Alright, ladies and gents. It’s time to get cultured and have the greatest history/fun fact lesson of your life. Spain, one of the most mountainous in Europe, has a fascinating history of olive oil, wine, religion and conquest.
You’re welcome for keeping your ass educated and giving you fun ice breakers.
Spain Fun Fact #1: Olive you, Spain.
Spain produces the majority of the world’s olive oil. (1)
Wait, it’s not Greece or Italy (Two places where I imagine the locals breath, drink and bathe in olive oil)?
Spain beats both countries and I must admit, their olive oil is GOOD. Olive Oil has been a part of the Spanish culture for centuries and Montserrat, an ancient monastery north of Barcelona, is a testament to this.
So where can you get your own bottle?
Well I got you covered:
The monastery of Montserrat is home to Catalonia’s patron saint, the Black Madonna. The site itself has always held religious meaning. Pre-Christian times, there was a temple dedicated to Venus built by the Romans. As the Christian faith spread throughout Spain, hermit monks took to the site and the monastery was officially founded in 1025 AD. (2) The monastery has a beautiful view, a famous boys Gregorian choir, and produces its own liquor and olive oil (recommendation: buy the olive oil variety pack, you’ll thank me later).
me and KDanck. We’re ready for olive oil with a view at Montserrat
Some tips for Montserrat:
- Sign up for a tour so you don’t need to deal with the drive up to the site. My sister and I signed up for a morning tour which gave us full access to the site before it became overcrowded. You won’t have a chance to hear the boys’ choir as you’ll be on your way back to Barcelona before they start singing, but you will get a chance to see the Church and the view from the mountaintop without lines. #winning
- Seeing the Cross of Saint Michael: You have two options; climb up the mountain and skip the cable car (about a 15 minute walk uphill) or take the cable car to the top and prepare for a LONG walk down with little to no signage. Prepare to feel very lost and concerned that you will never reach the bottom. Every now and then you will see little red arrows, so follow those arrows. Wear comfortable shoes as those sandals that are soooooo cute (but give you blisters) will be your death on your way down the mountain.
Wine: The real reason you want to come to Spain
Spain Fun Fact #2: Put a Cork in it
Spain (and Portugal) provide most of the world’s cork. You know what cork leads to? WINEEEE. A lot of my wine glasses have similar aesthetics to wine bottles. By that, I mean the wine bottle is my glass.
Spain’s wine heritage is about 3,000 years old but took a brief (and very sad) break when the Islamic Moors took over the region in 744 AD. (3) With the Moors’ final defeat in 1492, wine made a comeback. #blessed
Go for a tour a winery and pair some local Spanish cheeses. If you don’t have time to go to a winery but are in Spain during those horribly-god-awful-pretty-sure-I-died-or-lost-part-of-my-soul hot summer months, order a Tinto de Verano (“red wine of summer”). Accidently day drunk you will appreciate previously sober you’s decision making skills.
Spain Fun Fact #3: ‘This is mine now.’ A Christian’s Tale of Cordoba
This is one of the most visited sites in Europe. Prepare yourself for some heat waves outside though (It reached nearly 110 degree when we came)
The Mosque Cathedral of Cordoba has a rich history following the lines of ‘finders’ keepers.’
We’ll keep this history lesson brief as the Mosque Cathedral sells audio guides that will narrate the entire site’s history in a British accent; something I could technically do, but not without insulting the entire United Kingdom.
Historians believe the site was first for Roman temple dedicated Janus but then became a Church founded by the Visigoths. The site later became home to the famous Mosque after Prince Abd al-Rahman escaped Damascus and started anew in the Iberian Peninsula. In the 16th century, the building of the Cathedral in the Mosque’s center was approved. (4)
Grab an audio guide and walk the halls of the Mosque Cathedral.
*Keep in mind this is still an active Church so plan your visit accordingly and dress appropriately.
Spain Fun Fact #4: How much Moor can you ask for? The Moorish Alhambra
The complete name of Alhambra is “Qal’at al-Hambra”, which translates to “The Red Fortress.” The walls have a reddish tone and are covered with beautiful, colored tile and Arabic inscriptions.
The Fortress was built by the Moors (Muslims from North Africa) originally as a military structure but was later transitioned into the Royal residence by Mohammed ben Al-Hamar in 13th century.
Following the Christian Reconquista in 1492, the Alhambra became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella. It was in these halls that Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition from Ferdinand and Isabella.
Be sure you buy your tickets early here and prep yourself to dodge a few selfie sticks as you take in Alhambra’s beauty.
Spain Fun Fact #5: What’s in a name?
Through Spain’s rich history, the country has been given many names. The North Africans first crossed the Straits of Gibraltar called Spain ‘Iberia’, which translated to ‘land of rivers’ (‘Iber’ means river). After the Greeks invaded the peninsula, they called the land ‘Hesperia,’ meaning ‘land of the setting sun’ (direct reference to the land being the westernmost point of the European continent).
In 300 BC, the Carthaginians traveled into Spain and called the land ‘Ispania,’ which translates to “land of the rabbits”. The Romans later Latinized this name to ‘Hispania’ which was modernized to ‘España.’
Who doesn’t love a story where the bunnies are victorious?
Sorry, Tortoise. You missed out on winning this race.
Between the olive oil, wine and tales of bunnies, Spain has a lot to offer. Visit Spain and immerse yourself in an amazing history, culture and possible heatstroke cuisine!
(1) Sawe, Benjamin Elisha. “Leading Olive Producing Countries.” WorldAtlas. August 22, 2016. Accessed October 06, 2017. http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/leading-olive-producing-countries.html.
(2) “Montserrat monastery.” The Montserrat monastery. Accessed October 06, 2017. https://barcelona.de/en/barcelona-excursions-monastery-montserrat.html.
(3) “Spanish Wine History.” Wines from Spain. Accessed October 06, 2017. http://winesfromspainusa.com/spanish-wine-history/
(4) “History of the Mosque of Cordoba.” Mezquita Cordoba. Accessed October 06, 2017. http://www.mezquitadecordoba.org/en/history-mosque-cordoba.asp