The culture of Spain is rooted in the influences left behind by the various peoples who passed through the country over the centuries. Its history, geography and peninsular nature have helped shape the country’s culture.
Although a common cultural heritage exists, the various regions have each developed separate features in their cultural traditions, such as Galicia’s typical bagpipes, the castells (human towers) in Catalonia, flamenco in Andalusia, among many others. These cultural expressions are reflected in all fields: art, languages and dialects, music and gastronomy.
A key differentiating feature of Spain is the wide linguistic variety with which its peoples communicate. While Castilian (Spanish) is the official language, it is not everyone’s mother tongue. There are, in fact, other languages that are very important at the regional level (the co-official languages) and are currently used in their respective areas, such as Basque in the Basque country and Navarre, Catalan in the Balearic Islands and Catalonia (together with Aranese), Valencian in the region of Valencia and Galician in Galicia. As a result, visitors to Spain may experience the various facets of Spanish culture, whether speaking with the inhabitants of a small village in Castile, casting aside stress and relaxing in one of the beautiful villages of Andalusia or living it up in one of the large cosmopolitan cities such as Madrid or Barcelona.
Spain’s culture has also been shaped by its geography. Its strong maritime tradition is a direct outcome of its peninsular geography. Air transport has allowed its beaches on the Mediterranean cost, particularly the Costa del Sol, to host millions of tourists each year.
Apart from the subtropical belt of the Canary Islands, Spain has Mediterranean and Atlantic climates, as well as, in the interior of the peninsula, a mild Continental climate characterised by hot summers and cold winters. The mild, dry summers have given rise to a culture in which a lot of time is spent outdoors. The courtyards typically found in buildings and public squares are where people meet to chat and enjoy the climate. On the arrival of spring and summer, the traditional local festivals are another outdoor cultural and social activity in many towns and villages around the country.
World-renowned festivals in Spain express the country’s culture in all its nuances depending on the particular part of the country where they are held. These festivities are deeply rooted in many areas and the local inhabitants regard them as part of the particular town’s character. Some of the best known festivals are San Fermín in Pamplona, the Fallas celebration in Valencia and Seville’s April Fair.
Another differentiating feature of Spanish culture is Mediterranean cuisine. However, it is not strictly correct to talk of a national cuisine but rather of a wide range of regional cuisines, each influenced by local climate and life styles.
Mediterranean cuisine is associated with the famous Mediterranean diet that has proven to be so healthy and wholesome. This diet is based on the trilogy of wheat, olives and grapevines, together with other ingredients such as rice, legumes, garlic, vegetables, dairy products, fish, meat, eggs and fruit. This richly varied and complete diet is interpreted with different nuances and particularities in the different Mediterranean areas of Spain. Meal times are normally around one or two hours later than the European average due to the number of hours of daylight enjoyed in the country.
As well as the climate and gastronomy, the culture of Spain is becoming a well-established alternative thanks to the wealth of its museums, monuments, traditions and cultural vitality.
Spain possesses numerous buildings and architecture that UNESCO has declared World Heritage Sites for their historical and cultural value. The inventory of significant monuments around the country is approximately 20,000.
There are notable architectural remains from the era of the Roman conquest. Key examples are the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, and Mérida still conserves around eight kilometres of Roman aqueduct, a Roman bridge over the Guadiana River, significant remains of a Roman forum, an amphitheatre and a temple dedicated to the goddess Diana.
Spain is also home to various examples of medieval architecture. Outside the areas under Muslim control, the most important styles are the Romanesque and Gothic designs of buildings both civil and religious (cathedrals).
The architecture in the south reflects the presence of the Muslims: fountains as an integral part of urban design, courtyards in homes, ceramic roof tiles and the decorative use of glazed tiles. The best known example is the Alhambra in Granada, which displays a blend of Islamic architecture and European influences.
With regard to modern architecture, outstanding names include Antonio Gaudí, one of the precursors of the genre, whose work blended traditional designs and natural shapes with the new styles. Probably the best known example of his work is the unfinished Sagrada Familia (Basilica of the Holy Family) in Barcelona.
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is possibly the most famous example of contemporary architecture in Spain, although its architect, Frank Gehry, is a resident of the United States.
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