In the last 60 years Spain has undergone more social change than anywhere else in western Europe. Until the 1950s, Spain was predominantly a poor, rural country, in which only 37 per cent of the population lived in towns of over 10,000 people. By the 1990s, the figure was 65 per cent. As people flooded into towns and cities many rural areas became depopulated. The 1960s saw the beginning of spec tacular economic growth, partly due to a burgeoning tourist industry. In that decade, car ownership increased from 1 in 100 to 1 in 10.
After the death of dictator General Franco in 1975 Spain became a constitutional monarchy under King Juan Carlos I. The post-Franco era, up until the mid-1990s, was dominated by the Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González. As well as presiding over major improvements in roads, education and health services, the Socialists increased Spain’s international standing. The PSOE could not continue forever, however, and in 1996 revelations of a series of scandals lost the PSOE the election. Spain joined the European Community in 1986, triggering a spectacular increase in the country’s prosperity. The country’s fortunes seemed to peak in the extraordinary year of 1992, when Barcelona staged the Olympic Games and Seville hosted a world fair, Expo 92.
With the establishment of democracy, the 17 autonomous regions of Spain have acquired considerable powers. Several have their own languages, which are officially given equal importance to Spanish (strictly called Castilian). A significant number of Basques favour independence, and the Basque terrorist group ETA is a constant thorn in the side of Spanish democracy.
During the 1980s Spain enjoyed an economic boom as service industries and manufacturing expanded. Even so, GDP remains below the EU average, and growth halted in 2009’s economic downturn. Agriculture is an important industry but while it is highly developed in some regions, it is inefficient in others. Tourism provides approximately ten per cent of the country’s earnings. Most tourists still come for beaches. But increasingly, foreign visitors are drawn by Spain’s rich cultural heritage and spectacular countryside. Anyone who knows this country, however, will tell you that it is the Spanish people’s capacity to enjoy life to the full that is Spain’s biggest attraction.
A farmer with his crop of maize hanging to dry on the outside of his house in the hills of Alicante
Beach near Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava
King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía
Demonstration for Catalan independence