Shutterstock/Jose Antonio Sanchez

Caught between Europe and Africa, with one foot in the past and the other firmly in the 21st century, humming with 
life and preoccupied with death, Spain conjures up stereotypes - and then shatters them all. Flamenco and paella may be the country’s de facto symbols, but the first is from Andalucía and the second is from Valencia. The Spanish themselves sometimes refer to Las Españas,andit doesn’t take long to discover that the notion of ‘Spanishness’ is more complicated than you might expect. Franco’s attempts to impose a single national identity were wiped out overnight after his death in 1975, as each area sought to re-establish their unique characteristics repressed under the dictatorship. The country is now divided into 17 autonomous communities, each with their own history, culture and traditions, all being triumphantly celebrated.

You won’t find true flamenco in Barcelona and the stately Catalan sardana isn’t danced on the streets of Seville. This cultural disparity is echoed in other ways. While old Al-Andalus may still linger in the elaborate Moorish palaces of Granada, the pure austerity of Romanesque holds sway in the Pyrenees where the Christian Reconquest was born. The co-existence of apparently opposing values is a peculiarly Spanish gift. More than one writer has remarked that dreamy, idealistic Don Quixote and his earthy pragmatic side-kick Sancho Panza represent two sides of the Spanish psyche - this is after all a country in which miracles still happen in one part of town while a hot, new nightclub is being toasted in another. Spanish life is lived with intense energy, and however this energy is expressed - in slick new buildings projects or a rowdy carnival celebration - it’s impossible not to be seduced by it.

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