Officially Kingdom of Spain, constitutional monarchy (1995 est.
pop. 39,404,000), 194,884 sq mi (504,750 sq km), including the Balearic
and Canary islands, SW Europe. It consists of the Spanish mainland
(190,190 sq mi/492,592 sq km), which occupies the major part of
the Iberian Peninsula; of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean
Sea; and of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean.
Continental Spain extends from the Pyrenees, which separate it from
France, and from the Bay of Biscay, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean,
southward to the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates it from Africa.
(Gibraltar itself is a British possession, although Spain has long
claimed sovereignty over it.) The eastern and southeastern coast
of Spain, from the French border to the Strait of Gibraltar, is
washed by the Mediterranean. In the west, Spain borders on the Atlantic
Ocean both north and south of its frontier with Portugal. The small
republic of Andorra is wedged between France and Spain in the Pyrenees.
The five enclaves in Morocco are the only remnants of Spain's former
empire. Two of the enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, are Spanish municipalities
and may become provinces. Madrid is the nation's capital and largest
Administratively, Spain is divided into 50 provinces. However, the
division into 17 geographic and historic regions (autonomous regions),
generally corresponding to the old Christian and Moorish kingdoms
of Spain, has been maintained for most practical purposes. The chief
cities, other than Madrid, are Burgos, Valladolid, León,
Zamora, and Salamanca in Castile-León; Toledo in Castile-La
Mancha; and Badajoz in Extremadura.
The center of Spain forms a vast plateau (Span. Meseta Central)
extending from the Cantabrian Mts. in the north to the Sierra Morena
in the south and from the Portuguese border in the west to the low
ranges that separate the plateau from the Mediterranean coast in
the east. It is traversed from west to east by mountain chains-notably
the Sierra de Guadarrama-and the valleys of the Douro (Duero), the
Tagus, and Guadiana rivers. Except for some fertile valleys, the
central plateau is arid and thinly populated; wheat growing, viniculture,
and sheep raising are the principal rural activities. The plateau
comprises Castile-León, Castile-La Mancha, and Madrid, which
form the heart of Spain, and Extremadura, which is in the west.
To the northeast of the central plateau is the broad valley of the
Ebro, which traverses Aragón and flows into the Mediterranean.
Aragón has Zaragoza as its chief city; it is historically
and geographically connected with Catalonia, which occupies the
Mediterranean coast from the French border to the mouth of the Ebro.
Barcelona, the chief Catalan city, is the largest port and the second
largest city of Spain.
The W Pyrenees and the northern coast, paralleled by the Cantabrian
Mts., are occupied by Navarre, with the city of Pamplona; the Basque
country, with the ports of Bilbao and San Sebastián; Santander;
and Asturias, with Oviedo and the port of Gijón. The extreme
northwestern section, occupied by Galicia, has a deeply indented
coast and the excellent ports of A Coruña, El Ferrol, and
Along the eastern coast, S of Catalonia, extend the regions of Valencia
and Murcia, named after their chief cities. The Balearic Islands,
with Palma as their capital, are off the coast of Valencia. The
southernmost part of Spain, S of the Sierra Morena, is Andalusia;
it is crossed by the fertile Guadalquivir valley. The chief cities
of Andalusia are Seville, Córdoba, and Granada, the Mediterranean
port of Málaga, and the Atlantic port of Cádiz. The
Sierra Nevada, rising from the Mediterranean coast, has the highest
peak (Mulhacén, 11,411 ft/3,478 m) in continental Spain.
Spanish summers are often very hot, but winters vary sharply, being
mild in coastal areas and colder inland.