Spain – Culture & History

Spain is located in southwest Europe and is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. Both geographically and culturally diverse, the country is made of golden beaches, snow-capped mountains, cathedrals and castles, and major cosmopolitan cities. Nearly every city in Spain is unique, with its own distinct traditions, festivities, and way of life.

History of Spain

Spain has a long and fascinating history. Remains found in the Atapuerca Mountains suggest that man first came to the country around one million years ago. The Phoenicians, Romans, and Greeks all settled here, and in the 8th century, Muslims arrived, beginning a power struggle with Christians that would last for hundreds of years. In the 15th century, Christians eventually gained the upper hand.

In the 16th century, Spain achieved a position of power globally, becoming the most influential country in both Europe and the Americas. The Spanish Empire expanded across much of Central America, North America, the Caribbean, and Mexico, occupying the New World. However, Spain began to fade as a superpower in the 1800s when Napoleon took charge. Political instability gave rise to anti-colonial revolts.

Spain’s political history

The civil war hit Spain hard in the 1930s, resulting in thousands of deaths and sparking the start of a national dictatorship led by General Franco. Throughout his 36 years in power, Spain became isolated from the rest of the world, both culturally and economically.  When Franco died in 1975, a new era began for Spain, with a period of liberal democracy beginning. The Bourbon Monarch returned, with Juan Carlos beginning his reign as the King of Spain which would last until his abdication in 2014.

Since joining the European Union in 1986, Spain has undergone many social reforms, including the legalisation of same-sex marriage, increasing the minimum wage, and modernisation of divorce laws. Although the country was hit hard by the 2008 global recession, its vast tourism industry has helped it to bounce back in recent years.

Culture of Spain

There’s no official religion in Spain. Whilst most people are Roman Catholic, nearly a fifth have no religion. Younger people are particularly likely to shun religion. Despite this, most still celebrate the religious festivals. As the years have passed, many religious customs have made way for more modern ways, especially in larger cities. Even so, traditions are still important to Spanish people. Hospitality and courtesy are traits which they continue to hold in high esteem. Greeting a woman will still nearly always involve a fleeting kiss to either cheek!

Food and dining continue to a major part of the Spanish culture, with lunch considered the main meal of the day. Beginning at around two o’clock and lasting a number of hours, it’s a very social affair. There are many bars in Spain, yet a visit to one will nearly always involve food of some kind. A typical bar will usually have a nice variety of tapas (or pinchos) that are usually included in the price of the drink. Smoking is banned in all bars, cafes, and restaurants. Indeed, Spain has some of the strictest anti-smoking laws in the world.

Spain’s history and culture is fascinating and diverse, with different traditions and customs throughout the country. Spain’s diversity makes it a real cultural powerhouse, with an eclectic mix of people and passions.