Through exploration and conquest, Spain became a world power in the 16th century, and it maintained a vast overseas empire until the early 19th century.
Spain's modern history is marked by the bitterly fought Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, and the ensuing 36-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
After Franco's death in 1975, Spain made the transition to a democratic state and built a successful economy, with King Juan Carlos as head of state.
The constitution of 1978 enshrines respect for linguistic and cultural diversity within a united Spain. The country is divided into 17 regions which all have their own directly elected authorities.