Spain’s popularity as a holiday destination is renowned, with over forty years of high annual demand for its beautiful beaches, reliable sunshine and warm hospitality. British holidaymakers in particular have fallen in love with the Iberian Peninsula and often return year after year to specific resorts or locations.
Yet the country that comes under the name of Spain has numerous cultures and even separate languages which exist concurrently under this single identity. For instance, the Basque region, which abuts the Pyrenees and takes in the city of Bilbao, has one of the oldest European languages still in daily use and which is quite distinct from Castilian Spanish.
Similarly, the area of Catalonia, which is where Barcelona can be found, also has its own language, spoken not only in and around the Catalonian capital but also in the Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera. These differences in idiom are just the most obvious aspects of the cultural divide between the regions of Spain and the dominance of the Castilian heritage.
Thus the traditional assumption that flamenco is a typically Spanish style of dance and music is erroneous, as this unique artistic expression emerged from the gipsy or Gitano culture that was first documented in the eighteenth century. And it was firmly associated with the area of Andalucia, in the south-eastern corner of the country, until much later when its popularity began to spread to other regions.
Similarly, bull fighting is only practiced in certain parts of Spain, with a ban introduced in Catalonia in 2012 and the sport never having really taken off in the Canary Islands. The first records of bull-fighting in its current form date back to 1726 although the culture of bull worship is far more ancient and it is thought that the sport may well have developed from Roman gladiatorial combat.
While the Balearic Islands owe their distinct cultural differences to a fusion of many diverse influences, due to their important logistical location in the middle of the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands are overwhelmingly Spanish. With the obvious caveat that Canarian culture has deviated from the hegemonic Castilian mode over the centuries, due to the islands physical remoteness from mainland Europe.
The reasons for the dominance of Castile over the other regions of Spain came about after the marriage of Ferdinand II and Isabella I in 1469, uniting the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. And it was their grandson Charles V who first emerged as the King of Spain in 1516, although even six centuries later the country is still defined by its distinct regions and histories.