The very word ‘Spain’ brings to mind flowing skirts, matadors, wine, great tasting spicy food and a warm climate. Spain, has an important place in history, and is even today a favourite tourist destination. The Kingdom of Spain is located in South Western Europe with Madrid as the capital. Historians believe that some of the earliest inhabitants to settle in the land, came more than a million years back. The height of Spanish glory was seen during the 15th and 16th centuries, with the foundations of a worldwide Spanish empire. Today Spain has managed to continue having a growing economy, besides also keeping unemployment at its minimum.
Majority of the people who live here are Spanish in origin, although immigrants from the rest of Latin America, Africa and other countries too make up a significant number. More than any other contribution, it is the Spanish influences on architecture and painting that is much spoken about and studied. Their influences were best seen in the colonies they inhabited, where they built a number of buildings reflecting their styles, including churches and cathedrals. However, it was not averse to other outside influences. The Mudejar style is one such example- a blend of both European and Arabic styles, which were seen quite a lot, till the 17th century. In the field of painting too, contemporary artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali are two well-known names – famous more for their unusual work of portraying thoughts and what they saw around them.
Spain is famous not only for its many cities, and culture, but more importantly for its variations even in nature. A good way to begin a tour is with the cities first
Madrid – Not only is it a cosmopolitan city but its importance for being a cultural center as well as for being the seat of economics and finance is well known. The older part of Madrid is called the ‘Madrid de las Austrias’, in reference to the Hapsburg empire. This part of the city is beautiful to see, and so is the Plaza Manor opened in the 17th century. The 18th century Royal Palace is near to it, and is an example of both Baroque and Classical styles. The Plaza de Oriente, Opera House and the Almudena Cathedral should not be missed out on. Of the 73 museums that dot the city, the Prado Museum, which is hailed as one of the best art galleries in the world and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which have many Italian Renaissance paintings, sculptures and Dutch tapestry works should be visited. The Reina Sofía National Art Centre, is the place to go to if Spanish art is what you are interested in. Here you can see some of the best works by Spanish masters. There are many parks to be enjoyed too. The Retiro Park, the Casa de Campo and the Juan Carlos I Park, are some of the best parks here. Near the city, the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial, with an art museum is worth visiting. A World Heritage Site called the Alcalá de Henares, is the birthplace of the writer Cervantes and Catherine of Aragon. There is even a 16th century university here.
Seville – It has a rich Arab legacy to it, and is often called the city of Don Juan. Giralda , which is a cathedral bell tower, gives one a good view and is a city hallmark. Alcazar, used to be a palace and fortress of the Arab kings. The Donana Nature Reserve, is a World Heritage Site, where one can try hiking, horse riding and cycling. The city is important for the festivals celebrated here. The Easter Week is an interesting festival where one can see the importance of religion to the Spanish and is followed by the April Fair.
Barcelona – It is a cosmopolitan city with a sharp Mediterranean touch, and is famous for its examples of Modernism and 20th century avant- garde art. The Gothic Quarter, is full of many Gothic buildings. Medieval palaces such as Casa dels Canonges, La Pia Almoina, and Casa d´Ardiaca are worth a visit. One can see the Palau Reial Mayor, the Chapel of Santa Ágata, and the City History Museum in the Palau Reial Mayor. The church of Le Merce, the patron saint of Barcelona is also beautiful. Barcelona is home to many museums. The Palace of the Marquises of Llió, and the Palau Aguilar, which is today a Picasso Museum, are worth a visit. The Santa Maria del Mar, which is a Gothic church is beautiful to see.
There is so much of nature to see in Spain too. Costa de la Luz, is famous for its many beaches which are lined with pine groves. Altogether the entire setting seems straight out from a book. The golden shade of the dunes merges with the silver glow of the sea to give it a very exotic feel. Many vineyards, small villages and the countryside, are other features one can see here. Costa del Sol is another beautiful area to visit. One the way, one can see Malaga, which is the birthplace of Picasso. Art lovers can visit the newly opened Picasso Museum, where a number of his paintings are on display. The Tropical Gardens and two restored
Arab castles – the Alcazaba and Gibralfara, are worth a visit. Nerja, the ‘Balcony of Europe’, as it is called as one can get a good view of the Mediterranean, is home to some prehistoric caves also. The Sierra Nevada attracts many tourists too. Located south east of Granada, it has both smooth and rugged areas. The highest peaks of the mainland Mulhacen and Veleta, are found here. A nature lover will enjoy the many forests full of different kinds of vegetation, and the mineral rich waters. The more than 6000 caves in Cantabria, with their various natural underground formations, are considered a natural paradise. Water and moisture have played artists and formed wells, rivers, galleries and gorges, which are worth seeing.
Spain’s cultural activities and the many places of interest are certain to keep you entertained at all times.