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Spain is situated in south western Europe. It occupies the Iberian Peninsula and is bathed by the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Cantabrian Sea. It also includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Its total surface area is 504,788 sq. kms. Spain's powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries ultimately yielded command of the seas to England. Subsequent failure to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions caused the country to fall behind Britain, France, and Germany in economic and political power. Spain remained neutral in World Wars I and II, but suffered through a devastating Civil War (1936-39). In the second half of the 20th century, it has played a catch-up role in the western international community. Continuing concerns are large-scale unemployment and the Basque separatist movement.
The diversity and contrast that go to mould the character of Spain are likewise in evidence in its cities. Celts, Iberians, Phoenicians and, at a later date, the Greco-Roman civilisation laid the first cornerstones of urban settlements which, to this day, bear the marks of their passage through time.
During the Middle Ages, Arabic, Jewish and Christian cultures, singly and through a process of mutual cross-influence, gave rise to the birth of cities which have come to house an historical-artistic heritage of incalculable proportions.
Tradition alone does not suffice. Modernity too is essential, and this was something certain Spanish monarchs –Charles III for one– managed to successfully apply during their reigns in order to beautify townscapes, like that of Madrid, with parks and landmark monuments, thereby instilling the city with a spirit of renewal. It was this element of urban renewal that became even more evident at a later date, in the form of townplans designed to extend and enlarge the leading cities, and the construction of graceful buildings which, in keeping with the shifts and changes in architectural tastes, have helped shape the identity of Spain’s cities over the last two hundred years.
This contrast is also to be seen in the individual heartbeat of Spain’s cities, where surroundings, climate and daily lifestyles harmonise to lend each its own typical character and atmosphere. Some reveal to us a testimony to a glorious past and a monumental heritage; others, an exuberance of light and colour; and others still, the mysteries of wreathing morning mists and a horizon mantled in eternal green. Whether cosmopolitan or provincial, locked in time or flourishing and go-ahead, they are fascinating in the wide spectrum of realities and possibilities that they hold out to all who visit them and enjoy their warm hospitality.

The country’s two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona, are further evidence of this diversity. Madrid is open and endearing. Bustling, unpretentious, its old quarter is a winding maze of simple harmony, surrounded by elegant civic buildings, parks and boulevards, landmarks of the modern city. A byword in art thanks to its galleries and museums, it enjoys a well-earned reputation as being an open-hearted city where all newcomers can be sure of finding a niche and a warm welcome, a city where the most disparate trends and attitudes somehow manage to co-exist. Barcelona is the Mediterranean metropolis par excellence and yet at the same time open to all cultural influences flowing in from beyond the Pyrenees. Its harbour and commerce have served to foster the city’s prosperity over hundreds of years, while its well-ordered and symmetrical town grid has given us quarters of unrivalled beauty, such as the Gothic Quarter, Las Ramblas and the modernist Paseo de Gracia. Site of the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona underwent a thorough facelift, with the result that it is today an elegant and harmonious city, waiting to be enjoyed to the maximum.

(Information courtesy of Turespana)

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