The People

Argentina had a population of 36,260,130 in 2001. Most Argentines are native born of European extraction—mainly the descendants of late-19th- and early-20th-century Spanish and Italian immigrants. Foreign-born residents—mainly Europeans—accounted for some 4 per cent of the population; the rest (less than 3 per cent) consisted principally of mestizos (of mixed European and Indian cultures) and Indians.

The nation's overall population density is about 34 persons per square mile (13 per km2). Large tracts of Argentina, particularly in Patagonia and the Andes, are almost uninhabited. Migration from rural areas has greatly swelled the city populations since the 1940's.

The Buenos Aires metropolitan area had a population of 11,453,725.

Religion and Language

More than 90 per cent of the population is Roman Catholic, and the Roman Catholic faith is supported by the state. There are small Protestant and Jewish minorities.

The official language of Argentina is Spanish. Other widely spoken languages are English, Italian, German, and French.

Education

Schooling is free, secular, and compulsory from age 6 to 14. Primary and secondary schools, universities, and other institutions of higher learning are maintained by the government. In addition, there are private schools at all levels. The illiteracy rate, less than 10 per cent, is one of the lowest in Latin America.

There are more than 30 universities in Argentina. The government maintains a number of national universities; the National University of Cordoba, founded in 1613, is the oldest. Most of the private universities are Roman Catholic. There are also specialized colleges and institutes, and schools of art and music.

Culture

The Spanish conquistadores brought their own traditions and the heritage of the Roman Catholic Church to Argentina. During the colonial period, these fused with some elements of the native Indian culture to produce a distinctive folk music, mission architecture, and religious art. After unification of Argentina in the mid-19th century, a distinctly Argentine culture began to evolve. Like the population, it was cosmopolitan (with Spanish, Italian, and French influences predominating), yet strongly nationalistic.

A dominant theme in much Argentine poetry, prose, music, and art is the life of the gaucho. The cowboy who roamed the vast grassy Pampas during the early days came to be a romantic symbol of the spirit of the Argentine nation—self-sufficient, proud, confident.

The cultural capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires. Located here are the Coln Theater, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the National Conservatory of Music.

Sports and Recreation

The national spectator sport is horse racing, and Argentina has become a world-famous racing center. Soccer and polo are favorite team sports.

Another favorite Argentine recreation is the fiesta, or festival. Holidays and major saints' days are occasions for celebration. One of the major festivals is the annual pre-Lenten carnival.