Spain

Driving Directions Spain

SPAIN is located in southwest Europe and occupies the more significant part of the Iberian Peninsula, which it shares with Portugal. It includes the Balearic Islands (Islas Baleares) in the Mediterranean Sea, the Canary Islands (Islas Canarias) in the Atlantic Ocean, and the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla coast of Morocco in North Africa.

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Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe, surpassed only by Switzerland. Two of the principal mountain ranges are the Pyrenees, which rise to over 3,400 meters or 11,155 feet and stretch for about 400 kilometers or 250 miles along with the border with France, and the Sierra Nevada run roughly west to the east behind the Mediterranean coast.

Spain’s dominant topographical feature is a vast, elevated central plateau or tableland called the Meseta, which has an average height of 607 meters or 2,000 feet above sea level. This is dissected by a series of mountain ranges that include the Sierra de Guadarrama, the Montes de Toledo, and the Sierra Morena. Further fields occur in the northwest and west, notably the Montes de León and the Cordillera Cantabrica, behind Biscay’s north coast.

The Iberian Peninsula is traversed by several large rivers that rise in Spain and flow on across Portugal, often through deep gorges cut through the mountains’ rocks. They flow along a generally westerly or southwesterly course before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. The most important is the Tajo (Tejo in Portugal), the Duero (Douro), and the Guadiana, which forms part of Spain’s southeastern border with Portugal, and also the Mino (Minho) which creates a part of the northwestern border with Portugal.

The climate varies widely throughout the Iberian Peninsula. In general, measurable amounts of rain and temperate conditions prevail in the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean’s coastal regions. In Spain’s Mediterranean areas, summers are hot and dry, and temperatures are usually mild in winter. The Meseta Plateau has hot summers and cold winters and is generally dry.

Because of the generally dry conditions, forests are not abundant in Spain, and those that occur are usually found on the lower mountain slopes and in the wetter regions. Deciduous and evergreen oaks, cork oak, beech, poplar, chestnut, elm, pine trees can all be found, and cork bark is harvested for commercial use. In the drier regions, scrub bushes, aromatic plants, and grasses may found, and one particular type, Esparto Grass, is harvested for its fiber, which is used in paper-making. Considerable Spain areas are relatively wild and uninhabited and are home to some of Europe’s rarer animals. These include the wolf, lynx, wildcat, fox, mountain goat, wild boar, deer, eagle, and other large birds of prey. Freshwater fish are abundant in rivers, streams, and lakes.

Until the 1970s, Spain was a predominantly agricultural country, and farming continues to be a significant factor in the country’s economy. Technological advances and investments, mainly since the country joined the European Union, have brought about substantial improvements and modernization. Cultivation depends upon locality and climate, but grapes (for a crucial wine-producing industry), olives, cereals (wheat, maize, barley, rye, oats, rice), citrus, other fruits, almonds, vegetables, and sugar beet are grown. Also, cotton, flax, jute, and hemp are produced to provide raw materials for the textile industry. Sheep are the most important animals to be reared, particularly the Merino breed, which is native to the country and produces fine wool and pigs, goats, cattle, and horses.

Spain formerly had one of the largest fishing fleets globally and, although it is smaller today, the industry remains an important part of the economy. Tuna, sardines, and hake are among the fish caught, and also mussels and squid. The main forestry product is cork, of which Spain is a major world producer along with Portugal. Other timber operations are on a small scale, and Spain has to import wood and pulp to supply its domestic needs.

Spain has inadequate fossil fuel reserves, although it does produce some coal and petroleum. Electricity is generated from hydroelectric schemes, nuclear power, and burning (mainly imported) fossil fuels. Other minerals are well represented, and the country has good reserves of iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, mercury, gypsum, and silver. Also, titanium, manganese, sulfur, and potassium salts are worked in small amounts.

Traditional industries such as shipbuilding, iron, steel, and textiles have declined, although they remain important. There has been considerable expansion in new areas such as information technology and electronics and food processing, chemicals, shoes and clothing, cement production, and motor vehicle manufacture.

Spain welcomes numerous visitors each year who come to enjoy its Mediterranean coastal resorts, historic cities, and the largely unspoiled towns and villages of the interior. The Balearic and Canary Islands, which belong to Spain, are also major tourist attractions, and tourism contributes to the country’s economy.

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Overall, Spain’s terrain is mountainous, with major ranges running throughout the country. The Pyrenees system is particularly noteworthy. One of Europe’s most effective natural boundaries, the highest terrain of the central portion of this range marks Spain’s border with France. The tiny nation of Andorra is also located there. Most of the land in Spain is situated in river valleys, along the coast, or on the Meseta Central (Central Mesa), the large plateau at the center of the country.

Topographically, Spain is divided into four parts: the temperate region in the north and northwest, the marginal mountain ranges, the Meseta Central and the surrounding interior region, and the coastal areas. The boundaries between regions are far from clear-cut, however. The temperate region, for example, includes significant portions of the mountains and coastal areas. The Meseta Central contains two large, low-lying river valleys and is traversed by several major mountain systems.

The Atlantic Ocean lies to the west of Spain. The Bay of Biscay, an arm of the Atlantic, runs along the northern coastline. The Mediterranean Sea lines the eastern and southern borders of Spain. The Mediterranean Sea is an almost completely landlocked water basin situated between southern Europe, northern Africa, and southwest Asia. It links to the Atlantic Ocean at its western point through the Strait of Gibraltar and the Red Sea at its southeastern shore through the Suez Canal. The Mediterranean also connects to the Black Sea in the northeast through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus. The Balearic Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean, lies at Spain’s northeast coast, separating the mainland from the Balearic Islands.

Did you know about Spain?

The Iberian Peninsula contains only two countries: Spain and Portugal. It is a botanical crossroads between Africa and Europe, with more than eight thousand species of plants.

The Rock of Gibraltar is part of a peninsula that juts out from Spain’s south-central coast into the Mediterranean Sea near Gibraltar’s Strait. The rock contains several limestone caves and a long tunnel that has been used for shelter and defense. A large number of archaeological finds have been uncovered in the caves. The Rock of Gibraltar was once known as one of Hercules’ Pillars, which stand at either end of Gibraltar’s Strait. The other pillars are Mount Acha in Ceuta and Jebel Musa (west of Ceuta), sometimes called Hercules’ Gates. Though the area has been under British rule since 1704 after the Spanish Succession War, the Spanish government regains the territory.

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