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With its red and yellow stripes, the Spanish flag speaks of sunshine and sand, but there is far more to it than that; it has an interesting and colourful history. Today there are two main variants of the flag, a civil version which consists of just the red and yellow stripes, and a royal or government version that includes a coat of arms. A third version showing the Osborne Bull is also popular, especially at sporting events. The Osborne Bull is widely regarded as the unofficial national symbol of Spain and, with some exceptions, this bull image is proudly displayed throughout the country, especially at sporting events where a Spanish team or individual is taking part.
civil version of the Spanish flag
royal or government version of the Spanish flag
Acceptable with caution (see text):
version of the Spanish flag showing the Osborne Bull
The Spanish love their flag, and they take every available opportunity to fly it, so it isn’t surprising that they can easily be upset if people get it wrong, for instance by depicting the wrong version on promotional material. Each of the above versions are equally acceptable, and we will look at these in more detail, but there are some earlier versions that are completely unacceptable – show one of those and you could seriously damage your reputation.
You can safely show any of the three flags given above, but at all costs ensure you avoid any that include the black eagle (shown below) or any other Franco symbolism.
The current Spanish Coat of Arms was made official in 1981 and as well as appearing on the flag it is used widely on all representation of the country including football jerseys and sporting memorabilia.
The coat of arms depicts the Pillars of Hercules, which represent the Strait of Gibraltar with each column carrying a ribbon with the Latin motto “Plus Ultra,” or “further beyond” recognising the existence of the New World. Between the columns there is a shield with six symbols. These include:
Finally, a crown sits on top of the shield, representing the Crown of Spain.
As mentioned, the Osborne Bull is an unofficial national symbol of Spain. Its large black silhouette can be seen on hills and along the roadsides across the country. Originally it appeared in 1956 as an advertisement for Osborne ‘Veteran’ brandy. The artist was Manolo Prieto and the bulls were made variously of wood and metal. However, in 1994 the Spanish Traffic Department (Dirección General de Tráfico, or DGT) banned the bull, as they considered it to be a distraction to car drivers, but by then there was much public affection for the bulls, and the people protested. The regional government of Andalucia designated it as part of Andalucian Heritage, and subsequently the Spanish courts permitted it as a cultural symbol, but insisting that it must appear only as a black silhouette.
While the Osborne Bull is widely recognised across Spain, there are some exceptions. It is not appreciated in Catalan and any such bull erected there tends to be quickly ripped down by local militants, and Basque has its own symbol, a Basque sheep.
The history of Spain has been one of turmoil with various occupations, destructive wars, and the emergence of Spanish nationalism. In 1931 King Alfonso XIII was exiled and the troubled second Spanish Republic emerged which led, five years later, to the Spanish Civil War, a three-year long conflict that brought much suffering to the people. General Franco came to power in 1936, and, as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, he imposed a forty year long dictatorship. Following his death in 1975, the monarchy was restored and Spain embarked on its torturous road back to modern democracy, with the first democratic election for over forty years taking place in 1977.
Francoism had been tough for the Spanish. Franco’s aim had been to run Spain as a totalitarian state sympathetic with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. It isn’t an era of which most Spaniards are proud, and the people are still shocked by some of the atrocities that took place.
During those years several flags were introduced which showed the new coat of arms. This included the Eagle of John the Evangelist, sometimes referred to as the Black Eagle, and today the symbolism is strongly associated with the Franco era.
Unacceptable, banned and offensive:
the Franco flag shown here should never be used.
In 2007 all public references to Franco, including the offending flag, were banned. Statues were removed and streets were renamed; even stained-glass windows were replaced. Spain has gone to great lengths to distance itself from its dark past, so they are not going to take it lightly should you make an error and show the wrong flag.