Photograph by Sigfrid López/Getty ImagesA matador stands with cape at the ready in a bullfighting ring in Spain. The ancient sport draws crowds across the country, and bullfighters attain celebrity status.
Bullfighting Ring, Seville
Photograph by Mark Horn/Getty ImagesMen meet in a bar in the Triana neighborhood of Seville. The capital of Andalusia, Seville shines as the stronghold of culture and art in southern Spain
Metropolis Building, Madrid
Flamenco Dancing, Barcelona
Photograph by Christopher Pillitz/Getty ImagesChildren practice the art of flamenco at a fair in Barcelona. Quintessentially Spanish, flamenco echoes the rhythm of medieval ballads sung by Muslim minstrels.
Temple of Debod, Madrid
Photograph by Robert Barrett,The ancient Temple of Debod stood in Egypt’s Nile Valley until the building of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s, when the Egyptian government gave it to Spain in gratitude for that country’s help in saving a larger temple. It now stands in a Madrid park, along with a small museum.
La Mancha Windmills
Photograph by Fantuz Olimpio/SIME-4CornersThe Canary Islands lie northwest of Africa and have five distinct environmental zones, ranging from sea level to snowcapped peaks. The name of the archipelago comes from the Latin word canis, meaning “dog,” because early explorers found large dogs roaming the islands. Canary birds were in turn named after the islands.
Sagrada Família Church, Barcelona
Photograph by Tino SorianoAntoni Gaudí’s Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona is still unfinished more than a century after construction began. The Catalan architect's many fantastic works give the city a distinctive look.
Semana Santa, Seville
Photograph by Richard Ross/Getty ImagesDuring Seville’s Semana Santa, members of cofradias, or lay religious brotherhoods, walk through the streets in complete silence, wearing voluminous tunics and tall conical hoods that were originally designed to hide the identity of the penitent. They also carry Seville’s famous pasos, richly ornamented platforms bearing religious iconography and images.
San Sebastián Pintxos
Photograph by Dallas Stribley/Lonely Planet ImagesSan Sebastián, on the Cantabrian coast in Basque country, is known as a gastronomic hotbed. Especially famous are its all-male cooking clubs, where men cook for themselves and fellow club members. A San Sebastián staple are pintxos, the small bites called tapas elsewhere in Spain.
Photograph by Tino Soriano/National Geographic StockToledo’s distinctive twisted streets and covered passageways evoke the city’s golden years as part of the Arab Empire. El Greco, the flamboyant Greek painter, spent years capturing the beauty of the city and its occupants.
Running of the Bulls, Pamplona
Photograph by Alvaro Barrientos/Associated PressPamplona’s festival of San Fermín gained international renown after Ernest Hemingway wrote about it in The Sun Also Rises. The sometimes deadly “running of the bulls” happens each morning of the nine-day festival.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
Photograph by Javier Larrea/photolibrary.comBilbao was just a small industrial town overflowing with immigrants—until it built the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by Frank Gehry. Now it’s a bustling tourism center, an inspiration for mayors around the world hoping for a “Gehry effect.”
Photograph by Andy RaetherA small bridge spans a stream near the village of Rodellar in northern Spain, a region renowned for its climbing. And the canyons of the Sierra de Guara offer superb canyoneering.
Photograph by Laura Dos Santos,Valencia’s arts and science complex is dominated by L'Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe, with ten different underwater habitats. The complex also has Europe’s largest planetarium, an IMAX theater, and an opera house.
Photograph by Holger Leue/photolibrary.comCustomers wait in a busy shop in a market in Palma, Mallorca. The island is one of the four major Balearic Islands—the others are Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera—and it was colonized by the Romans in the second century B.C. The Romans also founded Palma, the principal city of the Balearics.
Plaza de Mayor, Salamanca
Photograph by Michaela Klusman,The city of Salamanca is best known for two things: majestic cathedrals and the many students attending one of three universities. The University of Salamanca was founded in 1218, which makes it the third oldest university in Europe, after Bologna and Oxford.
Photograph by Michael Cadieux,Calella de Palafrugell is one of several fishing villages turned resort on Catalonia’s Costa Brava, which means “rugged coast.” Many fishing towns became resorts after Generalissimo Francisco Franco began encouraging tourism in the 1950s.
- Madrid; 5,145,000
- 505,988 square kilometers (195,363 square miles)
- Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Basque
- Roman Catholic
- Life Expectancy:
- GDP per Capita:
- U.S. $21,200
- Literacy Percent:
Spain Facts Flag
About 200 B.C. the Romans occupied this crossroads between Europe and Africa. Moors invaded in A.D. 711, ruling for almost 800 years before Christian armies routed them. Enriched by its New World empire, Spain dominated Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries; today it rules only the North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla.
Gen. Francisco Franco wielded power from 1936 until his death in 1975, when Juan Carlos became king. Three years later a new constitution confirmed Spain as a parliamentary monarchy. After 1986, when the Socialist Party under Felipe González Márquez led Spain into the European Union, the economy grew faster than any other member nation's. Yet the government's pro-business policies in the 1990s were blamed for widening the gap between rich and poor and for the bankruptcy of noncompetitive industries—all contributing to high unemployment. Separatist agitation born of historical regional differences, most pronounced in the Basque country and in Catalonia, still challenges national unity, but a strong national peace movement has developed to counteract terrorist activities.
Unemployment continues to be a problem, but levels have improved from previous points. Spain is one of the European Union nations participating in the euro currency.
- Industry: Textiles and apparel, food and beverages, metals and metal manufactures, chemicals
- Agriculture: Grain, vegetables, olives, wine grapes; beef; fish
- Exports: Machinery, motor vehicles, foodstuffs, other consumer goods