With its old-world cities and Mediterranean beaches, the nation of Spain boasts a rich cultural history. Originally settled by ancient Phoeonicians, Spain is now home to a population of more than 47 million residents. To acquaint you with this nation, once home of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, we’ve gathered a diverse range of interesting facts to help you get to know Spain and its incredible heritage.
Rich in UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Spain is home to a breathtaking 48 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that attract visitors from all over the globe. Some of its most famous sites include Alhambra, the Roman Walls of Lugo, Vizcaya Bridge, and the works of Antoni Gaudi.
Historically, Spain has been revered for its shipbuilding prowess and naval skill. In spite of the crushing defeat its armada suffered in 1588, Spain continued to vy for dominance of the world seas for centuries after. One of its most stunning contributions to shipbuilding occurred in 1888 with the invention of the submarine. The Spanish engineer Isaac Peral invented the first sub out of steel. Today, it can be viewed at the Port of Cartagena.
The Spanish Language
The Spanish language is the second-most widely spoken language in the world. Spanish is derived from a Latin dialect that arrived in Spain with the Romans in 218 B.C. Although the language then traveled with Spanish explorers and conquistadors to various parts of the globe, back home on the Iberian Peninsula, just slightly more than 70% of the country’s residents speak Spanish as their first language. Many Spanish citizens speak the language associated with their region such as Catalan or Galician.
Did you know that the first modern novel ever written is the Spanish novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes? First published in 1605, Don Quixote marks an important milestone in Western literature and would influence other great writers around the world including Alexandre Dumas and Mark Twain.
Olive oil is an ancient ingredient and one of the world’s healthiest oils with its rich composition of omega 3 fatty acids. Although you might be tempted to believe that most of the world’s olive oil hails from Greece or Italy, the vast majority actually comes from the sundrenched Andalusian fields of Spain. In fact, more than 40% of the world’s olive oil comes from Spain.
With its abundance of sunshine, Spain might have led the world in solar energy, but it, instead, focused on wind and became the nation in the world to derive most of its energy from wind energy. Today, Spain ranks as the world’s fifth leading producer of wind energy, following China, the United States, Germany, and India.
Birthplace of Flamenco
Spain has a rich artistic heritage. One of its most celebrated art forms is Flamenco dance which dates to the late 1700s. Developed from various Andalusian folk music traditions, Flamenco is widely performed in many tourist centers, especially Southern Spain where it was created. Today, there are even schools that instruct dancers in the art of Flamenco.
Spain may be famous for its historic explorers, colonial empire, and navy, but one of its inventions has dominated game rooms the world over. In 1936, Alejandro Campos became injured during the Spanish Civil War. During his recovery, he invented the game of foosball in order to delight local children who weren’t able to enjoy playing football. He patented his invention the following year and it’s still enjoyed by kids and adults today.
It’s hard to go thirsty in a country like Spain, which has the highest number of bars in all of Europe. From its clubs to its tapas bars, Spain features seemingly no end of watering holes that play a central role in its vibrant social scene. When visiting many of Spain’s large cities, travelers will be able to find bars open both day and night.
Mount Teide is the largest peak in Spain and is the third largest volcano on the face of the earth. However, this volcanic mountain isn’t located on the Iberian Peninsula, but rather, is located in the Canary Islands which are owned by Spain. The peak has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Did Someone Say Chocolate?
The city of Barcelona is home to one of the world’s most celebrated chocolate museums, the Museu de la Xocolata. Visitors to the museum can learn about the decadent history of chocolate, tracing its path from the New World back to the Old World. In addition to its permanent exhibits, the museum hosts demonstrations and features a charming cafe where you can order what may be the best hot chocolate in all of Spain.
Nudity is Welcome
During the summer season, the temperature heats up. When visiting Spain’s beaches, you’re apt to find that many people dispense with any clothing at all. Nudity is perfectly welcome in Spain and there are no laws against baring skin.
Birthplace of Picasso
Spain has long been a center for great art in Europe and has produced many famous masters. However, it’s most celebrated artist may just be Pablo Picasso who was born in the city of Malaga, Andalusia in 1881. He is renowned for revolutionizing the art world and his work continues to be collected and displayed in the world’s most prestigious museums. In 2015, one of Picasso’s works set a new auction record when it was sold for $179.4 million.
In many countries, the tooth fairy collects the lost teeth of children, replacing them with coins as a reward. In Spain, however, this enchanted task is left to a mouse named Ratoncito Perez. The mouse has been hard at work collecting the discarded teeth of Spanish children since he became popularized in the late nineteenth century.
With its reputation for bullfighting and the highly publicized running of the bulls events, Spain reveres the bull and lists it as its national animal. Bull running, in fact, is a Spanish tradition that dates back to the 14th century. Each year, the Pamplona running of the bulls events features as many as 20,000 participants. In spite of the injuries and occasional deaths that result from this event, it continues to be held each year.
Spain is well-known the world over for its cuisine, but one of its best known dishes may well be the world’s most popular cold soup. Gazpacho is a refreshing soup that’s often served during the hot summer months. It’s made with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and peppers (principally) and is typically served with fresh bread. Gazpacho hails from the Andalusian region of Spain and appears to have first been invented during the 19th century.
Spaniards practice Roman Catholicism more than any other religion. However, this wasn’t always the case. For more than five centuries until 1492, most of Spain was controlled by North African Muslims known as Moors. The Moors left behind many influences that can be seen in the nation’s architecture, art, and language.
The Tower of Hercules
Spain has no shortage of historic landmarks, but its Tower of Hercules is especially renowned as the world’s oldest known lighthouse. Dating to the second century AD, the lighthouse in Coruna, a city in Galicia. The Tower of Hercules is also the country’s second tallest lighthouse at 187 feet.
Sebrino de Botin
The city of Madrid is home to the oldest known restaurant in the world, Sobrino de Botin. The restaurant first opened in 1725. The famous artist Francisco Goya once worked as a waiter in the eatery and Ernest Hemingway mentioned it in one of his novels, The Sun Also Rises. While the restaurant dates to 1725, its cellar is even older and dates to 1590. If you visit this historic restaurant, you may want to order one of its signature dishes, Sopa de Ajo.
Spaniards tend to take marriage quite seriously, so seriously, in fact, that many hesitate to take vows of matrimony. Spain has the lowest rate of marriage of EU nations (except for Sweden). Unfortunately, couples aren’t always inclined to stay together after their nuptials. Spain’s divorce rate is up around 57%, which is more than the rate in the U.S., which has decreased to 44%.
Spain has one of the world’s highest life expectancy rates. Its current life expectancy is 82 years. Scientists attribute this longevity to the Spanish diet. It’s predicted that by 2050, Spain will have the world’s oldest population of citizens.
Spain has a more diverse range of vascular plants on its mainland and islands than any other European nation. It can boast as many as 9,000 species of plants and is regarded as one of the globe’s biodiversity “hotspots.”
With its more than 3,000 miles of coastline, Spain boasts some of the world’s most attractive and tourist-friendly beaches. There are more than 8,000 beaches in Spain. It’s most famous include Bogatell of Barcelona, Platja de Ses Illetes on Formentera, Ses Salines on Iberia, and East Side Beaches of Marbella.
Fountain of Youth
One of the world’s most famous explorers Ponce de Leon hails from Spain. While he is best known for his quest to find the Fountain of Youth in Florida, he actually did establish the first European settlement on the island of Puerto Rico in 1508.
If you’re planning to visit Spain, you may want to keep these facts in mind and make a point to visit its most celebrated beaches, for example, and enjoy a bowl of gazpacho before exploring the nation’s most famous sites.