Spain is a country located on the Iberian Peninsula in Southwestern Europe. It has played an important role in the development of world culture, and today is home to Europe’s fifth largest economy and the world’s eighth largest.
Spain’s culture has been influenced by many diverse peoples throughout its long history. These include the ancient Celts and Iberians, the Romans and Greeks, the Germanic tribes, the Basques, and eventually the Moors from Northern Africa. These last absorbed most of the country into a vast Islamic empire, which has had a lasting influence on Spanish art and architecture. A coalition of northern Christian kingdoms unified Spain in 1492, the same year that Columbus discovered the Americas under the patronage of the Spanish Queen Isabella I. It was during this period that a distinctly Spanish national identity began to form, and the new kingdom turned its attention outward, acquiring many new territories and forging one of the world’s first global empires. Spain’s power peaked in the late 16th century, and slowly declined for many years thereafter; a string of problems in the 1800s set the stage for the bloody Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, which ended with the ascension of Francisco Franco’s authoritarian regime.
Franco revitalized the Spanish economy and set it on the road to modernity, but at the cost of political freedom. Prince Juan Carlos, the descendant of Spain’s deposed monarchy, gained power following Franco’s death in 1975, and successfully instituted the country’s transition to a fully democratic constitutional monarchy with wide regional autonomy. Spain is now a member of the EU and NATO, with a PPP-adjusted GDP per capita ahead of many of its neighbors. It is the world’s third largest investor, and its economy is noted for rapid growth and the world’s second largest tourism industry, which draws on the country’s warm climate and rich cultural traditions; Spanish architecture is among the world’s most diverse, and folk music, such as flamenco, has gained a worldwide following. Spain is also a leader in renewable energy, with several of its regions meeting the majority of their energy requirements through sustainable means.
Long known as a cultural crossroads, Spain today hosts the largest immigrant population in the European Union. Latin Americans, attracted by Spain’s many job prospects, are the most numerous, followed by Eastern Europeans and North Africans. There are also sizeable populations from other Western EU countries, primarily along the sunny Mediterranean coast. Recent polls suggest that not only is Spain the most favored relocation destination among Europeans, but Spaniards are particularly welcoming of expatriates, seeing them as beneficial to the economy.
Spanish is the official and most widely spoken language in Spain; there are numerous dialects within the country, but they are mostly mutually intelligible. Several regional languages exist as well; of these, Catalan, Basque, Galician, and Aranese have co-official status in certain regions. These are often spoken as first languages in their respective ranges, especially Catalan, so learning a few phrases if you plan on traveling to these areas may prove useful.