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Flag of SpainSpain occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula, the nearest European landmass to Africa: it is separated from Morocco by the Straits of Gibraltar and has both an Atlantic and a Mediterranean coastline. Portugal is on Spain’s western side and is divided from France by the Pyrenees mountains. The Canary Islands in the Atlantic and the Balearic Islands, in the Mediterranean, are Spanish.

Madrid is the capital city. Other important cities are Barcelona, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada and Valencia.

Spain is mountainous; some of the land is semi-desert and the country has a long coastline which borders the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Its largest rivers are the Ebro, Duero, Guadalquivir, Guadiana and Tagus. The climate is varied, with snow in the mountains and extremes of heat and cold in the central region. Drought is a particular problem in many areas.

The variety of the landscape is reflected in its flora: among Spain’s trees are pines, cork-oak trees and beech trees; flowering plants include orchids, gentians, lavender and rosemary.

Spain’s native animals are relatively small: deer, ibex, tortoises, bats, snakes (including a venomous viper) and other small creatures though a small number of bears, wolves and lynxes remain. The native birds are vultures, eagles, kites, bustards, storks, flamingoes. Many other species stop off on their migration route from Europe to Africa.

Many national parks, protected areas and reserves have been established over the years. These include the World Heritage sites of Donana National Park and Garajonay National Park. Mont Perdu in the Pyrenees is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In addition, forty-nine sites are designated by Ramsar as Wetlands of International Importance and thirty-three sites are UNESCO MAB Biosphere Reserves. (2006)

Spain’s colonizers have left their architectural mark on the country. The Roman Aqueduct in Segovia is one of the key buildings in Spain’s architectural heritage.

Moorish architecture can be seen at the Alhambra palace outside Granada. Moorish influence continued, even in religious buildings, for example, in Toledo while the mosque at Cordoba, famous for its red and white Moorish arches became the city’s cathedral.

Spain has many well preserved examples of religious architecture which are on the World Heritage List: monasteries, churches and cathedrals.

Today modern buildings stand alongside the old. One of the best known examples of early twentieth century Spanish architecture is Antonio Gaudi’s Temple de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. A number of buildings in Gaudi’s characteristic style are also on the World Heritage List.

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