When you think of Spain, a few things come into mind, including bullfighting, football, flamenco, tapas, la fiesta, and the Inquisition. However, there are some interesting facts about Spain that you probably haven’t heard of. For example, most people in Spain don’t approve bullfighting, Spain actually borders Africa, and it’s home to the only monkey breed in Europe. Sounds interesting? Then, keep reading; you’ll probably enjoy this article! Let’s start with…
A quick history
Spain was unified in the 15th century after the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. This was the basis for Spain’s unification as a kingdom. Today, the country is still a kingdom, even though the king has little to no power over the country’s laws but the constitutional name of the country is the United Kingdom of Spain. Most of the kingdoms of the past are divided into 17 autonomous regions and every region has its own diverse and unique culture which also means that there will be a lot of interesting facts about Spain! The first one that comes in mind is…
Spain has a land border with Africa
Out of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous towns. Two autonomous communities are located away from the mainland. One is the famous Canary Islands and the other is the less-known Balearic Islands. However, what most people don’t know is that Spain has two autonomous cities on the northern coast of Africa; Ceuta and Melila that make Spain the only European country to have a land border with Africa.
Spain is home to the oldest existing lighthouse
The tower of Hercules is the oldest lighthouse in the world that’s still standing. The lighthouse was built by emperor Trajan in 2nd century AD. The only lighthouse built before the Tower of Hercules was the Pharos of Alexandria that was torn down by the two massive earthquakes that took place in AD 956 and 1323 respectively. Talking about old things…
Spain is home to the oldest restaurant in the world
Located in Madrid’s city center, Sobrino de Botin is the oldest restaurant in the world to never change its location. The restaurant still has its old-world charm and is a great place to try the best of central Spain’s cuisine. Talking about restaurants, did you know that…
Spain has the most bars and restaurants per capita in the world?
Spanish people are very social and they spend most of their time meeting their friends for drinks or for dinner. Hence, it’s no wonder that Spain has one bar/restaurant for every 175 people. This makes Spain the country with the highest number of bars/restaurants per person in the whole world!
Inventions we owe to Spain
Spain is the country in which the mop and bucket were invented in 1856.
Another invention that was first created in Spain was the stapler. It was designed in Basque for Louis XV in the 18th century.
Furthermore, the first version of the modern cigarette was developed in Spain in the first half of the 17th century.
Some other inventions we owe to Spain are the lollipop, table football, the eyeglasses, and the Gregorian calendar.
Finally, if you’re wondering who invented hot chocolate, it was also the Spanish. The world’s first hot chocolate was created in Spain when general Cortez brought cocoa beans to Spain.
Was Coca Cola invented in Spain?
Even though it’s generally accepted that Coca Cola was first made in Atlanta in 1886, there’s a small village near Valencia under the name Aielo de Malferit which claims that Coke was created here years before reaching the United States. There is some evidence that a drink under the name Nuez de Kola Coca was produced in Aielo de Malferit. According to several local sources, the owner of Destilerias Ayelo was marketing the drink at a fair in the US where he sold the recipe.
The first modern novel
You probably know about Don Quixote (1605). It’s one of the most famous novels of all time and one of the greatest literary achievements of its time. However, what you might not know is that this was the first modern novel.
Largest olive oil producer
Spain produces almost one half of the world’s olive oil! As a country, Spain produces twice as much olive oil as runner-up Italy, and four times more olive oil than Greece. Interestingly, most of Spain’s olive oil is produced in Jaen, a southern province of Andalusia.
Second- largest saffron producer in the world
This one may come as a surprise but Spain is the world’s second-largest saffron producer, falling only behind Iran.
Largest wine exporter
As you may or may not know, Spain is the third-largest wine producer in the world. What’s surprising here is that this doesn’t stop Spain from being the largest wine exporter in the world. Italy and France produce a lot more wine than Spain but due to affordability, Spanish wine is exported in larger quantities.
12 grapes for the new year
Spanish people always start the new year by eating 12 grapes (one for each day of the year). This tradition dates back to a few centuries ago and is believed to bring good luck in the following year.
World’s second-longest life expectancy
On average, Spanish people live longer than any other nation in Europe. Their life expectancy is actually second in the world, falling only behind Japan.
Home to the Holy Grail
Even though several different places around in the world claim to house the Holy Grail, Valencia’s cathedral has a pretty strong case too. Nevertheless, the magnificent cathedral is still definitely worth visiting.
One of only three lyricless national items of the world
Spain’s national anthem is one of only three national anthems on the planet that doesn’t have any lyrics. This is the case because this melody was composed as a military march in the 18th century and at the time, no one thought it will become the national anthem.
Most Spaniards are against bullfighting
You might think bullfighting is one of Spain’s proudest traditions. However, this simply isn’t true. This tradition is actually banned in some parts of the country, like the Canary Islands and Catalonia and in most regions, the majority of people don’t approve bullfighting. The only two regions in which bullfighting is still a thing are Andalusia and Madrid. This leads us to the next point…
More than 100,000 animals die every year at some of the many festivals across the country due to animal cruelty. Some examples include goats being thrown from a bell tower, wrestling horses to the ground, attaching flammable tars to bulls’ horns, etc.
47 UNESCO heritage sites
There are some things you can see only in Spain and it’s no surprise that this country has 47 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This means Spain ranks third in the world, only falling behind Italy (55) and China (55).
You probably didn’t know this but there are over 4,000 Arabic-derived words in the Spanish language. You can easily notice these as most of them start with the syllable ‘al’.
The longest winning streak in football
Football is hands-down the most popular sport in Spain. The Spanish national football team or La Furia Roja, as locals call them had one of the most dominant winning streaks of all time. Between 2008 and 2013, Spain’s national team was undefeated for 29 consecutive competitive matches
The second most widely spoken native language in the world
More than 400 million people in the world speak Spanish as a native language. In case you’re wondering, the first place isn’t reserved for English but for Chinese which is the world’s most widely spoken native language. Another curiosity is that more people in the US speak Spanish (53 million) than in Spain (47 million). Whatever the case, with almost 10% of people on this planet speaking Spanish, knowing this language can certainly make traveling easier.
The longest ongoing construction project in the world
You probably heard about Sagrada Familia, one of Barcelona’s most iconic sights. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was designed by Antonio Gaudi and construction work began in 1882. Technically, the construction still isn’t complete but that wasn’t an obstacle for Pope Benedict XVI to consecrate the cathedral in 2010.
A green country
Around 60,000-gigawatt hours of electricity in Spain is generated through wind turbines. This accounts for 20% of the country’s total electricity usage and the number is only expected to grow.
8000-kilometers of coastline
Let’s combine all Spanish beaches and imagine they were all one stretch of land. Do you know how long that stretch would be? The answer is 8,000 kilometers (approximately 5,000 miles)! Having in mind that a lot of these are blue-flag beaches, it’s no wonder Spain is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world.
If you want to explore more of Spain’s coastline, check out this website for the best way to tour Spain from the US. For more useful tips about your trip to Spain, take a look at this Spain travel guide.
The biggest lottery ever
Spain’s National Lottery, El Gordo (the big one) is held every year before Christmas. The first El Gordo took place in 1812 and it’s the second oldest ongoing lottery in the world. The prize of €700 million in 2015 is the largest lottery ball ever.
Interesting nature facts about Spain
Spain is home to Coto Doñana, the largest nature reserve in Europe. It’s also one of the continent’s most important wetland reserves. Most of the birds from north and central Europe migrate here during the winter while a lot of birds from Africa migrate here during the extremely hot summers.
Near to the border with Gibraltar, you’ll also find Barbary macaque, a breed of tailless monkeys that are the only breed of wild monkeys that live in Europe today.
A fun fact; the highest mountaintop in Spain is not located in Europe. Mount Teide (3,718 meters) is an active volcano located in the Canary Islands. The active volcano’s eruptions contributed to another natural phenomenon; the beaches close to the volcano have black sands because of the frequent eruptions in the past.
Curiosities and curious festivals
La Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme is probably Spain’s most bizarre festival. Taking place in Las Nieves, an area historically famous for witchcraft, this festival is celebrated by putting people who had a near-death experience recently in a death coffin and carrying them to the cemetery. It’s sure one of the strangest ways to celebrate life.
Another curious custom is one that takes place in Madrid on May 15th. On this day, all single women in Madrid go to the chapel Ermita de San Isidro to put pins in their fingers and keep their hand in a vessel for some time, believing that this will help them find a husband.
Did you ever see grown men jumping over babies lined up in perfect symmetry? You probably didn’t, unless you attended El Colacho festival in Sasamon. The men wearing yellow (El Colachos) jump over the babies because there’s an old superstition saying this will protect the little ones from dispel and bad spirits.
While we’re at it, I also have to mention Taragona’s largest human tower building competition. The festival dates back to the 18th century, it takes place every year, and human towers (people climbing on other people’s shoulders) are as tall as 15 meters! No wonder this festival is a part of UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage list.
Talking about curiosities did you know that…
Spain was accidentally invaded by Britain in 2002?
Back in 2002, the British marines accidentally disembarked on Spain’s coast instead of Gibraltar? Fortunately, the mistake was quickly acknowledged and no harm was done.
Prostitution is legal, “pimping” is not
Prostitution in Spain is legal but profiting from the sale of sex is not. Prostitutes in Spain are actually required to wear fluorescent vests during nights for their own safety while searching for customers.
What’s up with the dirty floors?
If you see a dirty floor at a bar or a restaurant, don’t go away. This actually means that this place is pretty good. Spanish people often throw food on the floor, especially in tapa bars. According to them, places with dirty floors mean good food because people eat so much that they have enough food to drop on the floor.
The narrowest building in Europe
Spain is home to the narrowest building in the old continent and the second narrowest in the world. Plaza Lope de Vega is a five-story building in Valencia that’s only 107 meters wide. The reason why this building is so narrow is simple; the people who built it just wanted to save some money on property taxes.
Cross the Portuguese border by a zip line
Even though technically there aren’t any borders in the EU, you can cross from Spain to Portugal by a zip line, making this one of the most unique adventures in Europe. And if you’re not that adventuristic, you can also cross the border by cable car. The zip line starts in Sanlucar de Guadiana in Andalusia and stretches all the way to Alcotium in Algarve, a small town in Portugal.
The longest high-speed rail network in Europe
Stretching over 3,200 kilometers, AVE (Alta Velocidad Espanola) is the longest high-speed rail network in Europe. This also means that Albacete’s Control and Regulation Center is one of the busiest local centers for high-speed train traffic, controlling the traffic of 1,500 trains per month traveling along the local 600 kilometers-long, including trains from Valencia to Madrid and Alicante.
Helpful resources for traveling to Spain
If you’re looking for a cheap flight to Spain, check out Air France’s Oh-la-la deals for some big savings.
For car rentals in Spain, use this special discount coupon to get 15% off on all car rentals in Spain.
For the best cultural (and budget-friendly) tours in Spain, I warnly recommend Intrepid. I took a few of their tours in Spain and had an amazing time! If you want to see off the beaten track places in Spain and learn about the local culture, I suggest you give Intrepid a chance.
Do you want to save on accommodation in Spain? Use this coupon and get up to 55% off on all booking.com properties in Spain.
Do you need travel insurance for your trip to Spain? Save on travel insurance by using my World Nomads discount code.
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