Spanish Pottery
Spanish Pottery

Mainland Spain is dominated by high plateaus and mountain ranges, such as the Sierra Nevada. Running from these heights are several major rivers such as the Tagus, the Ebro, the Duero, the Guadiana and the Guadalquivir. Alluvial plains are found along the coast, the largest of which is that of the Guadalquivir in Andalusia.

After a long and hard conquest, the Iberian Peninsula became a region of the Roman Empire known as Hispania. During the early Middle Ages it came under Germanic rule. Later it was conquered by Muslim invaders. Through a very long and fitful process, the Christian kingdoms in the north gradually rolled back Muslim rule, finally extinguishing its last remnant in Granada in 1492, the same year Columbus reached the Americas. A global empire began. Spain became the strongest kingdom in Europe and the leading world power during the 16th century and first half of the 17th century; but continued wars and other problems eventually led to a diminished status. The French invasion of Spain in the early 19th century led to chaos; triggering independence movements that tore apart most of the empire and left the country politically unstable. In the 20th century it suffered a devastating civil war and came under the rule of an authoritarian government, leading to years of stagnation, but finishing in an impressive economic surge. Democracy was restored in 1978 in the form of a parliamentry constitutional monarchy. In 1986, Spain joined the European Union; experiencing a cultural renaissance and steady economic growth.

In 2008 Spain officially reached 46 million people registered at the Padrón municipal, an official record analogous to the British Register office. Spain's population density, at 89.6/km² (231/sq mi), is lower than that of most Western European countries and its distribution along the country is very unequal. With the exception of the region surrounding the capital, Madrid, the most populated areas lie around the coast.

The population of Spain doubled during the 20th century, due to the spectacular demographic boom in the 1960s and early 1970s. The pattern of growth was extremely uneven due to large-scale internal migration from the rural interior to the industrial cities during this period. No fewer than eleven of Spain's fifty provinces saw an absolute decline in population over the century. Then, after the birth rate plunged in the 80s and Spain's population growth rate dropped, a new population increase started based initially on the return of many Spaniards who had emigrated to other European countries during the 70s. More recently, it has been boosted by a large numbers of immigrants, mostly from Latin America (39%), Eastern Europe (16%), North Africa (15%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (4%). In 2005, Spain instituted a 3-month amnesty program through which certain hitherto undocumented aliens were granted legal residency. Also there are some significant pockets of population that have come from other EU countries - 21% of foreign residents - especially on the Mediterranean costas and Balearic islands, where many Europeans choose to live their retirement or telework. These are mostly English, French, German, and Dutch and, from outside the EU, Norwegian.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978, in its second article, recognises historic entities ('nationalities', a carefully chosen word in order to avoid the more politically charged 'nations') and regions, within the context of the Spanish nation. For some people, Spain's identity consists more of an overlap of different regional identities than of a sole Spanish identity. Indeed, some of the regional identities may even conflict with the Spanish one. Distinct cultural groups within Spain include the Basques, Catalans, and Galicians. It is this last feature of 'shared identity' between the more local level or Autonomous Community and the Spanish level which makes the identity question in Spain complex and far from univocal.

Spain is known for its culturally diverse heritage, having been influenced by many nations and peoples throughout its history. Spanish culture has its origins in the Iberian, Celtiberian, Latin, Visigothic, Roman Catholic, and Islamic cultures. The definition of a national Spanish culture has been characterized by tension between the centralized state, dominated in recent centuries by Castile, and numerous regions and minority peoples. In addition, the history of the nation and its Mediterranean and Atlantic environment have played strong roles in shaping its culture. After Italy, Spain has the second highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, with a total of 40.

The term Spanish literature refers to literature written in the Spanish language, including literature composed in Spanish by writers not necessarily from Spain. For Spanish American literature specifically, see Latin American literature. Due to historic, geographic and generational diversity, Spanish literature has known a great number of influences and it is very diverse. Some major literary movements can be identified within it. Miguel de Cervantes is probably Spain's most famous author and his Don Quixote is considered the most emblematic work in the canon of Spanish literature and a founding classic of Western literature.

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