Spanish Culture

Spain is an inherent and important country for the European continent in the cultural context, and it should not come as a surprise at all. Since the times of the Roman Empire, Spain has been a place of birth of prominent philosophers, poets, artists, and writers. This section will help you dive deeper into the Spanish culture and be more informed about it.

Spanish culture through the prism of history

Spain has been an important place in Europe since the pre-Roman times, when the Iberian Peninsula was known as Hispania. At that time, these lands were populated largely by Celts, Basques, and Iberians. However, a real blossoming of the Spanish culture began when it already had been one of the most important provinces of the Roman Empire. Then, such a philosopher like Seneca the Younger exerted an enormous influence on the elites of those times. A number of Roman emperors, such as prominent emperor Trajan, his successor Hadrian (both of whom belong to Five Good Emperors), and Theodosius I, were born in Spain as well.

After the division of the Roman Empire into four and, later, two states, the Western Roman Empire had gone through a horrific political turmoil, a civil war, and a number of losses in wars, which ultimately led to the state’s dissolution. Along with the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, the Spanish territories experienced a decay as well. A large part of what we know as Spain and Portugal today was conquered by Muslims. It took a long time – several centuries – for separated Christian Kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula to regain the territories back, and this slow process of reconquest is known as the Reconquista.

spanish culture

Seneca the Younger, who was born in the province of Hispania, appears to be one of the most prominent Roman philosophers

Once the Christian Kingdoms got united on the Iberian Peninsula and formed the state of Spain we know nowadays, the times of the Imperial Spain commenced. In 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World – this expedition, by the way, was financed by the Queen Isabella I – and gave a kick start to greatest imperial expansion by the European powers (Portugal, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany). In result, Spain acquired many territories in Latin and North America – even the states of New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California once belonged to Spain.

In the 20th century, Spain had to go through a bloody civil war, after which the fascist regime of Francisco Franco was established for long 37 years. Thanks to the Spanish King, however, Spain was able to get out of dictatorship without bloodshed and much of political unrest. In 1976, the King started to transform the country into a democracy that we presently know.

Diversity of Spain

When it comes to the Spanish culture, one has to be aware of the diversity of this country. The state has 4 official languages: Spanish, Catalan, Galician, and Basque. However, a large number of other languages can be found spoken across the Spanish regions, including Castilian, Valencian, Aranese, Fala, Extremaduran, Caló, Aragonese, and Astur-Leonese languages.

Naturally, such a diversity directly impacts the Spanish culture, which tends to be quite dissimilar in many aspects. Also, it should not come as a surprise that the Galician language has a lot of similarities with the Portuguese – actually, it is something average between the Spanish and the Portuguese languages – as this province borders Portugal. However, linguists from all over the world still can’t find an answer to the question “Where does the Basque language come from?” The Basque language appears to be too dissimilar to any other language, spoken across Spain and France, leaving linguists to wonder about how that language appeared.

Spanish culture: literature, architecture, music, and visual arts

As it was already stated, the Spanish culture is important for the European continent’s culture as it has brought a large number of distinguished writers, architects, musicians, and especially artists. The list of prominent classic Spanish writers and poets includes Miguel de Unamuno, Miguel de Cervantes, Juan Ramón Jimenéz, Federico Garcia Lorca, Miguel Hernandez, and Rosalia de Castro.

The field where Spain is perhaps the most outstanding is painting. During the Golden Age, Spain was represented by such prominent artists like Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and El Greco. Many years later, Spain has been known in the field of painting thanks to Pablo Picasso with his drawings of abstract figures, Salvador Dalí, Antoti Tápies, Joan Miró, and Juan Gris.

Culture of Spain

Miguel de Unamuno was not only one of the greatest Spanish writers, but also a philosopher

Spain has been one of the pioneers in architecture, whereas the real development of the Spanish architecture started during the Roman times (though, some developments could be noticed before as well). With the expansion of the Muslims and creation of Al-Andalus, came the time of the caliphate’s architecture, including the Great Mosque of Cordoba, Aljafería in Zaragoza, La Giralda in Sevilla, and Court of the Lions in Granada. After the reconquest, Romanesque and Gothic styles appeared in the Spanish architecture. The Romanesque style can be found in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral of Jaga. In particular, Castile-Leon, Navarra, and Aragón provinces abound with the examples of Romanesque architecture. Gothic style can be found in the cathedrals of Toledo, León, and Burgos, as well as in La Seu Cathedral, silk market of Valencia, and Santa Maria del Mar (Barcelona).

The classic Spanish architecture flows also include Mudéjar style, Renaissance, Baroque, Spanish colonial style, and Neoclassical, all of which can be found in the present-day Spanish cities. The Spanish culture received a great boost to its development thanks to the prominent Spanish architects of the XX century, who mainly followed the modernist and Catalan modernist styles.

One of the essential parts of the Spanish culture, however, is music, which made a great contribution to the development of the Western classic music in the 15th century. Also, exceptionally outstanding contributions were made by Francisco Tárrega with his classical guitar music, Manuel de Balla in the ballet, and zarzuela, a dramatic genre which includes both spoken and sung episodes, of the Spanish opera.

Stereotypes about the Spanish people

Spain and Spanish people are associated with lots of stereotypes. While some of them are definitely true, a large part of those stereotypes are either an exaggeration or completely false. For instance, flamenco, a dance typically associated with the Spanish people, is popular only in Andalucia, the southern region of Spain. The same way, corridas do not occur in every region, but mostly in the eastern or southern regions. Moreover, only 25% stick to the opinion that corrida events should take place nowadays.

Stereotypes about Spain

Siesta is a widely spread stereotype about Spain

There is a widespread stereotype that Spaniards frequently take naps throughout a day (known as siesta) and work a fewer number of hours than other nations. Statistically, it is completely wrong, as Spaniards work more hours per week than French and even Germans.

Yes, such stereotypes that family matters a lot to the Spanish people and that they are very expressive are true. But not every Spaniard tends to eat tortillas, ham, tapas, and paellas.

Useful sources

You may opt to use the following sources in order to find out more about the Spanish culture:

12 Stereotypes About the Spanish That Are Totally Not True

Spanish Literature

Spanish Music History