The Flag of Spain: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Spanish flag
© Osman Bugra Nuvasil/

Written by Hannah Ward

Published: December 8, 2022

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Spain is a country in southwest Europe. However, it also has territories in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and in Africa, making it a transcontinental country. Spain has endured many wars and much division but has managed to turn itself into one of the most popular and well-developed countries in the world. Although the country has a long and varied history, the flag of Spain has largely had the same form for several hundred years, ever since an intervention by the then king.

Characteristics of Spain

Much of mainland Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula, although its territories elsewhere include the Balearic and Canary Islands. Spain is a well-developed country which is vastly diverse in many ways. It features snowcapped mountains, volcanoes, and wide plateaus. There are also three climates in the country. The main climate across the Iberian Peninsula is Mediterranean and has hot and dry summers. The southeastern portion of the country is semi-arid, while the northern region is oceanic. Here, the ocean influences the temperatures.

Since Spain has such a range of habitats and climates, it’s no surprise that it is home to vast numbers of plants and animals. In fact, Spain has the greatest number of plant species in all of Europe. One of the largest animals in Spain is the Cantabrian brown bear. This is an endangered subspecies of the brown bear and lives in isolated populations in the Cantabrian mountains.

Spain is a popular tourist destination. Its countryside contains many ancient ruins and castles, while many of its cities feature winding streets and stunning architecture. It regularly ranks amongst the most popular countries with many million visitors every year.

Founding of Spain

Historical findings suggest that early humans inhabited Spain from around 1.2 million years ago, with modern humans arriving in the area 35,000 years ago. There were many different influences and cultures that formed the country we know today.

Although the country once divided into several different kingdoms, they eventually became two major kingdoms – Aragon and Castile. The modern period of Spain arose from the union of these two kingdoms through the marriage of their monarchs. Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon married in 1469, although at this point the two kingdoms remained their own separate divisions. However, the two eventually united to form the heart of what is now modern Spain.

Various wars marred much of the next few hundred years, but a constitutional monarchy eventually formed in 1939. Then, elected governments ran Spain.

History of the Flag of Spain

The current flag of Spain was adopted on October 5th, 1981. However, it has existed in a similar form since 1785. The current design is comprised of three horizontal bands. The central band is yellow and the two outer bands are red. The central yellow band, or gualda, is twice the size of the red stripes. This band also includes an off-center image of the country’s coat of arms.

The flag that is in use today is based on the naval ensign. This was adopted based on the decision of the King Charles III of Spain. When he became king most European countries used red and white as their naval flags – Spain included. This posed a problem as it was difficult for ships to distinguish flags from a distance while at sea when they all looked virtually the same. This often meant that enemies could be upon them without them realising until the last minute.

Therefore, King Charles decided that the Spanish flag needed to be different and easily visible. He ordered the Minister of the Navy to provide him with a selection of sketches for flags so that he could choose one. The flag that he chose was the combination of red and yellow bands that is used today with the national coat of arms on it. The flag itself had remained largely the same since then. However, the coat of arms has been updated several times. The last time it was changed was 1981 when it was changed to the current form. However, the only time that the basic design of this flag has not been used since 1785 was between 1931 and 1939. This was during the country’s time as the Second Spanish Republic.

Previous Flags of Spain

Prior to the adoption of the red and yellow flag in 1785, the Spanish flag consisted of a white background with the red and yellow Bourbons coat of arms on it. Prior to this one of the earliest Spanish flags was a quartered design with two castles and two lions. This design represented two provinces of Spain – Castile and Leon.

Moving forward, as we’ve just mentioned, the only time since 1785 that Spain has had a different flag was during the time of the Second Spanish Republic. In 1931 the monarchy was overthrown and the Spanish Republic then formed a government and ruled the country. During this period the flag of Spain became three equal horizontal stripes of red, yellow, and dark purple. This flag also had a coat of arms in the center.

In 1936 Spain became embroiled in a Civil War between the Nationalists and the Republicans which lasted for three years. The Nationalists eventually did overcome the Republicans. Upon the end of the Civil War in 1939, the former national flag was raised once more.

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About the Author

Hannah is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on reptiles, marine life, mammals, and geography. Hannah has been writing and researching animals for four years alongside running her family farm. A resident of the UK, Hannah loves riding horses and creating short stories.

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