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41 Facts About the History of Spain That’ll Surprise You

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Ever found yourself fascinated by Spain’s rich history, but you’re not keen on thick, dusty books piling up? Here are 41 facts about the history of Spain—a quick and easy way to get clued up.

Spain’s history is essential, as it was one of the first and largest global empires. The Spanish Empire was at the forefront of global exploration and colonial expansion in the 16th century, undoubtedly impacting world history and culture.

While this post might not make you a historian, it will boost confidence the next time someone brings up “Spanish history.”

So without further ado, let’s discover the most fascinating facts about Spain‘s history.

Spain-City-Skyline-with-Flag facts about the history of spain

41 Facts About the History of Spain

While there are so many facts about Spain, these will all have one thing in common: a place in Spain’s extensive history.

Here are 41 facts about the history of Spain that will blow your mind: 

1. The Moors Had a Significant Impact on Spain’s Development

A quick stroll through southern Spain paints an intriguing picture of the Moorish influence. You can see it in architecture, artwork, music, language, and more.

The Moors invaded Spain and other parts of Europe in 711 AD, bringing religious, philosophical, and cultural innovations.

They introduced the Spanish to new concepts in alchemy, algebra, chemistry, and Aristotelian philosophy. If not for the Moors, Spanish cuisine would not be what it is today. They brought various spices: saffron, orange, lemon, peach, date, fig, apricot, ginger, pomegranate, and other foods.

Many historical sites and castles are reminiscent of the Moors all over the country, including the Alhambra, the Royal Alcázar of Seville, and the Aljafería Palace.

Alhambra-Spain
Alhambra Spain

Photo by Julio GM from Pexels 

2. Spain’s National Anthem Has No Lyrics

You read that right; Spain’s national anthem, the “Marcha Real,” or Royal March, has not a single word. It’s one of only four patriotic songs with no lyrics. Apart from Spain, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and San Marino all boast lyric-free anthems.

The Royal March was composed by Manuel de Espinosa de los Monteros in 1761 as a military march for the Spanish Infantry. It became the official national anthem after Charles III declared it the official march of Spain.

These days, you’ll see Spanish citizens (awkwardly) humming along to the tune.

3. Spain Started As Separate Kingdoms

Spain has a whopping 50 provinces under its belt, and luckily these are grouped into 17 autonomous regions, which are far easier to memorize. These include the regions of Andalucia, the Balearic Islands, Catalonia, and Asturias, to name a few.

The reason behind these regions’ existence is not to make life easier for geographers. Spain was once several separate kingdoms that were unified when Ferdinand II succeeded the Crown of Aragon in 1479. This powerful unification created what we know today as Spain.

4. The First Modern Novel Was Written in Spain

There’s no better way to make history than with a groundbreaking new genre or concept in literature. Our languages and stories are part of what makes us human. And, with his book Don Quixote, a Spanish author named Miguel de Cervantes left his mark as the creator of the first modern novel. 

Miguel de Cervantes is seen as the most outstanding Spanish writer of all time. His novel is also considered one of the pinnacles in the world of literature. If you’re dying to get your hands on this book but can’t speak a lick of Spanish, there are English editions of Don Quixote available. 

Old-Book-On-Table-With-Ancient-Watch

Photo by cottonbro studio from Pexels

5. 70% of Spain Is Empty

The Kingdom of Spain is Europe’s second-largest country after France. However, most of the country is barren, rural, and untouched by human civilization. That said, Spain has a population of nearly 48 million people.

Most of these people huddled around big cities such as Barcelona and Madrid to make a living. The rest of Spain comprises sparsely populated rural villages dotted about the vast lands.

You might wonder why most of the land is going to waste, but that’s not what’s happening. Most of these deserted regions lie in Spain’s Iberian System, a mountain range with steep geology and high altitudes, resulting in uninhabitable and limited living conditions.  

6. Dine at the Oldest Restaurant on Earth in Madrid 

Madrid’s Restaurante Botín holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s oldest continually operating restaurant. This cozy dining spot was founded in 1725, making it 298 years old. It’s maintained its charm and authenticity, which many historic restaurants have failed to do.

If only these walls could speak, we’d learn more about Francisco Goya’s days as a staff member before he became famous. And all the prolific guests who have indulged in their tantalizing roast lamb and suckling pig throughout the centuries. 

7. Most Spanish People Have Two Surnames

The use of surnames in Spain started in the 10th century. Did you know that most Spanish people go by two last names?

Traditionally, Spaniards have always inherited both of their parents’ last names. For example, Federico García Lorca or Pablo Ruiz Picasso. However, using only one surname when addressing them in everyday life is customary.

Most Spaniards use their paternal surnames when addressed. Other times both are used if the first surname is too common. Some of the most common last names include García, Fernández, González, and Rodríguez. 

8. The Delicate Art of Winemaking in Spain

Winemaking is a beloved tradition in Spanish culture, and the wine sector plays a crucial role in Spain’s economy and development. Remember those sparse, rural regions of Spain from before? These regions are excellent for extensive vine growth, pouring in many opportunities to produce and export wines. 

While the Spaniards have conquered the art of winemaking for thousands of years, they are only now reaping the rewards of their efforts on a global scale. Spain is up there with Italy and France thanks to their diverse and high-quality wines.

Spanish wine-making history dates back to roughly 1100 BC. Raventós Codorníu is the oldest wine producer in Spain, with a history spanning half a millennium, and is one of the oldest in the world.

Related Read: Interesting Facts About Wine

9. Spain’s Extensive Art History 

Spanish art history is extensive and essential to art enthusiasts and historians. As such, it’s no surprise that Spain has produced an impressive list of renowned artists such as Goya, Picasso, and Velázquez.

El Greco’s religious relics, Diego Velázquez’s baroque brush strokes, and Salvador Dalí’s surrealist sphere all hold an important place in history. And hosting these legendary artworks are some of the world’s finest art galleries.

Spain’s art museums are undoubtedly celebrated, which is why it is home to approximately 800 of them. The largest of these art museums is the Prado, which boasts an extensive collection of Old Masters. 

Beautifully-Painted-Cathedral-Ceiling

Photo by Genine Alyssa Pedreno-Andrada from Pexels

10. Inventions That Changed the World

There are innovations and designs that will forever change the course of our world. And some of these inventions were born in Spain. If it weren’t for Spanish inventor Manuel Jalón Corominas, who invented the mop in 1956, we’d still be scrubbing the floors on our hands and knees. 

Let’s not forget about the Marquina oil bottle, the Minipimer hand blender, and the Fortuny floor lamp, all designed to make our lives easier. But wait, there’s more. A Spanish military colonel, Emilio Herrera Linares, invented the first space suit, making it possible for a man to walk on the moon!

Hot chocolate, sherry, glasses, and the convenient pencil sharpener are all credited to Spaniards.

11. Nearly 200,000 People Lost Their Lives in the Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War was a bloodbath to say the least, lasting for three years, from July 17/07/1936, to 01/04/1939. During this time, Spain became a breeding ground for systematic killing, mass atrocities, torture, mob violence, and other despicable behaviors.

What led to such a devastating affair? It was a clash between the Republicans and Nationalists fueled by labor unrest and the 16/02/1936 election. Of course, that does not even begin to describe everything that occurred leading up to and during the civil war. 

The Nationalists won the civil war and ruled Spain until their leader, General Francisco Franco, died in November 1975.  

12. Christopher Columbus Was Not Spanish

Many people get it wrong regarding the man who developed the sailing route that led to the “discovery” of the New World of the Americas. Christopher Columbus was born in an Italian city called Genoa. He then spent many years working in Portugal and Spain.

After many expeditions, he finally retired and passed away in Valladolid, Spain, which is where the confusion comes in. Actual, well-known Spanish conquistadors, Francisco Pizarro and Hernán Cortés, conquered the Inca and Aztec empires, respectively.

Statue-of-Christopher-Columbus
Statue-of-Christopher-Columbus

Photo by Kevin Olson on Unsplash

13. The Spanish-American War Ended Spain’s Colonial Empire

Spain’s colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere ended after the Spanish-American War of 1898. Following the internal explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba, the United States decided to declare war on Spain

The war ended on December 10, the same year it began with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. After the treaty was signed, the U.S. took ownership of Guam, the Philippine Islands, and Puerto Rico and gained partial control of Cuba.

Next Read: Interesting Facts About Cuba

14. The Spanish Monarchy Is Still Alive and Well

Not enough people know this fact, but Spain still has an active constitutional monarchy called “The Crown.” King Felipe VI, Queen Letizia, and their daughters, Leonor, Princess of Asturias, and Infanta Sofía, represent the monarchy.

15. “The Crown” Ceased to Exist at Some Point 

The Kingdom of Spain came into existence officially in 1516. The Crown has a winding history, though. The monarchy ended in April 1931 when the Second Republic dethroned King Alfonso XIII. Then the Spanish Constitution of 1978 reestablished a constitutional monarchy.

16. The King of Spain Is Related to Queen Elizabeth II

King Felipe VI of Spain had a nickname for the late Queen Elizabeth II, “Aunt Lillibet,” also used by other British royal family members. There’s more to this affectionate gesture, though. Felipe VI is actually related to Elizabeth II from both of his parent’s sides.

Both royals are descendants of Queen Victoria, making them distant cousins. To elaborate further, Queen Elizabeth was the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and King Felipe was the great-great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria.

If you’re feeling dizzy after reading that, Europe has an extensive history of royal inbreeding to read up on.

Stunning-Gold-Crown-on-Table

Photo by Merlin Lightpainting fromPexels

17. Spain’s Involvement In World War I

Spain wasn’t really involved in both world wars as it was still recovering from its own civil wars. During World War I, Spain remained neutral and had no direct military involvement but entered embattled areas to aid prisoners of war.

18. Spain’s Politics Aligned With the Nazis in World War II

Then, when World War II started, Spain politically aligned with Nazi Germany under General Franco’s far-right Nationalist regime. While the country remained neutral, Spain did collaborate with the Nazis throughout the war.

19. Spain’s Currency Before the Euro

The euro was introduced to Spain in 2002 to facilitate travel between European countries. But before the euro, the Spanish peseta had been the official currency since 1869 during the reign of Isabel II.

The first coins minted in 1869 were engraved by Luis Marchionni, who served as the principal engraver to the Royal Madrid Mint from 1861. Spain’s paper money contained centuries’ worth of legends and history stamped and written on it. Each banknote reflected an era, period, or significant event throughout Spanish history.

Euros-Banknotes-and-coins

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

20. The World’s Second Most Widely-Spoken Language Comes From Spain

The world has about 440 million native Spanish speakers, second only to Mandarin speakers. Although Spain’s official language is (drumroll) Spanish, a few regions, such as Basque, Catalan, and Galician, have their own official languages.

Spanish is derived from a Latin dialect introduced to the country’s Iberian Peninsula by the Romans.

Next Read: Interesting Facts About Language

21. Which Brings Us to the Roman’s Conquest of the Iberian Peninsula 

The Roman Republic invaded and seized territories in the Iberian Peninsula in 219/8 BC. They used their military strength to overpower the native Iberian, Celtic, Celtiberian, and Aquitanian tribes. And more importantly, to defeat their rivals, the Carthaginian Empire.

22. Subsequently, Spain Got its Name From the Romans

The Roman conquest of the Iberian region lasted for two centuries (218 B.C.–19 A.D.). This gave the Romans plenty of time to influence the language and culture of these territories. They named the Iberian Peninsula Hispania, which literally means “country of the Spaniards.

Men-Dressed-in-Roman-Armor

Photo by AV RAW from Pexels

23. The Tribes Who Founded Spain

The Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians are credited with finding Spain first. The Phoenicians settled and arrived in southern Spain after 800 B.C., shortly after the founding of the most incredible Phoenician colony in what is now known as Tunisia, Africa.

Then, according to Herodotus, the first Greek to arrive in Iberian territory around 640 BC was the sea captain Kolaios. Lastly, the Carthaginians (also from Tunisia) would make their way to southern Spain between 575 B.C. and 206 B.C., establishing a firm empire.

24. The Mighty Bull—Spain’s National Animal

The bull plays a massive part in Spain’s history, becoming a significant cultural symbol. Its value in Spanish culture stems from the importance of bullfighting. Known as “corrida de toros”, this intense ritualized event takes place in three stages, accompanied by an orchestra, three bullfighters, and six wild bulls.

You may wonder why this 8th-century act is still so relevant and widely performed throughout the country. That’s because bullfighting is not just a sport for entertainment purposes; there is a cultural and spiritual meaning behind it. It’s an ancient sacrificial ritual representing the dance of death between beast and human.

Bullfight-Show-in-Seville
Bullfight Show in Seville

Photo by Marko Obrvan from Pexels

25. It Originated in the U.S., So Why Is It Called the Spanish Flu?

Thanks to its nickname, many people think the 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic must have started in Spain. The truth couldn’t be further from this fact; it’s quite literally 4,712 miles away. Researchers believe that this deadly virus most likely originated in the United States.

The first case of this flu was recorded at Fort Riley, Kansas, on 11/03/1918. The Spanish flu was fatal, causing the deaths of 675,000 people in the United States and 50 million worldwide. It’s called the “Spanish flu” because Spain was the only country reporting freely on the outbreak towards the end of World War II.

26. The Spanish Flag Is Based on the Naval Ensign of 1785 

Spain’s current flag originates from the design of a 1786 naval ensign, Pabellón de la Marina de Guerra. The story goes that before 1978, Spain used a white banner with a coat of arms, but this flag was often confused with those from other regions. King Charles III then ordered a competition to find the best flag to represent his country on their warships.

A designer named Antonio Valdés y Bazán showed Charles III 12 different flags, and the 1785 naval ensign stood out. From then onwards, we’ve recognized Spain’s flag as the one with two red stripes and a yellow one in the middle. 

The red symbolizes strength and courage, while the yellow represents generosity. And the coat of arms pays homage to all the original kingdoms that unified to establish Spain.

Spanish-Flag
Spanish Flag

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

27. Catalonia Is Different From the Rest of Spain…

Catalonia is unlike the rest of Spain. Its people have their own language, history, and culture. Catalonians claim they have different ideas and standards and do not identify as Spaniards.

Barcelona is a famous city in the autonomous region of Catalonia. Other cities and towns include Girona, Tarragona, Terrassa, and Sabadell.

28. As a result, Many Catalonians Are Still Seeking Independence

Catalonia’s independence seeks to revive its language and traditions and aims to secede from Spain. The majority of Catalonia leans towards becoming an independent republic. Spanish and Catalan are not the same, although most Catalans speak Spanish as their first native language.

There was even some uproar when nine Catalan independence leaders stood trial in 2019 for antagonizing protests. They were primarily convicted for their role in organizing the 2017 Catalan independence referendum. This sparked the massive Catalonia protests in 2019, supported by a whopping 150,000 civilians.

29. Again, Catalan is Not the Same As Spanish

Catalan uses more vowels (eight), which can be neutral, closed, or open, determined by where the vowel is stressed. Compared to Spanish, which only has five vowels, Spanish mostly requires a vowel sound between consonant sounds. Catalan has consonant clusters.

Lastly, voiced and unvoiced vowels are used in Catalan. As you can see, there’s quite a difference, but unsurprisingly, many believe Catalan is just a dialect of Spanish. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as Catalan is just as different from Spanish as Italian and Portuguese.

Protesters-with-Catalan-Flag

Photo by Külli Kittus on Unsplash  

30. Spain Consumes 35% of European Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the most consumed and widely grown vegetable in the country. You might be wondering what this has to do with Spain’s history. The Spanish had not used this vibrant fruit in their cooking until the conquistadors conquered the Aztec empire.

They brought tons of tomatoes back to Europe, known as the Columbian exchange. The tomato grows natively in the lower Andes mountains, which the Aztecs cultivated for their cooking. The Aztec word for tomato is “tomatl,” meaning “plump fruit,” which the Spaniards adapted to “tomate.”

31. Speaking of the Aztec Empire…

Spain’s conquest of Mexico started in February 1519, when they came face-to-face with the mighty Aztec Empire. The Spanish helped modernize Aztec civilization by introducing them to their farming practices, domestic animals, and more. They also helped stop human sacrifice, a ritual performed by the Aztecs.

Eventually, Spain set out to conquer the Aztecs under the leadership of the conquistador, Hernán Cortés. He saw the natives as mere slaves (he enslaved more than 3,000 Indians) and used them for their gold and treasures, then he tried to force his beliefs on them.

Many Aztecs were unhappy and tried to resist the Spaniards. But with a smallpox outbreak that arrived with the Europeans, too many natives died out, weakening their defense.

Related Read: Interesting Facts About Mexico

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Photo by TonyNojmanSK from Pexels

32. Also, Spain’s History With the Inca Empire 

It’s no secret that Spain conquered multiple empires and tribes, and the mighty Inca Empire was next in line. Known as the Conquest of Peru, the Spanish destroyed much of the Inca culture and forced their own onto the natives, much like the Aztecs.

Another similarity is how they defeated the Inca Empire with a mixture of smallpox and an efficient strategy. On 16/11/1532, the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro met the Inca king Atahualpa in Cajamarca after the Spanish ambushed and massacred the king’s guards.

From that day on, many Inca warriors attempted to regain their empire but failed in their efforts each time. Pizarro and his men forced Atahualpa to convert to Christianity before ending his life, showing how ruthless the conquistadors were.

Related Read: Interesting Facts About Peru

33. 1492—the Most Important Event in Spanish History

1492 was a significant year in Spanish history, encapsulating major events that would forever change the course of the country’s future. King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile freed Spain from Muslim rule after almost 800 years by conquering the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.

The expulsion of Jews followed the Alhambra Decree in 1492 to eradicate their religious influence on Spanish citizens. Sadly, the Jews had three choices: die, convert, or depart. With two major religions no longer influencing its populace, you can see how this impacted much of Spain’s history.

Another significant event that occurred in the year was Columbus’s discovery of a sea route to America. Columbus left Palos de la Frontera, Spain, with his crew and sailed west, not knowing that this decision would change the course of the entire world forever.

34. How Spain Dominated the Dance Floor

On the lighter side, the Spanish are still known as top contenders in the dancing world. Not only did they invent the fiery Flamenco dancing style, but they also invented a slew of other showstoppers.

The intense Pasodoble, the fast-paced Jota Aragonesa, Zambra, and Sardana are just a few examples.

At some point in history, the country boasted over 200 traditional dances! While there may not be as many in modern times, you can still glimpse those dances in recent interpretations.

Spanish-Woman-in-Black-Flamenco-Dress

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

35. Spain Has No Physical Border With Africa, Unlike the Rest of Europe.

This is because of the two small Spanish enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, that sit on the northern shores of Morocco. Together, these small cities form the European Union’s only land borders with Africa.

Melilla, for example, has more in common with Spain than with Africa, sharing the same language, food, culture, architecture, and even currency. These two coastal cities have been part of Spain since the 15th and 17th centuries.

36. Spain Has Racked Up Plenty of World Heritage Sites

Spain boasts a whopping 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites as of December 2022, ranking them third in the world after Italy and China. UNESCO designates World Heritage Sites for their historical, scientific, or cultural significance, usually in the form of a landmark or protected area. 

And Spain has plenty to offer visitors. The top World Heritage Sites include Córdoba, Alhambra, Toledo, Granada, the Royal Alcázar of Seville, and Santiago de Compostela. Most of these sites played a significant role in Spanish history, representing the many religions and cultures once part of Spain.

Royal-Alcazar-of-Toledo
Royal Alcazar of Toledo

Photo by Pablo  Penades from Pexels 

37. Spanish People Nap at Work 

The Spanish siesta is defined as “a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal.” This tradition varies among businesses, with some having shorter or longer siesta hours. However, it commonly takes place between 2 and 5 p.m. daily.

The siesta allows Spaniards to eat, rest, and escape the unbearable heat. In fact, Ador (a town near Valencia) has made it compulsory for inhabitants to take a break from work or studies between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Shops in larger cities like Barcelona tend to close between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

According to the Journal of Applied Physiology, siestas are healthy. Having a daytime nap reduces cardiovascular stress by 37%.

38. Almost Every Town In Spain Has a Football Field

Spaniards love their football. This sport has cemented itself in Spanish history so much that 66 stadiums across the country are dedicated to football, with a whopping 21,148 clubs. Out of these clubs, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, and Atlético Madrid are the biggest.

Spain won their first FIFA World Cup at the 2010 championship in South Africa. The first national team was formed in 1920, after the establishment of the Spanish Football Federation in 1909. On 28/08/1920, Spain played Denmark in its first international match, and Patricio Arabolaza scored the only goal

39. It’s Illegal to Do These Things in Spain…

Spain has a bunch of weird laws that will probably make you scratch your head. Malaga does not condone playing paddle tennis on the beach in summer, and even crazier, Tenerife forbids sand castles. 

Ever met a Spanish fellow named Cain, Lenin, or Judas? Well, you probably won’t, because these three names are totally forbidden in the country. You’re also not allowed to beg with a dog, walk around in swimsuits, or even leave your mop on the balcony. 

Sacaba-Beach-Malaga
Sacaba Beach Malaga

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

40. Despite Its Monarchy, Spain Still Has a President

President Pedro Sánchez has been in charge of Spain’s government since 2018. He’s also referred to as the prime minister. And under him is the first deputy prime minister, or vice president, Nadia Calviño.

King Felipe VI is the head of state and the armed forces commander-in-chief. And the prime minister is the head of the government in charge of domestic and foreign policy and administration.

41. Prominent Spaniards Throughout History

Every country has prominent figures to celebrate and commemorate because of what they’ve achieved in their lifetimes. Spain is no different and has a long history of producing prominent figures. 

King Ferdinand II of Aragon (1479–1516) came out on top for his efforts to unite Spain, followed by his wife, Queen Isabella. 

Juan Carlos I, Miguel de Cervantes, and Sofía of Spain are all hailed as great Spaniards who left a mark on Spanish history.

Other well-known and celebrated figures include El Cid, Francisco Goya, and Pablo Picasso.

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