Spain is well known for its quirky traditions, such as eating 12 grapes at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve to bring luck for the upcoming year. This practice is believed to bring good fortune for everyone involved!
France is also home to some of the greatest artists ever seen, such as Diego Velazquez and Salvador Dali – not to mention being a constitutional monarchy!
1. Spain is the birthplace of Don Quixote
Four centuries since Don Quixote first hit shelves, his epic journey continues to grip readers around the globe. We spoke with Mary Gaylord, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Sosland Family Professor in Romance Languages and Literatures at Penn, about why it holds up so well.
GAYLORD: Cervantes led an active life before writing “Don Quixote.” He served in Europe’s most ambitious military campaign at that time – Lepanto. When his arm became crippled and became useless to him as an army man, writing allowed him to express both his experiences in combat as well as what he read about knight-errants through creative literary form.
Spain sits in the southwestern corner of Iberian Peninsula, between Portugal to its west and France to its north. Mountainous terrain dominates, while its heartland consists of an expansive central plateau known as Meseta which rises up half a mile above sea level.
Spain is an ancient nation filled with historical stone castles, snowcapped mountains and sophisticated cities. Additionally, its cuisine – from classic paella and tapas dishes to regional favorites such as roast lamb and manchego cheese – boasts remarkable diversity.
Spain is home to numerous cultural traditions, such as flamenco dance, bobbin lace and recipes for sardines and pork stew. Its history features periods of Muslim influence during scholars such as Ibn Masarra, Abentofain and Averroes; its language, which derives from Latin, has been spoken by more than 50 million people globally; Spain itself is a constitutional monarchy with two houses of parliament headed by King Felipe VI and divided into 17 Autonomous Communities and two autonomous cities approved under its 1978 constitution in order to guarantee limited autonomy to historic nationalities and regions.
2. Spain has the world’s oldest restaurant
Spain, Europe’s Iberian Peninsula’s second-largest nation, boasts 17 autonomous regions and rich cultural traditions that range from picturesque villages with castles and Roman aqueducts to the vibrant capital Madrid – there is so much more to discover about this fascinating nation!
Madrid boasts the oldest restaurant in the world, known for serving delicious roast suckling pig (cochinillo asado). Dating back to 1725 when French chef Jean Botin established Sobrino de Botin – literally meaning “Botin’s Nephew.” Later it passed into Gonzalez family hands who changed it over to Restaurante Botin. Renowned for wood-oven cooking techniques that set this establishment apart, Ernest Hemingway even paid them praises!
Hemingway frequented this restaurant and wrote parts of Death in the Afternoon there. By the early 20th century, it had earned a reputation as one of Madrid’s top dining spots; today, tourists and locals alike still visit frequently for dining out there.
Restaurante Botin is an essential stop on any culinary tour of Madrid, so to ensure a reservation they should book their visit well in advance. Also keep in mind that Spanish meals often feature multiple courses and extended conversations after their formal completion – an event known as sobremesa.
Known for its world-renowned cuisine, the oldest restaurant also provides visitors a glimpse into Spain’s rich history and culture. Its architecture and music reflect centuries of dynastic rule, conflicts with neighboring countries, natural beauty of Spain’s mountainous Pyrenees range separating from France while its vast central plateau features cooler temperatures with vast stretches of green countryside spanning across its vast Central Plateau; also running through it are Tagus, Douro and Guadiana rivers, all draining to Atlantic Ocean from which all 3 countries.
3. Spain’s national animal is the bull
The bull is Spain’s national animal and an integral symbol of Spanish culture. Representing strength, masculinity and courage – as well as perseverance – it appears at many celebrations such as bullfighting festivals. Additionally, its image appears prominently on their flag and coat of arms.
History has long celebrated the bull as a national animal of Spain, dating back prehistoric times. Once sacred and used for religious ceremonies in ancient times, later Greek bullfighting was introduced as an entertainment sport and eventually spread throughout Spain where it remains immensely popular today. Bulls remain an iconic figure within Spanish culture today and can be found anywhere from flags to cars bearing their image.
Spain boasts many different breeds of cattle used for different purposes, in addition to fighting bulls. One stud farm, Miura, is well known for producing top quality fighting bulls bred specifically to be aggressive and strong gripping; their color may often vary between black or brown depending on breeder preference, though other hues are common too.
While bullfighting remains popular across Spain, some are against its use for fighting and other purposes. There are even parts of Spain where some believe lion should instead serve as the national animal symbolism.
No matter the controversy, Spain remains marked by its national animal – the bull. You’ll see it everywhere from cars, flags and tattoos – so when visiting Spain take time out to appreciate its beauty. Look out for your nearest bull and appreciate its beauty as a symbol.
4. Spain has the world’s first space suit
Spain is one of the world’s most diverse nations, from its lush countryside dotted with castles and ancient ruins to its vibrant modern cities. Madrid, known for its winding streets and museums and bookstores is its capital city; Barcelona in Catalonia stands out for its secular architecture and maritime industry – both qualities making Spain an advanced democratic republic within the European Union.
Spain was at the forefront of world engineering during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, boasting Isaac Peral’s submarine, Juan de la Cierva’s gyroplane–an early version of helicopter technology–and Torres Quevedo’s cable car as key inventions. Perhaps most notably though was Emilio Herrera’s pioneering “space suit” designed three decades before NASA engineers would develop theirs.
Herrera, an aeronaut and fan of Jules Verne’s novels, wanted to reach the stratosphere, which is an indicator of atmospheric pollution above clouds and above clouds. For this mission to succeed, his astronauts would require access to oxygen; his invention provided just such access.
Unfortunately, Herrera never got to put his suit to use; shortly after its creation, civil war broke out in Spain and Herrera fled as an advocate of Republicanism to France where he died at 88 in Geneva in 1967.
At present, astronauts travel between Earth and the International Space Station; soon, however, it will be possible for them to venture even further, to Mars. But getting there requires hard work, enormous public spending, and suitable suit.
5. Spanish children don’t have a tooth fairy
We’re all familiar with the Tooth Fairy, that mysterious figure who collects children’s teeth and leaves them with money as compensation. But many people may not know that children in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries instead believe in a mouse who collects their teeth instead – this mouse goes by several names such as Ratoncito Perez or El Raton de los Dientes, known for leaving gifts instead of money.
The origins of the tooth-collecting mouse date back to 1894 when Spanish author Luis Coloma created him in a story for Alfonso XIII’s little prince Alfonso XIII’s child prince Alfonso III. Coloma used this character to teach young children that everyone, no matter their wealth or position in society, experiences hardship from time to time, as well as to promote bravery and compassion amongst children.
So when children lose their teeth in Spain, they leave them under their pillow for the mouse to collect, hoping it will leave behind coins or sweets as a reward. Not all Spanish-speaking countries believe this tradition. Argentina for instance does not subscribe to it: instead children place lost teeth in a glass of water near their bed at night for it to drink and collect – whereupon when morning comes around again the mouse drinks from this glass before coming and taking away a coin instead!
Mouse or rodent collection traditions have long been part of European cultures, such as France (La Petite Souris) and Italy (Topolino or Fatina). Indeed, this practice may even date back to ancient history – in medieval Europe for instance it was believed that by not burning children’s lost teeth after they fell out, witches could use them in spells to cast spells on anyone they happened upon!