- Many different groups of people have settled in Spain throughout history, including Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Celts, Basques, and the Moors (Muslims who came from North Africa).
- The quill pen is thought to have originated in Spain about 1,400 years ago.
- The most enduring contribution of Spain to the world is its language, which was imported to the Americas with the expansion of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. Now, more than 400 million people speak Spanish in 22 countries, including 35 million who speak it in the United States.
- Since the Pyrenees Mountains were such a significant barrier in the north, and Spain is just 9 miles from Morocco in the south, Spain shares much of its early history with Africa.
- The Iberian Peninsula was one of several refuges during the last ice age, so it was largely from Spain that northern Europe was repopulated after the ice age ended.
- Famous Spaniards include Seneca, Hadrian, Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Salvador Dalí, El Greco, Pablo Picasso, Francisco de Goya, Jose Carreras, and Plácido Domingo.
The construction is one of the best-preserved elevated Roman aqueducts in the world
- The ancient Roman Aqueduct of Segovia in Spain was built in the 1st century A.D. and still supplies water to the city.
- In 1603, Spanish sailor Gabriel de Castilla (1577-1620) became the first man ever to see Antarctica.
- Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (1499-1543) discovered California.
- Spanish sailor Juan Sebastián Elcano (1476-1526) was the first man to circumnavigate the world.
- Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa (1475-1519) was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.
- The first novel, Tirant lo Blanc (1490), was written by Spanish author Joanot Martorell (1413-1468). Translated as Tirant the White, it played an important role in the development of the Western novel.
- The Phoenicians who entered Spain in the 8th century B.C. called the peninsula Span or “the hidden land.”
- The official language of Spain is Castilian Spanish (74%), though Catalan (17%) Galician (7%), and Basque (2%) are also spoken.
- Tomás de Torquemada (1420-1498) was the first Grand Inquisitor in the Spanish Inquisition. His name has been associated with the Inquisition’s horror, fanaticism, and bigotry. Ironically, he was a descendent of a converso, or someone who had converted to Christianity from Judaism or Islam. In 1832, his tomb was raided and his bones were stolen and burned.
- During the last ice age, most of Europe was covered in glaciers, but most of Spain was far enough south to escape the ice. Consequently, plants that were wiped out across Europe survived in Spain. Europe as a whole has 9,000 plant species; there are over 8,000 plant species in Spain alone, with 2,000 of them being unique to the country.
- The official name of Spain is the Kingdom of Spain.
I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain.
- George Orwell
- Spanish inventor Manuel Jalón Corominas (1925-2011) invented the mop in 1956.
- Spanish sailor and engineer Isaac Peral (1851-1895) designed the first fully operative military submarine.
- Spanish surgeon and scientist Miguel Servet (1511-1553) was the first European to describe pulmonary circulation.
- Spanish double agent Joan Pujol Garcia is perhaps the only person ever to receive an Iron Cross from both the British and the Germans. Code named Garbo, he played an important role in the success of D-Day at the end of WWII.
- Spain is home to a type of tailless monkey, the macaque, which is the only type of wild monkey that lives in Europe.
- The Moors, who ruled Spain for 800 years, introduced new scientific techniques to Europe, such as an astrolabe, a device for measuring the position of the stars and planets. At its height, Córdoba, the heart of Moorish territory in Spain, was the most modern city in Europe, with streetlights and running water.
- The famous Spanish poem Cantar del mio Çid tells the story of the legendary El Cid, a Spanish hero in the war between the Christians and Moors. The poem was based on a real man, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1043-1099). He actually was a mercenary who fought on both sides. His name “El Cid” comes from the Arabic al sayyid meaning “the lord.”
- Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe after France and the second most mountainous after Switzerland.
The reddish resin is used to stain Stradivarius violins
- On the Canary Islands lives the dragon tree, which was once thought to be the source of dragon’s blood because its orange fruit contains a thick, red liquid. On the island of Tenerife, the oldest and tallest dragon tree reaches 70 feet high.
- In 1478, the Pope gave the Spanish King, Ferdinand V, power to initiate the Spanish Inquisition, during which people were tortured to prove they were true Christians. Thousands of converts fled Spain as the Inquisition spread fear across Europe. During the first 50 years of the Inquisition, 5,000 people were executed. The Inquisition was finally abolished in 1834.
- In 1492, Ferdinand V of Aragon and Queen Isabella paid for Christopher Columbus to explore the west in search of a new route to India. Columbus landed on one of the islands of the Bahamas by mistake. His mistake made Spain one of the richest nations in the world for a time.
- In 1588, the king of Spain sent 133 ships (the Armada) to England. Almost half of the ships sank in stormy weather or while fighting the British navy. It was a significant defeat for Spain and marked the beginning of the end of Spain’s global power.
- The largest producer of olive oil, Spain accounts for 45% of the world’s total olive oil production.
- In 2012, the population of Spain was 47,042,984, making it the 27th most populous country in the world and the 5th most populous nation in Europe.
- Spain is divided into 17 regions. Fifteen of the regions are on the mainland of Spain. The other two regions are island groups. The Balearic Islands lie off Spain’s eastern coast. The Canary Islands are off the western coast of Morocco.
- The oldest known cave painting is found in the Cave of El Castillo in northern Spain. There researchers have found a faint red dot that is thought to be over 40,000 years old. The second-oldest known cave art is in France. The Cave of Altamira near Santander, Spain, is also known as the “Sistine Chapel” of cave painting.
- The outer castle wall of the Moorish palace Alhambra (literally “the red one”) at Granada is one of Spain’s architectural masterpieces. Alhambra was the seat of Muslim rulers from the 13th century to the end of the 15th century. The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has inspired many stories and songs.
- In 2006, 58 million tourists visited Spain and its islands. Foreign tourists spent $51 billion in 2006. Spain is the second most visited country in the world after France.
Spain is one of the most visited countries in the world
- Philip III expelled the Moriscos (Christians of Moorish ancestry) between 1609 and 1614. The Moriscos had significantly contributed much to Spain economically. After he expelled them, his reign saw the decline of Spain as a great European power.
- The estimated annual cost of desertification in Spain due to climate change and pool land use is $200 million.
- The Basques in Spain were great warriors and the only people in Spain who never totally came under control of the Romans. Some Basque separatist groups are currently fighting for complete independence from Spain. The Basque region in Spain is one of most prosperous.
- Muslims founded the first Spanish university at Valencia in 1209.
- Enrollment at Spain’s universities more than doubled from 692,000 in 1982 to 1,540,596 in 2001.
- The Moors occupied Spain for 800 years; consequently, over 4,000 Arabic words and Arabic-derived phrases have been absorbed into the Spanish language. Words beginning with “al,” for example, are derived from Arabic. The Moors were also advanced in medicine, science, and astronomy, and Arabic words such as algebra, alcohol, chemistry, nadir, alkaline, and cipher entered the language. Even words such as checkmate, influenza, typhoon, orange, and cable can be traced back to Arabic origins.
- Spain was neutral in WWI and WWII but experienced a civil war (1936-1939) which killed over 500,000 people. The victorious General Francisco Franco ruled as a brutal dictator until his death in 1975. After his defeat, Spain began to transform itself into a modern, industrial, and democratic European nation.
- A common expression in Spain, Ojalá (o-ha-LAH), meaning “I hope that” or “So it may come to pass,” derives from the Muslim war cry Wa Allah. The expression Si Dios quiere (see dee-OS kee-AY=reh) is similar to the common Arabic expression Insha’Allah (EN-sha ahl-LAH). Many Spanish cities (such as those that begin with “al”) have Arabic origins, such as Almeria, Albarracin, and Alicante.
- Spain and Portugal provide most of the world’s cork. Cork trees flourish in the dry Meseta region in Spain.
Spain sells over 3 billion corks per year
- The total area of Spain is 505,370 sq. km, which makes it the 52nd largest country in the world. It is slightly more than twice the size of Oregon. It is Europe’s third-largest nation.
- Spain is one of the most decentralized democracies in Europe. Each of its 17 regions manages its own school, hospitals, and other public services.
- Under Islamic law in Spain during the Middle Ages, Christians and Jews were considered dhimmi, which allowed them to practice their religion as “people of the book” but they had to pay a special tax.
- The etymology of “Spain” is unknown. Some historians believe it derives from the Punic word for “rabbit,” Ispanihad. Other historians note that the ancient Romans called Spain Hesperia ultima, or “the ultimate west.” Additionally, the name might derive from the Basque word Ezpanna meaning “edge” or “border.” And still yet, some historians claim that the term is from the Phoenician spy, meaning “to forge metal.”
- When a child loses a tooth in Spain, a small mouse called “Ratoncito Pérez” leaves a surprise under the pillow.
- Spain legalized same sex marriage in 2005.
- There are no laws against public nudity in Spain.
- Spain has the lowest age of consent for sexual activity in Europe at 13 years old. Both Malta and Turkey have the highest at 18.
- Along with El Greco (1541-1612) and Francisco José de Goya (1746-1828), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is one of Spain’s most famous artists. One of his most famous paintings is Guernica, which depicts an air attack during the Spanish Civil War.
- Penelope Cruz was the first Spanish actor to win an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in the 2008 romance comedy-drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
- Long after primitive horses became extinct in the Western Hemisphere, Spanish conquistadors introduced the horses we know today. Christopher Columbus (who is actually Italian) and Hernán Cortés are just two of the explorers who brought horses to the Americas. Today the Andalusian, also known as Pure Spanish Horse, is known around the world for its beauty and athletic ability.
The Spanish horse is known for its intelligence, docility, and beauty
- Tipping is not common in Spain, especially for cheap dinners.
- In March 2012, Spain’s high-class prostitutes refused to have sex with the nation’s bankers until they opened credit lines to cash-strapped families.
- In 2010, the U.S. State Department reported that 200,000-400,000 women worked in prostitution in Spain. The report said that 90% were trafficked. The Criminal Code of Spain does not address prostitution itself, but some activities associated with prostitution, such as pimping, are illegal. In other words, prostitution is essentially legal in Spain.
- Spain’s national sport is fútbol, or soccer.
- The name “Madrid” is from the Arabic magerit, which means “place of many streams.”
- One of the country’s best known works of fiction is the novel Don Quixote, written by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). The novel has inspired a wide range of literary movements, from the 18th century picturesque to 21st century postmodernism.
- The Spaniards invented a diving bell in 1538. It was a bell-shaped device made of leather and metal and was lowered over the person to keep the water out.
- Spain has many festivals, and one of the most famous is the Running of Bulls. It occurs on St. Fermin’s Day in July in the northern town of Pamplona. Over 1 million people attend the festival. Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises introduced the festival on a wider scale in the United States.
On November 16, 2010, UNESCO declared flamenco one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
- The most popular type of music in Spain is the Flamenco. Flamenco is thought to have been developed by the Moors who brought it to Spain from North Africa in the early A.D. 700s. It has been influenced by Andalusian, Islamic, Sephardic, and Gypsy cultures.
- La Tomatina, or “The World’s Biggest Food Fight,” is held every year on the last Wednesday of August in the town of Buñol, outside of Valencia. Over 150,000 tomatoes are thrown.
- Spain has a huge contrast in rainfall between the wet regions of the northwest and the arid areas elsewhere. Consequently, Spain is divided into “wet” and “dry” Spain. La Coruña, for example, receives more than 39 inches of rain per year. In contrast, cities such as Zaragoza and Valladolid receive less than 12 inches of rain per year.
- Spain has some of the largest gold deposits in Europe. It is also one of the world's biggest producers of granite and marble.
- While Spain relies on imports for most of its oil and for 50% of its coal, the country has uranium deposits, and in 1999 nuclear power accounted for 29.5% of the country’s electricity. It also is investing in sustainable forms of energy such as solar and wind. Spain is one of the most advanced countries in Europe in developing wind farms.
- The Rio Tinto River in Spain is so polluted by toxic pollution from 5,000 years of mining that it contains little to no life.
- Spain had one of the fastest growing populations in Europe in the early 1980s. In 2000, Spain had the lowest average birth rate of any country in the world, at just 1.19 children per woman. It is predicted that around 300,000 immigrants need to enter Spain each year to balance the declining number of young people.
- Spain is the least densely populated country in Europe, with just 202 inhabitants per square mile.
- There are over 500,000 Gypsies currently living in Spain, with nearly half of them living in the south. Gypsies are thought to have originated in India in the 15th century. Many Gypsies have moved to urban Spanish areas, though a large number still follow the Gypsy tradition of traveling constantly.
- The Spanish often use gestures with, or to substitute for, words. Flicking the teeth with the thumbnail, wiggling fingers from the nose, and grabbing the left arm with the right while making a left-handed fist are all thought to be offensive. Tapping the left elbow with the right hand is a sign that someone is a penny pincher. Pulling down the lower eyelid while someone is talking means that the listener doubts what the speaker is saying. Holding up both the little and index fingers with the knuckles facing outward in front of a man signals that his wife or girlfriend is being unfaithful.
- There are fewer marriages in Spain than in any other EU country except Sweden. Additionally, the age at which people first marry has increased (which is typical of the rest of Europe).
Bullfighting was originally a sport for the aristocracy
- Bullfighting has been a popular sport in Spain for thousands of years. Called corridas, bullfights are considered either a contest of art and skill or a cruel sport.
- Spain has a very low divorce rate, and few children are born outside of marriage. Just 5% of children are born to couples that are not married in Spain. In contrast, the number is 50% in Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.
- In 1993, just 1.7% of student enrollment for technical institutes and colleges were women. In 2000, it was up to 40%.
- For nearly 500 years Roman Catholicism was the official religion of Spain. It ceased to be the official religion of Spain in 1977. Around 85% of Spanish consider themselves Catholic and 40% go to church regularly. There are around 350,000 Protestants, 400,000 Muslims, and 15,000 Jews.
- Traditionally, Spanish women keep their maiden name after marriage. For example, if Eva García Piñedo married Carlos Hernández Rio, she may keep her own name, (García Piñedo). She could also be known as Señora de Hernández Río. In Latin America, she might also be called Eva García Piñedo de Hernández. The de (“day”) means, literally, that Eva is “of” her husband. The last name of their children would be Hernandez García. In the next generation, the mother’s maiden name would be dropped.
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2Daley, Suzanne. “In Spain, Women Enslaved by a Boom in Brothel Tourism.” The New York Times. April 6, 2012. Accessed: August 24, 2012.
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4Moran, Lee. “A National Sex Strike!” UK Mail Online. March 27, 2012. Accessed: August 24, 2012.
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8Tagliabue, John. “Too Much of Sweeping View Nudges Barcelona to Shed Law.” The New York Times. April 12, 2011. Accessed: August 24, 2012.