Flags Spain regions

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Spain is more a subcontinent than a country, and its climate, geography, and history produced a state that was little more than a federation of regions until Philip V, a grandson of Louis XIV, brought the centralization of the Bourbon monarchy to the country in the eighteenth century (see Bourbon Spain, ch. 1). Modernday Spain contains a number of identifiable regions, each with its own set of cultural, economic, and political characteristics. In many instances, the loyalty of a population is still primarily to its town or region, and only secondarily to the abstract concept of "Spain." Administratively, Spain is organized into seventeen autonomous communities comprising fifty provinces (see fig. 7). However, when an autonomous community is made up of only one province, provinccial institutions have been transferred to the autonomous community.

On the map, the Iberian Peninsula resembles a slightly distorted square with the top bent toward the east and spread wide where it joins the rest of Europe. In the center lies the densely populated Spanish capital, Madrid, surrounded by the harsh, sparsely populated Meseta Central. King Philip II made Madrid the capital of Castile (Spanish, Castilla) in the sixteenth century, partly because its remoteness made it an uncontroversial choice (see Charles V and Philip II, ch. 1). The city, surrounded by a demographic desert, in the late 1980s was still regarded by many Spaniards as an "artificial" capital even though it had long been established as the political center of the country.

Around the periphery of the peninsula are the peoples that have competed with Castilians for centuries over control of Iberia: in the west, the Portuguese (the only group successful in establishing its own state in 1640); in the northwest, the Galicians; along the northern coast of the Bay of Biscay, the Asturians; and, as the coast nears France, the Basques; along the Pyrenees, the Navarrese and the Aragonese; in the northeast, the Catalans; in the east, the Valencians; and in the south, the Andalusians. Although most of these peoples would decline to identify themselves first, foremost, and solely as "Spanish, " few of them would choose to secede from Spain. Even among Basques, whose separatist sentiment ran deepest in the late 1980s, those advocating total independence from Spain probably comprised only one-fifth of the ethnic Basque population. Whereas culture provided the centrifugal force, economic ties linked the regions together more closely than an outsider might conclude from their rhetoric.

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