Ten things I didn’t know about Spain

 “History lies underground.  On the surface is the bustling life of Spain with its smell, noise, burning sun, decay, street life, mountain shrines, fiestas, markets, dark win, acrid dust… hard mountains, rushing ravines, hopefulness and resignation, openness, tragedy and song”  – Christopher Howse – ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Spain consists of a number of autonomous communities established in accordance to the second article of the Spanish Constitution which recognises the rights of regions and nationalities to self-government whilst also acknowledging the ‘indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation’.  Currently, Spain comprises seventeen autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, both of which are on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa.  As a highly decentralised state Spain has possibly the most modern political and territorial arrangements in Western European.   Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia are designated historic nationalities and Andalusia, although not a nationality, also has preferential status, the remaining are regional Provinces without nationality.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.   After Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Chrisendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been thoughout history, of the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.  Santiago is such an important pilgrimage destination because it is considered the burial site of the apostle, James the Great and legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where they were buried on the site of what is now the city.

 If you want to read more about St James: El Cid and Saint James

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez on the coast of Andalusia. In Spanish, it is called Vino de Jerezand according to Spanish law, sherry must come from the small triangular area of the province of Cádiz between Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.  After fermentation is complete, sherry is fortified with brandy and because the fortification takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later. In contrast, port wine is fortified halfway through its fermentation, which stops the process so that not all of the sugar is turned into alcohol.


The name Costa Blanca was allegedly conceived as a promotional name by British European Airways when it first launched its air service between London and Valencia in 1957 at the start of the package holiday boom.  At that time the cost of the fare was £38.80p which may not sound a lot now but to put that into some sort of perspective in 1960 my dad took a job at a salary of £815 a year so that fare would have been about two and a half weeks wages!  The average UK weekly wage today is £450 so on that basis a flight to Spain at British European Airline prices would now be £1,100.  Thank goodness then for Ryanair because a £30 return represents just about three hours work today in comparison with what of been about a hundred hours in 1960.

I have identified a strict hierarchy of Spanish property ownership.  First of all there are the owners and these are top of the pile, and then below them are the guests, these are the people who are occupying the apartments as friends of the owners and right at the bottom (actually some way down at the bottom) are the renters, who are common people who can’t afford overseas property investments themselves and don’t have friends who can either.

In a bullfight six bulls are killed in an afternoon or evening fight and this involves three matadors with their band of attendants, the picadorhorsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes.  If the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the fight’s president that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail.  It is called a fight but it is far from fair and the statistics show that in two hundred and fifty years only three matadors have died at the Seville bullring but they have dispatched almost two hundred and fifty bulls a year, so I can’t imagine that a lot of money changes hands betting on the outcome of the competition.

According to legend, the tapas tradition began when the King of Castille, Alfonso the Wise, visited a tavern in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and ordered a glass of sherry.  There was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty.  The King liked it, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first.  This evolved into the practice of using slices of bread or meat as a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the drink. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst and because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.

Cantabria is the richest region in the world in archaeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period (that’s the stone age to you and me).  The most significant cave painting site is the cave of Altamira, dating from about 16,000 to 9000 BC and declared, with another nine Cantabrian caves, World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.  Around thirteen thousand years ago a rockfall sealed the cave’s entrance preserving its contents until its eventual discovery which was caused by a nearby tree falling and disturbing the fallen rocks.  The really good bit about the story is that it wasn’t discovered by Howard Carter, Tony Robinson or Indiana Jones but by a nine year old girl who came across them while playing in the hills above the town in 1879.

Spain has more blue flag beaches than any other participating country with four hundred and ninety-nine along almost five thousand kilometres of coastline, the United Kingdom by comparison, has only one hundred and forty-four in nearly twelve thousand five hundred kilometres.  Greece has the second most blue flags at four hundred and thirty and the most in the Mediterranean Sea and France is third with two hundred and thirty-eight.

Galicia is a popular holiday choice with Spanish people living in the south and central cities of the country because they like to holiday in the north to escape the oppressive heat and enjoy Galicia’s famous seafood.  In August alone, eight million Spaniards travel north from cities like Madrid and Barcelona to the more temperate climate of Galicia with its green scenery and spectacular beaches.  The Galician climate is changeable and the region is often referred to in Spain as the wet or rainy region.  Despite this, it is those in the south and central cities of Spain that flee to Galicia in July and August to enjoy the hot, but not oppressive, summer weather.  The local geography is also dramatically different from that of the central and southern regions with meadows, hills and mountains and is known affectionately in Iberia as green Spain.

Spain City Index


4 responses to “Ten things I didn’t know about Spain

  1. I love the story of the origin of the “tapa”. Its always great to take a moment to see how things we take for granted came to be!

  2. That was an interesting read, especially as I knew all about it, but I should do, shouldn’t I?

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