How Much Do You Know About Spanish History?

Laura DeFazio

Image: Julio Alvarez / Moment / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Beginning in prehistoric times and reaching up until today, an amazingly wide range of cultures have called Spain home. History was written on the walls of caves tens of thousands of years ago, and many archaeologists believe that southern Spain was the last refuge of the Neanderthals (or "cavemen") fleeing our ancestors.

In the Middle Ages, Muslim and Christian rulers vied for control of the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal), leading to devastating conflict alongside the remarkable cultural fusion that's still evidenced today in Spain's art, architecture, literature and more. Keep reading to see how much you know about Picasso, flamenco, the Camino de Santiago and other hallmarks of life in Spain.

During the Age of Exploration, Spanish explorers discovered and mapped much of the New World (at least for Europeans), and Spain became a powerful colonial empire with territories as far-flung as the Netherlands, the Philippines, Canada and Peru. From the Celts to the Romans to the Catholic Habsburg monarchs to the dictatorship of Francisco Franco all the way to modern democracy, Spain has seen governments nearly as diverse as its geographical regions. So what are you waiting for? Bueno, ¿qué estás esperando?" Start scrolling down to test your knowledge! ¡Buena suerte!

Spain is home to many cosmopolitan metropolises, each with its own history and culture. Can you name the nation's official capital?

Spain's capital is Madrid, located right in the center of the country between the regions of Castile y Leon and Castile y la Mancha. Before its modern incarnation, the site of Madrid was occupied by Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Muslims caliphates, Christians monarchies and more.

Although Spanish (Castilian Spanish, that is) is Spain's only national official language, four other languages hold co-official status in their respective regions. Which of these is NOT one of them?

Spain's regional co-official languages are: Galego (official in Galicia), Basque/Euskara (Basque country), Catalan/Balearic/Valencian (Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Valencia) and Occitan/Aranese (Catalonia.) Cantabrian is a dialect of the Asturleonese language, variants of which are spoken in parts of northern Spain and northeastern Portugal. Although Asturleonese is recognized as a language, it's not an official one.

Tapas are a quintessential part of Spanish culture. What are they?

A tapa is a small portion of food (it could be any kind) that is served with a drink in many Spanish bars. Traditionally tapas were free, although these days they may cost extra. They aren't served as appetizers in anticipation of the main meal, but rather as something to accompany the activity of drinking and socializing.

Which of these landmasses, geographical features and bodies of water are not directly associated with Spain?

The Euripus Strait separates a Greek island from mainland Greece. The Iberian Peninsula, however, is the landmass that comprises Spain and Portugal. The majority of Spain's coastline lies along the Mediterranean Sea, and the Canary Islands form a Spanish autonomous community off the coast of Africa.

The Spanish Civil War took place between 1936 and 1939. Can you name the principal combatants?

Nationalists led by Francisco Franco rebelled against the existing Republican government, an army coup that quickly escalated into a full-scale civil war. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy jumped to Franco's aid, whereas the Soviet Union and Mexico provided significant assistance to the Republicans. After years of bloodshed that cost the nation hundreds of thousands of lives in combat alone, the Republicans surrendered in March of 1939.

Spanish monarch Charles II of the Habsburg family was known for his Habsburg jaw. What was this?

As generations passed, the Habsburg habit of marrying within itself to keep the royal bloodline pure resulted in increasing physical and mental abnormalities among its members.

Do you know why Spain's Altamira Cave is so historically significant?

Discovered in 1868 by Modesto Cubillas, the Cave of Altamira contains paintings and charcoal drawings made by prehistoric humans. They feature plants, animals and human hands, and some are over 30,000 years old.

Your friends are trying to convince you to take the summer off and do the Camino de Santiago with them. You're seriously considering it; what an opportunity! What's at the top of your packing list?

The Camino de Santiago (or "The Way of St. James") is a pilgrimage route leading to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the supposed burial place of St. James. It has been traveled by Christians for well over a thousand years and has its origins in older pathways. It remains a popular route to walk today for Christians and adventurers alike.

Do you know what King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I were being so inquisitive about when they established the tribunal commonly referred to as the Spanish Inquisition?

The Spanish Inquisition was a tribunal designed to identify and condemn heretics. The Catholic monarchs were on the lookout for converted Jews who were supposedly corrupting the Church from the inside.

The Moors ruled portions of Spain for almost 800 years. Do you know who they were?

The Moors were nomadic Muslims from North Africa who entered Spain from Morocco via the narrow Strait of Gibraltar. The Reconquista (or "reconquest") by the Christians drove them out of their last stronghold, the Kingdom of Granada, in 1492. Hundreds of years of North African presence had a lasting impact, making Spain quite different from the rest of Europe.

What were the Spanish conquistadors particularly famous for? ("Infamous" would be apt as well ...)

Christopher Columbus was the first known European to reach the Americas. Well, besides the Vikings, that is. The Vikings settled Greenland from their home in Iceland and temporarily established a settlement in Newfoundland, Canada 500 years before Columbus. Unlike the Spaniards, the Vikings didn't stay long, and they didn't establish a colonial empire nor overthrow native empires.

Bullfighting is a notoriously gory sport. Do you know how many professional bullfighters (or "matadors") have been killed in the ring since 1700?

Frommer's Travel Guide says that the first official bullfight took place in 711 AD, in celebration of the coronation of King Alfonso VIII. The dance of death between man and beast harkens back to the gladiator games, which is perhaps not surprising as Spain was once a part of the Roman Empire.

Which prolific Spanish artist is well-known for his work with Cubism?

Picasso went through many phases with his work over the years, including his somber "Blue Period," his more cheerful "Rose Period" and his "African Period" (named for the influence he took from the art of that continent.) During his cubist phase, his work displayed the simple, often interlocking geometric shapes associate with that movement.

Basque (or Euskara) is spoken in northeast Spain and southwest France in the tiny region of the Pyrenees known as the Basque Country. What makes this language distinctive?

The Basque language can't even be traced back to Proto-Indo-European, the mother language to all the Romance languages, Germanic languages, Celtic languages and countless others. Thus, many scholars think the Basques are related to those that lived in Europe before the Indo-Europeans. Basque culture is unique within Spain. Visit Bilbao and San Sebastian (picturesque, thriving cities) and if you get peckish at a bar, try a pintxo instead of a tapa.

The Spanish War brought much death and devastation upon civilians. Do you know which city was tragically bombed in 1937, inspiring a famous Picasso painting?

The bombing of Guernica, which inspired Picasso's famous painting "Guernica," is often cited as an example of the atrocities of war. It was carried out by Spanish General Francisco Franco's Nazi allies and Italian fascist allies, partially as a test to see how much aerial attack power it would take to wipe a whole city off the map. It was one of history's first large scale attacks on a civilian population.

Which ancient conflict took place partially in what is now Spain?

The Punic Wars were fought between Rome and Carthage and took place between 264 and 146 B.C. The second of these took place between 218 and 201 B.C., beginning with Carthaginian general Hannibal's conquest of Saguntum, near present-day Valencia. Ultimately though, Rome came out on top.

The Sagrada Familia is a striking and unconventional church in the Spanish city of Barcelona. Can you name the architect who designed it?

Fun fact: the Sagrada Familia is still under construction and has been since 1882. It's scheduled to be finished in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death. Gaudí is known for various other works including Casa Mila, Parc Güell and Casa Batllo.

"Don Quixote" is one of the most famous works of Spanish literature. Do you know who wrote it?

Published in two installments in 1605 and 1615, Cervantes' masterpiece tells the tale of Don Quixote, an idealistic middle-aged knight, his squire Sancho Panza and his horse Rocinante. They set out to defend the poor and vanquish evil-doers.

When General Francisco Franco died in 1975, who succeeded him as Spain's Head of State?

Francisco Franco ruled Spain as dictator from his takeover in 1939 to his death in 1975. Despite being primed as Franco's successor, the newly crowned Juan Carlos converted the government from a dictatorship to a constitutional monarchy, beginning Spain's journey to democracy.

Spain is known for its many fairs, festivals and fiestas. Do you know which of these is NOT one of the high profile events celebrated in Spain?

While a "Running of the Goats" does seem to exist in the U.S. in Maine, the Running of the Bulls is the big event over in Iberia. The festival involves running a small group of bulls through the city streets. The most widely-known Running of the Bulls takes place in Pamplona, in the Spanish region of Navarre.

Granada is known for its beauty and striking architecture. Do you know which of these famous Spanish landmarks it's home to?

In Arabic, Alhambra translates roughly to "Red Castle." Originally a fortress built upon Roman ruins, the Alhambra became the residents of the Moorish rulers in the 13th century, when Mohammad ibn Yusuf ben Nasr made Granada the seat of the Nasrite Kingdom.

Galicia is one of Spain's most distinctive regions. Which of the following is not true of it?

Las Fallas is a festival held in honor of St. Joseph. The largest is in Valencia, a city on the eastern coast of Spain. Participants create elaborate, satirical, gigantic sculptures that are burned in the streets on the fifth and final night of festivities.

Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera and various smaller islands comprise the Balearic Islands, an autonomous Spanish community located in the Mediterranean Sea. Which group didn't rule there at one point?

The prehistoric Talayotic civilization rendered many archaeological finds on the islands. Later, the islands were governed by Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Moors and the Spanish. Never the Dutch though. The modern-day capital of the Balearic islands is Palma.

The Muslim Arabs who ruled in southern Spain left a lasting influence on Spanish culture. Which of the following was not one of their contributions?

The Mezquita at Cordoba is one of the most visited sites in Spain, combining Christian and Muslim influences. Many Spanish words and linguistic conventions (such as the use of the formal second person, "Usted") derive from Arabic, and it was Arabic scholars who preserved much of the knowledge of Greece and Rome, which had been lost to Europe in the Dark Ages. They didn't make it as far north as Barcelona, though.

If you've taken a course in American history, you've probably heard about the Louisiana Purchase, that time the U.S. bought "Louisiana" (i.e., an 828,000 square mile tract of land stretching from New Orleans to Saskatchewan, Colorado to Missouri) from France at less than 3 cents an acre. Do you know what Spain had to do with any of this?

Spain acquired the Louisiana territory in the aftermath of the French and Indian War. (The French, obviously, did not win that war.) In 1800 and 1801, Spain signed treaties with France agreeing to return the territory in exchange for lands in Tuscany. Spain agreed to keep governing the colony until France could send governors over.

At one point, Spain was a vast colonial empire. Which modern day country was not part of it?

Spain had holdings all over Europe: Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium to name some. In the New World, it had colonies in the Philippines and all up and down North and South America. When it acquired the Louisiana territory, it held land as far north as Canada and as far east as New Orleans. Although Spain did have some power in northern Africa, it did not delve as far south into the continent as some of its European neighbors.

What was conquistador Hernán Cortés known for?

In 1521, Cortés captured the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán from Emperor Montezuma II after a three-month siege. The Aztec capital had been built around 1325 A.D. by nomadic hunter-gatherers, and a century later it was the center of a vast empire.

Flamenco is a quintessentially Spanish art form involving singing, guitar, dance, snapping and clapping. Do you know which region it originated in?

Flamenco evolved in southern Spain during the time of Muslim rule, between the eighth and 15th centuries. It is thought to be a musical hybrid of Spanish, Arabic, Jewish and gypsy traditions, passed down through generations. The word "flamenco" entered the lexicon in the 18th century.

This popular Spanish rice dish originated near Valencia and is considered a cornerstone of regional and national culture. Can you name it?

Paella originated in the eastern province of Valencia and is now beloved around the country and the world. Some believe that the word comes from Arabic "baqiyah," meaning "leftovers," after the dishes the waitstaff would take home after royal banquets.

Currently, Spain ranks 16th globally in export economies. Do you know what its top export is?

In 2017, Spain exports totaled $296 billion. Its chief export, comprising 12.3% of its export economy, was cars. Refined petroleum came in second at 3.4%. Less lucrative but still notable were exports of citrus, wine, pig meat and packaged medical products.

When Charles II, the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, died without an heir, the War of Spanish Succession broke out across Europe over the issue of who would rule next. Do you know which of the following was not one of the war's outcomes?

The War of Spanish Succession was concluded by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and the Treaty of Rastatt in 1714. The terms of the treaties bolstered Great Britain's standing as a world colonial power and took away territories from Spain.

Do you know what El Cid, one of the most renowned figures in medieval Spanish history, was famous for?

Born Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar in 1043, El Cid served King Sancho II, leading military campaigns against the king's brothers and the Moors. When Sancho died, and one of his brothers succeeded, El Cid (which means "Lord" in Arabic) was exiled and ended up serving Moorish leaders as well as Christian ones.

This British overseas territory, thought by many archaeologists to be the last outpost of Neanderthal civilization, is located at the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula. (If you need a refresher, the Iberian Peninsula is the landmass containing Spain and its neighbor Portugal.) Can you name it?

Gibraltar is a 2.6-square mile British holding. Radiocarbon dating in 2006 shows that Neanderthals lived there 24,000 to 28,000 years ago, much more recent than previously believed. British forces captured Gibraltar from Spain during the War of Spanish Succession, and it remains a point of contention.

In 1588, the Spanish Habsburg monarchy launched the Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 ships, with the intent of ...

Led by Duke Medina Sidonia, the fleet set sail for England with the goal of overthrowing Queen Elizabeth. Spain wanted England to stop interfering with the Spanish Netherlands and put an end to Dutch and English privateers compromising goods being shipped back to Spain from the New World. The staunchly Catholic monarchy in Spain also claimed it was its duty to stop the spread of Protestantism.

1492 was a big year for Spanish history. Three of the four following events occurred. Can you name the one that didn't?

The marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand was indeed very important for the unification of Spain (Castile and Aragon each made up a huge portion of what is now Spain), but it happened earlier, in 1469.

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