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Essay/Term paper: Spain

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World History

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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 Morocco—Ceuta
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


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

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

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.

Health and Welfare

The Law of Family Subsidy, enacted in 1939, provides Spain's workers with
monthly allowances proportionate to the number of children in the family; the
necessary funding is collected from employers and employees. A program of old-
age pensions and health and maternity benefits has been in effect since 1949. A
fund derived from public collections provides for the support of the poor,
nursery schools, and health clinics. In the early 1990s Spain had about 153,300
physicians and 175,400 hospital beds.


The Christian Conquest

The Umayyad dynasty had ruled Muslim Spain for about three centuries. The
greatest of its rulers was Abd-ar-Rahman III, who in 929 proclaimed himself
caliph. His capital, Córdoba, became the most splendid city in Europe except for
Constantinople, and Spanish civilization during the Moorish supremacy was far in
advance of that of the rest of the continent. Numerous schools were built, many
of them free and for the education of the poor. At the great Muslim universities
medicine, mathematics, philosophy, and literature were cultivated; the work of
Greek philosopher Aristotle was studied there long before it was well known to
Christian Europe. An extensive literature developed, the caliphs themselves
being poets and authors of note, and art and architecture flourished (see
Islamic Art and Architecture). The Umayyads also encouraged commerce and
agriculture and constructed effective irrigation systems throughout the southern

Spain in the Early Modern Era

In 1469 the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand V of Aragón
initiated the developments that made Spain a great power. They became joint
rulers of Castile in 1474 and of Aragón in 1479, although no actual union of the
two kingdoms occurred and each monarch exercised sovereign power only in his or
her own realm. Aragón, the smaller and poorer kingdom, tended to be neglected.
Attention was focused instead on strengthening royal authority in richer and
more populous Castile. Also important for the pious monarchs (who took the title
"Catholic Kings") was the establishment in 1478 of the Inquisition to enforce
purity of the faith. The Inquisition was also a powerful tool for increasing and
consolidating royal power. Inquisitors were royally appointed, invested with
both civil and church power, exempt from normal jurisdiction, and served by a
multitude of informants and bodyguards. Proceedings were secret and the property
of the condemned was consfiscated and distributed among the crown, the
Inquisition, and the accusers.

The Economic Miracle

From 1961 on, unprecedented socioeconomic change occurred. The economy boomed
because of rapid industrial growth and an extraordinary rise in tourism, as well
as foreign investment in Spain and money sent home by Spanish workers abroad.
Owing to a growing labor shortage, wages increased, unofficial trade unions were
organized, and agriculture was mechanized rapidly to avoid high labor costs.
Greater worker prosperity brought rapid social change: there was massive
migration from rural to urban areas; secondary and university education expanded
enormously; and the people became more secularized and sophisticated as their
exposure to contemporary ways of life increased. The Franco regime,
fundamentally pragmatic and technologically oriented after 1957, provided the
framework within which growth could occur. The massive housing program the
government sponsored greatly eased the social costs of Spain's transition from a
rural to an urban society.

The Restoration of Democracy

In 1978 the Cortes passed a new democratic constitution, providing for a
constitutional monarchy, freedom for political parties, and autonomy for Spain's
"nationalities and regions." The constitution was enthusiastically accepted by
most sectors of society, but the Basque provinces still resented being tied to
Spain and supported the ETA, which stepped up its terrorist activities.
Meanwhile, Catalans pushed for greater control over local affairs, and demanded
greater language rights. The use of Catalan and nationalist sentiments increased
in and around Barcelona. The Galicians consistently distanced themselves from
Madrid, though ethnoregionalism remained weaker in Galicia than in either
Catalonia or Basque Country. Suárez governed through consensus, consulting all
nonextremist parties when formulating basic policy. Catalonia and the Basque
Country were granted home rule, and their languages were officially recognized.
The constitution extended similar privileges to 15 other regions. Thus, the
movement toward political centralization begun by Ferdinand and Isabella some
500 years earlier was reversed, and a "Spain of autonomous communities" was

In recent years, concerns over Spain's environmental problems have grown. The
country has experienced increased air-pollution problems in Madrid and along the
northeastern coast, water pollution in agricultural and coastal areas, and soil
erosion. Controversies arose over rapid development along the Mediterranean
coast and threats to scenic attractions.


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