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All About Spain

By: Sandra Lightowler

Most famously known for its endless beaches and year-round sunshine as well as the sultry Flamenco and the gory bullfights, Spain has oodles more to offer than that. For thousands of years, Spain has been one of the prime cultural centres of Europe. What distinguishes Spain from the other European countries is its distinctly Arab characteristic which is a result of almost eight centuries of Arab influence.

Spain's diversity is overwhelming. Its various regions are all conspicuously different from each other; from their geography and climate to their cuisine and culture. Every city and town is an eclectic mix of ancient monuments and futuristic architecture standing testimony to Spain's centuries old history and its changing times. Cities and towns are littered with Roman aqueducts and Islamic palaces, medieval castles and Gothic cathedrals.

Geography

Located in the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe, Spain's bordering countries include France, Andorra, Portugal, Gibraltar and Morocco. The waters surrounding Spain include the North Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Bay of Biscay and the Pyrenees Mountains southwest of France. Spain has a total area of 504,782 km, with a coastline that stretches 4,964 km. It comprises 19 autonomous communities including the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean; the Balearic Islands (Ibiza, Menorca and Mallorca) in the Mediterranean Sea and Melilla and Ceuta, situated in northern Africa. Penon de Velez de la Gomera, Penon de Alhucemas and Islas Chafarinas are three tiny Spanish possessions that lie off the coast of Morocco.

Five immense mountain ranges span the country adding to the extremely varied landscape; green and fertile in some areas and arid, almost desert-like in others. Along with all this are the never-ending coast lines that run from the Pyrenees to Gibraltar along the Mediterranean Sea in the east and along the Cantabrian Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in the west.

Climate

Spain's climate is predominantly temperate with clear, hot summers and colder winters in the interiors and cloudier with moderate temperatures along the coast.

Language

While Spanish is the official language of the country, there are several other languages that co-exist with Spanish and are spoken in certain regions of Spain. These include Catalan in Catalonia, Valencian in the Valencia Region, , Galician in Galicia and a distinct variety of Catalan that is spoken on the Balearic Islands.

Culture

Fiestas and bullfights are indispensable parts of Spain. The seasons in Spain are defined not only by the changes in temperatures but also by the different fiestas; there is a fiesta for every season. Every fiesta is distinct from the other in the way it is celebrated, why it is celebrated, when it is celebrated as well as which region it is celebrated in. Fiestas are such an integral part of Spain that you would have to spend a year in Spain to experience the real culture of Spain. While the Feria de Abril in Sevilla includes an entire week of dancing and singing while indulging in tapas and sherry; the Semana Santa is a more somber week of prayer and penance.

The Flamenco is Spain itself. This musical tradition is absolutely inseparable from Spain and so are teg bullfights, which are part and parcel of almost all Fiestas and are a sight to behold. Not to be missed is the "Running of the Bulls" during the Sanfermines in Pamplona.

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