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Spain (Spanish Espana), parliamentary monarchy occupying 85 percent of the Iberian Peninsula in the southwestern corner of Europe. Portugal and the British territory of Gibraltar occupy the remainder of the peninsula. Spain’s territory also includes islands in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and two small enclaves on the coast of Morocco. Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain.

A large plateau rises in the heartland of Spain and makes up much of the mainland. Mountains surround and crisscross the plateau, and the city of Madrid stands at its center. The climate of the plateau is harsh and arid, and most of Spain’s people live near the coasts or in a few major river valleys.

Spain is cut off by the Pyrenees mountains from all other countries of Europe except Portugal, and thus has had a history notably different from those countries. In the 8th century Arabic-speaking Muslims from North Africa, called Moors, conquered most of the Iberian peninsula. During the Middle Ages Christian kingdoms of northern Spain waged wars to reconquer the peninsula from the Moors.

After the Christian reconquest was completed, Spain’s monarchs sent Christopher Columbus on the voyage in which he reached the Americas in 1492. In the hundred years that followed, treasure from the Americas helped make Spain the strongest power in Europe. Spanish soldiers and priests explored and colonized the Americas from Mexico to Chile, spreading Spanish culture and the Spanish language. Spain’s economy stagnated in the 17th century, however, and its power waned. In the 20th century Spain was scarred by the Spanish Civil War, between 1936 and 1939, and by a dictatorship that lasted from 1939 to 1975. Afterward, Spain underwent a remarkably smooth transition to democratic government.

In economic terms Spain was a late developer. Until the 1960s nearly all of the country’s industry was confined to the northern regions of Catalonia and the Basque Country. Since then Spain’s economy has grown rapidly. The major contributions to this economic turnaround came from light manufacturing industry—such as food products—and from service industries, especially tourism. Millions of tourists visit Spain each year, attracted by its sunny climate, beaches, and historic cities.

Spain also has a strong cultural and artistic tradition. Historically, its main cultural contributions were to painting and literature. More recently, while maintaining its presence in these two areas, Spain has also produced major figures in the fields of filmmaking, architecture, and music.

Spain is bordered on the north by the Bay of Biscay, part of the Atlantic Ocean, and by the Pyrenees, which form its frontier with France and the tiny country of Andorra. It is bounded by on the east by the Mediterranean Sea; on the south by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean; and on the west by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. The Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean also form part of Spain. In addition, Spain administers two cities in Morocco—Ceuta and Melilla—as well as three island groups near Africa—Penon de Velez de la Gomera and the Alhucemas and Chafarinas islands. The British dependency of Gibraltar is situated at the southern extremity of Spain.


For younger readers

Kohen, Elizabeth. Spain. 2nd ed. Benchmark, 2003. For readers in grades 5 to 7.

Mann, Kenny. Isabel, Ferdinand and Fifteenth-Century Spain. Benchmark, 2001. For readers in grades 6 to 9.

Millar, Heather. Spain in the Age of Exploration. Marshall Cavendish, 1999. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Rogers, Lura. Spain. Children's Press, 2001. In the Enchantment of the World series, for readers in grades 4 to 8.

Spanish literature

Debicki, Andrew. Spanish Poetry of the Twentieth Century: Modernity and Beyond. University Press of Kentucky, 1994. Detailed survey of the history and context of modern Spanish verse.

Foster, David William, and others, eds. Spanish Literature. 3 vols. Garland, 2001. Covers the most seminal of Spain's authors, from the early picaresque tradition to today's more modernist impulses.

Gonzalez, Margaret. Literature of Protest: The Franco Years. University Press of America, 1998. Study of the relationship between literature and political opposition in Spain during the Franco regime.

Robins, Jeremy. The Challenges of Uncertainty: An Introduction to Seventeenth-Century Spanish Literature. Rowan & Littlefield, 1998. A concise introduction to Spanish Baroque literature and culture.

Spain: History

Balfour, Sebastian. The End of the Spanish Empire, 1898-1923. Oxford University Press, 1997. Examines Spain's war with the United States in 1898, and the economic and political effects of that war.

Beevor, Anthony. The Spanish Civil War. Penguin, 2001. A military history of the Spanish conflict and Franco's triumph.

Bendiner, Elmer. The Rise and Fall of Paradise: When Arabs and Jews Built a Kingdom in Spain. Putnam 1983. Reprint Dorset, 1990. A history of the Jews and Arabs in Andalusia.

Bessie, Alvah, and Albert Prago, eds. Our Fight. Monthly Review, 1987. “Writings by Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Spain, 1936-1939” (title page).

Carr, Raymond. Spain: A History. Oxford University Press, 2000. An authoritative overview of Spain and its pivotal role in history.

Crow, John A. Spain: The Root and the Flower: A History of the Civilization of Spain and of the Spanish People. 3rd ed. University of California Press, 1985. Examination of culture.

Fletcher, Richard. The Quest for El Cid. Oxford University Press, 1991. Tracing the historical roots of Spain's national hero.

Fraser, Ronald. Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War. Pantheon, 1979, 1986. Interviews re-creating the climate of the time.

Josephs, Allen. White Wall of Spain: The Mysteries of Andalusian Culture. Iowa State University Press, 1983. Reprint, University of West Florida Press, 1990. Andalusian culture explained.

Pierson, Peter. The History of Spain. Greenwood, 1999. An introduction to Spanish history.

Tardiff, Joseph C., and L. Mpho Mabunda, eds. Dictionary of Hispanic Biography. Gale, 1996. Biographical entries on people from the United States, Latin America, and Spain, from the 15th century to the 1990s.

Spain: Politics, Society, and Culture

The Art of Medieval Spain, A.D. 500-1200. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993. Photographs of a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition.

Balfour, Sebastian, and Paul Preston. Spain and the Great Powers in the Twentieth Century. Routledge, 1999. Places Spanish politics within an international context.

Brown, Jonathan. Painting in Spain: 1500-1700. Yale University Press, 1998. Surveys the development of painting during Spain's Golden Age.

Crow, John A. Spain: The Root and the Flower: A History of the Civilization of Spain and of the Spanish People. 3rd ed. University of California Press, 1985. Examination of culture.

Ellis, Havelock. The Soul of Spain. Greenwood, 1976. Classic exploration of the romance, spiritualism, and genius of the people; originally published in 1937.

Gres, David T. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Spanish Culture. Cambridge University Press, 1999. Spanish culture from the revolution of 1868 to the beginnings of democracy.

Heywood, Paul. The Government and Politics of Spain. St. Martin's, 1995. Spanish politics after Franco.

Hitt, Jack. Off the Road: A Modern-Day Walk Down the Pilgrim's Route into Spain. Simon & Schuster, 1994. The author's description of his walking journey to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela.

Moffitt, John. The Arts in Spain. Thames & Hudson, 1999. A panoramic study of Spanish art from prehistory to postmodernism.

Perez Diaz, Victor. The Return of Civil Society: The Emergence of Democratic Spain. Harvard University Press, 1993. Examination of present-day Spanish politics.

Salvado, Francisco J. Romero Twentieth-Century Spain: Politics and Society in Spain, 1898-1998. St. Martin's, 1999. The story of Spain's struggle toward democracy.

Tardiff, Joseph C., and L. Mpho Mabunda, eds. Dictionary of Hispanic Biography. Gale, 1996. Biographical entries on people from the United States, Latin America, and Spain, from the 15th century to the present.


Ringrose, David R., B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor of History, University of California, San Diego. Author of Madrid and the Spanish Economy, 1560-1850,Spain, Europe, and the "Spanish Miracle,” 1700-1900, and other books.

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Article key phrases:

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