It can be difficult for the newly arrived in Spain to get to grips with the number of different laws and what can seem to be a never-ending battle with bureaucracy here. The arrangements for many aspects of life are perhaps complicated by the fact that it’s not only Spain that makes decisions about what you should and shouldn’t do, the part of it where you live does as well. Perhaps a little like by-laws in England but with more power to the elbow.
Spain has a high degree of regional autonomy. To begin with, there are 17 autonomous communities in Spain and 2 autonomous cities. The autonomous communities are led by regional governments who are responsible for education, health, social services, culture, urban and rural development and in some cases, policing. Andalucia has the largest population but Castilla y León has the largest area of land. Asturias is famous for its seafood whilst Catalonia is home to Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city.
So what does this mean for you? Spain is, in fact, a very de-centralised country. This can be confusing and means that you cannot generalise across regions. What might be acceptable in one region might not be in another. It can feel as though you are living within a multitude of layers that includes municipalities, provinces and regions and finding your place within the structure is not always easy.
However, it also means that there is a high degree of local control. Laws are made and influenced locally and highlight the very unique character that many of these regions have. Finding out more about the different communities can help you get to grips with Spain’s unusual patchwork whilst also embracing the country as a whole.
A tale of communities and provinces
The autonomous communities are usually made up of two or more provinces which are then further divided into municipalities. For example:
Autonomous community = Valencia
Province = Alicante
Municipality = Torrevieja
Language = Valenciano as well as Castellano
Each community has its own flag and coat of arms.
|Autonomous Community||Provinces||Main cities and languaje(in addition to Castellano|
|Andalucía||Is the second largest of the communities in terms of area of land. It is divided into eight provinces which include Almería, Córdoba, Cádiz, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla.||Sevilla is the capital|
|Aragón||Has three provinces – Huesca, Teruel and Zaragoza|
Zaragoza is the capital
|Asturias||Has just one province|
Oviedo is the regional capital
There is an Asturian language but it has no co-official status
|Baleares||Consists of Menorca, Mallorca, Ibiza, Formentera and Cabrera|
The capital is Palma
Catalan is also an official language here
|Basque country (also known as Euskadi and País Vasco)||Has three provinces – Álava, Viscaya, Gipuzkoa|
The capital is Vitoria-Gasteiz
|Cantabria||Mainly a mountainous region with just one province||Santander is the capital|
|Cataluña||Has four provinces of which Barcelona is the biggest in terms of population. The others include Girona, Lleida and Tarragona.|
Barcelona City is the capital
Catalan and Aranese are also recognised as official languages
|Castilla – La Mancha||This is the third largest community and has five provinces Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Guadalajara and Toledo This is the third largest community and has five provinces Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Guadalajara and Toledo.||Toledo is the capital|
|Castilla y León||This is the largest of the 17 autonomous communities and includes 9 provinces||Valladolid is the capital|
|Melilla||This is an autonomous city rather than community and is actually a tiny peninsula in the far northwest of the African continent|
|Extremadura||Has two provinces – Cáceres and Badajoz||The regional capital is Mérida|
|Galicia||Has four provinces La Coruña, Pontevedra, Ourense and Lugo.||The capital is Santiago de Compostela. Galician is also an official language here.|
|La Rioja||One of the smallest communities, it only has one province||Logroño City is the capital|
|Las Islas Canarias||There are two provinces – Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The islands include Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro||Capital status is shared between Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria|
|Madrid||It is made up of one province, which is, of course, Madrid||Madrid is the capital of the autonomous community, the country and the province|
|Ceuta||This is an autonomous city rather than community and is also in the North of Africa||Situated on the shores of the Strait of Gibraltar|
|Murcia||Has only one province||Murcia is the capital|
|Navarra||Navarra was an independent kingdom originally and consists of only one province|
Pamplona is the capital
There are three provinces:
The capital is Valencia city
The Valencian language has co-official status.