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The description of country


Spain, a country occupying the greater part of the Iberian Peninsula, and bounded on the north by the Bay of Biscay, France, and Andorra, and on the east by the Mediterranean Sea. The Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa are governed as provinces of Spain. Also, Spain administers two small exclaves in MoroccoCeuta and Melilla. The area of Spain, including the African and insular territories, is 194,885 sq mi. Madrid is the capital and largest city.


The Spanish people are essentially a mixture of the indigenous peoples of the Iberian Peninsula with the successive peoples who conquered the peninsula and occupied it for extended periods. These added ethnologic elements include the Romans, a Mediterranean people, and the Suevi, Vandals, and Visigoths, Teutonic peoples. Semitic elements are also present.

Population Characteristics

The population of Spain at the 1991 census was 38,872,268. The estimate for 1995 is 39,276,000, giving the country an overall density of about 202 per sq mi. Spain is increasingly urban, with more than 80 percent of the population in towns and cities.

Principal Cities

The capital and largest city is Madrid (population, greater city, 1991, 3,010,492), also the capital of Madrid autonomous region; the second largest city, chief port, and commercial center is Barcelona, capital of Barcelona province and Catalonia region. Other important cities include Valencia, capital of Valencia province and Valencia region, a manufacturing and railroad center; Seville, a cultural center; Saragossa, and Bilbao (369,839), a busy port.


Roman Catholicism is professed by about 97 percent of the population. The country is divided into 11 metropolitan and 52 suffragan sees. In addition, the archdioceses of Barcelona and Madrid are directly responsible to the Holy See. Formerly, Roman Catholicism was the established church, but the 1978 constitution decreed that Spain shall have no state religion, while recognizing the role of the Roman Catholic church in Spanish society. There are small communities of Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.

Higher Education

Spanish institutions of higher education enrolled nearly 1.3 million students in the early 1990s. The major universities of Spain include the University of Madrid, the Polytechnical University of Madrid (1971), the University of Barcelona (1450), the University of Granada (1526), the University of Salamanca, the University of Seville (1502), and the University of Valencia (1510).


Any consideration of Spanish culture must stress the tremendous importance of religion in the history of the country and in the life of the individual. An index of the influence of Roman Catholicism is provided by the fervent mystical element in the art and literature of Spain, the impressive list of its saints, and the large number of religious congregations and orders. The Catholic marriage is the basis of the family, which in turn is the foundation of Spanish society.


Spain has traditionally been an agricultural country and is still one of the largest producers of farm commodities in Western Europe, but since the mid-1950s industrial growth has been rapid. A series of development plans, initiated in 1964, helped the economy to expand, but in the later 1970s an economic slowdown was brought on by rising oil costs and increased imports. Subsequently, the government emphasized the development of the steel, shipbuilding, textile, and mining industries. Spain derives much income from tourism. The annual budget in the early 1990s included revenues of about $97.7 billion and expenditures of about $128 billion. On January 1, 1986, Spain became a full member of the European Community (now the European Union, or EU).


Agriculture is a mainstay of the Spanish economy, employing, with forestry and fishing, about 10 percent of the labor force. The leading agricultural products, in order of value, are grapes and olives, used to make olive oil. In the early 1990s annual production of grapes was 5.7 million metric tons and of olive oil was 597,000 metric tons. Other important commodities included potatoes (5.3 million tons), barley (6 million), wheat (4.5 million), almonds (425,000), tomatoes (2.6 million), oranges and mandarins (4.2 million), sugar beets (7.5 million), and onions (995,000). The raising of livestock, especially sheep and goats, is an important industry. In the early 1990s livestock on farms included about 24.6 million sheep, 17.2 million pigs, 4.9 million cattle, and 240,000 horses.

Currency and Banking

The unit of currency is the peseta (126 pesetas equal U.S.$1; 1995), issued by the Bank of Spain (1829). The country is served by a large number of commercial banks. The principal stock exchanges are in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, and Valencia.

In early 1995 Spain’s currency was devalued 7 percent against eight other European currencies, in part to slow selling by currency traders concerned about the country’s internal politics and continued high budget deficit. The devaluation was the fourth in less than four years and raised doubts about achieving the goal of producing a unified European currency by 1997, as called for by the Treaty on European Union.

Foreign Trade

In the early 1990s, Spain annually imported goods valued at about $92.5 billion and exported goods valued at about $72.8 billion. Principal imports include machinery, mineral fuels, transportation equipment, food products, metals and metal products, and textiles. Exports include motor vehicles, machinery, basic metals, vegetable products, chemicals, mineral products, and textiles. Spain’s chief trading partners are France, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Portugal, the United States, the Netherlands, Japan, and Belgium and Luxembourg.


The climate, beaches, and historic cities of Spain are an attraction for tourists, which make a significant contribution to the country’s economy. More than 57 million people visit Spain each year, making it one of the world’s top tourist destinations. The $20 billion tourists spend each year helps make up for Spain’s considerable trade deficit.


In the late 1970s the government of Spain underwent a transformation from the authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco (who ruled from 1939 to 1975) to a limited monarchy with an influential parliament. A national constitution was adopted in 1978.


The head of state of Spain is a hereditary monarch, who also is the commander in chief of the armed forces. Executive power is vested in the prime minister, who is proposed by the monarch on the parliament’s approval and is voted into office by the Congress of Deputies. Power is also vested in a cabinet, or council of ministers. There is also the Council of States, a consultative body.


In 1977 Spain’s unicameral Cortes was replaced by a bicameral parliament made up of a 350-member Congress of Deputies and a Senate of 208 directly elected members and 47 special regional representatives. Deputies are popularly elected to four-year terms by universal suffrage of people 18 years of age and older, under a system of proportional representation. The directly elected senators are voted to four-year terms on a regional basis. Each mainland province elects 4 senators; another 20 senators come from the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Ceuta, and Melilla.


The judicial system in Spain is governed by the General Council of Judicial Power, presided over by the president of the Supreme Court. The country’s highest tribunal is the Supreme Court of Justice, divided into 7 sections; it sits in Madrid. There are 17 territorial high courts, one in each autonomous region, 52 provincial high courts, and several lower courts handling penal, labor, and juvenile matters. The country’s other important court is the Constitutional Court, which monitors observance of the constitution.

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