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Defining Spain - the North VERSUS Central & Southern SPAIN

The rain in Spain is not quite the same – defining the differences between northern, central and southern Spain

With a history spanning many centuries, defining the differences between the north, central and southern Spain is no simple task even for the Spanish themselves. It is too simplistic to assume geography and climate alone may define the country. Instead we take the Spanish view that Spain is made of many Spains each with their own identity and regional cultures.

Overall you could say that the different regions in Spain follow a few basic patterns in how they identify themselves as distinct from the rest of Spain. In the north, the less populated and slightly cooler, wilder and more mountainous regions of Galicia, León, Asturias, Cantabria, the Basque Country, Navarre, Aragon, Catalonia, and Valencia distinguish themselves through claims of historical independence and often, the presence of a native minority language. Most of these areas also claim that they were never completely conquered by the Moors, while the rest of Iberia was.

In the warmer more Mediterranean south, Andalusia, and to a lesser extent Murcia and Valencia, claim a unique regional identity through the longer-lasting presence of Morisco culture. Much of the northern regions identify with Christian kingdoms from the early Reconquista, before dynastic unions linked the provinces, the southern regions remember either the independent Moorish kingdoms from before their absorption into Christian crowns or focus on the cultural centers that had once been prominent.

In central Spain, regions have neither historical languages nor independent historical kingdoms to remember, and instead create separate identities for themselves as regions distinctly within the Castilian sphere of influence. Clearly, each region has its own specifics, and there are of course differences within regions. However, the majority of the peninsula falls into one of these three categories at any point from the Reconquista onwards.

Generally each of the present autonomous communities in Spain can be treated individually, with only minor territorial differences as one looks into the past.

Naturally, there are exceptions. The regions making up the former Crown of Aragon (Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands) can be treated with slightly more unity looking from the past than when dealing with the present. Over the past century or so, the notion of the “Catalan Countries” has taken hold.

Another significant super-region is that of Castile proper. Though the Crown of Castile encompassed many of these regions for a long time, New Castile (Castile-La Mancha and Madrid, and Old Castile (eastern Castile and León) are the only parts of the Crown of Castile which can be considered integral to nuclear Castile and which share many qualities.

The last key super-region is that of the Basque Country in its larger sense (composed of The Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, Navarre, and the Northern Basque Country which is in France. Those regions share certain similar issues and therefore can also be grouped together. The different parts of the Basque Country as a whole are fairly divided, and therefore should still be treated separately, even while grouped together. Confused? You are not alone ! 

There are also some specific divisions within a couple of the modern autonomous communities. Andalusia, the most populous and second largest autonomous community in Spain has a great deal of diversity. Though it functions as one administrative unit, Andalusia should more properly be considered a collection of distinct regions. Nearly all of the autonomous communities are, in fact, such collections, but Andalusia's regions require a bit more specific attention.

The other real subdivision which is necessary is to divide Castile and León into Old Castile and León, as they have historically different languages and kingdoms, as well as somewhat different terrain.

There are also a few regions which do not clearly fit into any of these categories. In general, they are somewhat related to Castile, yet have chosen to remain independent.

Taken as a whole Spain has such a wealth of diversity within its borders that a one size fits all approach is to seriously underestimate a truly fascinating country worthy of spending the time to discover its unique and varied jewels.

Find out for yourself. Join us on the 2 September 2017 'Ancient Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal' Tour (northern regions) or take in the centre and the south of Spain on the 14 October 2017 'Spain and Portugal in Castles & Palaces' Tour (19th consecutive year).