Spain is a European country located on the Iberian Peninsula, in the southwestern corner of the European continent, situated between neighboring countries France, to the east, and Portugal, to the west. It is sometimes referred to by its proper name, the Kingdom of Spain. The nation borders the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the east. Spain is a European Union member, with a population of around forty-six million people. Its government is a constitutional monarchy, similar to the system in the United Kingdom, though the country has experienced many governmental conflicts and power struggles, the most memorable of which occurred during the Spanish Civil War, from 1936 until 1939. Today, the country is divided into several autonomous entities or communities, each with its own unique culture, history, governmental policies, and occasionally its own language, though Spanish remains an official language of each region as well. This examination of Spanish regions will teach you about the individual areas of Spain, and how they differ from one another.
The autonomous region of Spain with the highest population, Andalusia is located in the southernmost part of the country, bordering Gibraltar at the northwestern tip of the African continent. About eight and a half million people live in Andalusia. As an autonomous community, Andalusia has its own flag, motto, and anthem. The residents of Andalusia are recognized as belonging to their own nationality, and Andalusian is recognized as its own separate ethnic group within the Spanish country. Andalusia is made up of eight provinces, the best known of which are Granada, and Andalusia’s capital, Seville. Andalusians speak a particular dialect of the Spanish language, and it is the second most spoken variation of Spanish in the country.
As an autonomous region, Andalusia has its own government and its own president, serving as the representative of the entire region, and referred to as President of the Junta. The president is appointed to his or her position by the ruling monarch of Spain, and the position is confirmed when the Andalusian parliament holds a vote.
Andalusia has been greatly influenced by its history, which includes the movement across its land of several groups of people, including Romans, Celts, and most prominently, Muslims from areas of northern Africa, more commonly referred to as Moors. As a result of this influence, Andalusia is home to a great deal of Moorish architecture, including a plethora of mosques, such as the Great Mosque of Cordoba, and the Alhambra, a fortress and palace located in Granada. The region is also famous for flamenco dancing, and a type of culture often categorized as gypsy-like.
Catalonia is another autonomous Spanish community, located in the northeastern corner of the country, with a population of seven and a half million people. Catalonian is designated as a nationality, much like Andalusian, and Catalonians speak Catalan, a romance language that shares common roots with Spanish, but is an entirely different tongue. Catalonia is home to Barcelona, its capital, which is one of the largest metropolitan and industrial centers in Europe.
Catalonia is known for its independent spirit, even among the other autonomous regions of Spain. In 2012, the region banned bullfighting, which is often thought of as a cornerstone of Spanish culture and history. Catalonia is known for several important tourist attractions for those visiting Spain. These include the Salvador Dali Museum in Figueres, and La Sagrada Familia, otherwise known as The Sacred Family, a cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi that is constantly under construction. Many refer to it as “the never-ending cathedral,” as its construction began in 1882, and the building is still being worked on today. The cathedral is located in Barcelona, as are several other structures designed by Gaudi, including Casa Vicens, Casa Mila, and the Church of Colonia Guell.
A cultural phenomenon that sets Catalonia apart from other Spanish regions is the activity known as Castells, in which teams of people construct human towers and structures by climbing onto each other’s shoulders. This activity originated in Catalonia in the late 1700’s, and grew in popularity relatively quickly; it is now nationally recognized as a Catalonian tradition, and can often be seen at festivals throughout the region and the entire country.
The region of Galicia is located in the northwestern corner of Spain, situated to the north of the country of Portugal. Galicia is home to about 2.8 million inhabitants, and its capital is Santiago de Compostela. Due to its location, Galicia has a unique topography and climate, both different from the rest of Spain. The land in the interior of the region is very hilly, and includes the occasional low mountain range. Near the Atlantic coast, which spans most of the region, there are a large number of estuaries and capes due to erosion. Galicia is also home to many rivers and mountainous areas, often resulting in isolated communities, kept distant from neighbors by the surrounding landscape.
Galicia shares a lot of cultural similarities with Portugal, due to the region’s proximity to the bordering country. The people of Galicia speak primarily Galician, a unique Romance language that is similar to Portuguese, as well as Spanish. Galician cuisine often incorporates a lot of seafood and shellfish, as Portuguese cuisine does. The two countries also share a medieval literary language known as Galician-Portuguese, which developed in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Galicia celebrates a long standing sporting tradition, and the region is home to many sports clubs, particularly football clubs. Handball and basketball are also popular sports in Galicia, though certainly not as popular as football. Galicia is also well known for its many celebratory festivals. One of the most popular is Carnival, a celebration held in several cities throughout the region, despite a great deal of disapproval from the Catholic Church, so much so that the church has forbidden the celebration of Carnival in the past. Another festival is held each July in Ortigueira, called the Festival of Celtic World. The festival celebrates the impact of Celtic cultures on the culture of Spain. The name Galicia, in fact, is derived from the name of a Celtic tribe that once inhabited the area around Galicia’s Douru River. Much of the architecture in Galicia is inspired by the traditional stone Celtic buildings and monuments.
The Basque Country is located in the north of Spain, and it is a very small autonomous region, with a population of a little more than two million people. Basque is recognized as a separate nationality within Spain, and the language spoken in the region is the Basque language, officially called Euskara. This language developed in the wider Basque region, which encompasses the land in the northeastern part of Spain and the southwestern part of France. However, the language has no known common root with any language spoken today, including the Spanish language, making the Basque region a “language isolate.”
The autonomous community is made up of only three provinces: Araba, Biscay, and Gipuzkoa. The capital of the Basque Country is Vitoria-Gasteiz. The Basque country is separated into distinct areas based on climate and topography as a result of the presence of two parallel mountain ranges in the Basque Mountains. These areas are referred to as the Atlantic Basin and the Ebro Valley, with an unnamed section between them. The Atlantic Basin is categorized by small valleys and rivers at its interior and high cliffs and multiple inlets at the coast. The Ebro Valley stretches from the lower mountain range to the southernmost part of the Basque region. The middle area between the mountain ranges is characterized by a high plateau, and here begin many rivers that flow south into the Ebro Valley. The northern mountain valleys of Basque Country experience a wet climate due to the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. To the south, the climate is more in line with the climate in the neighboring regions of France and the rest of the European continent.
Basque Country is perhaps best known for the rich history of the Basque people, in particular their cultural emphasis on mythology. Though Christianity is the prominent religion in Spain today, the ancient Basques prescribed to a mythological religion based on pagan rituals and the importance of legends. The ancient Basques believed in a variety of mythological animals and people, including: Odei, the personification of stormy weather; Ilargi, or another way to refer to the moon; Gaueko, a negative character who only comes out at night; and Erge, an evil spirit that can take away life.
Apart from Andalusia, Catalonia, Galicia, and Basque Country, there are also thirteen other autonomous communities in Spain, each with its own unique culture, people, and traditions. These autonomous regions include Cantabria, the Community of Madrid (where Spain’s capital is located), Navarre, and Aragon. Each of Spain’s seventeen regions has a rich history, making Spain one of the most interesting European countries to study. Spanish territory also includes the Canary Islands, off the Moroccan coast, and the Balearic Islands, located in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa. Hopefully, this exploration of four Spanish regions has piqued your interest in this beautiful and historically rich nation.