Spain is a country in southwestern Europe, occupying most of the Iberian Peninsula, a member of the European Union. In Spanish, the country is called España.
The northwest of the country is open to the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay. To the north-east, the Pyrenees chain marks the border with France and the Principality of Andorra. Spain is bordered to the east and south-east by the Mediterranean Sea, to the southwest by the Atlantic Ocean and to the west by Portugal. Spain has two island provinces, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off Africa. It also has two enclaves in Morocco, the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. At the extreme southern tip of Spain is the British colony of Gibraltar. The Iberian Peninsula is separated from Africa only by a narrow arm of the sea, the Strait of Gibraltar.
Spain is divided into 50 provinces. These are gathered in 17 autonomous communities: Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile-La Mancha, Castile and Leon, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Murcia, Navarre and Valencia . The four most populated regions in 2005 were Andalusia (7,849,799 inhabitants), Catalonia (6,995,206 inhabitants), Madrid (5,964,143 inhabitants) and Valencia (4,692,449 inhabitants).
The two largest cities in Spain are Madrid (more than 3 million inhabitants), the political capital, located in New Castile, and Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, a major port on the Mediterranean and the country’s leading industrial complex. The other big cities are Valencia, industrial and railway center; Seville, capital of Andalusia, cultural center and important fluvial port; Zaragoza, capital of Aragon, industrial center; Bilbao, second port of the country.
Spain is a maritime country: the Atlantic (710 km) and Mediterranean (1,660 km) coasts account for 88% of its borders. Continental Spain forms a mountainous country, with hercynian and alpine relief. The entire central part of the peninsula (Castile, Extremadura) is occupied by the high plateau of Meseta, a vast block of Hercynian basement. Two mountain ranges attached to the alpine system come to join them: in the north, the Pyrenees and, in the south, the Betic mountain range. The Meseta is rugged, on its periphery, by high mountainous rims: the Cantabrian mountains in the north, the Iberian mountains in the northeast, the serrania of Cuenca in the east and the Sierra Morena in the south. It is cut at its center by the sierras of Guadarrama and Gredos, which separate the plateaus of Old Castile, to the north, from the plateaus of New Castile, to the south.
The plains of Guadalquivir (Andalusia), to the south-west, and that of Ebre (Aragon), to the northeast, are tertiary collapse basins, in contact with the Meseta and the great alpine chains. In the northeast of the peninsula, the Pyrenees chain forms a continuous mountainous barrier, 435 km long, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. It culminates at the summit of the peak of Aneto (3,404 m). In the south of the peninsula, the Betic Cordillera stretches 800 km long, from the Strait of Gibraltar to Cape Nao. It culminates at the summit of Mulhacén (3,477 m), in the Sierra Nevada.
The coastal plain is narrow, rarely exceeding 32 km wide. The Mediterranean coast is the steepest. Large port sites are rare, except for the port of Barcelona. Spain’s highest point is in the Canary Islands, at the top of Teide Peak (3,715 m), on the island of Tenerife.