Geography and political division

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Capital: Madrid

Surface: 504.782 km²

Population in 2009
  • Total: 45.989.016 in
  • Density: 91,13 inhabitants/km²

The population distribution in the Country is not homogeneous, due to the peculiar conformity and characteristics of the Spanish territory. Although the phenomenon of urbanization is quite recent, the capital Madrid counts a population of more than 3 million people (6 millions if we take the greater metropolitan area).

Along the coasts, the river valleys and in the most developed areas, density exceeds 300 inhabitants/km². This rate is counterbalanced by such areas as the meseta, where population barely reaches 25 inhabitants/km².

The Spanish population is characterised by an evident ethnic mixture deriving from the numerous invasions, migrations and dominations occurred in the course of history. Celtic, Iberian, Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman and Visigoth populations followed one other during the centuries, leaving traces of their presence in every region. The current population is mostly constituted by autochthon Spanish belonging to various ethnic-linguistic groups (such as Castilian, Catalan, Valencian, Galician, Basque exc…) and by a minority of foreigners who represented in 2008 11% of the global population.

The official language is Castilian, even if some autonomous communities speak both Catalan and Valencian (in Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Valencian Community), Galician and Basque (Euskadi, Navarra). There are also some minor idioms used locally, like Asturian, Leonese and Aragonese. Although they are not recognized as official languages, these dialects are safeguarded, and their use is encouraged by the local government.

Spain boasts one of the highest rates of life expectancy, with 84 years. Consequently nearly 15% of the population has less than 15 years, while more than 16.5% is over 65. Compared to other European Countries, the Spanish population is relatively young.

Spain is a laic Country, the Constitution affirms freedom of cult. The majority of Spanish, almost 90% of the population, is catholic, even though the number of faithfuls has been decreasing in the latest years.


The Kingdom of Spain belongs with Portugal, Andorra and Gibraltar to the Iberian peninsula, of which it represents 80% of the global territory. Spain borders in the north-east on France (the border is represented by the Pyreneans) and the principality of Andorra, in west on Portugal, in north, north-west and south-west on the Atlantic Ocean, and in east and south-east on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Strait of Gibraltar separates Spain from the African continent. Politically there are several islands included in the Spanish administration, like Ceuta, Medilla and Islas Chafarinas. Spain is divided since 1978 into 17 autonomous regions (comunidades autónomas) which are also administered into 50 provinces.

The 17 regions are

Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilia-La Mancha, Castilia and León, Catalonia, Valencian Community, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra and Basque Country.

In addition there are two autonomous cities: Ceuta and Melilla, designated as Plazas de Soberanía en el Norte de África. The reason behind the institutions of the Autonomous Regions lies in the necessity to safeguard the presence of populations with such different cultural backgrounds. The political freedom given to these regions is however bound to constitutional limits.

Spain is characterized by a regular shape and a richness of landscape. The 3 main geographic regions are: The central plateau, named Meseta: it occupies more than ¾ of the total territory.

The plateau is wide, dry, and of very ancient formation. The Iberian System and Sierra Morena represent respectively its eastern and southern border. The plateau has ercinic origin, with an average height of about 600 m. The Central System divides it into two distinct sections: the Northern and Southern Meseta. The highest mountains of the Central System are Sierra de Guadarrama, Sierra de Gredos (2.592 m) and the Toledo mountains.

The northern chains

Characterised by a rich and flourishing vegetation, with the Pyreneans and the old Cantabrian Cordillera, culminating with Picos de Europa, 2.648 m, which runs along the coast. The Betic system in the South: it is made up of a series of mountain chains, like Sierra Nevada. Plains are not very extended, and they mostly concentrate in proximity of the coast.

The Spanish territory is mainly mountainous, with a thick waterways network of low flow rivers. The rivers Ebro (the only navigable river) Turia and Jucar all flow into the Mediterranean Sea, while there are 4 rivers which flow into the Atlantic Ocean: Tago (the longest river of the Iberian peninsula), Douro (having the largest basin of the Country), Guadiana and Guadalquivir.

Lakes are rather small, at least the natural ones. The only lake worthy of note is Sanabria (318. 7 ha) which is the widest glacial lake of the peninsula.

There are numerous channels
  • Canale de Penas
  • Veras
  • Ortegal and Finisterre

Spanish coasts have an extension of 4.964 km, with remarkable differences from coast to coast. In many areas we find indented coasts with mountains degrading to the sea, originating rocky promontories. The north coast in the Gulf of Biscaglia and the Galician coast overlooking the Cantabrian sea are quite steep and marked by deep bays (rias). As opposed to this, the Mediterranean coast, with its 1.660 km, looks more gentle and plain, with sandy beaches, even if they become more rugged in Costa Brava.

The territory of Spain includes many islands

The main ones are gathered into two archipelagos

  • the Balearic
  • Canary Islands

The first ones are situated in the Mediterranean sea, not far from the coasts of the Valencian Community, and they are made up of four main islands: Maiorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera. The Canary Islands (Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro) are closer to the African continent, as they lie in the Atlantic Ocean opposite Morocco, 1000 km south-west of the Iberian peninsula.

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