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Spain

Spain: General Information

Popular Attractions

Spain situated on the Iberian Peninsula between Europe and Africa and surrounded by the three oceans- Bay of Biscay, Mediterranean and Atlantic, is a traveler’s paradise with her rich history and culture, natural beauties and modern cities. Popular destinations of Spain include the capital city of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville. Also included among the must see attractions of the country are Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the coast of Africa and Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. If you are visiting Spain for a short period, you must not miss the attractions of Madrid. The city has all the ingredients for a memorable tour- bull fighting, flamenco dancing and exquisite royal palaces. Madrid spots that you must visit include the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, Plaza de la Cibeles, Plaza de Espana, Parque del Buen Retiro and the Prado Museum. The 3000-room Royal Palace is open to visitors except when the Spanish Royal Family has some state ceremony in it. Lying right in the heart of Spain, Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s most important place. This modern hub of the city was built in the 15th century and was rebuilt in its modern form in the 19th century. Lying nearby is the monumental Plaza Mayor, a market square initially built in the 15th century and rebuilt in 1790 after the place was devastated by a fire. It is the center of Madrid’s main attractions- Spanish bullfights, festivals and ceremonies. Parque del Retiro or the Retiro Park though located in the center of Madrid offers a quiet escape from the din of the city. A must see tourist attraction, the Prado Museum or Museo del Prado has collection of the greatest works of art by renowned Spanish and other painters like Velazquez, Goya, Botticelli and Rubens. Not all the 9000 collections of art can be displayed and you can see not more than 1500 works displayed at a time. The other famous art galleries of Madrid are Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (having works of renowned Spanish artists including the painting titled ‘Guernica’ by Picasso), Museo Sorolla and Museo de America. If you want to get away closer to Nature, visit the Basque Country located on the north of Madrid. The breathtaking landscape of the place surrounded by the Bay of Biscay and the Pyrenees Mountains is sure to captivate you.

Nature & Geology

Spain is endowed with unmatched splendor of Nature manifested in beautiful mountains, national parks with rich flora and fauna and azure sea with pristine sandy beaches. You can feel Nature’s touch if you are in the mystical marshland in Huelva located in the Andalusian region of southern Spain. You walk on the sand with the Atlantic sea breeze smelling of salt surrounded by the majestic flamingos. The birds have made this place their home. You are in fact in the Donana National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Watch the birds and enjoy magnificent sunset on the Atlantic. The Guadalquivir River and other two rivers meet the sea here. The lakes here dry up in summer and the dry weather makes it a cracked clayey plain. Spring brings back the green cover and makes the soil fertile. For nature lovers, Donana National Park is a must see. This wild wetland has besides 150 species of birds including golden eagles and flamingos, abundant wildlife like horses and the endangered Iberian lynx. With exotic beaches and a splendid weather, the islands of Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca together known as Balearic Isles are great tourist attractions. So are the seven Canary Islands on the Atlantic Ocean of which Tenerife is the largest. Watch here the beautiful Mt. El Teide and do hiking or cycling for adventure. The Somiedo Nature Reserve beckons you to a breathtaking landscape of around 300 sq km in Asturias region of northern Spain. Nowhere else you will find a greener paradise with countless oak and beach trees, mountains, lakes and river valleys. Wildness seems to breathe on you everywhere. This Reserve has the Europe’s largest number of wild Brown bears. The Iberian Peninsula most of which is covered by Spain in southwest Europe has on its northern coast and along its border with France, the Pyrenees extending from east to west. The peninsula is somewhat rectangular shaped. There are many karsts and caves in Spain and Alta Mira Cave is one of the more famous caves of Spain with prehistoric paintings on its walls. Cave paintings are common in the northern Spain caves belonging to the Pyrenees with the oldest among them 30,000 years old found in Cueva del Tesoro. The Neanderthal man took refuge in Spain with invasions of their habitat in Central Europe by the modern men and many Spanish caves carry their remains. It is in Spain that the most recent Neanderthal remains have been found.

History

The original inhabitants of Spain were the Celts, the Iberians and the Basques till the country was annexed by the Romans in the 3rd century BC. Spain was subsequently invaded and ruled by the Barbarians, the Muslims and the Franks. Defeat of the Muslims by the Franks prevented Islamic expansion in southern Europe including Spain and there began a steady rise of Christianity. From the 12th to the 15th century, Aragon and Castile were the two most important states of Spain. Christian conquest of Spain further strengthened with the marriage between Ferdinand II and Isabella I who started the Inquisition to root out Jews and Muslims of Spain not converted to Christianity. Towards the end of the 15th century, Roman Catholicism was firmly established with expulsions of Muslims. Spain became the strongest European power during the Hapsburg monarchy by colonization and expansion, the notable being the conquest of Mexico in the early 16th century. But the most crucial downturn in Spanish history occurred when the Spanish Armada sent for invading England in 1588 was destroyed by the English. England colonized America and Spain no longer remained a powerful state of Europe. She lost one by one the colonized territories during the 18th and 19th centuries. Spain took a neutral stand in World War I. The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) between the government and the rebel leader Franco devastated the country with loss of nearly a million human lives. The war came to an end with Franco seizing power to become the ruler of Spain. The country was declared a monarchy in 1947 by Franco who however continued in power through provisional government. After the death of Franco in November, 1975, Juan Carlos was proclaimed as the King of Spain. Democracy was established in the country when in 1982 when the Spanish Socialist Workers Party won the parliamentary elections with a huge majority. Spain joined NATO in 1982 and EEC in 1986. The two main political parties of Spain are the Socialist Party and the Popular Party. The country is now ruled by the Socialist Party led by Zapatero.

Culture

Bullfight or the Fiesta Nacional as called in Spanish (meaning the national sport) has become synonymous with the culture of Spain. Bull rings are the most widely seen thing in the country as bullfight is the most famous and popular tradition of Spain. Bullfighting originated in AD 711 and was initially played only by the aristocrats on horseback. Like it or not, the Spaniards flock to see this game in which 24,000 bulls reportedly are killed every year. You can watch it between March and October. Spanish or Castilian is the language of the majority of Spanish people. There are also recognized official regional languages like Catalan, Galician and Basque. By religion, the Spaniards are mostly Roman Catholic coexisting with other minority religions like Muslims and Jews. Almost every town of Spain has a church signifying the importance of religion in Spanish society. The modern Spanish society provides equal opportunity for men and women although traditionally it was male dominated. The Spaniards though hard working lead a comparatively slower life than their southern European counterparts. People here are fond of food, music and dance. During festival times, the country takes a colorfully vibrant look. The nightclubs in big cities draw large crowds of pleasure-seeking Spaniards. The Fiesta de Las Fallas held in Valencia in March every year is a very popular cultural festival celebrated with fireworks and burning of paper effigies on the streets. The most famous musical tradition of Spain is Flamenco. ‘Tapas’ is the traditional way of eating the local foods of light snacks by the Spaniards. Anytime you walk into a bar in the towns of Spain, you can treat yourself with ‘tapas’ which are mainly seafood and vegetables. Spanish coastal areas offer excellent fish delicacies and Serrano Ham is another popular dish of the country. Another Spanish recipe Paella is meat or seafood based. The main table wines of Spain are the ‘riojas’ and ‘valdepenas’ produced regionally as are lager beers which are very popular in Spain. Cider is the popular drink of northern Spain. Spanish wines have generally a sweet taste.

Political

Spain is a parliamentary monarchy with the King as the head of the State. The present political framework of the country has been laid down by the 1978 Constitution that declared Spain as a democratic and social state. Juan Carlos has been the king of Spain since 1975. The Spanish government according to the Constitution has three divisions- the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. The legislative division is the Spanish parliament known as “Cortes Generales” which is a bicameral parliament of 350 members belonging to the Lower Chamber. The members are elected to the Congress of Deputies or the Lower Chamber by popular votes for a term of 4 years. Each province gets represented the number of deputies being determined by the population of the province. The Senate or the Upper Chamber of the Cortes Generales has 259 senators with 4-year terms like the Lower Chamber. After general elections to elect the members of the Spanish government, the King appoints the Prime Minister who is voted by the Congress to head the national government with his Cabinet or Council of Ministers. There are 17 autonomous communities in Spain with empowerment for self-governance of the regions the communities consist of. The Statute of Autonomy guarantees such self-autonomy for each region having its own executive, legislative and judiciary bodies. Elections for regional governments are held every 4 years. Legislative powers for each community are different. The third tier is the provincial government without legislative powers. The city council members elect the provincial government members. The fourth tier is the Local government composed of city or town councilors. These are represented as municipalities in Spain.

Infrastructure

The transport infrastructure of Spain is quite developed. The railways and roads are being continuously expanded and the airports and ports upgraded to more efficiently handle the ever increasing volume of traffic. The National Network for Spanish Railways is aiming at linking the capitals of all the provinces of the country with Madrid that can be covered by trains within a period of three hours. High-speed trains link Madrid with Barcelona and Seville. All the major Spanish cities have metro railways with Madrid having the maximum lines operating. Subway services are gradually being extended. The highways of Spain are of world standard and new roads are being built to connect the country with the trans-European network. The Madrid and Barcelona Airports have been upgraded to meet all international specifications and handle larger volume of air traffic. The Barajas airport in Madrid is the busiest airport in Spain. Prats airport in Barcelona is the second busiest. These airports operate daily flights from the U.S. as well as capitals of European Unions. The Palma de Mallorca International Airport draws huge tourist traffic. Spain’s busiest shipping ports include Bilbao and Barcelona.

Dos & Don’ts

Dos

i) Carry small change for use in public toilet. ii) If you are in Bilbao or Guernica, watch the pelota game which is the world’s fastest ball game. iii) Follow dress code when visiting churches like not wearing revealing dresses. iv) Show respect to local people.

Don’ts

i) Be too polite which is viewed as irritating. ii) Go out too early. Nightlife starts late at Spain. iii) Complain about smoking in public places. It is common in Spain. iv) Possess or carry drug which is a criminal offence.

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