Spain occupies 85% of the Iberian Peninsula, in southwest Europe. Africa is less than 16 km south at the Strait of Gibraltar. A broad central plateau slopes to the south and east, crossed by a series of mountain ranges and river valleys. Principal rivers are the Ebro in the northeast, the Tajo in the central region, and the Guadalquivir in the south.
Parliamentary monarchy prevails in Spain. The King is the head of the state. However, the real power is with the government led by the Prime Minister.
The Spanish economy is the ninth largest in the world. Industry and services contribute 31% and 65% of the GDP respectively. Main crops are cereals, grapes, olives, vegetables and fruits. Industries include chemicals, machine tools, automobiles, ship-building, steel, textiles and processed foods.
Spain is home to over 40 million people. Majority of the population is of the Mediterranean and Nordic ethnicity. Castilian Spanish is the official language. Catalan, Galician and Basque (each official regionally) are the other important languages. 94% of the people are Roman Catholic.
Spain was originally inhabited by Celts, Iberians, and Basques. It became a part of the Roman Empire in 206 B.C. In the era of exploration, discovery, and colonization, Spain amassed tremendous wealth and a vast colonial empire through the conquest of Mexico (1519–1521) and Peru (1532–1533). After the defeat of the Spanish Armada by England in 1588, Spain shrunk into a minor continental power. In World War I, Spain maintained a position of neutrality. In 1923, Gen. Miguel Primo de Rivera became dictator. In a referendum in 1947, the Spanish people approved a succession law declaring Spain a monarchy again. Spain entered NATO in 1982. Spain, along with Portugal, joined the European Economic Community, now the European Union, in 1986.
National name: Kingdom of Spain; Area: 504,782 sq km, Population (2006 est.): 40,397,842; Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Madrid; Monetary unit: Euro (formerly peseta); Literacy rate: 98%