High plateaux and mountain ranges such as the Pyrenees and the Sierra Nevada dominate mainland Spain. Running from these heights are several major rivers such as the Ebro, the Duero, the Tagus and the Guadalquivir. The Balearic Islands lie offshore in the Mediterranean, while the autonomous Canary Islands are off the African coast.
Spain is a constitutional monarchy, with a hereditary monarch and a parliament with two chambers: the Cortes. The 1978 constitution values linguistic and cultural diversity within a united Spain. The country is divided into 17 autonomous communities (regions) which all have their own directly elected authorities. In Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, the regional languages have official status alongside the national Spanish language, which is also called Castilian.
Spain’s service and manufacturing sectors are strong, while agriculture (especially fruits and vegetables, olive oil and wine) and tourism are also very profitable.
From Velázquez in the 17th century, through Goya in the 18th and 19th, to Picasso, Dali and Miro in the 20th, Spain has a rich artistic culture. Spanish Flamenco music and dance are widely admired around the world while Cervantes’ novel, “Don Quixote,” is a landmark of modern European literature. Spanish film directors such as Pedro Almodóvar, Alejandro Amenábar and Luis Buñuel have received several international prizes.
Spanish cuisine is known for its paella (a rice dish with chicken, seafood and vegetables), tortilla (omelette with potatoes) and sangria (red wine served with fruit).