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A cultural/historical snapshot of «El país de Quijote»

15 May 2017

¡Buenos días! It’s been a few months since I last wrote for LingoMap, and since then I have moved from Brussels in Belgium, to Ciudad Real in Spain. Firstly, I would like to apologise for my lateness in posting the April blog, I have been very busy handing in some of my final pieces of work for the semester here in Spain, and I wanted to wait for an event to take place before I posted the blog.

Located at about 200KM south of the Spain’s capital city of Madrid, Ciudad Real is in the Comunidad Autonoma (Autonomous community) of Castile-La Mancha (Castialla-La Mancha in Spanish).

A map of the Autonomous Communities of Spain

A map of the Autonomous Communities of Spain

Since this (last) month’s topic is “Local and regional culture and characteristics of your country,” it would be useful to to have a very quick history lesson about Spain, and as a result how it functions as a country in the modern day.

Over the millennia, the land on which modern-day Spain and Portugal are located, known as the Iberian Peninsula, has been under various regimes, leaving varying impacts on the country. Some of the most obvious influences were from the Arab Occupation in the 8th Century. Arabs from North Africa invaded Spain from the south in 711AD; by 750AD, were in control of most of the peninsula.

The scope of the Arab occupation of Spain
The scope of the Arab occupation of Spain

For this reason, there is a key influence of Islamic architecture in Spain, especially to the south of Madrid. I have not been to the two larger cities, with a key Islamic influence,  on this map (Seville or Cordoba), but I have been to Toledo, where this influence can be seen first-hand. Also, within the city in which I am studying, Ciudad Real, there is the Puerta de Toledo or “Gate to Toledo”, which also has this influence:

Islamic-influenced Architecture in Toledo (L) and Ciudad Real (R)
Islamic-influence Architecture in Toledo (L) and Ciudad Real (R)

After the Arab occupation of Spain, came the Reconquista. This is where Christians from the North, pushed the Arabs out of Spain, and established smaller, individual kingdoms during the 11th Century. Some of these kingdoms are reflected in the modern-day Autonomous Communities.  The largest of these kingdoms was “El Reino de Castilla” or The Kingdom of Castile, from where the Spanish language originates. In order to differentiate this language from the other regional languages spoken within Spain such as Galician, Basque and Catalan, it is referred to as “Castellano”, meaning: “The language (or person) from Castille”. The reason that almost everyone in Spain speaks “Castellano” as their first or second language, comes from history too.
The Kingdom of Castile in 1210

As this was the Middle Ages, wars were being fought all over Europe to gain more land, and therefore be more powerful.  The Kingdom of Castile invaded and overtook other Kingdoms, until in the 15th Century, it was in control of most of the Iberian Peninsula, under its new name of “La Corona de Castilla“, or The Crown of CastileWith one kingdom spreading over most of the area, the language spread as well. Then, with the marriage of Isabelle, the Queen of Castille, and, Ferdinand, the King of Aragon, the Crowns of Castile and Aragon were united, along with annexing (invading) the Kingdoms of Navarre and Granada, Spain as we know it today was formed, with Castellano becoming the official language throughout the country.

Moving forward into the 20th Century, for nearly 40 years, (1939-1975) Spain was controlled by a dictator; Francisco Franco. He was a fascist who thoroughly limited the rights of the Spanish, and prevented those from various regions of Spain from celebrating their individual culture and speaking their regional languages forcing them to speak standard Spanish (Castillan) – somewhat similar to what happened in Wales and Scotland under the English. For this, after his death and the reintroduction of the former Spanish Monarchy, Spain was run as a democratic monarchy (like the UK) and divided into 17 “Comunidades Autonomas”. These Autonomous communities represent the different cultures which are found in Spain, as well as providing an area in which the regional languages can be spoken in an official setting, just like the Welsh-speaking schools and bilingual roadsigns within Wales. However, since Castilla-La Mancha is part of the former Kingdom of Castile, only Castellano (the Spanish we learn in school) is used and spoken.
A bilingual roadsign Castillian and Catalan

Spain is also a religious country, with many public holidays being based on Catholicism. Easter is an important time in Spain, and is celebrated over one week called “Semana Santa”, with the main celebrations occurring on from Good Friday-Easter Monday. There are some similarities between celebrating Easter in the UK and in Spain. Firstly, the Spanish do like to eat sweet things and chocolates through the week, with the local panaderías (bakeries) and confiterías (sweet shops) making impressive window displays. 

Easter displays in the Basque Country
Easter displays in the Basque Country from 2015

However, something that is different, are the parades. Each day of Semana Santa there is a parade, each for a different reason, and all with impressive floats. The Spanish take these parades very seriously, however for me, the fact that each parade can last upwards of 6 hours could be quite boring, so I often just watched from my balcony.

Something that may shock you, as it did me, is the traditional wear for these Easter parades in Spain. I know that may look like a negative symbol, but in fact the Spanish have been wearing this for hundreds of years; it is known as a “Capriote“.

A Spanish “Capriote” at an Easter week parade in Madrid

Additionally, the first week of May in Spain is “La fiesta de las Cruces” (The Festival of Crosses). Here, each town or city places highly decorated and elaborate crosses around for people to see. One day during this week there will be some form of celebration, or bank holiday. It is really great to see, and if you ever have time I would recommend you to go!

La fiesta de las Cruces in Castilla-La Mancha

I like to end my blog-post with a quiz of some of the terms I mentioned throughout it.

  1. What are some of the languages spoken in Spain (other than Spanish)?
  2. What is the Spanish term for the Easter week? 
  3. What is the term used in Spain for “Standard Spanish”?
  4. How do you say “Bakery” and “Sweet shop” in Spanish? 

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog post, don’t forget to comment and come back in a few weeks to read my next one!

¡Hasta luego!