Culture of Spain

The culture of Spain has roots in Iberian and Latin influences, Catholicism, Moorish Islam, tension between the centralized Castilian state and its regions, and its minority peoples. In addition, the history of the nation and its Mediterranean climate and geography have played strong roles in shaping its culture.



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Political Spain in 1854, after the first Carlist War
A strong sense of regional identity exists in many regions of Spain. These regions or nationalities — even those that least identify themselves as Spanish — have contributed greatly to many aspects of mainstream Spanish culture.

Most notably, the Basque Country and Catalonia have widespread nationalist sentiment. Many Basque and Catalan nationalists favor statehood for their respective regions. Basque aspirations to statehood continue to be a cause of violence (notably by ETA), although most Basque nationalists (like virtually all Catalan nationalists) currently seek to fulfill their aspirations by peaceful means.

There are also several communities where, despite widespread acceptance of the community's inclusion in Spain, there is a great sense of regional identity: Andalusia, Galicia and Navarre each have their own version of nationalism, but generally without aspirations to independent statehood and generally with a smaller percentage of nationalists than in the Basque Country and Catalonia.

There are other regionals which, despite a broad Spanish nationalist feeling, have strong regional identities: Cantabria, Asturies, Rioja, Valencia, Aragon and Extremadura.

There are also the cases of Madrid, an administrative autonomous community inside the two Castilles; the two north African autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and the autonomous community of Murcia. Castile was the core kingdom under which Spain eventually unified after centuries of evolution and incorporations.

Spain has a long history of tension between centralism and regionalism. The current federal organization of the state into autonomous communities under the Spanish Constitution of 1978 is intended as a way to incorporate these communities into the state.


While nearly everyone in Spain can speak Spanish (which is almost universally known in Spain as castellano — "Castilian" — rather than español — "Spanish") other languages figure prominently in many regions: Basque (Euskara) in the Basque Country and Navarre; Catalan in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and Valencia (where it is known as valenci�, "Valencian"); and Galician in Galicia. All of these have co-official status and all are major enough that there are numerous daily newspapers in these languages and (especially for Catalan and Basque) a significant book publishing industry. Many citizens in these regions consider their regional language as their primary language and Spanish as secondary; these languages cover broad enough regions to have multiple distinct dialects. (Spanish itself also has distinct dialects around the country, with the Andaluz dialect being closer to the Spanish of the Americas, which it heavily influenced.)

In addition, there is strong and growing support for other regional languages, some of them in danger of extinction. These include Asturian in Asturias, Aragonese in Aragon, and Aranese, a dialect of Gascon spoken only in the tiny Val d'Aran, but enough of a live language to be used in the public schools there.

With the exception of Basque, which appears to be a language isolate, all of these are Romance languages.

For more information, see:

Climate and geography

Spain's natural surroundings have helped shape the culture of the nation. The success of the Basques in maintaining a separate culture over a period of millennia has doubtless been aided by the mountainous geography of their region. Several separate parts of Spain have strong maritime traditions, including inland ports on rivers: Seville, for example, was a major port until the Guadalquivir silted up. Since the availability of mass air transport, Spain's Mediterranean beaches, especially those along the Costa del Sol, have drawn millions of tourists, providing considerable revenue (and enormous contact with the outside world) to a long-depressed and isolated area of the country.

Except for the subtropical Canary Islands, Spain can be divided into areas experiencing, respectively, a Mediterranean climate; a climate dominated by the Atlantic Ocean; and (in the inner areas) a rather extreme climate with hotter summers and colder winters than nearer the coasts. The generally warm and relatively dry summers have led to a culture in which a lot of life is lived outdoors, whether on a patio in the courtyard of a building or on a public plaza. In Madrid, many of the most popular nightclubs move for several months in the summer to an outdoor terrasa much farther from the center of town than their indoor winter location, continuing in a way the older tradition of the verbena (fair). In the Mediterranean areas (and in the Canary Islands), outdoor meals can be a nearly year-round phenomenon.

Contemporary culture

As recently as the mid-20th-century, much of Spain (especially outside of the major cities) remained quite distinct from the rest of Europe. In 1954, V.S. Pritchett could still write of small Spanish towns, "The inn, if there is one, will not be a hotel, nor even a fonda — the Arab word — but perhaps a posada: a place one can ride into with a mule or a donkey, where one can stable an animal and lie down oneself on a sack of straw, the other side of the stall." [Pritchett, 1954 p. 46-47] However, especially since the 1975 death of Francisco Franco, Spain has become increasingly European; Pritchett's rustic posada would be unimaginable today.

Franco's death ended a decades-long regime of censorship, leading to an explosive growth in a wide range of cultural areas. The subsequent recognition of strong cultural autonomy for the various Autonomous Communities reinvigorated many aspects of local culture that had been almost entirely repressed since the Spanish Civil War. Spain joined the European Union in 1986.

Spanish pop culture

  • La movida: late 1970s and early 1980s youth subculture (with affinities to punk and new wave) centered in Madrid.


Historically, various regions of Spain had quite distinct regional dress. Today, most people in Spain dress in a manner comparable to most other contemporary Europeans, although some regional variations persist. Dress in Extremadura and in the smaller cities of Castile remains relatively austere, even on festive occasions, while Andaluz dress on festive occasions is elaborate and ostentatious. Barcelona is one of the most stylish cities in Europe, though more restrained and with a more determinedly timeless style than Paris or Milan.


While the siesta — an hours-long mid-afternoon break from work — is generally in decline, the typical rhythm of the day in Spain remains relatively distinct from the European norm. Many shops and some museums (though relatively few other businesses) still split their hours into two distinct periods of opening with a two or three hour break in the middle; a paseo (stroll) in the early evening remains a common custom in many smaller cities and to some extent even in the larger ones; the dinner hour is the latest in Europe, typically about 10 p.m.; nightlife begins accordingly late, with many dance clubs (even in relatively small cities) opening at midnight and staying open until dawn; in Madrid in the summer there is nothing unusual about a live musical performance being scheduled for one or two o'clock in the morning.

Modern subcultures


Old Masters

Modern art


Because many of its historical buildings have remained intact today, several architectural structures in Spain, and even portions of cities, have been designated World Heritage sites. These are listed at List_of_World_Heritage_Sites_in_Europe#Spain.

Spain was part of the Roman Empire and many areas of Spain retain significant Roman architectural remnants. The Roman aqueduct at Segovia is still in use as of 2004; M�rida, now the Extermaduran capital but once the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania, retains over 5 miles of its Roman aqueduct, Roman bridge over the River Guadiana, an arch of Trajan, and significant remnants of a Roman forum, amphitheatre, and a temple popularly accounted to have been dedicated to Diana (goddess). Another Roman bridge crosses the Tagus River at Alc�ntara. Lesser Roman ruins can be found in the heart of Barcelona.

Spain is home to several fine examples of medieval architecture; outside of the areas that were under Muslim control, these are primarily in the Romanesque and Gothic styles. Spain is also home to several examples of Cathedral architecture. The Drassanes in Barcelona, originally a facility for building ships and now a maritime museum, is the largest and most complete medieval secular structure in the world.

The architecture in southern Spain reflects its Moorish history. The Alhambra is probably the most famous example, showing a mixture of Islamic architecture and European influences. Significant Moorish buildings survive as far north as Zaragoza. Throughout Spain, many former mosque and synagogue buildings survive as Christian churches or, occasionally, converted to other uses. Good examples of this are the Church of Corpus Christi in Segovia and the Church of Santa Mar�a la Blanca in Toledo, both former synagogues, and the Mezquita (Spanish for "mosque"), a 10th century mosque in C�rdoba, reconsecrated in 1236 as a Christian Church. The influence of Moorish architecture did not end with the reconquista: there were many prominent mudejar architects, Muslims living and working in Christian Spain.

When the city of Barcelona was allowed to expand beyond its historic limits in the late 19th century (a suspicious Spanish government had long kept a ring of undeveloped land around the city to make it easy for the military to deploy against any unrest), the resulting Eixample ("extension"), larger than the old city, became the site of a burst of architectural energy. Most famous among the architects represented there is Antoni Gaud�, whose works in Barcelona and elsewhere in Catalonia, mixing traditional architectural styles with the new, were a precursor to modern architecture. Perhaps the most famous example of his work is the (as of 2004) still-unfinished La Sagrada Familia, the largest building in the Eixample.

Other notable Catalan architects of that period include Llu�s Dom�nech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. One block on the Passeig de Gràcia contains buildings by each of the three; the clashing styles led to the nickname "manzana de la discordia", literally the "block of discord", but also a pun: "manzana" can also mean "apple", hence "apple of discord".

Alejandro de la Sota was one of the early proponents of modern architecture in Spain; the first steel framed building in Madrid is his 1961 Maravillas College Gynamsium.

Santiago Calatrava began to make his name from the 1980s and works internationally. His work is typified by a great understanding of engineering as well as nature. A notable building of his is the City of Arts & Sciences in Valencia. Enric Miralles possessed a highly esoteric style which has been compared to fellow Catalan Gaud�, and was beginning to be successful internationally, but died in 2000, at only 45 years old. His largest work, the Scottish Parliament Building was completed posthumously. The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao may be the most famous example of contemporary architecture in Spain, although the architect, Frank Gehry, is from the United States.

The dry weather of Spain resulted in the importance of water fountains in Spanish urban design. In addition, ceramics figure prominently in architecture throughout Spain, especially in the tile roofs and the use of decorative tiles known as azulejos.


Ethnic groups


Many of the traditional festivals in Spain are centered around Catholic saints and historical events.

Food and drink

Spanish cuisine is made of very different kinds of dishes due to the differences in geography, culture and climate. It is heavily influenced by the variety of seafood available from the waters that surround the country.

As Spain has had a history with many different cultural influences, the richness and variety of its cuisine is overwhelming, but all these ingredients have made up a unique cuisine with thousands of recipes and flavours. Much influence on Spanish cuisine has come from the Jewish and Moorish traditions. The Moors were a strong influence in Spain for many centuries and their food is still eaten in Spain today.

Main article: cuisine of Spain

Literature & Poetry

See list of links at Spanish literature and List of Spanish language poets


Main article: Music of Spain

Spain's musical output includes a long history of innovation in Western and Andalusian classical music, as well as a domestic popular music industry, and diverse styles of folk music. In addition, modern Spain has a number of performers in the fields of rock and roll, heavy metal, punk rock and hip hop.

The most well-known variety of Spanish folk music is likely flamenco, a diverse genre created by Andalusian Roma. Flamenco has been known since at least the 1770s, and has been through several cycles of dwindling popularity and rebirth. The style has produced many of the most famous Spanish musicians, including singer Camar�n de la Isla and guitarist Carlos Montoya.

Outside of flamenco, regional Spanish folk music includes the distinct Basque trikitrixa and accordion music, Galician and Asturian gaita (bagpipe) and Aragonese jota. Though some folk traditions have died out or are moribund, some retain great popularity and have been modernized and adapted to new instruments, styles and formats. These include the popular Celtic music of Galicia, the singer-songwriter tradition of nova can�o and New Flamenco.

The first distinctly modern popular music of Spain began to appear in about 1959. Soon, Ye-Y� dominated the Spanish charts, followed by the important of American and British rock, French singers and other pop stars.


While mid-century Spanish directors such as Luis Bu�uel worked mainly in exile, film has prospered in Spain since the reestablishment of constitutionalism. Among the leading late 20th- and early 21st-century Spanish film directors are:

Spain also has some rather notable "B movie" directors, such as:


Other possible topics - theatre, cinema

See also


Pritchett, V.S., The Spanish Temper (1954). Alfred A. Knopf, New York.


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