18 Interesting Facts about Spain You Probably Didn’t Know

interesting facts about spainSpain is one of the world’s oldest cultures with a rich heritage that has influenced entire continents. It is the birthplace of the Spanish language, Pablo Picasso and Miguel Cervantes, and attracts millions of people every year.

Spain has tons to offer, from chorizos and matadors to flamenco dance and Spanish guitar. On that note, let’s look at some known (and some not so known) facts about Spain.

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  • Fact 1: Although Christopher Columbus was Italian, he set sail for the Indies under the auspices of the Spanish monarchy.

In fact, as per his agreement with the Spanish Catholic Monarchs, he claimed governorship of all lands he found for Spain, a tenth of all revenue from new found lands, and the title of ‘Admiral of the Ocean’.  The Spanish monarchs agreed to his terms, but only because they didn’t expect him to return. Needless to say, he did return, only for the Spanish crown to renege on its promises!

  • Fact 2: The Puerta del Sol (“Gate of the Sun”) plaza in Madrid is the physical center of the country.

It is marked as Km 0 for the Spanish radial road network. Think of it as Hollywood and Empire State Building combined!

  • Fact 3: Spain has been through a bunch of different names throughout its history.

The North African inhabitants who first crossed the Straits of Gibraltar called it Iberia, which meant land of rivers (‘Iber’ meant river). When the Greeks invaded the peninsula, they called it Hesperia, meaning “land of the setting sun” (since it was then the westernmost point of the European continent).

When the Carthaginians came to the land around 300 BCE, they called it Ispania, which meant “land of the rabbits”. Later, the Romans took over and Latinized the name to Hispania. Over time, this changed to España. So essentially, Spain is the “land of rabbits”!

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  • Fact 4: There is no tooth fairy in Spain.

Instead, the Spanish have a legend called ‘Ratoncito Perez’ who exchanges children’s teeth for gifts.

  • Fact 5: There is a Spanish New Year custom called Twelve Grapes.

As per this custom, Spaniards celebrate the New Year by eating one grape with their family for each bell strike of the clock (for a total of 12 grapes – hence the name). This custom was originally popularized by Spanish vine growers as a way to sell their excess grapes!

It also accounts for 20% of the world’s olive oil consumption (Italy, of course, comes in first with 30%). In fact, the average Spaniard consumes nearly 14 liters of olive oil each year.

  • Fact 7: Traditionally, you have two surnames in Spain – the first surname from your father, and the second from your mother.

For example, if your name is Juan Martín Lopez, and your wife’s name is Elena González García, your kids’ surname will be Martín González.

However, as per a new gender equality law, this tradition is now being changed to favor the mother’s last name.

  • Fact 8: Despite being one of the largest and most powerful countries in the world, Spain did not officially participate in either the First or the Second World War.

Although their official status was non-belligerent (which is actually not recognized by international law) during World War II, Spain’s leaders were ideologically aligned with Germany and Italy. Many Spanish citizens were exiled to France to fight against the Axis Powers.

  • Fact 9: Like the United Kingdom, Spain is also a constitutional monarchy.

Officially, it is called the Kingdom of Spain and the head of state of is King Juan Carlos I. They also have a prime minister (currently Mariano Rajoy Brey).

  • Fact 10: With 410 million native speakers, Spanish is the second most popular language in the world.

It is the official language of Spain and (hold your breath) Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Ecuador, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Peru, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Equatorial Guinea.

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  • Fact 11:  Don Quixote, the famous book written by Spanish author Miguel Cervantes in 1605, was voted the “most meaningful book of all time” in 2002 by a panel of 100 top authors, including Salman Rushdie, Normal Mailer, Doris Lessing and Caroles Fuentes.

Don Quixote tells the tale of the eponymous ‘knight’ and his squire, Sancho Panza. Both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are national heroes in Spain. Their statues can be found everywhere. The one at Plaza de Espana in Madrid is especially popular among tourists.

They boast an annual revenues of $650m and a brand value of $3.3 billion. Bitter rivals Barcelona rank third on this list with a value of $2.6 billion.

  • Fact 13: Spain breeds art.

Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali – two of the most important artists of the 20th century were both Spanish. Their contemporary, Juan Miro, had an equally profound impact of 20th century art.

  • Fact 14: With a GDP of $1.3 trillion, Spain is the 13th largest economy in the world.

It also has a very high Human Development Index, landing at 23rd position worldwide.

  • Fact 15: Madrid is the capital city of Spain with a population of 3.2 million.

It was called Ursaria (“land of bears”) by the Romans because of the many bears in the area. During the Arabic occupation of Spain, it was called Magerit, which means “place of abundant water”.

  • Fact 16: Islamic Moorish armies conquered nearly all of Spain between 711 and 718 CE.

Muslim rule persisted in the country for nearly 781 years, though often in fragments. Thanks to its Muslim heritage, Spain today has a markedly unique culture and heritage than its neighbor France.

  • Fact 17: The island of Ibiza in eastern Spain is one of Europe’s favorite party destinations.

More than 2 million tourists descend upon this island each year to soak in the sun and party at its huge clubs where Tiesto, Swedish House Mafia and David Guetta are regular performers.

  • Fact 18: 71% of Spain’s population identifies itself as catholic.

However, if you were to ask a Spaniard what the real religion of the country is, you’d get a unanimous answer: football (not ‘soccer’). Football is more than just a game in the country; it is followed with the fervor of a religion.

As mentioned above, two of the worlds biggest football clubs are Spanish (Real Madrid and Barcelona). Spain is also the reigning world champions. In fact, the 2010 football world cup final was watched by 15.6 million people in Spain – roughly 86% of the total audience.

So there you have it – 18 awesome facts about Spain! If you’re trying to learn Spanish, you may find this Spanish for beginners course helpful.