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I Wonder Why...?

I will be writing about aspects of Spanish history and their traditions. I am a very curious person and have always needed to know "why" they do it, and "how" it came about. So over the years while living in Spain I have made a conscious effort to discover "el porque de las cosas" and I will be sharing them with you. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

Why is Flamenco a Spanish Art Form?
Friday, April 28, 2023


Flamenco music has its roots in the Andalusian region of southern Spain and is believed to have originated from the fusion of various cultures, including Spanish, Roma (Gypsy), and Moorish (Islamic) traditions.

The Roma people, who arrived in Spain in the 15th century, played a significant role in the development of flamenco, bringing with them their own musical traditions and influences from their travels throughout Europe and Asia. They integrated their music with the music of the Andalusian peasants and the Moors, creating a unique and expressive form of music and dance.

Over time, flamenco evolved into a highly refined art form, with distinct regional styles and variations. Today, flamenco is considered an essential part of Spanish culture and is recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Flamenco has a long and rich history in Spain, and it has become an important part of the country's cultural identity. While it has gained popularity in other parts of the world, such as Japan and the United States, it remains most closely associated with Spain.

There are a few reasons why flamenco has remained primarily a Spanish art form. For one, it is deeply rooted in the country's cultural heritage and history, and its distinctive rhythms, melodies, and dance moves are intimately connected to the landscape and traditions of Andalusia.

Additionally, the flamenco community in Spain is incredibly tight-knit and protective of its art form. Flamenco artists often train and perform together from a young age, and there is a deep sense of pride and ownership over the tradition. This has made it difficult for flamenco to be fully embraced or replicated outside of Spain.

Finally, it's worth noting that while flamenco is primarily associated with Spain, it has actually been influenced by a variety of cultures and traditions from around the world. Over the centuries, Andalusia has been a melting pot of different ethnic and religious groups, and flamenco is a reflection of this diversity. So in some ways, flamenco is a truly global art form, even if its heart remains firmly in Spain.

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The Origins of the Spanish Language
Thursday, April 20, 2023


The "Camino de la Lengua" (the path of the Spanish language) starts from the San Millán de la Cogolla Monasteries in La Rioja and passes through five locations that have had a special and unique relationship with the history of the Spanish language in Spain: the Santo Domingo de Silos Monastery in Burgos and the cities of Valladolid, Salamanca, Ávila and Alcalá de Henares. 

The Yuso and Suso Monasteries are in the village of San Millán de la Cogolla and are European Heritage Sites. They are in the Cárdenas Valley, a tributary of the River Najerilla, in the foothills of the Demanda Mountains and under La Rioja's highest peak, San Lorenzo (2,262 metres). Suso, the upper of the two monasteries began in the caves inhabited by the hermits and disciples of San Millán in around the 6th century. The building work that turned these caves into the monastery is reflected in the different architectural styles layered on top of each other from the 6th to the 10th centuries: Visigoth, Mozarabic and Romanesque.

Suso's cultural importance comes from the collection of manuscripts and texts written at the Monastery's library, one of the most important during Spain's Middle Ages: the Codex Emilianense de los Concilios (992), the Quiso Bible (664) and a copy of the Apocalypse by Beato de Liébana (8th century) make this one of the most important, if not the most important, libraries during Spain's Middle Ages. This setting provided the backdrop for what is today the oldest written evidence of the Spanish language.

The Yuso Monastery was built to expand the Suso Monastery in the 11th century and is particularly large. It was built during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and combines different architectural styles: mainly Renaissance and Baroque. The Monastery's museum houses many wonderful works of art: paintings by Juan de Rizzi (thought to be the best Spanish religious painter) and copper pieces dating back to the 17th century. The 11th century gold and ivory chests hold the relics of San Millán. The screen closing off the church's lower choir was made in 1676 and the retrochoir's sculpture contains eight beautiful Spanish images One of the Monastery's best pieces is also in this area: a pulpit made of walnut, which is thought to date back to the late 16th century.



The Monastery's library and archive are of particular interest and are considered to be one of Spain's best. The Medieval archive's main items are two cartularies (the Galicano and the Bulario cartularies) containing around three hundred original documents. 

The library remains as it was furnished towards the end of the 18th century. The true value and interest of the library is not so much the number of documents it houses (over ten thousand), rather the unusual nature of the items. One of these unusual pieces is the "Gospel of Jerónimo Nadal", printed in Antwerp in 1595. Although it is unusual to own a copy of this edition, the actual format of the book is even more unusual, as all the sheets are painted one by one in various colours.

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The Capirote - Conical hat worn during Easter processions
Thursday, April 6, 2023


A capirote is a pointed conical hat that is used in Spain. It is part of the uniform of some brotherhoods including the Nazarenos and Fariseos during Easter processions and reenactments in some areas during the Holy Week in Spain. 

Historically the flaggelants are the origin of these current traditions, as they flogged themselves to do penance. Pope Clemens VI ordered that flagellants only under control of the church could perform penance; For this he decreed "Inter sollicitudines". This is considered one of the reasons why flaggelants  often hide their faces.

The use of the capirote or coroza was proscribed in Spain and Portugal by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Men and women who were arrested had to wear a paper capirote in public as sign of public humiliation. The capirote was worn during the session of an 'Auto-da-fé'. The colour was different, conforming to the judgement of the office. People who were condemned to be executed wore a red coroza. Other punishments used different colours and drawings to show the punishment to be received.


When the Inquisition was abolished, the symbol of punishment and penitence was kept in the Catholic brotherhood. However, the capirote used today is different: it is covered in fine fabric, as determined by the brotherhood. Later, during the celebration of the Holy Week/Easter in Andalusia, penitentes (people doing public penance for their sins) would walk through streets with the capirote. The capirote is today the symbol of the Catholic penant: only members of a confraternity of penance are allowed to wear them during solemn processions. Children can receive the capirote after their first holy communion, when they enter the brotherhood.

Historically the structure is called the capirote, but the brotherhoods cover it with fabric together with their face, and the medal of the brotherhood that is worn underneath. The cloth has two holes for the penant to see through. The insignia or crest of the brotherhood is usually embroidered on the capirote in fine gold.The capirote is worn during the whole penance. In Sevilla, it is not allowed to enter the cathedral without the capirote.

In New Orleans during the period between the Rebellion of 1768 and the abolishment of the Spanish cabildo, the more risqué Mardi Gras celebrations of the traditionally French Catholic residents were strictly curtailed by incoming Spanish clergy. The anti-Catholic 'second' Ku Klux Klan that arose at the beginning of the twentieth century may have modeled part of their regalia and insignia on the capirote and sanbenito as a sardonic nod to the enforcement of these restrictions on masquerades a century earlier.


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The Secret Bench
Friday, March 24, 2023



The beautiful "Parque de la Alameda" Santiago de Compostela is reminiscent of a country estate, anchored at the centre by the 17th-century Baroque chapel of Santa Susana. There are lush gardens, historic statuary, elaborate tiered steps, and an unassuming stone bench: a “banco acústico” that holds a hundred years of secrets and whispers.

The granite seat is known as the Bench of Whispers, or sometimes the Lovers Bench. Its semicircular design and physical orientation give it an unusual acoustic characteristic. If you sit at one end and place your head up against the back of the seat, and speak even in the softest tones, your voice travels all the way across to the other end just as loud or even louder than it started out, if that's possible..!


The bench was added to the park around 1916, and its special properties were soon noticed by courting couples. The spot became a well-known destination for innocent dates during the Franco years when an emphasis on strict social behaviour included regulating young unmarried couples. Touching in public, or even speaking, was against the rules. So suggesting an innocent walk in the park, where maybe your partner just happened to be walking too, might end up with a secret romantic word or two.  

The nature of sound travel at the bench is similar to the phenomenon of the Whispering Galleries at the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral or at Grand Central Terminal. 


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An Icon for Law and Order
Friday, March 17, 2023


Ever wondered why the Spanish civil guards wear that funny hat? Well, I thought I would give you a little background on Spain’s first police force and why their hat became an icon for law and order.

Spain’s Guardia Civil was founded as a national police force in 1844 during the reign of Queen Isabel II of Spain by the Basque Navarrese aristocrat Francisco Javier Girón y Ezpeleta, 2nd Duque de Ahumada and 5th Marqués de las Amarillas, an 11th generation descendant of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II. Formerly, law enforcement had been the responsibility of the “Holy Brotherhood”, an organization of municipal leagues. Corruption was rife in the Brotherhood, where officials were constantly subject to local political influence, and the system was largely ineffective outside the major towns and cities. Criminals would often escape justice by simply moving from one town to another. The first Guardia police academy was established in the town of Valdemoro, south of Madrid, in 1855 and Graduates were given the Guardia's now famous Tricornio or Cavaliers hat as part of their duty dress uniform, a hat that has become an emblem of Spain, especially Spain’s dictatorship years.

The Guardia was initially charged with putting an end to brigandage on the nation's highways, particularly in the province of Andalucía, which had become notorious for endless robberies and holdups of businessmen, peddlers, travellers, and even foreign tourists. Bandits in this region were so frequent that the Guardia found it difficult to completely eradicate the problem. As late as 1884, one traveller of the day reported that the problems still existed in and around the city of Málaga. The favourite and original method of the Malagueño highwayman was to creep up quietly behind his victim, muffle his head and arms in a cloak, and then relieve him of his valuables. Should he resist, he would instantly bring him to the ground with the dexterous thrust of a knife.

The Guardia Civil was also given the political task of restoring and maintaining land ownership and servitude among the peasantry of Spain by the king, who desired to stop the spread of anti-monarchist movements inspired by the French revolution. The end of the First Carlist War had left the Spanish landscape scarred by the destruction and the government was forced to take drastic action to suppress spontaneous revolts by the remaining rebel peasantry. Based on the model of light infantry used by Napoleon in his European campaigns, the Guardia Civil was transformed into a highly mobile paramilitary force that could be deployed irrespective of inhospitable conditions, able to patrol and pacify large areas of the countryside. Its members, called 'guardias', maintain to this day a basic patrol unit formed by two agents, usually called a "pareja" (a pair), in which one of the 'guardias' will initiate the intervention while the second 'guardia' serves as a backup to the first.

Today the Guardia Civil is a police force subject to the checks and supervision expected in a democratic society. Moreover, the guardias' proven effectiveness throughout history, whether in controlling banditry or in addressing the subsequent challenges and tasks given to them, meant that additional tasks have been added regularly to their job description.

Today, they are primarily responsible for policing and/or safety in the following areas:

Highway patrol, Protection of the Royal Family and the King of Spain, Military police, Counter drugs operations, Anti-smuggling operations, Customs and ports of entry control, Airport Security, Safety of prisons and safeguarding of prisoners, Weapons licenses and arms control, Security of border areas, Bomb squad and explosives, Security in rural areas, Anti-terrorism, Coast guard, Police deployments abroad (embassies), Intelligence and counter-intelligence gathering, Cybercrime, Hunting permits and finally Environmental law enforcement (SEPRONA).

In January 2011 the Civil Guard of Spain, La Benemérita, renewed its uniform, unchanged since 1986. The military association inherent to their old attire was replaced by a police force aesthetic: polo shirts and cargo pants substituted button-up shirts and pleated trousers. The colour of the uniform changed too: a dark shade of green replaced the former lighter-coloured military green.

The most important modification, however, was the replacement of the 'tricornio', a three-cornered hat made of black polished leather, in the heritage of the ones worn by Spanish soldiers during the 17th century. The substitution surprised everyone; the 'tricornio' was the quintessential symbol of the Civil Guards. Imagine supplanting the cowboy hat with a baseball cap—no small step for a military institution.

Tidiness and cleanliness were attributes emphasised in La Benemérita’s uniform code since the foundation of the institution back in 1844. The founder, Don Francisco Javier Girón y Ezpeleta, believed that it was important to create a police force that the Spanish population would respect at first sight even fear. The value of the aesthetic was given the highest importance and was carefully managed. The elegance and uniformity of the attire were praised and valued. Blue was chosen as the main colour (replaced by green in the reform of 1943) and the tricornio as the element of uniformity. Don Ramón María de Narváez y Campos, Duque de Valencia and prime minister at the time, chose the three-cornered hat used by the Spanish cavalry for the new police force headwear. The Duque de Ahumada didn’t agree with the idea, however; he favoured the notion of borrowing the Morrión style, a steel helmet used by the Tercios, the famous and feared Spanish infantry formation of the XVI century. Queen Isabella II had the last word; she backed the prime minister’s opinion, and the three-cornered hat was appointed official Guardia Civil headwear.

The Guardia Civil was a tool for repression and civil order. Their constant excesses and lack of responsibility for their actions made them extremely unpopular in the beginning. They were feared, and so was their uniform. The poet Federico Garcia Lorca portrayed the brutality of the Guardia Civil in many of his poems. Furthermore, nothing signified repression more than their tricornio, and even to this day there are popular jokes that relate the “magical” power of the hat, that it transferred violence to whoever wore it. During the dictatorship of Franco, it was the tricornio that symbolised the merciless will of the “Caudillo”.


Fortunately, those days are gone. The Guardia Civil has evolved as did society and Spain’s democracy, it was the first European police force to admit a same-sex couple in a military installation, which was no small step for such a right-winged organisation.

The tricornio, however, won’t disappear just yet. Its use will be reserved for ceremonies and parades, and the 'gorra teresiana', the everyday hat, will be replaced by a “more comfortable and modern” baseball cap. So there you have it, the inherent attributes of authority, power, and law are put aside to bring in airs of casualness and practicality.


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Chupa Chups - The Original Lollipop
Thursday, March 9, 2023

Up until the late 1950s, sweets were different shapes and colours. But children, being children, would pop them in and out of their mouths regularly to examine them, to talk to friends, to hide them from parents or to put them in their pockets for later. This meant that kids and sweets were a messy mix.

 In 1958 Enric Bernat created a universally appealing sweet that would make kids and parents happy.

In the early 1950s, Bernat worked for an apple jam factory called "Granja Asturias". After he proposed the idea of making lollipops, the investors left so Bernat took over the company in 1958. He built the production machines and sold a striped bonbon on a wooden stick for one peseta each.

Bernat’s original idea was a piece of candy on a fork. After several experiments with small forks, Bernat saw the opportunity for production on a larger scale. Before the first Chupa Chups lollipop hit the market, however, the fork was substituted with a wooden stick as a safer and less expensive alternative

Bernat got the idea of a "bonbon with a stick" from a cursing mother as her child got sticky hands from melting sweets. Bernat felt that at that time, sweets were not designed with the main consumers — children — in mind. Shopkeepers were instructed to place the lollipops near the cash register within reach of children's hands, instead of the traditional placement behind the counter and Chupa Chups stood out from other sweets with displays that were cute, curious and creative.

At first, he decided to call it “GOL”, imagining the sweet was a bit like a football and an open mouth was a bit like a football net.

But it wasn’t quite catchy enough, so he hired an advertising agency to come up with a creative new name for him, Chups.

Then, consumers stepped in. The catchy jingle used to market Chups proved so successful, that it changed the name of the sweet! 

Get something sweet to lick, lick, lick, like a Chups.

Get something sweet to lick, lick, lick, like a Chups.

It’s so round and it lasts so long.

“Lick, lick lick a Chups”     [“Chupa, chupa, chupa Chups”]



Sales of Chupa Chups lollipops abroad prompted the need for a modernised wrapper design. For this important task, a visit was paid to Salvador Dalí, who, in less than an hour created the famous daisy logo. He also changed the logo to only two colours and insisted that his logo be positioned on top of the lollipop so that it could be seen perfectly from every angle. This very logo is still pretty much the logo in use today. And these little changes made it iconic.

In 1988 it was revamped a little and that is the design that has stuck till today. Bright, cheerful and unique, it has proven universally popular with the public. It has become the definitive icon for a world famous brand. 



The Chupa Chups Company was a success. Within five years Bernat's sweets were being sold at 300,000 outlets. After the end of the Francisco Franco dictatorship (1939–75), the self-funded private company went international. In the 1970s the lollipops appeared in Japan and Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines and Malaysia, as well as Australia. In the 1980s it expanded to the European and North American markets, and in the 1990s to most Asian countries, including South Korea and China. Nowadays billions of lollipops a year are sold in over 150 countries.

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March Means Marzipan
Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Mazapán - marzipan - means March's bread. This delicious sweetmeat's origin is disputed by several nations, however, there are two theories which are more backed up by historians than others. Spain claims it was invented in Toledo and Italy says it was in Sicily. Should you ever go to Spain, be sure to taste the best marzipan that Spain has to offer.

However going back even further there is little certainty. On the one hand, it is said that mazapán's -marzipan- true origin is Arabic as described in One Thousand and One Nights and it is described as being used during the hardships of Ramadan or as an aphrodisiac; the European version is basically a variation. On the other hand, we also know of a similar preparation in ancient Greece, where a paste of almonds and honey was made, however, it was during Christian times that it was included in the Easter preparations. Anyhow, let's explore the more recent theories.



Toledo was one of the multicultural and multi-religious cities where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in perfect harmony and would do so for a few centuries. It is not to wonder then that the invention of mazapán or marzipan, as we know it today, is pretty much a variation of an Arabic sweetmeat.

According to this version, marzipan was invented by nuns of the Convent of San Clemente in Toledo. After the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, where several of the would-be Spanish kingdoms fought the Muslims, as an attempt to reconquer the occupied territory, there was a terrible famine in Castile. At the time there was no wheat stored in the city, but there was plenty of sugar and almonds and the nuns fed a paste made with these two ingredients, and perhaps some others, to the undernourished people of the city.

We know that in the hospital Santiago de Toledo a preparation of shredded hen breast mixed with with almonds and sugar was prescribed which was said to be a variety of mazapán. However thanks to the ordinance made in the year of 1613, confectioners only accepted almonds and white sugar as the ingredients of true marzipan.

According to the other theory, marzipan was invented in 1193. An Italian wealthy woman of high birth and noble origin, Eloisa Martorana commissioned a convent to be built in Sicily, and it was called after her. The nuns of this convent had Greek origins and spent their time in the elaboration of a paste made of sugar and almond, which they later shaped in miniature animals or fruit. They would then paint it in vibrant colours with different natural dyes, including pigments extracted from roses, saffron and pistachio nuts.

Marzipane (marzipan in Italian)became famous and kept the nuns occupied most of the time. In 1575 the elaboration of marzipan was forbidden by royal decree, as the production of the sweetmeat distracted the nuns from their religious practices. Apparently, the nuns still found ways, despite the decree, to continue making mazapán.

Marzipan became so popular in Spain that, during the time of Spanish colonisation, the dish was exported to the various countries that fell under Spanish rule such as many of the countries in South America as well as some of the islands in South East Asia. As a result, some of the countries have developed their own varieties of the sweet, mainly varying on the type of nut used.
In the Philippines for example, their marzipan is called 'mazapán de pili' because it is made using pili nuts instead of almonds. In Latin America, the most famous marzipan can be found in Guatemala where it has been made since the 19th century. In Venezuela meanwhile, particularly in the South of the country, they use a type of cashew nut to make their version of marzipan.

Back in Spain, Mazapán de Toledo is protected by D.O. (designation of origin) and it's still one of the most prestigious in the world. However, Marzipan in Spain is not only produced in Toledo but in many other cities as well. Its consumption is mostly related to Christmas, but in good confectionaries, it's possible to find at any time of the year.

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History of Spanish Sausage Making
Thursday, February 23, 2023

The ritual 'matanza' (pig slaughter) and the making of sausages and other meat products are portrayed in Roman sculpture: the Iberian Peninsula was renowned throughout the Empire for producing fine pigs and charcuterie.

Sausages were then known as botulus (from which botulism, the name of the illness caused by inadequately preserved foodstuffs was later taken), or its diminutive botellus. Blood sausages of the black-pudding type were known as botuli, and one of the Iberian Peninsula's most characteristic sausages, the botillo, typical of the El Bierzo region (León, Castilla de León), clearly derives its name from the same source. Non-blood sausages were known as farcimina and what they contained and how they were made and cooked is explained in recipes in Apicius famous cookery book. It describes how pig intestines were stuffed with chopped meat, fat, egg, spices, offal, and so on, and how they were smoked and cured; readers are also informed that they could be eaten boiled, roasted or cooked over the fire. From this we can infer that the manufacturing method has stayed the same for at least 2,500 years and that the ingredients, too, have changed very little, even now varying from region to region and one type of charcuterie to another.

In the Middle Ages, scarcity and unhygienic conditions meant that meat was rarely eaten fresh. Despite the fact that meat was beyond the reach of most of the population except to mark the occasional feast day, the meat they did eat would have been preserved in the traditional manner, namely salted or in the form of sausages. 

The most important difference between pre- and post-16th-century Spanish sausages is that many of the later ones contain a new ingredient destined to become a basic in much of Spain's cuisine: the type of paprika known as pimentón. This marvellous condiment enhanced the keeping properties of cheeses and charcuterie, added flavour and colour, and furthermore could be used to disguise certain signs that meat was going off. The tradition of adding pimentón (in its two most extreme types: sweet or hot) to many Spanish sausages is still very much alive today, and can be thanked for originating what is now perhaps Spain's most characteristic sausage - the chorizo - which was taken up all over the country, particularly in the 18th century. Today, only one region of Spain does not use pimentón in any of its traditional sausages, Catalonia's classics are seasoned with just salt and pepper.

This period, too, saw the invention in Andalusia of lamb meat sausages, which are still made today. These were thought up by Jewish converts to avoid being denounced for not eating sausages while remaining within the strictures of the faith to which they still secretly adhered.

Like all meat products, sausages remained a food that only the privileged few could enjoy. Banquets held by the successive courts of modern Spain made much of the nation's varieties of sausage, though inevitably they were outshone by hams and game. Charles IV (1748-1819) was a prolific eater of chorizos, a fact celebrated by the inclusion of the figure of his supplier in a famous tapestry by Francisco Bayeu (1734-1795).

Until the closing decades of the 19th century, nearly all pork-derived products were made from the meat of the native, Ibérico, breed of pig. Pork products began to become more generally accessible in the towns and cities after specialized municipal abattoirs were opened. In the first thirty or so years of the 20th century, certain pork products and sausages started to become available to the masses. Village matanzas continued to take place in Spain right up to the end of the 20th century, surviving alongside a meat industry that grew consistently from the 1950s on, after white pigs had been introduced and become widespread. 

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Where did the cigarette originate?
Friday, February 3, 2023

When Christopher Columbus reached the West Indies in 1492, the natives greeted him with fruit, wooden spears and “certain dried leaves which gave off a distinct fragrance.” The Spanish sailors in Columbus’ crew appreciated the fruit but threw away the dried leaves not knowing what they were for. A few weeks later, while on a reconnaissance on the island of Cuba, two crewmen from the ship reported that they watched as natives wrapped the same type of dried leaves in maize and lit one end and inhaled the smoke from the other. Reportedly, one of the sailors tried a few puffs himself and soon became a confirmed smoker, probably the first European to do so. 

 Later explorers would learn that the new world was full of smokers and had been for hundreds of years. North American Indians prized tobacco and traded the valuable leaf regularly. While tobacco was usually smoked in simple pipes called “calumets,” Spanish explorers such as Cortez reported seeing Aztec and other Central American Indians smoking flavoured reed “cigarettes” while the natives of Cuba reportedly rolled their leaves into cigars then as now.

By the mid-16th century, Portuguese settlers in Brazil began cultivating their own tobacco for export to Europe. In 1564, Captain John Hawkins and his crew introduced pipe smoking to England and over the next few decades, the demand for American leaves grew significantly. Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with popularizing pipe smoking at the English royal court not long after. A few decades later, John Rolfe brought South American tobacco seed to the Jamestown Virginia settlement and raised the first crop of “tall tobacco” in what is now the U.S. By the 1730s, the first North American tobacco factories had appeared in Virginia manufacturing snuff.

By the mid-19th century, cigarettes were gaining in popularity in Europe. In 1843, the French Monopoly began the manufacture of cigarettes, a form of tobacco consumption which up until then had a reputation as being a “beggar’s smoke”. This name came from the first people to actually make cigarettes, as we know them today. It dates back to 16th Century Seville when the beggars would collect the scraps that were thrown away by the tobacco factories established in the city. They would tear up and crush the broken leaves that were no good for cigars and roll them up in rice paper. This custom continued for centuries and was extended by the Spanish sailors who exported it, so to speak, to all corners of the world. The Spanish were also the first to start manufacturing these cigarettes in the mid-19th century and it then quickly crossed the border into France and what had been a practice only worthy of the lower class became a symbol for the sophisticated upper class of Europe. 

However, in the 18th century, Spain built the Royal Tobacco factory in Seville, which was the gateway for tobacco from the Americas. This 18th-century industrial building was, at the time it was built the second largest building in Spain, second only to the royal residence El Escorial. It remains one of the largest and most architecturally distinguished industrial buildings ever built in Spain, and one of the oldest such buildings to survive. The factory was built just outside the Puerta de Jerez in the land known as “de las calaveras” ("of the skulls") because it had been the site of an Ancient Roman burial ground. Construction began in 1728, and proceeded by fits and starts over the next 30 years. The architects of the building were military engineers from Spain and the Low Countries.

The factory began production in 1758; the first tobacco auctions there (which were the first in Spain) took place in 1763. At that point the factory was employing a thousand men, and two hundred horses, and had 170 "mills" (“molinos”: the devices used to turn the tobacco into snuff, known in Spanish as polvo or rapé); tobacco came both from Virginia and from the Spanish colonies in the Americas. According to the inscription on two of the pillars of the drawbridge on the west side, the building was finished in 1770.

The production of snuff was heavy work: enormous sheaves of tobacco were hauled around manually, and horses turned the grinding mills. For centuries, Seville remained Spain's only manufacturer of snuff. The rising popularity of cigars resulted in part of the factory being adapted for that purpose; cigars were also made in several other Spanish cities: Cádiz, Alicante, La Coruña, and Madrid. Long after the manufacture of cigars elsewhere in Spain (and in Cuba) had become women's work, the workforce in Seville remained entirely male. By the beginning of the 19th century, 700 men were employed in the factory to make cigars, and another thousand to make snuff.




Over time, however, Seville's cigars developed a poor reputation. There were frequent problems with labour discipline, and quality was lower than in the factories where women made cigars; furthermore, men received better wages than women, so these inferior cigars were more expensive than those produced elsewhere. The factory became less profitable. Matters were brought to a head during the Peninsular War. The cigar-making portion of the factory closed in 1811. When it reopened in 1813, it was with a female workforce, then (from 1816) a larger, mixed workforce, and finally (after 1829) an entirely female workforce again, some 6,000 of them at the peak in the 1880s before numbers began to decrease because of mechanization.



Labour unrest was less common among the women than it had been among the men, though by no means was it unknown. There were revolts or strikes in 1838, 1842, and 1885, but none of them was sustained for more than a few days. With mechanization, the labour force reduced to 3,332 in 1906, about 2,000 in 1920, and by the 1940s only about 1,100. Although the interior has been much altered, especially during the adaptation in the 1950s for use by the University of Seville, the Royal Tobacco Factory is a remarkable example of 18th-century industrial architecture. 

The building covers a roughly rectangular area of 185 by 147 metres (610 by 480 feet), with slight protrusions at the corners. The only building in Spain that covers a larger surface area is the monastery palace of El Escorial, which is 207 by 162 metres (680 by 530 feet). There are paintings inside the Tobacco Factory recalling the women cigar makers who worked there. Outstanding among these is the painting by Gonzalo Bilbao, whose most well-known depictions of customs and manners are in the Seville Museum of Fine Arts, including other portrayals of women cigar makers. A ditch was dug around the factory with several sentry boxes, indicating a defensive use. Today it is the headquarters of Seville University.

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Milestones events in Spain's 2000 years of history
Tuesday, January 24, 2023


Although very difficult, the intention of this article is to summarise over two thousand years of Spanish history down into a series of bite size digestable chunks, giving you a quick outline of milestone events and key periods that shaped Spain forever and hopefully arouse enough interest so you keep discovering more about this wonderful country and its endless heritage.




Carthage Begins to Conquer Spain 241 BCE

Beaten in the First Punic War, Carthage – or at least leading Carthaginians – turned their attention to Spain. Hamilcar Barca began a campaign of conquest and settlement in Spain which continued under his son in law. A capital for Carthage in Spain was established at Cartagena. The campaign continued under Hannibal, who pushed further north but came to blows with the Romans and their ally Marseille, who had colonies in Iberia.

Second Punic War in Spain 218 – 206 BCE

As the Romans fought the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War, Spain became a field of conflict between the two sides, both aided by Spanish natives. After 211 the brilliant general Scipio Africanus campaigned, throwing Carthage out of Spain by 206 and beginning centuries of Roman occupation.

Spain Fully Subdued 19 BCE

Rome’s wars in Spain continued for many decades, often brutal warfare, with numerous commanders operating in the area and making a name for themselves. On occasion, the wars impinged on the Roman consciousness, with eventual victory in the long siege of Numantia being equated to the destruction of Carthage. Eventually, Agrippa conquered the Cantabrians in 19 BCE, leaving Rome ruler of the whole peninsula.

Germanic Peoples Conquer Spain 409 – 470 CE

With Roman control of Spain in chaos due to civil war (which at one point produced a short-lived Emperor of Spain), German groups: the Sueves, Vandals and Alans invaded. These were followed by the Visigoths, who invaded first on behalf of the emperor to enforce his rule in 416, and later that century to subdue the Sueves; they settled and crushed the last imperial enclaves in the 470s, leaving the region under their control. After the Visigoths were pushed out of Gaul in 507, Spain became home to a unified Visigothic kingdom, albeit one with very little dynastic continuity.

Muslim Conquest of Spain Begins 711

A Muslim force comprised of Berbers and Arabs attacked Spain from North Africa, taking advantage of a near-instant collapse of the Visigothic kingdom (the reasons for which historians still debate, the “it collapsed because it was backward” argument having been now firmly rejected); within a few years, the south and centre of Spain was Muslim, the north remaining under Christian control. A flourishing culture emerged in the new region which was settled by many immigrants.

The apex of Umayyad Power 961 – 976

Muslim Spain came under the control of the Umayyad dynasty, who moved from Spain after losing power in Syria, and who ruled first as Amirs and then as Caliphs until their collapse in 1031. The rule of Caliph Al-Hakem, from 961 – 76, was probably the height of their strength both politically and culturally. Their capital was Cordoba. After 1031 the Caliphate was replaced by a number of successor states.

The Reconquista c. 900 – c.1250

Christian forces from the north of the Iberian Peninsula, pushed partly by religion and population pressures, fought Muslim forces from the south and centre, defeating the Muslim states by the mid-thirteenth century. After this only Granada remained in Muslim hands, the Reconquista finally being completed when it fell in 1492. The religious differences between the many warring sides have been used to create national mythology of a catholic right, might and mission, and to impose a simple framework on what was a complicated era.

Spain Dominated by Aragon and Castile c. 1250 - 1479

The last phase of the Reconquista saw three kingdoms push the Muslims almost out of Iberia: Portugal, Aragon and Castile. The latter pair now dominated Spain, although Navarre clung on to Independence in the north and Granada in the south. Castile was the largest kingdom in Spain; Aragon was a federation of regions. They fought frequently against Muslim invaders and saw, often large, internal conflict.

The 100 Years War in Spain 1366 - 1389

In the latter part of the fourteenth century the war between England and France spilt over into Spain: when Henry of Trastamara, bastard half brother of the king, claimed the throne held by Peter I, England supported Peter and his heirs and France, Henry and his heirs. Indeed, the Duke of Lancaster, who married Peter’s daughter, invaded in 1386 to pursue a claim but failed. Foreign intervention in the affairs of Castile declined after 1389, and after Henry III took the throne.

Ferdinand and Isabella Unite Spain 1479 - 1516

Known as the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married in 1469; both came to power in 1479, Isabella after a civil war. Although their role in uniting Spain under one kingdom – they incorporated Navarre and Granada into their lands – has been downplayed recently, they nonetheless united the kingdoms of Aragon, Castile and several other regions under one monarch.

Spain Starts to Build an Overseas Empire in 1492

Columbus brought knowledge of America to Europe in 1492, and by 1500 6000 Spaniards had already emigrated to the “New World”. They were the vanguard of a Spanish empire in southern and central America – and nearby islands – which overthrew the indigenous peoples and sent vast quantities of treasure back to Spain. When Portugal was subsumed into Spain in 1580, the latter became rulers of the large Portuguese empire too.

The "Golden Age" 16th Century to 1640

An era of social peace, great artistic endeavour and a place as a world power at the heart of a world empire, the sixteenth and early seventeenth century have been described as Spain’s golden age, an era when vast booty flowed in from America and Spanish armies were labelled as invincible. The agenda of European politics was certainly set by Spain, and the country helped bankroll the European wars fought by Charles V and Philip II as Spain formed part of their vast Habsburg empire, but the treasure from abroad caused inflation and Castile kept going bankrupt.

The Revolt of the Comuneros 1520- 21

When Charles V succeeded to the throne of Spain he caused upset by appointing foreigners to court positions when promising not to, making tax demands and setting off abroad to secure his accession to the Holy Roman throne. Cities rose in rebellion against him, finding success at first, but after the rebellion spread to the countryside and the nobility were threatened, the latter grouped together to crush the Comuneros. Charles V afterwards made improved efforts to please his Spanish subjects.

Catalan and Portuguese Rebellion 1640 – 1652

Tensions rose between the monarchy and Catalonia over demands on them to supply troops and cash for the Union of Arms, an attempt to create a 140,000 strong imperial army, which Catalonia refused to support. When the war in southern France was initiated to try and coerce the Catalans into joining, Catalonia rose in rebellion in 1640, before transferring allegiance from Spain to France. By 1648 Catalonia was still in active opposition, Portugal had taken to opportunity rebel under a new king, and there were plans in Aragon to secede. Spanish forces were only able to retake Catalonia in 1652 once French forces withdrew because of problems in France; the privileges of Catalonia were fully restored to ensure peace.

War of the Spanish Succession 1700 – 1714

When Charles II died he left the throne of Spain to Duke Philip of Anjou, grandson of French king Louis XIV. Philip accepted but was opposed by the Habsburgs, family of the old king who wished to retain Spain among their many possessions. Conflict ensued, with Philip supported by France while the Habsburg claimant, Archduke Charles, was supported by Britain and the Netherlands, as well as Austria and other Habsburg possessions. The war was concluded by treaties in 1713 and 14: Philip became king, but some of Spain’s imperial possessions were lost. At the same time, Philip moved to centralise Spain into one unit.

Wars of the French Revolution 1793 – 1808

France, having executed their king in 1793, pre-empted the reaction of Spain (who had supported the now dead monarch) by declaring war. A Spanish invasion soon turned into a French invasion, and peace was declared between the two nations. This was closely followed by Spain allying with France against England, and an on-off-on war followed. Britain cut Spain off from their empire and trade, and Spanish finances suffered greatly.

War against Napoleon 1808 – 1813

In 1807 Franco-Spanish forces took Portugal, but Spanish troops not only remained in Spain but increased in number. When the king abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand and then changed his mind, the French ruler Napoleon was brought in to mediate; he simply gave the crown to his brother Joseph, a dire miscalculation. Parts of Spain rose up in rebellion against the French and a military struggle ensued. Britain, already opposed to Napoleon, entered the war in Spain in support of Spanish troops, and by 1813 the French had been pushed all the way back to France. Ferdinand became king.

Independence of the Spanish Colonies c. 1800 – c.1850

While there were currents demanding independence before, it was the French occupation of Spain during the Napoleonic Wars which triggered the rebellion and struggle for independence of Spain’s American empire during the nineteenth century. Northern and southern uprisings were both opposed by Spain but were victorious, and this, coupled with damage from the Napoleonic era struggles, meant Spain was no longer a major military and economic power.

Riego Rebellion 1820

A general named Riego, preparing to lead his army to America in support of the Spanish colonies rebelled and enacted the constitution of 1812, a system supporter of King Ferdinand had drawn up during the Napoleonic Wars. Ferdinand had rejected the constitution then, but after the general sent to crush Riego also rebelled, Ferdinand conceded; “Liberals” now joined together to reform the country. However, there was armed opposition, including the creation of a “regency” for Ferdinand in Catalonia, and in 1823 French forces entered to restore Ferdinand to full power. They won an easy victory and Riego was executed.

First Carlist War 1833 – 39

When King Ferdinand died in 1833 his declared successor was a three-year-old girl: Queen Isabella II. The old king’s brother, Don Carlos, disputed both the succession and the “pragmatic sanction” of 1830 that allowed her the throne. Civil war ensued between his forces, the Carlists, and those loyal to Queen Isabella II. The Carlist’s were strongest in the Basque region and Aragon, and soon their conflict turned into a struggle against liberalism, instead of seeing themselves as protectors of the church and local government. Although the Carlists were defeated, attempts to put his descendants on the throne occurred in the Second and Third Carlist wars (1846-9, 1872-6).

Government by “Pronunciamientos” 1834 – 1868

In the aftermath of the First Carlist War Spanish politics became split between two main factions: the Moderates and the Progressives. On several occasions during this era the politicians asked the generals to remove the current government and install them in power; the generals, heroes of the Carlist war, did so in a manoeuvre known as pronunciamientos. Historians argue that these weren’t coups, but developed into a formalized exchange of power with public support, albeit at military behest.

The Glorious Revolution 1868

In September 1868 a new pronunciamiento took place when the generals and politicians denied power during previous regimes took control. Queen Isabella was deposed and a provisional government called the September Coalition formed. A new constitution was drawn up in 1869 and a new king, Amadeo of Savoy, was brought in to rule.

The First Republic and Restoration 1873 – 74

King Amadeo abdicated in 1873, frustrated that he could not form a stable government as the political parties within Spain argued. The First Republic was proclaimed in his stead, but concerned military officers staged a new pronunciamiento to, as they believed, save the country from anarchy. They restored Isabella II’s son, Alfonso XII to the throne; a new constitution followed.

The Spanish-American War 1898

The remainder of Spain’s American empire – Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines – was lost in this conflict with the United States, who were acting as allies to Cuban separatists. The loss became known as simply “The Disaster” and produced debate inside Spain about why they were losing an empire while other European countries were growing theirs.

Rivera Dictatorship 1923 – 1930

With the military about to be the subject of a government enquiry into their failures in Morocco, and with the king frustrated by a series of fragmenting governments, General Primo de Rivera staged a coup; the king accepted him as a dictator. Rivera was supported by elites who feared a possible Bolshevik uprising. Rivera only meant to rule until the country had been “fixed” and it was safe to return to other forms of government, but after a few years other generals became concerned by forthcoming army reforms and the king was persuaded to sack him.

Creation of the Second Republic 1931

With Rivera sacked, the military government could barely keep power, and in 1931 an uprising dedicated to overthrowing the monarchy occurred. Rather than face civil war, King Alfonso XII fled the country and a coalition provisional government declared the Second Republic. The first true democracy in Spanish history, the Republic passed many reforms, including women’s right to vote and separation of church and state, greatly welcomed by some but causing horror in others, including a (soon to be reduced) bloated officer corps.

The Spanish Civil War 1936 – 39

Elections in 1936 revealed a Spain divided, politically and geographically, between the left and the right wings. As tensions threatened to turn into violence, there were calls from the right for a military coup. One occurred on July 17 after the assassination of a right-wing leader caused the army to rise, but the coup failed as “spontaneous” resistance from republicans and leftists countered the military; the result was a bloody civil war that lasted three years. The Nationalists - the right-wing led in the latter part by General Franco - was supported by Germany and Italy, while the Republicans received help from left-wing volunteers (the International Brigades) and mixed assistance from Russia. In 1939 the Nationalists won.

Franco’s Dictatorship 1939 – 75

The aftermath of the civil war saw Spain governed by an authoritarian and conservative dictatorship under General Franco. Opposition voices were repressed through prison and execution, while the language of the Catalans and Basques were banned. Franco’s Spain stayed largely neutral in World War 2, allowing the regime to survive until Franco’s death in 1975. By its end, the regime was increasingly at odds with a Spain which had been culturally transformed.

Return to Democracy 1975 – 78

When Franco died in November 1975 he was succeeded, as planned the government in 1969, by Juan Carlos, an heir to the vacant throne. The new king was committed to democracy and careful negotiation, as well as the presence of a modern society looking for freedom, allowing a referendum on political reform, followed by a new constitution which was approved by 88% in 1978. The swift switch from dictatorship to democracy became an example for post-communist Eastern Europe.

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