The variety of cultures in Spain derives from the seventeen autonomous regions located within the country. These regions include: Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, the Balearic Islands, the Basque Country, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castile La Mancha, Castile and León, Catalonia, Valencia, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Comunidad de Madrid, Murcia and Navarre. Through the eyes of some, the intense diversity of Spain provides a source of pride; through other’s eyes, however, the many regional differences surface as a source of friction due to lack of overall unity. Spain is sometimes even referred to as “The Spains.”
The official language of Spain is Castilian Spanish, but Euskara, Catalan, and Gallego are recognized as the predominant languages in their respective regions. Geography is one of the subdividing features of Spain’s cultural regions, but also the reason for other cultural differences such as language, regional influence, and music. The abundant mountains create natural boundaries that inhibit the spread of language which, for example, lead to the Euskara language spoken in Basque Country. Due to the impenetrable mountains, Castilian Spanish was unable to reach Basque Country. Thus the distinct Basque language, which has no linguistic relation to any known language, living or lost, continued to develop.
The Basque region is known for industry, particularly steel and advanced technology. Strong cultural distinction survives in this region despite Francisco Franco’s attempt to eradicate all the subcultures of Spain and create a unified culture. Basque people were forbidden from practicing many of their traditions (dances, folklore, language etc.) during Franco’s reign, but kept their culture alive in secret until the end of his rule in 1975. The matriarchal culture (encouraged by the folklore goddess Mari) is still passed down largely through oral traditions.
Andalucía, located in the southernmost region of Spain, is distinct because of its Arab influence, which can be seen especially in the architecture and physical appearance of the people of the region. In striking contrast, Galicia has a heavy Celtic influence. Somewhat isolated in Northwest Spain, this Celtic cultured has developed with a surprising lack of typical Spanish influence. Bagpipes are a popular instrument in the music and a common stereotype (in Spain) is that the Galicians are prone to melancholy and sentimentality like their Irish ancestors. Gallego is the recognized language of this region.
Although there is sometimes much discord between the different cultures of Spain, musical expression provides a form of cultural expression completely void of hierarchy and power struggles. Described as “intensely regional” by National Geographic, Spain’s music industry contains a wide variety of influences. Although Flamenco has distinct roots in the Andalucía region, it is the most widely recognized and popular musical form attributed to Spain as a nation. Flamenco is characterized by clapping, stomping, and guitar; the dance is full of emotion and tragedy. Rumba catalana is a style derived from flamenco (a Cuban rumba adapted to flamenco format) and originates in Catalan. Other popular dance forms in Catalan are sardanaI, in which dancers weave between each other while holding hands,and jota, where dancers perform in twos to a more upbeat musical style. In Castile, a popular dance form is the bolero, a couples dance performed with great passion. Basque Country is most known for its singing; this region’s unique style of folk songs and dances have been carefully preserved since the Middle ages.
Whether unbalanced in power struggles or equally vibrant in musical styles, of Spain’s seventeen regions Castile presents the dominant culture. Home to the core of the Spanish monarchy and originator of Spain’s official language (Castilian Spanish), Castile is located in the heart of the country. This region is often accused of infiltrating the rest of the country with its Castilian culture, causing it to be generalized as “Spanish culture,” when it may not actually be so. Today the city is highlyurbanized, a buzzing hub of commerce and the capital of Spain.
Despite cultural varieties and conflicts, one common entity can be said to hold all of Spain together: the fiesta. Celebrated throughout the year on both large and small scales, many times on specific nationwide dates, fiestas provide a common variable for all the cultures of Spain. Many of the celebrations, such as Las Fiestas de Carnaval, are tied to the prevalent Catholicism of the region. Fiestas are commonly celebrated both within small local communities and as city or regional events, such as the Cycle of Fiestas. Each city often holds a fiesta in honor of their own patron or unique cultural identity (some timesrelative to ancestry or industry), but the Cycle of Fiestas incorporates all these smaller fiestas – each city’s fiesta must be included and occur in a specific order over a period of time.
So like the many fiestas, each culture in Spain has a unique identity formed from its individual characteristics, but in the end all join together to celebrate a greater, diverse whole.
Douglass, C. B. (1991). The Fiesta Cycle of Spain. Anthropological Quarterly, 64, 3, 126-141. Retrieved Nov. 4, 2011 from JSTOR.
Hinkelman, E. G. (2001). Passport Spain. Novato, California: World Trade Press.
Pryor, T. (2011). Spain. National Geographic Music. Retrieved Nov. 5, 2011 from