spain's regions in a flag that bears the fleurs-de-lis of the Bourbon Crown and the arms or emblems of the several historical kingdoms that covered the present nation in its entirety. The colors, yellow and red, of what was to become the national flag were first adopted in for their high visibility at sea.
The presence of an eagle, either double- or single-headed, has been historically variable. So has the legend under the crowned columns that represent the pillars of Hercules based on the older motto nec plus ultra "nothing beyond" that now reads plus ultra in recognition of Spain's discovery of new lands.
The presence of a crown symbol, of course, has been absent in republican periods. The national flag is thus quite recent—it has only been displayed on public buildings since —and its iconography much manipulated, as is that on the coins of the realm. Many regional and local symbols have been more stable in time. This in itself suggests the depth of localism and regionalism and the seriousness of giving them due weight in symbolizing the nation as a whole.
In some instances the iconography or language of monarchy and the use of the adjective "royal" real takes precedence over the term "national.
Some of the most compelling and widespread national symbols and events are those rooted in the religious calendar. The ancient folk festival of Midsummer's Eve, 21 June, is conflated with the feast of Saint John San Juan on 24 June and is also the current king's name day.
There are also secular figures that transcend place and have become iconic of Spain as a whole. The most important are the bull, from the complex of bullfighting traditions across Spain, and the figures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, from Miguel de Cervantes's novel of These share a place in Spaniards' consciousness along with the Holy Family, emblems of locality including locally celebrated saints , and a deep sense of participation in a history that has set Spain apart from the rest of Europe.
History and Ethnic Relations Emergence of the Nation. Early unification of Spain's tribal groups occurred under Roman rule circa B. Other aspects of administration, military and legal organization, and sundry cultural and social processes and institutions derived from the Roman presence.
Christianity was introduced to Spain in Roman times, and the Christianization of the populace continued into the Visigothic period to C.
The Visigoths were the first foreign power to establish their centers in the northern rather than the southern half of the peninsula.
Visigothic rule saw the implantation of new forms of local governance, new legal codes, and the Christianization of the peoples of Spain's mountainous north. A Jewish population was present in Spain from about B. The presence of Islam inspired from the beginning a Christian insurgency from the northern refuge areas, and this built over the centuries.
Much of the northern meseta was a frontier between Christian kingdoms and the caliphate—or smaller Muslim kingdoms taifas after the caliphate's fall.
Christians pushed this frontier increasingly southward until their final victory over the last Islamic stronghold, Granada, in During this period, Christian power was continually consolidated with Castile at its center. Thus began the formation of Spain's great overseas empire at exactly the time at which Christian Spain triumphed over Islam and expelled unconverted Muslims and Jews from Spanish soil.
Spain has been a committed Roman Catholic nation throughout modern times. This commitment has informed many of Spain's relations with other nations. Internally, while the populace is almost wholly Catholic, there has been much philosophical, social-class, and regional variance over time regarding the position of the church and clergy.
These issues have joined other secular ones, some regarding succession to the Crown, to produce a dynamic national political history. Twice the monarchy has given way to a republic—the first from to , the second from to The Second Republic was overthrown in by a military uprising. Following a bloody civil war, General Francisco Franco, in , established a conservative, Catholic, and fascist dictatorship that lasted until his death in Franco regarded himself as a regent for a future king and selected the grandson of the last ruler Alfonso XIII, who left Spain in as the king to succeed him.
Franco died in and King Juan Carlos I then gained the helm of a constitutional monarchy, which took a democratic Spain into the twenty-first century. Spanish national sentiment and a sense of unity rest on shared experience and institutions and have been strengthened by Spain's relative separation from the rest of Europe by the forbidding barrier of the Pyrenees range.
Processes promoting unification were begun under Rome and the Visigoths, and the Christianization of the populace was particularly important. Christian identity was strengthened in the centuries of confrontation with Islam and again with the Spaniards' establishment of Christianity in the New World. The events of brought senses of both a renewed and an emergent nation through the reestablishment of Christian hegemony on Spanish soil and the achievement of new power in the New World, which placed Spain in the avant garde of all Europe.
One legacy of Spain's medieval convivencia living together of Christians, Jews, and Muslims is a universal consciousness of that history and the presence in folklore, language, and popular thought of images of Jews and "Moors" and of characteristics and activities imputed to or associated with them.