Located in Southwestern Europe, the main body of Spain is a country that stands at the crossroads of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, Europe and Africa. Spain 's borders include the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, as noted above, but also the Bay of Biscay, the Pyrenees Mountains, France, Portugal, and Andorra. Another border includes Gibraltar -- a semi-autonomous overseas British territory, while the Spanish overseas territories of Ceuta and Melilla border Morocco.
Through exploration and conquest, Spain became the most powerful nation in Europe in the 16th century, due to the immense wealth derived from its presence in the Americas. 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 England, France, and Germany in economic and political power.
Controversy over succession to the throne consumed the country during the 18th century, leading to an occupation by France during the Napoleonic era in the early 1800s. As well, a series of long, costly wars and revolts began a steady decline of Spanish power in Europe. The 19th century saw the revolt and independence of most of Spain's colonies in the Western Hemisphere.
Spain remained neutral in World Wars I and II but suffered a bitter civil war in 1936-1939. Following the victory of his nationalist forces, General Francisco Franco ruled as dictator of Spain until his death in 1975. After Franco's death, Spain made a peaceful transition to democracy and achieved rapid economic modernization.
Spain joined the European Community, now the European Union, in January 1986. Spain's economy is dominated by the services sector, and the tourist industry holds particular importance since Spain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Today, the government continues to battle the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) terrorist organization, but its major focus for the immediate future will be on measures to reverse the severe economic recession that started in mid-2008 and to date, has seriously challenged the Spanish financial system and the country's overall economic prospects.