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A map of SpainA map of Spain Spain shares the Iberian peninsula with Portugal. The Pyrenees mountain range forms a natural border with France. Off Spain's southern tip is the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa narrows to about 14 kilometres (9 miles). In the centre of Spain, there is a plateau called the Meseta. It is rimmed by mountain ranges, called sierras, and cut through by great rivers, including the Ebro, Tagus (Tajo), Duero and Guadiana. Spain also includes the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, and two tiny enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, on the North African coast.

A map of SpainA map of Spain
The Puppy and Guggenheim Museum, BilbaoThe Puppy and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao


Spain is ruled by a constitutional monarchy: the monarch's powers are restricted, while the country is effectively governed by a parliament with an elected prime minister. The country is organized into what is known as an Estado de las Autonomías ("State of Autonomies"). It is divided into 17 self-governing regions, each of which looks after its own public services, such as schools and hospitals. The regions are: Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile and León, Castile-La Mancha, Catalonia, Madrid, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Navarra, Murcia and Valencia.

Spain was the first European power to have an overseas empire. Its fortunes began when Christopher Columbus's expedition, backed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, reached the Americas in 1492.

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