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Brief history of Spain:
From the 8th century until the late 15th century, Spain was invaded and occupied by Muslim warriors (Moors) from North Africa. An invasion was relatively easy to manage as the North African country of Morocco is only 13 km (8 miles) from Spain at its closest point (see Map of Spain). The Muslim controlled territory was known as Al-Andalus and covered most of what is now known as Spain and Portugal. The last Muslim leader was defeated in 1492. However, much of the Muslim culture remains, for example the stunning Mosque of Mezquita in Córdoba.

In 1492, the same year that the Spain sent Christopher Columbus to America, Spain also implemented the Alhambra Decree and sent hundreds of thousands of Jews and Muslims out of the country. Those that did not leave were converted to Christianity and many of these were targeted by the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834) which persecuted Jews, Muslims and Protestants.

Though Spain was one of the few European countries that avoided devastation during World War I and II, a terrible civil war in 1936 took a huge toll and left the dictator Francisco Franco in control. Franco’s tight grip on the country left the economy in shambles. Following his death in 1975, Spain developed rapidly and it has made up for lost time. Based on GDP Spain is now the 5th largest market in Europe and the 9th richest country in the world.

Special notes:
Throughout most of Spanish history, the Basque Country (now Basque Province), in the North of Spain, and Catalonia, on the East coast (or Mediterranean coast) of Spain were not part of the kingdom or the country. These areas often had a great deal of autonomy or were even considered separate countries or territories. The Basque and Catalonian languages are very different from Spanish, the origins of the people are different, their culture is different and their economies are much more industrialized. However, after several wars these areas lost their autonomy although many nationalists continue a struggle for independence from Spain. ETA is an organization of Basque loyalists which has been responsible for kidnapping and bombings in order to win independence for the region. A ceasefire that was in effect for several years was officially ended in 2007.

Gibraltar to the south of Spain is territory of Britain. This has caused tension between Britain and Spain, which wants Gibraltar returned. After a few referendums in which the residents of Gibraltar resoundingly rejected change, the city remains a part of Britain. Directly across the strait of Gibraltar, in North Africa is the Spanish city of Ceuta. Morocco feels the same way about Ceuta as Spain feels about Gibraltar.

Ceuta and Melilla are two Spanish cities located in mainland Africa. They can be reached by ferry from the Spanish port of Algeciras.

Maps
Map of Spain
Map of Europe

Transportation
From inside Europe the most common form of transportation to Spain is airplane or train. There are several discount airlines that call Spain home and this helps to make flights to Spain inexpensive.

The train system in Spain is very good. The Ave Lines connect Madrid-Cordova-Seville. This efficient and modern train can get you from Madrid to Cordoba in 1 hour 45 minutes or Madrid to Seville in 2 hours 30 minutes. However Spanish train stations can be confusing. Different destinations may be served by different systems and each system sells its own tickets. If you get in the wrong line, you may have a long wait for nothing. In major stations you can usually find information booths where English is spoken. If not, write your destination down on a piece of paper and point. You will be directed to the correct ticket agent.

General Information

* Capital City: Madrid
* Languages: Spanish is spoken by everyone (though other official languages include Catalan, Galician, Basque and Aranes). In touristic areas English may be spoken. However, at this time, language knowledge is not high with the Spanish population. If you do not speak Spanish, you may find it difficult to communicate with the locals.
* Size: Spain is a relatively large country. With over 500,000 M2. For comparison Spain is smaller than France and larger than Germany. Spain is smaller than Texas but larger than California.
* Population: with about 45 million people Spain is the 5th largest European country, behind Germany, UK, France and Italy.
* Money: The official currency of Spain is the Euro. Other currencies such as the US Dollar are not generally accepted, however exchange booths and ATMs are widely available.
* Visas: US citizens do not require visas only a valid passport. Schengen visas, accepted by many European countries are valid here. For information about visas to Spain, contact the Spanish Embassy or Consulate nearest you.
* Religion: Over 75% of the population is Catholic, about 3% are Muslim, about 1% are Jewish and 1% Protestant.

Key Cities of Interest:

When is the best time to travel to Spain?

As can be seen from the chart below, the summer months are warmer and dryer in Madrid.  In the months from Autumn to Spring, temperatures can be cool and rain/snow are common. Madrid has very different climate from the southern coastal regions or the Baleric Islands, which are often much warmer and dryer. However, in the off-season tourist infrastructure, such as functioning hotels and restaurants can be minimal in these areas. The only area Spain which has good tourist infrastructure and warm climate year round are the Canary Islands.

So if your prime destination in Spain is Madrid or Barcelona, you can find plenty of hotels and restaurants year-round, but prepare for cool and wet weather from October to May. If your prime destination is the tourist resort areas in the southern coast or the Baleric islands, you may find the weather to be somewhat better than Madrid, but the majority of hotels and restaurants may be closed in the off-peak months.  In the Canary Islands you can usually find good weather and plenty of hotels and restaurants operating year round. But book early because the best hotels can fill up during peak seasons.  

Climate Averages for Madrid, Spain from World Meteorological Organization
(Values are averages, Temp Max is the average of the highest temps for the month).
   Jan  Feb Mar  Apr   May  June  July  Aug  Sept  Oct Nov   Dec
 Sun hours/day  5  6 6 8 9  11  12  11  9  6  5  5
 Temp Max C  10  12  16  18   21  27 32   31  26  19 13  10 
 Temp Min C  3  4  6  11  15  18  18  15  10  6  4
 Rain mm  37  35  26  47  52 25   15  10  28 49   56  56
 Rainy Days  9  9  7  11  12  7  3  3  5  9  9  11

Canary Islands