Guide to Spain
Introduction to Spain
Spain is located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula which it shares with its western neighbour, Portugal. It is a land with thousands of years of history and has traditionally been a crossroads between Europe, Africa and America as well as between Christianity, Islam and Judaism. This historical melting-pot of civilisations has defined the mosaic of identities that continues to be visible in the present day. Spain was the first European superpower and saw the rise of its world-spanning empire in the 16th century, the so called siglo de oro (golden century) and its decline in the 17th century.
Today's Spain, whose economy is the world's eighth largest, is a modern, forward-looking country and a member state of the European Union since 1986. It is also among the most protective in the world of the rights of minorities. It is made up of 17 Autonomous Regions and 50 provinces. The capital city, Madrid, is the third largest city in the European Union. Infrastructure is abundant and effective with well connected cities and rapid, affordable public transportation. Madrid and Barcelona, the two biggest cities, each possess international airports that serve as key international air traffic hubs. A high speed rail network gets you from Madrid to Barcelona or Seville in just two and a half hours. Madrid and Barcelona are also linked by hourly flights known as the puente aéreo (air bridge). The road network is radial and extends outward from a central point located in Madrid's Puerta del Sol known as Kilometre Zero.
Spain is ethnically and culturally diverse and its many historical influences still shine through in its unique, regional identities. Northern Spanish regions such as Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias may surprise you with their Celtic heritage going back thousands of years to the first Celtic settlements in the Iberian Peninsula and an architectural style inherited from Gothic rule, while Southern Spain is replete with Arabic influence from the time of the Islamic Caliphate. Spain's diverse cultural influences over the centuries have also defined the heritage of the Spanish language which, unique among most Western European languages, has a great deal of loan words from outside the Indoeuropean family, especially from Hispano-Arabic, Hebrew and Nauatl. Architecturally, Spain is a treasure trove of styles reflecting the breadth of its cultural mélange (Classical, Gothic, Mudéjar, Renaissance, Modernist).
Spain has contributed significantly to the realm of culture and many of its cultural references throughout history have worldwide resonance, such as Pablo Picasso, Antoni Gaudí, Diego Velázquez or the inimitable Don Quixote whose creator, Miguel de Cervantes, enjoys worldwide renown on par with that of Shakespeare. In the modern day Spain has become known for its cinematic excellence. Spanish cinema has produced such internationally recognised directors as Pedro Almodóvar, Isabel Coixet and Carlos Saura, while a number of Spanish actors have also attained global significance and praise, among them Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem. The transition to democracy in the 1970s and 1980s brought about an intense cultural renaissance in Spain; centred in Madrid and known as la Movida, it has left the country with an enduring legacy of talented, ground-breaking, internationally acclaimed artists.
Most of Spain enjoys a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Inland Spain, however, being far from the sea, is dry all year round. These conditions are responsible for the unique geographical features of the famous region known as La Mancha (birthplace of Pedro Almodóvar), a vast and arid plateau. Summers are particularly hot in Southern Spain, especially in Seville where temperatures often exceed 40ºC (104ºF). By contrast, Northern Spain, also known as "Green Spain", has an oceanic climate, while the Canary Islands are blessed with a tropical climate. Spain's southern beaches are world famous and attract millions of tourists each year, but to really get to know the country you must delve inland. Each region of Spain is full of things to do and sights to see.
Spanish people are known throughout Europe for their jovial, vivacious nature and passion for living. The Spanish are also very open and possess an insatiable curiousity about other cultures so you'll have no problem meeting people and making friends here. Whatever your reason for coming you are sure to have a fabulous experience you'll never forget.