Long influenced by Europe, North Africa, and the wider world as well as drawing on its own layers of tradition, Spain has always taken pride in its extraordinary artistic culture.
With its tall Gothic spires and the unmistakable sounds of flamenco music floating in the air, Spain has always been home to a community of artists, writers, and architects who look at ways of bringing Spanish culture to the world.
Let's look at some of the highlights of Spanish culture:
The oldest remaining works of architecture in Spain go back to the megalithic culture, and are dated from approximately 3000BC. Many Roman monuments are also conserved, among the most important being the great aqueduct of Segovia and the Roman Theatre of Mérida.
Gothic style was introduced to Spain in the 12th century, arriving at its greatest importance during the 13th Century when the cathedrals of Burgos, Toledo and Leon were built.
Spain also played a highly important role in Modernism, with the most outstanding example being the works of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona. Construction on his great cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, started in the 1880s and has an anticipated completion date of 2026 - the centennial of Gaudí's death.
Considering Spain produces 44% of the world's olives, it's no surprise that one of the staples of Spanish cooking is olive oil. The modern Spanish cook could not do without garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and beans. Lashings of fresh bread will almost always be served with a meal.
The tradition of serving tapas was designed to encourage conversation, and almost every bar in Spain will offer hot or cold tapas when ordering a drink, at no extra charge. Some areas like Almería, Granada or Jaén in Andalusia and Madrid or Salamanca are famous for that very reason.
Another traditional favourite is the churro, a type of Spanish donut. These are particularly delicious when dipped into a mug of thick hot chocolate.
Despite much debate over animal cruelty, bullfighting is still a very popular sport in Spain. To traditionalists, the corrida (bullfight) is about many things: death, bravery, skill, but most importantly, performance and showmanship.
La Lidea (the art of bullfighting) has a long history, dating back to the mid 18th century. The modern corrida is highly ritualised, with three distinct stages or tercios (thirds), the start of each being announced by a trumpet sound.
The corrida starts with a parade called paseíllo in which the participants enter the arena to salute the presiding dignitary. Pedro Romero is widely regarded as the world’s greatest torero (bullfighter), and was in his late seventies when he was appointed director of Escuela de Tauromaquia de Sevilla, the country’s first bullfighter’s college.
Flamenco is the traditional song and dance of the gypsies of Andalusia. Song, dance and guitar are blended into passionate rhythms which are often improvised and spontaneous. Flamenco can have many themes, including modern stories, politics, love, history and humor. However, the lyrics and tone will often speak of tragedy, reflecting the suffering of its creators.
In recent years flamenco has become popular all over the world and is taught in many countries - in Japan flamenco is so popular there are more academies there than in Spain!
Flamenco exists in three forms: cante (the song), baile (the dance) and guitarra (guitar playing). The heart and soul of Flamenco, however, lies in the tradition of singing. The singer's role is very important with the guitar playing an accompaniment to the song.