Spain and the Spanish. How can one nation yield so many fantastic contributions to the world over such a turbulent history?
There is a dazzling number of creations, inventions, traditions and cultural landmarks which have come from this magnificent Iberian nation, perhaps as a result of the countless civilisations who have crossed the borders in friendship and in enmity. In celebration of Spain, we've compiled a 3-part list of some of the country's best contributions to the world, from culinary masterpieces to art-world icons:
Art has been, and still is, one of Spain's most illustrious and productive culture offerings with painters, sculptors and more hailing from all 17 regions. These artists were more than just your average fare; these were leaders of their fields and pioneers of various new art movements.
You had the evocative abstract works of the progressive Pablo Picasso. His spectacular arts heralded the birth of the abstract movement, combining shapes and colours to convey symbols and emotions through abstract imagery. His most famous work is arguably the iconic Guernica, a deeply disturbing depiction of the bombing of Basque village Guernica in the Spanish Civil War. You had the dreamlike, bizarre and timeless works of the pioneering surrealist Salvador Dalí, whose mysterious ideas took the form of lobster telephone, slender elephants and warped human figures. His most well-known work is likely the Persistance of Time, a series of melting clocks on a beach which could well have been a beach in Dalí's homeland of Catalonia. You also had artists from further back in history, including the haunting and unhinged works of Francisco Goya, and the Baroque portraits of Diego Velázquez.
There can be no doubt that Spain's cuisine had emerged as a European dietary staple, as with other Mediterranean nations. Food takes up more than just an essential day to day resource - in Spain, food and the ceremonies of food are an art form, an occasion and a conservation piece all rolled into one. The concept of tapas, after all, has its origins in Spain and this concept of small dishes presented to diners all at the same time has taken off around the world.
Spain brought to us excellent dishes, combining all the different ingredients on offer on the Iberian Peninsula to make famous dishes such as paella, tortillas, churros, chorizo. Paella is an illustrious rice dish, whose many applications and flavour variety had given it since it spread like wildfire from its origins in Valencia to around the globe. The humble and traditional Spanish tortilla, or tortilla de patatas is a fantastic meal staple, an omelette with potatoes, egg and occasionally, but not for purists, an onion or two. The sweet and sparkly churro has seen something of a resurgence over recent years, as its popularity has spread to America and beyond. These dough-pastry fingers are often combined with a sneaky chocolate dip, making them out as something akin to a straight donut. Finally, the fantastic chorizo is a sausage of substance, seasoned with paprika and garlic.
Festivals and celebrations
Let's get straight to the point: Spain does festivals really, really well. Across the country and all through the year, Spain has a celebration for almost every month, each with its own theme and story. Almost every Spanish town and city has its own celebration, often with its own patron saint or historic figure. The Spanish people love to get together and celebrate, no matter where and no matter when.
Let's go through a couple of these festivals and the wonderful traditions they feature. There is the iconic Tomatina which has to be one of the most well-known Spanish festivals. This extravaganza takes over the town of Buñol in Valencia and sees its inhabitants and visitors engage in an enormous tomato fight, where buckets of tomatoes are hurled at people until the entire town is literally painted red. The village of Lanjarón near Granada in Andalucía enjoys a water festival known as the festival of San Juan, where from midnight to the first hour of the morning, participants take part in an enormous water fight where the aim is to reach the square in the centre of town. At Easter time, the whole country takes part in the Semana Santa or the Holy Week, where fantastic parades and carnivals take place, with enormous floats making their way through the tightly packed streets. The ending of this week finishes with the famous 'burying of the sardine', a ceremony where a model sardine is buried to signify rebirth. Meanwhile, in Valencia, they indulge in a festival of fire, known as 'Las Fallas', which features fireworks, bonfires and more let off every day for four days a year.
Those are just some of our favourite parts of Spanish traditions and Spanish life which have enchanted, beguiled and enthralled the world. What's your favourite thing about Spain? Leave us your comments below!
This article was first published on the Discovery Blog in October 2018