When you think of Spain, images of bull fighting, Flamenco dancing and fiestas undoubtedly spring to mind. But what else is there to Spain? These interesting Spanish facts will get you prepared if you’re planning a move to Spain, or if you are already here, test yourself to see how well you know the Spanish!
1. The Kingdom of Spain, as it’s officially known, is the second largest country in the EU – with an area of 505,955 square kilometres, Spain covers about 85 percent of the Iberian Peninsula, which it shares with Portugal.
2. Spain was once a number of separate kingdoms with different languages – which were unified in the 15th century after the marriage of two Catholic monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. These kingdoms became the basis for many of the different regions in modern Spain. Today, there are 17 autonomous regions (15 on the mainland and the Balearic and Canary Islands), and two autonomous enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa.
3. Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world – with more than 406 million people worldwide speaking Spanish, it comes only after Chinese. Back home, while Castilian Spanish is the official language, in Catalonia, the Basque country and Galicia, the regional languages of Catalan, Basque and Galician all have official status.
4. Nudity is legal in Spain – some say all the better to enjoy the country’s mainly Mediterranean-temperate climate with its hot dry summers, mild, rainy winters and more than 3,000 hours of sunlight a year.
5. The population of just under 47 million is the sixth largest in Europe – with more than three-quarters living in urban areas. Around six million people live in Madrid and five million in Barcelona – both cities have more inhabitants than the entire populations of Ireland or New Zealand.
6. Spain has the fourth highest life expectancy of all the OECD countries – with a life expectancy of 82 years, it comes after Switzerland, Italy and Japan, and ranks 15th in the world. Spanish women live longer than men: 85 compared to 79 years.
7. The United Nations projects that Spain will be the world’s oldest country by 2050 – with 40 percent of the population aged over 60.
8. Only 13.6 percent of Spain’s population actually goes to church on Sundays – yet some 70 percent of the population are Roman Catholic, according to a 2012 study by the Centre for Sociological Studies in Spain.
9. Spain is a constitutional monarchy – former king Juan Carlos I came to the throne after the right-wing dictator General Franco died in 1975. Once one of Europe’s most beloved monarchs, Juan Carlos fell from favour in recent years and abdicated in favour of his son, King Felipe VI, in 2014.
10. There is only one tax inspector for every 1,928 taxpayers – compared to one per 729 people in France. So while Spain’s economy ranked 13th in the world, with a GDP of 1,356 billion USD (EUR 989 billion) in the 2013 Centre for Economic Research (Cebr) World Economic League Table, the Spanish Inland Revenue says a quarter of the GDP comes from the ‘black’ economy.
11. In 2015, Spain has the second highest unemployment rate in Europe – and third highest among the OECD countries at 24.2 percent, only slightly behind Greece and South Africa, and high above the OECD average of 7.3 percent (2014). Youth unemployment is even worse: around half of 15 to 24 year-olds who could be working are unemployed.
12. Female entrepreneurs set up 40 percent of all new businesses in Spain – since the beginning of the recession in 2008 to 2013, totalling some 800,000 businesses.
13. Spain has Europe’s biggest wealth gap – according to findings in two reports by Credit Suisse and the Catholic charity Caritas. In 2012, while more than 6 percent of the population lived on EUR 307/month or less (double that of 2008), the number of dollar millionaires rose to 402,000, an increase of 13 percent on the previous year.
14. Out-of-school hour’s childcare is limited – about a quarter of all grandparents take care of their grandchildren on a daily basis.
15. Only half of all adults aged 15–64 have the equivalent of a high school degree – the OECD average is almost three-quarters. Younger people are staying on at school longer than the previous generation though, as 65 percent of 25–34-year-olds gain the qualification.
16. The Spanish love to chill out – according to the 2013 OECD report, on average they devote 16 out of every 24 hours to leisure, eating, drinking and sleeping.
17. The first ‘novel’ is attributed to a Spaniard – Spain Cervantes’ Don Quixote, written in 1605, is considered to be the first modern novel.
18. Spain has 44 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – pre-historic rock art, historic cities and buildings, bridges, national parks and landscapes. Only Italy with 49 sites and China with 45 have more.
19. The next time you use a stapler, thank the Spanish – the first known stapler was made in the 18th century in the Basque country for the French King Louis XV – and every single staple was engraved with the royal emblem. Spain has also given the world the mop and bucket (1956), the forerunner of the modern cigarette (17th century) and the astronaut’s space suit (1935).
20. Spain produces over half of the world’s olive oil – more than some 1.5 million tons and almost all of it comes from the southern region of Andalusia. It’s also the third largest wine producer after France and Italy, making 3.3 million tonnes (metric tons) in 2013.
21. Spain was the first country in the world where wind power was the greatest source of electricity. Red Eléctrica de España (REE), operators of Spain’s electricity system, revealed that in 2013 wind turbines generated over just under 54,000 gigawatt hours of electricity – a fifth of the nation’s usage.
22. Spain has produced some of the world’s greatest artists – Valázquez in the 17th century, Goya in the 18th and 19th to Picasso, Miró and Dali in the 20th.
23. There’s no tooth fairy in Spain – when Spanish children lose a tooth, they put it under their pillow and a small mouse called Ratoncito Pérez comes to collect it and leaves a small gift or money in its place.
24. Until 2013, the age of consent to have sex or marry in Spain was amongst the lowest in the world – 13 for sex and 14 for marriage. Spaniards now have to wait until they are 16 to do both, in line with other European countries such as the UK, the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium.
25. The Spanish are a tolerant society – the European Social Survey in 2010 found that 80 per cent of respondents agreed that ‘gay men and lesbians should be able to free to live their own lives’, compared to less than 40 percent of Croatians, Lithuanians and Russians. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Spain since 2005.
26. You can enjoy a meal in the oldest restaurant in the world in Spain’s capital, Madrid – although other restaurants claim they are older, the title has been awarded by Guinness World Records to Restaurante Botín, which has been open since 1725. The signature dish? Cochinillos asado (roast suckling pig).
27. Spain was the world’s third most popular tourist destination in 2013 – after France and the US, attracting a record 60.6 million visitors.
28. Spain is the country of fiestas, with hundreds of festivals taking place throughout the year – the oldest, Romería de Nuesra Señora de le Cabeza, has been held for over 800 years and the Fiesta de los Patios was even awarded UNESCO World heritage status in 2013. Be chased by bulls during the festival of San Fermin, throw overripe tomatoes during La Tomatina or watch while huge ninots (statues) are burnt during Las Fallas.
29. Spain’s Christmas lottery has the world’s biggest pay out – Spain’s national lottery, El Gordo (‘the fat one’), held just before Christmas has a pay out of some EUR 2.24 billion.
30. The Spanish national football team topped the FIFA World rankings for five consecutive years – from 2008 until 2013. La Roja (The Red One), La Furia Roja (The Red Fury), La Furia Española (The Spanish Fury), or La Furia (The Fury), as the national team is known, also holds the world record (28) for winning the most consecutive competitive matches.