The Culture of Spain
During its very early time as a Visigoth Kingdom, Spain’s culture was a reflection of the deeply-held Christian values of the region’s people—values that would later be welded in the Reconquista of 1492. Moorish, or Muslim, influences were strong during the Middle Ages, and can still be seen in some of the country’s art and architecture. The language of Spain derives directly from Vulgar Latin, though there are also minor influences from both the Iberian and Celtic languages, as well as the Gothic and Arabic tongues. Religion has always been a defining element of the Spanish culture. Following the defeat of the Moors during the Christian Reconquista, a period between 1000 and 1492, Spain became an almost entirely Roman Catholic country, which it remains to this day.
The Cultural Elements of Spain
The architecture of Spain has drawn from numerous influences, thanks in large part to its historical and geographical diversity. During early times, the city of Cordoba became the cultural capital of the region; an important provincial city founded by the Romans, with an extensive Roman-era infrastructure. Early and very beautiful Arabic style architecture began to emerge during the time of the Islamic Umayyad dynasty. This would later be bolstered by new Arabic-style architecture under the successive Islamic dynasties, ending with the Nasrid, which built its renowned palace complex in the city of Granada.
In the early Middle Ages, the Christian kingdoms began to develop their own style of architecture, now known as pre-Romanesque. Later, after being exposed to the contemporary mainstream European architectural influences, these kingdoms integrated the popular Romanesque and later Gothic styles of architecture. The Gothic style flourished in Spain for decades, but later gave way to the Mudejar style of architecture, popular from the 12th to 17th century. This style, which can still be seen in scores of Spanish buildings and residences today, consists of Arab-style motifs, blended beautifully with patterns and elements of European architecture.
Today the architecture of Spain is a combination of Old World influences and contemporary modernism, a style that has produced many famous architects, including the world-renowned Antoni Gaudi. More recently, architects such as Rafael Moneo, Santiago Calatrva, and Ricardo Bofill, among others, have received international acclaim for their work, both in Europe and abroad.
Like its architecture, the literature of Spain has drawn from many influences throughout the country’s long history, again due to its historical, geographic and generational diversity. During this history, there have been several major literary movements. The development of Spanish literature intersects with that of other literary traditions from the various regions of the country, particularly Catalan literature, Galician literature and, more recently, a formal Basque literature. In its earliest form, the literature of Spain was also been influenced by Latin, Jewish, and Arabic literary traditions of the Iberian peninsula.
The most well-known Spanish author by far is Miguel de Cervantes, who penned the famous novel Don Quixote, the most emblematic work in the history of Spanish literature and a founding classic of Western literature. Other well-known Spanish authors include Felix Lope de Vega, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and Camilo José Cela.
The art of Spain has contributed greatly to the history of Western art, although the characteristics of this art have always been assessed separately from that of some of the other European schools, such as France and Italy. These differences can be partially explained by the distinct Moorish heritage in Spain, particularly in the Andalusian region, and by the political and cultural climate in Spain during the counter-Reformation and the subsequent eclipse of Spanish power under the Bourbon dynasty.
The art of Spain has varied widely throughout history and depends greatly on the artistic era in which it was created, including the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque and Modern periods. Some of Spain’s most treasured artists—artists who have greatly influenced and enhanced the Spanish culture—include Pablo Picasso (Guernica), El Greco (The Burial of Count Orgaz), Diego Velasquez (Las Meninas), Francisco Goya (The Third of May), Salvador Dali (The Persistence Of Memory), and Joan Miro (Spanish Dancer).
Cuisine plays a major role in Spanish culture, with dishes that vary depending on geographic location and climate. The cuisine is heavily influenced by the seafood available from the waters that surround the country, reflecting the country’s deep Mediterranean roots. The long and storied history of Spain has brought many cultural influences into the fold, leading to a cuisine that is not only delicious but also rather unique. Generally, the cuisine of Spain can be divided between three major geographical divisions:
- Cuisine of the Mediterranean Region. The coastal Mediterranean regions of Spain, ranging from Catalonia to Andalusia, make heavy use of the available seafood in the area, with dishes such as pescaíto frito. Rice dishes, such as paella from Valencia and the Catalonian arròs negre are also very popular, as are cold soups like gazpacho, due to the region’s warm weather.
- Inland or Center Spanish Cuisine. In the inner regions of Spain, such as Castile, hot, thick soups, such as the bread and garlic-based Castilian soup are extremely prevalent. So too are hearty substantial stews, such as cocido madrileño. Food in this region is traditionally conserved by salting, as in Spanish ham; or immersed in olive oil, like Manchego cheese.
- Cuisine of the Atlantic Region. The Northern Spanish coast, including the Asturian, Basque, Cantabarian and Galician regions, feature a unique cuisine, one characterized by vegetable and fish-based stews, such as Pote gallego and marmitako. People here also enjoy the lightly-cured lacón ham. The Northern region is best known for a cuisine relying heavily on ocean seafood, with dishes made from Basque-style cod, albacore and anchovy, or the Galician octopus-based based polbo á feira and shellfish dishes.
Since the early 20th century, sport in Spain has been dominated by English style Association football, also known as soccer. The country is home to two of the most successful and well-known football clubs in the world: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The country’s national football team won the UEFA European Football Championships in 1964, 2008 and 2012, and the FIFA World Cup in 2010, and is the first team to ever win back-to-back international tournaments.
Other popular sports in Spain include basketball, tennis, cycling, handball, futsal, motorcycling and, recently, Formula One racing. The city of Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, which not only sparked increased tourism in the country, but also a great deal of interest in a variety of sports.
Two of Spain’s most famous and well-known athletes are Rafael Nadal, winner of several Grand Slam tennis tournament titles, and Alberto Cantador, the leading Spanish cyclist with several titles under his belt, including three Tour de France titles.
Festivals and Celebrations in Spain
Spain is home to many unique festivals and celebrations throughout the year. A few of these include:
Las Fallas, Valencia
Las Fallas is one of Spain’s most impressive festivals. The event takes place each March in the Mediterranean city of Valencia.[pic2] The celebration lasts for a week and includes nonstop fireworks and noisy fanfare.
Semana Santa and La Feria de Abril, Seville
The southern city of Seville plays host to two of the largest celebrations of the year. The first of these is Semana Santa, a week of feasting and Roman Catholic processions leading up to Easter. The festivities include masked parades and enormous floats with Roman Catholic figures. This somber spectacle is followed up by La Feria de Abril, a much more joyous event, featuring hundreds of tents and amusement park rides, and locals dressed in traditional garb.
Fiesta de San Fermin, Pamplona
La Fiesta de San Fermin is a celebratory and quite iconic holiday that takes place in the northern Spanish town of Pamplona. The festivities occur annually in mid-July. The most well-known feature of this celebration is the oft-publicized “Running of the Bulls,” an event first made famous by American author Ernest Hemingway in his novel The Sun Also Rises.
La Tomatina, Buñol
Finally, there is La Tomatina, an all-out "tomato war" hosted by the town of Buñol, Spain, just outside Valencia. Tourists and locals alike gather here on the last Wednesday of August each year to stage a tomato-chucking battle of epic proportions. This event is part of a week-long festival in honor of Buñol's patron saint.
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