Spain is a sovereign state in southwestern Europe. Spain’s south and east borders lie on the Mediterranean Sea, and the country shares land borders with Gibraltar, France, Andorra, and Portugal. Also part of Spain are the Canary Islands, located off the coast of Morocco in Africa, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, and two territories in mainland Africa.
As Spain borders on two different seas, its climate is quite variable. Madrid, for example, ranges from an average of 10 degrees Celsius in winter to 32 degrees in summer. In coastal Valencia, winter temperatures average around 16 degrees Celsius, with a summer high of 30 degrees.
Spain is famous for many things: this is the country that brought the world paella, gazpacho, sangria, flamenco dancing, and bull-fighting.
Spain is also known for its annual festivals. One of these is la tomatina, held in the town of Bunol, Valencia every August. La tomatina is a giant food fight in which the entire town celebrates the end of a festival week by throwing massive amounts of tomatoes at one another.
In Pamploma, The Running of the Bulls is an annual event that recreates the transportation of bulls from outlying fields to the bull-fighting ring. The event is held every day for eight days, during the San Fermin Festival, typically causing dozens of injuries.
During the Middle Ages, Spain was conquered by Arab Islamic invasion in the 8th century. As Christianity strengthened in Spain, however, major conflicts between the two religious factions eventually ousted the invaders.
At the end of the 15th century, Spanish Explorer Christopher Columbus helped usher in a new era of power and prosperity for Spain, discovering the Americas and paving the way for Spanish conquistadors to seize land and natural resources in Central and South America. Spain’s power peaked in the 16th and 17th centuries.
During the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, Napoleon invaded Spain and dethroned the Spanish king. Although Napoleon subsequently withdrew, several decades of political instability followed, and Spain lost most of its overseas territories.
In the 1930s warring political ideologies culminated in the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Francisco Franco, the Nationalist leader who ruled as military dictator until 1975.
After the death of Franco, Spain transitioned to a democracy and returned to the world stage, joining the EEC, hosting the 1992 Olympics, and enjoying an economic boom.
Spain has a high level of biodiversity, thanks to its multiple climatic zones, and its location between Europe and Africa. While much of Spain is arid, there are still plenty of colourful native flowers, including pink dianthus, Spanish foxglove, and the tiny blue flowers of Gyrocaryum, which is only found in Spain. In the Canary Islands, there’s the “tower of jewels”, a massive bloom that grows in tall towers of tiny clusters of pink flowers.
Spains native animals include the Iberian wolf and fox, wild boar, and brown bear, and the Iberian lynx, which is found only in Spain, and at just 300 remaining in the wild is the world’s rarest wild cat. A particlarly interesting Spanish native is the Pyrenean desman, a semi-quatic mammal with a long nose and bulbous snout. The animal has valve-like structures in its nose and ears to repel water, and like a bat, finds its way using echolocation.
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