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 on the 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 the border with France, and the Sierra Nevada, which run roughly west to the east behind the Mediterranean coast.

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The dominant topographical feature of Spain 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 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 the north coast of the Bay of Biscay.

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 rocks of the mountains. 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 coastal regions of the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic Ocean. In the Mediterranean areas of Spain, 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, and pine trees can all found, and cork bark 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 used in paper-making. Considerable areas of Spain 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 largely agricultural country and farming continues to be a significant factor in the country’s economy. Technological advances and investments, particularly since the country joined the European Union, have brought about great improvements and modernisation. Cultivation depends upon locality and climate but grapes (for an important wine-producing industry), olives, cereals (wheat, maize, barley, rye, oats, rice), citrus and other fruits, almonds, vegetables and sugar beet are grown. In addition, cotton, flax, jute and hemp are grown 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 a fine wool, but also pigs, goats, cattle and horses.

Spain formerly had one of the largest fishing fleets in the world 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 poor fossil fuel reserves although it does produce some coal and petroleum. Electricity is generated from hydroelectric schemes, nuclear power and through the burning of (mainly imported) fossil fuels. Other minerals are well represented and the country has useful reserves of iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, mercury, gypsum and silver. Also, titanium, manganese, sulphur and potassium salts are worked in small amounts.

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

Spain welcomes numerous visitors each year who come to enjoy its Mediterranean coastal resorts, historical 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 makes a significant contribution to the country’s economy.

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