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Tuesday 21st November
Spain Information - Page 1
Geography
Spain occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula, the nearest European landmass to Africa: it is separated from Morocco by the Straits of Gibraltar and has both an Atlantic and a Mediterranean coastline. Portugal is on Spain's western side and is divided from France by the Pyrenees mountains. The Canary Islands in the Atlantic and the Balearic Islands, in the Mediterranean, are Spanish.

Madrid is the capital city. Other important cities are Barcelona, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada and Valencia.

Spain is mountainous; some of the land is semi-desert and the country has a long coastline which borders the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Its largest rivers are the Ebro, Duero, Guadalquivir, Guadiana and Tagus. The climate is varied, with snow in the mountains and extremes of heat and cold in the central region. Drought is a particular problem in many areas.

Environment
The variety of the landscape is reflected in its flora: among Spain's trees are pines, cork-oak trees and beech trees; flowering plants include orchids, gentians, lavender and rosemary.

Spain's native animals are relatively small: deer, ibex, tortoises, bats, snakes (including a venomous viper) and other small creatures though a small number of bears, wolves and lynxes remain. The native birds are vultures, eagles, kites, bustards, storks, flamingoes. Many other species stop off on their migration route from Europe to Africa.

Many national parks, protected areas and reserves have been established over the years. These include the World Heritage sites of Donana National Park and Garajonay National Park. Mont Perdu in the Pyrenees is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In addition, around fifty sites are designated by Ramsar as Wetlands of International Importance and over thirty sites are UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserves.

Architecture
Spain's colonizers have left their architectural mark on the country. The Roman Aqueduct in Segovia is one of the key buildings in Spain's architectural heritage.

Moorish architecture can be seen at the Alhambra palace outside Granada. Moorish influence continued, even in religious buildings, for example, in Toledo while the mosque at Cordoba, famous for its red and white Moorish arches became the city's cathedral.

Spain has many well preserved examples of religious architecture which are on the World Heritage List: monasteries, churches and cathedrals.

Today modern buildings stand alongside the old. One of the best known examples of early twentieth century Spanish architecture is Antonio Gaudi's Temple de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. A number of buildings in Gaudi's characteristic style are also on the World Heritage List.

Population
Spain's population was estimated at 40,491,051 in 2008.

Languages
The majority of the people speak Castilian Spanish. Catalan and Galician are also spoken. The Basque population speak their own language, Euskara.

Spain's exploration, colonization and empire are reflected in the number of people in the world who speak Spanish worldwide.

Religion
Most Spaniards are Roman Catholics. During the conquest of Muslim Spain Catholicism was firmly established in the country by the Inquisition which came into being in the 1480s. Jews who refused to convert were expelled from Spain and Muslims treated similarly. Even those Muslims who did convert (called Moriscos) were expelled in the early 1600s.

Food
Spanish cuisine is full of typically Mediterranean ingredients such as olive oil and tomatoes. Many traditional Spanish dishes are served in tapas bars which are a feature of Spanish life. Traditional dishes include tortillas, (potato omelets), paella, gazpacho (cold soup), sausages, meats such as lamb and pork, cheeses, sardines, octopus, squid and fruit. The Arab influence can still be seen in the use of fruits and almonds in savoury dishes and in some of the spices and sweet dishes.

Wine is plentiful and Spain is well known for Sangria. More coffee is drunk than tea and chocolate is another favourite drink. It was, of course, the Spanish who brought chocolate to Europe from Mexico.

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