Spain came into existence as a unified country in 1715 when the Nueva Planta decrees effectively created Spanish as a nationality, abolishing internal borders between the old kingdoms and establishing Castilian as the language of government.
Spain has four official languages: Castilian, Catalan, Basque and Galician. There are also several variants such as Balearic and Valencian. Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world after Mandarin with around 470 million people speaking it as their first language.
Spain introduced chocolate to Europe when Spaniards brought the cacao fruit from the New World in the early 16th century. Sweetened with sugar cane, it became a popular drink with Spanish society and it was once said that “chocolate is to the Spanish what tea is to the English”.
The geographical centre of Spain is the Puerto del Sol in Madrid which is where thousands of Spanish gather on December 31 to count down to the New Year. The capital was established in the early 17th century during the reign of Gelope III due to its strategic position at the centre of the Iberian peninsula.
Spain is the most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland with an average height of 660 metres above sea level. Although Mulhacén in Andalusia is the highest mountain on the mainland at 3,479m, the highest mountain in Spain is Teide in the Canary Islands at 3,718m.
Spain is the biggest producer of olive oil in the world, accounting for some 44% of global production each year, twice as much as Italy and four times as much as Greece. Some of the oldest olive trees in the world still grow in Spain and the oldest of them all grows in Tarragona and is said to be over 2,000 years old.
Calimocho is a popular drink to enjoy during fiestas in Spain. It emerged during the 1970s supposedly when fiesta organisers in Algorta found that 2,000 litres of red wine they had bought was spoiled and so to hide the bad taste they mixed it with coca cola in equal parts. A legend was born.
Many foreigners will consider paella to be the national dish of Spain but the Spaniards themselves see it as a Valencian dish. Due to its diverse regional variations, it’s difficult to determine a national dish but the tortilla española could make a decent claim, eaten across the country as a tapas, main dish or even in a sandwich.
The Christmas National Lottery – of which the first prize is known as El Gordo – is the world’s biggest in terms of payout so it’s no surprise that almost three-quarters of Spaniards aged between 18 and 75 participate. The draw takes place on the morning of December 22nd and the numbers and associated prizes are sung by the pupils of Madrid’s San Ildefenso school.
The Spanish National Anthem – the Marcha Real – is one of only four in the world that has no official words. It was composed in 1761 as a military march for the Spanish infantry before Carlos III declared it as the official march of Spain, which would eventually become the national anthem.