Spain has a rich cultural heritage that is over several thousand years long. Spain is part of the Iberian Peninsula, and therefore, a few references claim that Spain has Iberian culture while others claim that the Spanish culture is a mix of the Roman, Jewish and Arabic cultures. Though the Romans had ruled Iberia for thousands of years, their culture still has a dominating effect on Spain that has lasted until today. The mixed effect of the culture can also be seen in the Spanish language, which has features of both the Latin and Arabic languages. The majority of modern Spain’s population resides in cities, which have a culture similar to that in the cities of other developed western countries. Only a minor fraction of the population stays in towns that too have all the modern facilities provided by any developed nation.
One of the main features of Spanish culture is that there are two groups of Spaniards: one that strongly believes only in being a citizen of Spain, and another that believes in representing their regions along with their national identity. These differences of opinion are mainly caused by of the history that Spain has before and after evolving as an integrated state. Although Spain became a single kingdom under the rule of the Catholic Monarchs, there were constant, strong oppositions from the regional heads for the process of integration of power. One of the reasons for this opposition was the linguistic and cultural differences between these regions. This discontent also has been the factor behind the formation of the autonomous communities within Spain.
Spanish literature, music, art, architecture and cuisine from these different provinces all have their own distinct qualities. In fact, music and cuisine especially have several variations corresponding to the diverse regions of Spain. Apart from these, the primary specialties of the Spanish culture are bullfighting and tomato fights. Bullfighting was introduced in the eighteenth century, and was meant to entertain the common people while carrying out the rituals of sacrificing the bull to honor the divine powers. Sacrificing the bull has been a practice in the Iberian culture from ancient times, when bulls were killed in the religious places of Iberia.
In modern days, bullfighting consists of specific species of bull called Toro bravo, which is seen only in Spain, though there are some mixed breeds found in other parts of the world. The bullfight is called the Corrida in Spain. It has three different intervals in which three different bullfighters, called toreros, fight with the bull and try to dominate it. The second and third round bullfighters are on horseback. In the final round, the bullfighter kills the bull with a sword. This has become a very controversial practice and animals rights organizations around the world are pressuring the Spanish people to end such fights. However, bullfighting remains an important part of the Spanish culture.
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The concept of a national flag did not exist in the Middle Ages in Spain, and the Spanish used shields with coats of arms on them to identify or unify their nation. Frequently, these shields were made up of flags and symbols that meant something to the troops using them.
Introduced into the Constitution
In 1978, the current Spanish flag was defined in the Spanish Constitution. It has three horizontal bars. They are red, yellow, and then red again. The yellow stripe in the middle is twice as wide as the red bars. The design of this flag comes from a naval ensign dating back to 1873 when Charles the Third of Spain handpicked this flag from a group of twelve total options. These options were designed by Antonio Valdés y Bazán. This flag remained a marine flag for the next fifty years and it was used mostly on naval buildings and ships. During the Peninsula War, the flag could be found with marines fighting on land. Finally, in 1820, it was used on land and by 1843 Queen Isabella the Second of Spain made the flag the official flag of Spain. The only variation to the current Spanish Flag that has been seen is that occasionally this flag will be seen with a coat of arms on the center yellow stripe.
The Spanish Flag Today
Today, the armed forces of Spain still use this flag. The version they use is more of a square than the standard flag, and it has the name of the unit using it in the center.
Several higher ranking civil authorizes such as the President and the Vice President have permission to use the current Spanish flag. They use the flag to represent their status to the general public. The version of the Spanish flag that they use is square. It has the Spanish coat of arms in the center.
The Spanish flag is also seen on sport and leisure boats. This flag is the same as the current flag but with a blue coronet in the center.
Spanish national law states that the flag must only be flown horizontally. It should also be flown from dusk to dawn. Spanish government offices in Spain and on foreign land must fly the flag twenty-four hours a day and it must be lit properly at night. It is against the law to purposefully damage the Spanish flag.
The Spanish flag is also allowed to be used for mourning and funerals. When flying the Spanish flag with other flags the correct order of flags and flag types is: The Spanish flag, flags of foreign states and countries, the EU flag, international NGO’s, military and government standards, and others.
Religion in Spain
Spain had become a Christian state a little before the first century, during the reign of Romans. The Visigoths then began to dominate the Iberian Peninsula, weakening Roman control by the fifth century. The Christian community in Spain was strong enough to resist this change, maintaining the dominant position of Catholicism as in the past. In fact, there was a time during the sixth century when Catholic priests were able to convert the Arian King of the Visigoths into a Roman Catholic. This helped to sustain Catholicism in Spain until the start of the eighth century.
Diaspora of Religion
During the second decade of the eighth century, Islamic raiders conquered Spain and the Visigoths’ rule came to an end. The Muslims had complete domination over major portions of Spain, and they forced the people to accept Islam. During this period, major churches were converted into mosques in nearly all parts of Spain, which naturally led to the loss of Christian rule. Though the major populations were Catholics because they retained their Catholic religion, they were facing an Islamic population which had grown exponentially with time, rivaling the Catholic population in terms of size. The Islamic religion dominated Spain for another seven hundred years, during which there were several disagreements, mainly between the Muslims and Christians, but to some extent with the Jews as well. The situation had become so grim that to avoid being killed or converted to Islam; several Christians fled Spain during this period.
Spain, like other European countries, gives total freedom to its people to practice the religion of their choice. Spain does not have any official state religion. The Spaniards have a very secular outlook, and therefore it could be observed that people of different faiths follow their religious practices without much intervention from others. Regardless of this present situation, Spanish history reflects several struggles between different religions during the first half of the first millennium. These struggles were mainly between the religions like Judaism, Islam and Catholicism.
The violence with the Muslims forced the Catholics to form a strong union so that they could jointly fight with the Islamic rulers. From the sixteenth century onwards, the Roman Catholic religion regained its control over Spain and contributed to the evolution of a new Spanish state. It was only recently, in the year 1978, that Spain declared the freedom to practice religion. As a result of this freedom, the different types of religions that can be observed in Spain today include but are not limited to: Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Bahaism. Along with these, about 20% of the Spanish people do not practice any religion.
Monarch of Spain
Where It All Started
Except for the brief periods of the first Republic and the Second Republic, Spain was always under the rule of its monarch, who was the supreme ruler of the state, enjoying the full powers of his sovereignty.
Franco himself had come to occupy power in Spain only with the support of the monarchists, and, because he could not leave behind a successor, he chose Juan Carlos as his official heir in 1969. Franco died on November 22nd. So in 1969, Juan Carlos was then claimed as King of Spain on November 27th and took the throne.
Franco had intended Juan Carlos to be his heir both in letter and spirit, continuing with his Fascist tendencies. But Juan Carlos began his regime by instituting many reforms that were contrary to the spirit of Franco. Ultimately, under the new constitution of 1978, Juan Carlos relinquished absolute power and transformed the Spanish government into a Constitutional Monarchy. Today, the monarch of Spain is the head of the state of Spain, the commander-in-chief of its armies and the head of the Ibero-American States Organization.
Powers and Restrictions of the Monarch
The monarch of Spain also supervises the regular functioning of state institutions. The power of the monarch of Spain is very much symbolic — he is merely the titular head of state — because all legislation must be countersigned by either the Prime Minister of Spain or the Cortes. The monarch cannot exercise his discretion to block or encourage legislation. The monarch´s tasks are of a neutral and apolitical nature. He convenes and dissolves the Cortes and calls for elections and for referenda.
He appoints the prime minister after consultation with the Cortes and names the other ministers based upon the recommendations of the prime minister. He also ratifies civil and military appointments. The duties and privileges of the monarch of Spain have been established by Title II, Articles 56-65 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978. The constitutional title for the monarch of Spain is simply “King of Spain.”
Contemporary Monarch of Spain
The current monarch of Spain has, however, successfully transcended many of the limitations to act as true leader of his country. He has ensured the smooth transition from dictatorship to democracy, has stood for political stability, and has become a unifying figure in Spanish history.
He has played a vital role in foreign relations by making many trips abroad, even to former Spanish colonies, and has engaged in meaningful dialogue with the world´s leaders. Polls from 2000 show that he is widely popular among the Spaniards. In 2008 he was considered the most popular leader in all Ibero-America.
As has already been mentioned, the reigning monarch of Spain is King Juan Carlos, and Prince Felipe is the current heir apparent. The 1978 Constitution allows a female to inherit the throne, but only if there are no other male heirs. If there are neither male nor female heirs, then the successor to the throne is chosen by the Cortes Generales.
Some examples of Spanish architecture date back five thousand years, but the ones that really capture the imagination are the ones left by the Romans, such as the great aqueduct of Segovia, and the Roman theater at Merida.
With the establishment of the Moorish Umayyad dynasty at Cordoba, Spanish architecture began to flower. The architects, artists and craftsmen from the Arab countries combined their concepts with local elements, such as the horse-shoe arch, to construct cities like Medina Azhara (destroyed by the Almohads), and houses of worship, like the Mezquita at Cordoba. In the 8th century, the Mezquita, with its fantastic labyrinth of red and white Moorish horseshoe arches, was the crowning glory of Muslim architecture in the west. Both florid and flamboyant in scale, the mosque features golden mosaics, arabesque, carvings, cupolas, palm-leaf motifs framed by Sufi script, and marble panels.
The Alhambra in Granada marked the pinnacle of Muslim architecture in Spain. The palace consists of richly ornamented open-air rooms, with lacelike walls, courtyards with fountains and stunning frescoes. Built by the Nasrid dynasty; it combined the Cordobese architecture (horse-shoe arches), Almohads signs (sebka and palms) and introduced the prism, the cylindrical capitals and mocarabe arches. Other features include using simple materials like clay, plaster and wood, and the incorporation of water.
12th to 17th Centuries: New Style
The twelfth to seventeenth centuries witnessed the advent of the Mudejar style in Spanish architecture. Although a distinctively Moorish or Islamic style, it was gradually enriched by western traditions. Some characteristic elements of Mudejar art are the horseshoe arch, the wooden roofing systems and the complicated and inventive use of bricks and glazed tiles. This style is to be found more in the small Spanish towns like Teruel (the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Mediavilla, Churches of San Pedro, San Martin and of the Saviour), and Cadiz (the Carduja Monastery), and not in the country´s larger cities.
In the last decades of the fifteenth century, the Plateresque style swept Spanish architecture. It was marked by rich ornamentation, and extremely decorated facades. One of the most representative monuments is the University of Salamanca. Baroque architecture in Spain marks another glorious epoch. Two opposite approaches were in vogue, the austerity in the works of Juan Herrera (the Monastery at El Escorial), at the intricate and the exaggerated style of surface decoration known as the Churriguresque. This was followed by Neo-classicism and the figure of Juan de Villanueva, who built the Prado museum.
Modern Spanish Architecture
In the late nineteenth century, Barcelona became the site of the Modernism movement. The most representative artist was Antoni Gaudi; The Modernist architects combined different modes of architectural expression, such as the Romanesque and the French neo-Gothic. The use of nature-forms, flowers, plants and animals, in ironwork, ceramics and stained glass, were characteristic. The aim was to create a modern art based on Catalan traditions, mixed with the use of new materials, like cast and wrought iron.
In the Beginning…
Since ancient times, Spain has witnessed the influx of invaders as well as immigrants. In the beginning, there were the Phoenician, Greek and Carthaginian coastal settlements. Later, they were followed by the Romans and the Moors. All these settlers left their mark on Spanish cuisine. While archaeological excavations prove that various kinds of legumes, onions and garlic were indigenous to Spanish cuisine, historical records show that the olive oil was introduced by the Phoenicians. The Arabs and Moors introduced ingredients such as almonds, egg yolks, and honey to dessert making. Tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, beans, zucchini, and peppers, staples of contemporary Spanish cuisine, were imported from the American colonies.
Effects of Geographic Location
Geographically speaking, Spain is divided into several isolated regions by mountains that run across the country. Until the last half of the 20th century, the mountains made transportation difficult, thus allowing each region to develop a distinctive cuisine. Northwestern Spain proudly showcases its seafood, meat, scallops, and veal. The eastern coast is known for its exquisite dishes. Dishes such as fish soup, baby eels, garlicky, and an assortment of cod dishes are all characteristic of the Basque country. Catalan cuisine combines fish, meat and poultry, with local fruits. The famous saffron-infused paella derives from Valencia. The gazpacho is native to the Andalusian region.
Yet, there are certain flavors and ingredients that transcend boundaries. Olive oil and garlic are two ingredients that are basic to all Spanish cuisine. Ham and sausage (chorizo) are prized by all Spaniards. Fresh seafood, like halibut, shrimp, octopus, squid, is plentiful throughout the country. The Spanish are fond of the innards of animals and unusual cuts of meat like tongue or feet, as in ox tongue (lengua), or pig knuckles and tripe (callos). The eggplant and the zucchini are popular vegetables, while beans and chickpeas are the most commonly eaten food. Almond-based and milk-based desserts are equally in vogue in all parts of the country.
Tapas are probably the most widely known concept of Spanish cuisine. The word literally means cover or lid, but is used to signify an appetizer or a hors d´oeuvre served with drinks, especially in Spanish bars. Tapas can constitute something as simple as a piece of toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and dipped in olive oil, or a dish of olives. Slices of ham or salami, cheese, pieces of Spanish tortilla and marinated anchovies are popular tapas options, while dishes like meatballs in tomato sauce, garlic mushrooms, shrimp or cooked chorizo in wine are created to appease the gourmet´s palate.
Embedded in centuries of intermingling, Spain´s culinary heritage is, therefore, truly international in scope, where each culture has brought in its own elements of cooking and allowed it to blend with the existing cuisine to create something unique and unparalleled.