Spain is one of the few countries that visitors flock to year after year, regardless of the season. Rich in history and cultural diversity, Spain remains one of the most favoured holiday destinations, winning the hearts of holidaymakers with its colourful character and individualistic charms.
The Spanish Architecture
Most of Spain’s architectural styles are heavily influenced by the styles from North Africa, France and Italy, but each style was interpreted in a distinctively Spanish way, giving the buildings a unique appearance that can’t be found elsewhere in the world. Romanesque architecture, mostly churches, can be mainly found in Catalonia and along the pilgrim route to Santiago, such as the Sant Climent church at Taüll in the Vall de Boí. This style features round arches and massive walls. Moorish architecture, most of which can be found in Southern Spain, such as the Salón de Embajadores in the Alhamba, Granada, features lavish interiors and ornate designs based on geometry, calligraphy and plant motifs.
Gothic architecture was imported from France in the late 12th century, with few improvisations being made such as pointed arches, external buttresses, higher vaults and taller windows. A good example of such style is the León Cathedral in Castilla Y León, where ribbed vaulting supports the archways and the finest display of stained glass in Spain illuminates the interior. Renaissance architecture is distinguished by its symmetrical features and round arches such as the Hostal de San Marcos in León. Baroque architecture was driven by a desire for drama and movement, hence the extravagant decorations, exuberant sculptures and twisting columns, such as the Museo Municipal in Madrid.
Modernisme architecture – led by Spain’s most celebrated architect, Antoni Gaudi – is basically the Catalan interpretation of the Art Nouveau style. The best Modernisme examples can be found in Barcelona, where the works of Gaudi dot the city. These buildings are characterised by their dream-like qualities, lending an almost surrealistic feel to them, yet are highly functional all the same. Prime examples of this type of architecture would be two of Gaudi’s greatest works, the Casa Mila with its ripple-effect walls and the Sagrada Familia, Europe’s most unconventional church filled with symbolism, which also houses a crypt where Gaudi was buried.
The Spanish Flamenco
The flamenco dance is more than just a dance – it is an intense artistic expression of the passions of life and remains the soul of Andalusia for centuries. A uniquely Andalusian art from, the dance was traditionally performed by gypsies. The beauty of the dance lies in the fact that there is no strict choreography involved – the dancers are free to express themselves any which way they want based on the few basic movements, following the rhythm of the guitar and their emotions.
The dance is usually performed in flamenco clubs called the tablao, where there will be at least 4 persons on stage: the hand-clapper, the guitar-player, the singer and the strong, graceful bailaora or female dancer in traditional polka-dot dress. Rhythm is created by the guitar, the hand-clapping and the dancer’s stamping feet in high-heels. Some dancers may complement the rhythm with castanets. Graceful hand movements are used to express the dancer’s feelings and the styles vary from one dancer to another, giving each performance a unique quality. This sort of entertainment can be found all over Spain, although many of the leading performers are based in Madrid.
The Spanish Cuisine
Spain is famous for its array of delightful cuisine, which differs from region to region. Three of the most popular, world-renowned Spanish cuisine are tapas, gazpacho and paella. Tapas, also known as pinchos, are a selection of snacks in small portions to accompany the Spanish liquor originating from Andalusia. It stemmed from the bartender’s practice of covering the glass holding the liquor with a saucer or cover (tapa) to keep out flies, hence where it got its name. Further down the timeline, the saucers were filled with chunks of cheese, olives or slices of cold meats to accompany the drinks. A tapas presentation ranges from potatoes and cheeses to elaborately-prepared hot dishes of seafood, meat or vegetable. In Spain, it is generally eaten standing at the bar, and on Sundays and public holidays, the tapas bars can be seen packed to the brim.
Gazpacho is chilled raw soup made by mashing bread and garlic together with tomatoes, cucumber and peppers, with olive oil to make it creamy and vinegar to give it a refreshing tang. It is usually garnished with diced vegetables and croutons. Paella is a Valencian rice dish, cooked in a large, shallow, two-handled pan over an open fire. It is made of Spanish rice, flavoured and fragranced with saffron, which is then simmered with a variety of ingredients such as mussels, prawns, chicken, pork, beef, tomatoes, peppers and beans.
To wash it all down, the Spaniards would usually drink Spanish mix concoctions, such as theDark Sangria, a refreshing mixture of red white, lemonade, chopped fruits and sugar, and the Agua de Valencia, a mixture of cava (sparkling and orange juice (Valencia oranges).
The Art of Bullfighting
Despite numerous protests from animal activists who regard this sport as a cruel pursuit, the Spaniards see the art of bullfighting as a noble part of their heritage and tradition. It is widely-regarded as the nation’s most important sport; a sacrificial ritual where the matador (bullfighter) pit themselves against the toro bravo (fighting bull). Top venues for bullfighting include the Plaza de toros de la Maestranza in Seville and Las Ventas in Madrid.
A bullfight is locally known as corrida de toros, toreo or tauromaquia. It starts with the paseillo, when the participants of a bullfight enter the ring and present themselves to the spectators, led by a figure of importance such as the president or a royalty. Two alguacilillos on horseback will then symbolically ask for the keys to the puerta de los toriles, where the bulls are kept, from the guest of honour. The door will then open, releasing the first bull into the ring.
The corrida consists of three parts called tercios (thirds). The end of each tercio is signified with a bugle call. In the first tercio, the matador uses the capote, a large cape which is a pinkish-mauve on one side and yellow on the other. The two picadors will then enter the ring on horseback, armed with a lance, which they will then attempt to stab the bull with. In the second tercio, three banderilleros will attempt to stick a pair of colourful sharpened sticks called banderillas (little flags) into the charging bull’s back to weaken it further. In the final tercio, called the tercio de muerte, the bullfighter re-enters the ring with a muleta (red cloth) in one hand and a sword in the other. Here, the matador has to use his skills and mastery to control the bull’s movements in a series of passes, which could prove to be fatal if he is not careful. The corrida ends with the matador using his sword to kill the bull.