LOCATION: central Spain
POPULATION: about 30 million
LANGUAGE: Castilian Spanish
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism
The Castilians, who inhabit Spain's central plateau, have dominated Spain politically since the sixteenth century AD . The area traditionally referred to as Castile comprises two present-day regions: Castile-and-León and Castile-La Mancha. Its original inhabitants were Iberians and Celts who were later conquered by the Romans and the Moors. The Reconquista— the centuries-long crusade to drive the Moors from Spain—was centered in Castile. The region was known for its religious devotion and fierce warriors. The hero El Cid, who became the subject of an epic poem, modeled these qualities.
The Moors, who had occupied Granada (a province in Andalusia) since the eighth century AD , were finally expelled from the region in 1492. The marriage of Isabella of Castile to Ferdinand of Aragon in 1469 made Castile a center of political and military power. Castile also became the site of an engine of authority that eventually got out of control—the Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1478. The Spanish Inquisition was begun by Ferdinand and Isabella to investigate heresy (dissent from established church doctrine).
In the following centuries, the fortunes of Castile rose and fell with those of the country. Castile was caught up in the nineteenth-and twentieth-century struggles between supporters of the monarchy and those who desired the formation of a republic. In the twentieth century, Spain remained officially neutral in both world wars. Coming to power at the end of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), the regime of Francisco Franco aided the Axis powers (Nazi Germany and its allies) in World War II (1939–45). As a result, Spain was left out of the Marshall Plan that aided in the postwar reconstruction of Europe. Predominantly rural areas like Castile experienced large-scale emigration. Since Franco's death in 1975 and the installation of a democratic regime (a parliamentary monarchy) in 1978, Castile has had greater opportunities for economic development. Spain joined the European Community (EC) in 1986.
Castile is located within Spain's central plateau, or meseta, which accounts for approximately 60 percent of the country's total area. It is a region of hot, dry, windswept plains broken in places by chains of low mountains. There are few trees, and much of the terrain is covered by either encinas, which are similar to dwarf oaks, or scrub. The main bodies of water are the Duero and Tagus rivers.
Castile is thought to account for about three-fourths of Spain's population of approximately forty million people. Most Castilians are concentrated in major urban areas such as Madrid, Toledo, and Valladolid. The rural areas are much less densely populated, and their population continues to fall as residents relocate to the cities or emigrate abroad.
Several distinct languages are spoken throughout Spain. However, Castilian (castellano) is the country's national language. It gained this status due to Castile's political dominance since the sixteenth century. Used in government, education, and the media, it is the language people in other countries identify as Spanish. Two of the main regional languages—Catalan and Gallego—are Romance languages that bear some degree of similarity to Castilian. Euskera, spoken in the Basque country, is very different both from Spanish and from all other European languages. Spain's linguistic differences have been a major source of political tension.
The Castilians' great hero was El Cid Campeador. An actual historical figure (Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar) of the eleventh century AD , his life passed into legend with the composition of the Spanish national epic, The Poem of the Cid . El Cid was a warrior of the Reconquista (the Christian reconquest of Spain from the Moors). He was celebrated for qualities that are still important to Castilians: a strong sense of honor, devout Catholicism, common sense, devotion to family, and honesty.
The Castilians traditionally describe their climate in the following proverb: Nueve meses de invierno y tres mese de infierno (Nine months of winter and three months of hell).
The Castilians, like the Spanish population in general, are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. They are known for their adherence to Church doctrine and their high degree of religious observance. Many attend church every Sunday, and a number of women go to services every day. However, the traditionally strong influence of village priests over many areas of their parishioners' lives has declined in recent years.
Besides New Year's Day and the major holidays of the Christian calendar, Castilians celebrate Spain's other national holidays. These include St. Joseph's Day (March 19), the Day of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29), St. James's Day (July 25), and a National Day on October 12. The most important religious holidays in Castile are Easter (March or April) and Christmas (December 25). In addition, every village observes the feast day of its patron saint. These gala celebrations include many distinctly secular (nonreligious) events, such as bullfights, soccer matches, and fireworks. Residents parade through the streets carrying huge papier-maché figures called gigantes (giants) and cabezudos (big heads or fat heads). The gigantes are effigies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The cabezudos portray a variety of figures from history, legend, and fantasy. Madrid's Festival of San Isidro involves three weeks of parties, processions, and bullfights.
Baptism, first communion, marriage, and military service are rites of passage for Castilians, as they are for most Spaniards. The first three of these events are the occasion, in most cases, for big and expensive social gatherings in which the family shows its generosity and economic status. Quintos are the young men from the same town or village going into the military in the same year. They form a closely knit group that collects money from their neighbors to organize parties and serenade girls. In mid-1990s, the government planned to replace required military service with a voluntary army.
Tempered by the harsh, barren landscape of their homeland, Castilians are known for toughness, frugality (not being wasteful), and endurance. Rural inhabitants are isolated by Castile's vast expanses of arid land and rely closely on their immediate neighbors. They live in small clusters of houses and tend to be suspicious of outsiders and of new ideas.
Although Castile contains large cities such as Madrid and Toledo, it is still primarily a rural region. Much of its population is dependent on agriculture. In rural villages, the traditional house combined the family's living quarters with a stable and barn that had a separate entrance. The kitchen was arranged around an open-hearthed fireplace (chimenea). The most common building material is stucco, although stone houses are common among wealthier inhabitants.
Castilians tend to delay marriage until about the age of twenty-five. By this time, the couple has likely achieved a degree of financial independence. Courtships are carefully supervised, since any scandal reflects not only on the couple themselves but also on the reputations of their respective families. During the marriage ceremony, members of the wedding party hold a white veil over the bride and groom to symbolize the future submissiveness of the wife to her husband. Newlyweds are expected to set up their own household. However, it is common for the bride's parents to help them buy or build a house. Only church marriages were recognized in Spain until 1968, when civil ceremonies were first allowed by law. Divorce has been legal since the 1980s. A man is much more likely to divorce his wife than vice versa.
For everyday activities, both casual and formal, Castilians wear modern Western-style clothing similar to that worn elsewhere in Western Europe and in the United States. Traditionally, black clothing was worn to church. The elderly in rural villages still observe this custom.
Pork and other pig products—ham, bacon, and sausages—are staples of the Castilian diet. The region's most famous dish is cochinillo asado, roast suckling pig. Another popular dish is botillo, composed of minced pork and sausages. Beans of all kinds are a regional staple. Tapas, the popular snacks eaten throughout Spain, are also popular in Castile. Like people in other parts of Spain, Castilians take an extended lunch break at midday and eat dinner late—any time between 9:00 PM and midnight.
Castilians, like other Spanish children, receive free, required schooling between the ages of six and fourteen. Many students then begin the three-year bachillerato (baccalaureate) course of study. Upon completion they may opt for either one year of college preparatory study or vocational training. Castile is home to Spain's oldest university—the Pontifical University of Salamanca, founded in 1254, as well as the one with the highest enrollment—the University of Madrid.
Castile's literary tradition dates back to the twelfth-century epic poem Cantar del Mio Cid (Poem of the Cid), celebrating the life and exploits of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar. He was a Castilian warrior who gained fame in the Reconquista, the campaign to drive the Moors from Spain. The fictional Cid, embodying the ideal Castilian, captured the popular imagination of generations. He eventually served as the subject of a play by the French playwright Corneille, and a Hollywood movie starring Charlton Heston. The most famous Castilian author is Miguel de Cervantes. He wrote the seventeenth-century classic Don Quixote, a masterpiece of world literature and a milestone in the development of the modern novel. At the turn of the twentieth century, the poet Antonio Machado wrote of Castile's decline from its one-time position of power in the following terms:
Castilla miserable, ayer cominadora, envuelta en sus andrajos, desprecia cuanto ignora.
This translates as "Miserable Castile, yesterday lording it over everybody, now wrapped in her rags, scorns all she does not know."
Castilian agriculture consists mostly of small family farms that raise barley, wheat, grapes, sugar beets, and other crops. Many farms also raise poultry and livestock, and almost all farm families have at least one or two pigs. Income from the family farm is usually supplemented by a small business or by salaried jobs—often in government—held by one or more family members. Tourism is a major employer in the city of Burgos, and Valladolid is an industrial center and grain market. Food processing employs many workers in Salamanca.
The most popular sports in Castile are soccer (called futból ) and bullfighting. Other favorite sports include cycling, fishing, hunting, golf, tennis, and horseback riding. Horse racing takes place in Madrid at Zarzuela Hippodrome.
Castile's warm climate has fostered an active nightlife in its cities. Much of the nightlife takes place outdoors in the streets, plazas, and sidewalk taverns and restaurants. After work, Castilians often go for a stroll (paseo), stopping to chat with neighbors along the way or meeting friends at a local cafe. A dinner date in Madrid may take place as late as 10:00 PM or 11:00 PM and be followed by a trip to a local club. Sunday afternoon is another traditional time for a stroll. Castilians, like people throughout Spain, also enjoy relaxing at home with their favorite television programs.
Castilian pottery is typically decorated with brightly colored pictures of birds and other animals. Fine swords have been made of Toledo steel—famous for its strength and flexibility—since the Middle Ages (AD 476–c.1450). Craftspeople continue this tradition to the present day. Steel is inlaid with gold and silver, and intricate designs are crafted on swords, as well as on jewelry and other objects. The Spanish government has taken steps to ensure that traditional crafts, or artenia , survive against competition from mechanized industry.
As in Spain's other predominantly rural areas, Castile has suffered from a high rate of emigration in the years since World War II (1939–45). Between 1960 and 1975, the population of Castile-León declined from 2.9 million to 2.6 million people; that of Castile-La Mancha dropped from 1.4 million to 1 million. The Castilian provinces of Avila, Palencia, Segovia, Soria, and Zamora had smaller populations in 1975 than in 1900.
Cross, Esther and Wilbur Cross. Spain. Enchantment of the World Series. Chicago: Children's Press, 1994.
Facaros, Dana, and Michael Pauls. Northern Spain. London, England: Cadogan Books, 1996.
Lye, Keith. Passport to Spain. New York: Franklin Watts, 1994.
Schubert, Adrian. The Land and People of Spain. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.