Culturally, Spain is a western country. Almost every aspect of Spanish life is steeped in its Roman heritage, making Spain one of the first Latin countries in Europe. Spanish culture is historically strongly linked to Catholicism, which played a key role in the country’s emergence and later identity. Spanish art, architecture, cuisine and music were shaped by successive waves of foreign invaders as well as the country’s Mediterranean climate and geography. Centuries of colonialism globalised Spanish language and culture, with Spain also absorbing the cultural and commercial products of its diverse empire.
World Heritage Monuments and Sites
It should be noted that Spain is the third country in the world with the most World Heritage Sites, after Italy (49) and China (45). There are currently 44 recognised sites, including the landscape of Monte Perdido in the Pyrenees, shared with France, the prehistoric rock art sites of the Côa Valley and Siega Verde, shared with Portugal (the Portuguese part is located in the Côa Valley, Guarda), and the heritage of Mercury, shared with Slovenia. In addition, Spain has 14 intangible cultural heritage sites or “treasures of humanity”. On the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage, Spain is ranked first in Europe, equal with Croatia.
- 1984 – Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín(Granada, Andalusia).
- 1984 – Burgos Cathedral (Burgos, Castile-León).
- 1984 – Historical Centre of Cordoba (Cordoba, Andalusia).
- 1984 – Monastery and Royal Site of El Escorial (Madrid).
- 1984 – Works by Antoni Gaudí (Barcelona, Catalonia).
- 1985 – Altamira Cave and Palaeolithic Cave Art in Northern Spain (Asturias, Basque Country and Cantabria regions).
- 1985 – Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of Asturias (Asturias).
- 1985 – Old town of Avila with the churches of Extra Muros (Avila, Castile and Leon).
- 1985 – The old town of Segovia and its aqueduct (Segovia, Castile and Leon).
- 1985 – Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) (A Coruña, Galicia).
- 1986 – Garajonay National Park (La Gomera, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands).
- 1986 – Historic City of Toledo (Toledo, Castilla-La Mancha).
- 1986 – Mudéjar architecture of Aragon (provinces of Teruel and Zaragoza in Aragon).
- 1986 – Old town of Cáceres (Cáceres, Extremadura).
- 1987 – Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville (Seville, Andalusia).
- 1988 – Old Town of Salamanca (Salamanca, Castile and Leon).
- 1991 – Poblet Monastery (Tarragona, Catalonia).
- 1993 – Merida Archaeological Complex (Badajoz, Extremadura).
- 1993 – Way of Saint James (provinces of Burgos, León and Palencia in Castile and León, provinces of A Coruña and Lugo in Galicia, La Rioja, Navarre and province of Huesca in Aragon).
- 1993 – Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe (Cáceres, Extremadura).
- 1994 – Doñana National Park (provinces of Cadiz, Huelva and Seville in Andalusia).
- 1996 – Historic walled city of Cuenca (Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha).
- 1996 – Valencian Silk Exchange (Valencia).
- 1997 – Las Médulas (León, Castile and León).
- 1997 – Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona (Barcelona, Catalonia).
- 1997 – Pirineos – Monte Perdido (Huesca, Aragon – Spanish part / Midi-Pyrenees and Aquitaine – French part). (Shared with France).
- 1997 – Monasteries of San Millán Yuso and Suso (La Rioja).
- 1998 (2010) – Prehistoric petroglyphs in the Côa Valley (Guarda, northern region – Portuguese part) and in Siega Verde (Salamanca, Castilla y León – Spanish part). (Shared with Portugal).
- 1998 – Rock Art in the Iberian Mediterranean on the Iberian Peninsula (Andalusia, Aragon, Castile-La Mancha, Catalonia, Murcia and Valencia).
- 1998 – University and historic quarter of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid).
- 1999 – Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture (Ibiza, Balearic Islands).
- 1999 – San Cristóbal de La Laguna (Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands).
- 2000 – Archaeological ensemble of Tarraco(Tarragona, Catalonia).
- 2000 – Archaeological site of Atapuerca (Burgos, Castile and Leon).
- 2000 – Catalan Romanesque churches of the Vall de Boí (Lleida, Catalonia).
- 2000 – Palmeral d’Elche (Alicante, Valencia).
- 2000 – Roman walls of Lugo (Lugo, Galicia).
- 2001 – Cultural Landscape of Aranjuez (Madrid).
- 2003 – Renaissance monumental ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza (Jaén, Andalusia).
- 2006 – Bizkaia Bridge (Bizkaia, Basque Country).
- 2007 – Teide National Park (Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands).
- 2009 – Tour of Hercules (A Coruña, Galicia).
- 2011 – Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana (Mallorca, Balearic Islands).
- 2012 – The Legacy of Mercury. Almadén (Ciudad Real, Castilla-La Mancha – Spanish part) and Idrija (Slovenian coast – Slovenian part). (Shared with Slovenia).
The first recorded examples of vernacular Romance literature come from the same time and place, from the rich mixture of Muslim, Jewish and Christian culture of Muslim Spain, where Maimonides, Averroes and others, the Kharjas (Jarchas), worked.
During the Reconquista, the epic poem Cantar de Mio Cid was written about a real man – his battles, conquests and daily life.
Other important plays from the Middle Ages are Mester de Juglaría, Mester de Clerecía, Coplas por la muerte de su padreor El Libro de buen amor (The Book of Good Love).
During the Renaissance, the most important plays are La Celestina and El Lazarillo de Tormes, while many religious literatures are created with poets such as Luis de León, San Juan de la Cruz, Santa Teresa de Jesús, etc.
The Baroque is the most important period for Spanish culture. We are in the era of the Spanish Empire. The famous Don Quixote de La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes was written during this period. Other writers of this period are also: Francisco de Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca or Tirso de Molina.
In the Age of Enlightenment, names such as Leandro Fernández de Moratín, Benito Jerónimo Feijóo, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos or Leandro Fernández de Moratín can be found.
During the Romantic period, José Zorrilla created one of the most emblematic figures in European literature in Don Juan Tenorio. Other writers from this period include Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, José de Espronceda, Rosalía de Castro and Mariano José de Larra.
In realism we find names like Benito Pérez Galdós, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Leopoldo Alas(Clarín), Concepción Arenal, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and Menéndez Pelayo. Realism offers representations of contemporary life and society “as they were”. In the spirit of general “realism”, realist writers chose to depict everyday and mundane activities and experiences rather than romanticised or stylised representations.
The group known as the “1898 Generation” was shaped by the destruction of the Spanish fleet in Cuba by American gunboats in 1898, which triggered a cultural crisis in Spain. The “catastrophe” of 1898 prompted established writers to seek practical political, economic and social solutions in essays grouped under the literary rubric of regeneracionismo. For a group of younger writers, including Miguel de Unamuno, Pío Baroja and José Martínez Ruiz (Azorín), the catastrophe and its cultural repercussions inspired a deeper and more radical literary change that affected both form and content. These writers, along with Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Antonio Machado, Ramiro de Maeztu and Ángel Ganivet, are known as “Generation 98”.
The generation of 1914 or Novecentismo. The next “generation” of Spanish writers, after that of 1998, is already questioning the value of this terminology. In 1914, the year of the outbreak of the First World War and the publication of the first major work by the main voice of the generation, José Ortega y Gasset, some slightly younger writers had already left their mark on Spanish culture.
Among the most important voices are the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, the scholars and essayists Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Gregorio Marañón, Manuel Azaña, Maria Zambrano, Eugeni d’Ors, Clara Campoamor and Ortega y Gasset, as well as the novelists Gabriel Miró, Ramón Pérez de Ayala and Ramón Gómez de la Serna. Although still motivated by the national and existential questions that preoccupied writers in 1998, they approached these issues with a greater sense of distance and objectivity. Salvador de Madariaga, another renowned intellectual and writer, was one of the founders of the College of Europe and the author of the founding manifesto of the Liberal International.
The generation of 1927, when the poets Pedro Salinas, Jorge Guillén, Federico García Lorca, Vicente Aleixandre, Dámaso Alonso. They were all scholars of their national literary heritage, renewed proof of the impact of the calls of the regeneracionistas and the generation of 1898 for the Spanish intelligentsia to turn at least partly inwards.
The winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature at the beginning of the twentieth century were Camilo José Cela and Miguel Delibes of Generation 36. Spain is one of the countries with the most Nobel Prize winners in literature and, together with the Latin American laureates, they have made Spanish-language literature one of the most awarded of all time. The Spanish authors are : José Echegaray, Jacinto Benavente, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Vicente Aleixandre and Camilo José Cela. The Portuguese writer José Saramago, who also received the prize, lived in Spain for many years and spoke both Portuguese and Spanish. He was also known for his Iberian ideas.
The generation of the 1950s is also called the children of the civil war. Rosa Chacel, Gloria Fuertes, Jaime Gil de Biedma, Juan Goytisolo, Carmen Martín Gaite, Ana María Matute, Juan Marsé, Blas de Otero, Gabriel Celaya, Antonio Gamoneda, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio or Ignacio Aldecoa.
Spanish artists have had a major influence on the development of various European art movements. Due to its historical, geographical and generational diversity, Spanish art is marked by a multitude of influences. The Moorish heritage in Spain, especially in Andalusia, can still be felt today. European influences come from Italy, Germany and France, especially from the Baroque and Neoclassical periods.
During the Golden Age, there were painters such as El Greco, José de Ribera, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Francisco Zurbarán. Also during the Baroque period, Diego Velázquez painted some of the most famous Spanish portraits, such as Las Meninas or Las Hilanderas.
Francisco Goya painted in a historical period that encompassed the Spanish War of Independence, the struggles between liberals and absolutists, and the rise of the nation states.
Joaquín Sorolla is a well-known Impressionist painter and there are many important Spanish painters who belong to the artistic movement of Modernism, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Juan Gris and Joan Miró.
The Plateresque style extended from the beginning of the 16th century to the last third of the century and its stylistic influence permeated the works of all the great Spanish artists of the time. Alonso Berruguete (Valladolid School) is called the “prince of Spanish sculpture”. His main works are the upper choir stalls of Toledo Cathedral, the tomb of Cardinal Tavera in the same cathedral and the altarpiece of the Visitation in the church of Santa Úrsula in the same city. Other notable sculptors are Bartolomé Ordóñez, Diego de Siloé, Juan de Juni and Damián Forment.
There were two schools of special talent and flair: the School of Seville, which included Juan Martínez Montañés, whose most famous works are the Seville Cathedral crucifix, another by Vergara and a figure of St John; and the School of Granada, which included Alonso Canobelonged, who is credited with an Immaculate Conception and a Madonna of the Rosary.
Other notable Andalusian Baroque sculptors are Pedro de Mena, Pedro Roldán and his daughter Luisa Roldán, Juan de Mesa and Pedro Duque Cornejo. In the 20th century, the most important Spanish sculptors were Julio González, Pablo Gargallo, Eduardo Chillida and Pablo Serrano.
Spanish cinema has enjoyed great international success, including Oscars for recent films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Volver. In the long history of Spanish cinema, the great filmmaker Luis Buñuel was the first to achieve worldwide recognition, followed by Pedro Almodóvar in the 1980s (La Movida Madrileña). Mario Camus and Pilar Miró worked together in Curro Jiménez.
Spanish cinema has also enjoyed international success over the years with films by directors such as Segundo de Chomón, Florián Rey, Luis García Berlanga, Carlos Saura, Julio Medem, Isabel Coixet, Alejandro Amenábar, Icíar Bollaín and the brothers David Trueba and Fernando Trueba.
Actresses Sara Montiel and Penélope Cruz or actor Antonio Banderas are among those who have become Hollywood stars.
Due to its historical and geographical diversity, Spanish architecture was influenced by various factors. As an important provincial city founded by the Romans with extensive Roman-era infrastructure, Cordoba became a cultural capital, especially in terms of Arab-style architecture during the Islamic Umayyad dynasty. Later, Arabic-style architecture continued to develop under successive Islamic dynasties, up to the Nasrids, who built their famous palace complex in Granada.
At the same time, Christian kingdoms gradually emerged and developed their own style. They developed a pre-Romanesque style when they were isolated for a time from the dominant European architectural influences of the early Middle Ages, and then integrated the Romanesque and Gothic currents. The Gothic style then experienced an extraordinary flowering, producing many buildings throughout the region. The Mudejar style, from the 12th to the 17th century, developed through the introduction of Arabic motifs, patterns and elements into European architecture.
The arrival of Modernism in academia produced much of the architecture of the twentieth century. An influential style based in Barcelona and known as Modernism produced a number of important architects, including Gaudí. The international style was led by groups such as GATEPAC. Spain is currently experiencing a revolution in contemporary architecture and Spanish architects such as Rafael Moneo, Santiago Calatrava, Ricardo Bofill and many others have achieved worldwide fame.
Music and dance
Spanish music is often seen abroad as synonymous with flamenco, a style of music from western Andalusia that, contrary to popular belief, is not widespread outside this region. In Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Castile, the Basque Country, Galicia and Asturias, there are different regional styles of folk music. Pop, rock, hip-hop and heavy metal are also popular.
In the field of classical music, Spain has produced a number of famous composers such as Isaac Albéniz, Manuel de Falla and Enrique Granados, as well as singers and performers such as Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Montserrat Caballé, Alicia de Larrocha, Alfredo Kraus, Pablo Casals, Ricardo Viñes, José Iturbi, Pablo de Sarasate, Jordi Savall and Teresa Berganza. Spain has more than forty professional orchestras, including the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona, the Orquesta Nacional de España and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid. The main opera houses are the Teatro Real, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Teatro Arriaga and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.
Thousands of music lovers also come to Spain every year for the internationally renowned summer festivals Sónar, which often presents the best pop and techno bands, and Benicàssim, which usually features alternative rock and dance groups. These two festivals mark Spain’s international musical presence and reflect the tastes of the country’s young people.
The most popular traditional musical instrument, the guitar, comes from Spain. Traditional bagpipers or gaiteros are typical of the north, especially in Asturias and Galicia.
Spanish cuisine consists of a variety of dishes resulting from geographical, cultural and climatic differences. It is heavily influenced by the seafood available in the waters around the country and reflects the country’s deep Mediterranean roots. Spain’s long history of many cultural influences has produced a unique cuisine. Three main areas in particular are easily identifiable:
Mediterranean Spain – all these coastal regions, from Catalonia to Andalusia – makes heavy use of seafood, such as pescaíto frito (fried fish), various cold soups like gazpacho and many rice dishes like paella from Valencia and arròs negre (black rice) from Catalonia.
Inner Spain – Castile – hot, thick soups like Castilian soup, made with bread and garlic, and hearty stews like cocido madrileño. Food is traditionally preserved by salting, such as Spanish ham, or marinated in olive oil, such as Manchego cheese.
Atlantic Spain – the entire north coast, including Asturian, Basque, Cantabrian and Galician cuisine – stews based on vegetables and fish such as caldo gallego and marmitako. And also the lightly cured lacón ham. The most famous cuisine of the northern countries is often based on seafood, such as cod, albacore tuna or Basque anchovies, or polbo á feira and shellfish dishes based on Galician squid.
While variants of football were played in Spain as far back as Roman times, the sport has been dominated by English association football in Spain since the beginning of the 20th century. Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona are two of the most successful football clubs in the world. The country’s national football team won the UEFA European Football Championship in 1964, 2008 and 2012 and the FIFA World Cup in 2010. It is the first team to win three major international tournaments in a row.
Basketball, tennis, cycling, handball, futsal, motorcycling and, more recently, Formula 1 are also important, as there are Spanish champions in all these disciplines. Today, Spain is a world sporting power, especially since the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, which created a great interest in sport in the country. The tourism industry has led to an improvement in sports infrastructure, especially for water sports, golf and skiing.
Rafael Nadal is Spain’s top tennis player and has won several Grand Slam titles, including the men’s title at Wimbledon 2010. In northern Spain, the Basque game of pelota is very popular. Alberto Contador is Spain’s top cyclist and has won several Grand Tour titles, including two Tour de France titles.