Spain boasts one of the oldest, richest and most varied cultures in the world, with an incredible heritage that has influenced entire continents. The country of legends such as Miguel de Cervantes, Gaudi or Pablo Picasso, it is a destination that attracts millions of tourists year after year from all four corners of the world. There are so many unusual facts to know about this wonderful country, like the origin of the name of the country, the delicious ingredients of Spanish culinary specialities, the existence of countless natural treasures and the country’s contribution to international art.
What are the biggest curiosities in Spanish culture?
The best-ever novel was written in Spain
You may not have heard of Lope de Vega or El Greco but you are more likely to be familiar with Miguel Cervantes and his “Don Quijote” – this universal classic has been translated into more than 140 languages. In 2002, Salman Rushdie and almost 100 other well-known authors voted the book as “the most significant book” of all time. This acclaim is important as it in part recognises the novel as the first modern novel in the history of literature.
Spain and its list of names
Spain was named Iberia by explorers from northern Africa, which can be translated as the “land of rivers”. In contrast, when the Greeks came, they called the country Hesperia, which means the “land of the setting sun”. When the Carthaginians arrived at around 300 BC, they called the land Ispania, which means the “land of the rabbits”. Subsequently when the Romans took charge, they Latinised the name, making it Hispania. Over time, this word slowly made way for España. Fascinating, right?
Not Spain, but the Kingdom of Spain
The Kingdom of Spain, as it is known officially, is the second biggest country in the EU with an area of 505,955 square kilometres and it covers about 85% of the Iberian Peninsula, with the rest taken up by Portugal. Another of Spain’s oddities is its political situation as Spain has a constitutional monarchy. King Felipe VI has been on the throne since 2014 and he is one of the most popular monarchs in Europe.
Spain and olive oil
If you thought that olive oil only comes from Italy, then you’d be incorrect! Spain is responsible for 45% of the production of the world’s olive oil. And of course, Spaniards also contribute to its consumption. They drink up 20% of it whilst Italians are the Olive Oil champions with 30%. And if you needed any convincing about using the oil, it is one of the best natural ingredients for increasing your life expectancy!
A country with 44 national world treasures
Another oddity of Spanish culture is the fact that there are 44 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the country – ancient cave art, historical buildings, Roman bridges, parks and beautiful scenery. In fact it is the third highest-ranked country in terms of how many sites they lay claim to. Just Italy with 49 World Heritage sites and China with 45 have more sites than Spain.
The land of festivals and happiness
Spain is the country of festivals, well that’s how it is regarded internationally. But is that just a stereotype or is it a fact? In this Mediterranean country, there are hundreds of festivals throughout the year – the oldest one – la Romería de Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza (the procession of the Virgin of the Cabeza) has been celebrated for more than 800 years and la Fiesta de los Patios (the festival of Patios) was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2013. You can get a taste for the Spaniards’ love for fun and partying by running with the bulls during the festival of San Fermin or by getting involved in a battle of tomatoes during La Tomatina.
A language spoken by more than 500 million people
Did you know that Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the world? And the success of the language of Cervantes and co. has only increased in recent years, with a new Spanish edition of the New York Times being launched in 2016. Indeed this beautiful language has now expanded from Spain to Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Peru, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Equatorial Guinea.