- Spanish Athlete: Rafael Nadal
- Spanish Personalities: Penelope Cruz
- Spanish Painter: Salvador Dali
- Spanish Writer: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
- Spanish Star: Rocío Jurado
- Spanish Director: Pedro Almodovar
- Spanish Politician: Dolores Ibárruri
- Spanish Footballer: Andrés Iniesta
- Spanish Actress: Rossy de Palma
- Spanish Conquistador: Francisco Pizarro
- Spanish Dictator: General Franco
“Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.” - Salvador Dali
With a population of 46 million, Spain is home to many famous people. If you’re learning how to speak Spanish, you should also learn more about the history and culture of the country.
You’ll probably also learn about the Spanish prime minister, Spanish nationalism (Primo de Rivera), the monarchy, and the different languages spoken in Spain including Galician, Basque, and Catalan.
In this article, we're going to find out more about some of Spain's most famous sons and daughters. From athletes to film stars, Spain has produced so many famous people!
Spanish Athlete: Rafael Nadal
Tennis lovers will probably be familiar with Rafel Nadal, the king of clay.
Born in 1986 in Majorca, Nadal is arguably the most famous Spanish tennis player of all time. Since going professional in 2001, he’s won 17 Grand Slam titles. He’s also the only player to have won 11 Roland Garros between 2005 and 2018.
That’s not his only record, though:
- He’s the 7th player in tennis history to do the Grand Slam (four major tournament victories in the same year).
- At Roland Garros, in 2018, he set the record for 86 victories and just two defeats.
- In the modern era, he’s also the youngest player to have won four major tournaments in the same year.
- He’s the only player to have won at least one Grand Slam tournament in 10 consecutive seasons.
The list goes on and on...
The most impressive thing in all this?
He managed to reach the #1 spot in August 2017 despite having been injured for two years.
Find out more about Spain in our guide!
Spanish Personalities: Penelope Cruz
Born in 1974, Penelope Cruz in a Spanish actor, model, and designer. She was discovered in 1992 and has acted in roles in both Spain and Hollywood.
She’s the first Spanish actress to win an Oscar in 2009 for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. She’s also the first Spanish actress to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles.
Penelope Cruz is also famous for her charity work. She famously volunteered in Uganda and in India with Mother Theresa. Her earnings from The Hi-Lo Country was donated to Mother Theresa’s mission.
Don't forget to check out the best Spanish series!
Spanish Painter: Salvador Dali
With Pablo Picasso and his famous Guernica, Francisco de Goya, Diego Velasquez, Joan Miro, etc., there are plenty of famous Spanish painters. Then there's Salvador Dali.
As a painter, sculptor, and writer, Salvador Dali was one of the artists to spearhead the surrealist movement. He was born in Figueras in Catalonia in 1904 and tried his hand at different styles before finding surrealism in 1929.
As a friend of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the Mexican director Luis Bunuel, he went to Paris following the advice of Joan Miro to develop the “critical-paranoiac” method. Ever the controversial figure, he was banned from the group later.
He rode out the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) in exile in Paris and headed to New York during the Second World War. He made a fortune in the US and moved to Renaissance painting upon his return to Spain.
Spanish Writer: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Born in Barcelona in 1964, this Spanish author wrote his first novel at the age of 14 but his first published novel, El Príncipe de la Niebla (The Prince of Mist), was written at the age of 19.
His most famous work, La Sombra del Viento (The Shadow of the Wind) won many awards and was the fifth-most sold fiction book in 2009.
He now writes books and screenplays in Los Angeles.
Spanish Star: Rocío Jurado
This Spanish singer was born in 1946 and died in 2006 and was nicknamed “la más grande” (The Greatest) in Spain.
After starting out as a flamenco singer, she starred in Spanish films and South American films.
She’s famous outside of Spain for having the honour of singing at the White House in 1985 for Ronald Reagan.
Need we say more?
Here are some of the best Spanish songs.
Spanish Director: Pedro Almodovar
The famed Spanish new-wave director Pedro Almodovar always dreamt of studying cinema. At the age of 18, with his country under the grip of the dictatorship, the School of Cinema in Madrid was closed. That didn’t bother Almodovar who, with the help of his Super 8 camera, got experience making films.
What made his films authentic and successful?
His knowledge of the Spanish middle classes and their experience. He started by writing for newspapers and creating photo-novellas.
Then, as you probably know, he directed films such as High Heels, Kika, All About My Mother, and Volver. He became famous for his unique style, which may have cost him in terms of reviews.
Spanish Politician: Dolores Ibárruri
Also known as La Pasionaria, Dolores Ibárruri was a Spanish Republic heroine from the Basque Country. She’s famous for her slogan ¡No Pasarán! which was used during the Spanish Civil War. Dolores Ibárruri said this in a speech on the radio. Today, it’s used as an anti-fascist symbol throughout the world.
She was also the Secretary-General for the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) between 1942 and 1960 and President between 1960 and 1989.
After the death of Franco and the restoration of democracy, she was elected as a deputy.
She's a fine symbol of the fight for democracy.
Spanish Footballer: Andrés Iniesta
You can’t talk about famous Spaniards without mentioning footballers.
Andrés Iniesta, born in 1984, is a famous Spanish footballer. At the age of 12, he was scouted by Barcelona FC and later became a midfielder for the team. With the club, he won four Champions Leagues, nine La Liga titles, two Supercopas, and two Club World Cups.
He was captain of Barça between 2015 and 2018. In 2012, he won the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. He also came in second place for the Balon d’Or in 2010 and third in 2012. With 34 official titles, he's Spain’s most decorated player.
He's also widely considered as the best midfielder of all time and is currently playing out the end of his career in Japan.
Spanish Actress: Rossy de Palma
Rossy de Palma is a Spanish actress who quickly became one of Pedro Almodovar’s leading ladies.
She was first seen in Law of Desire, Kika, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and The Flower of My Secret.
She quickly rose to fame. While she’s appeared in films from all over the world, she still has a fondness for performing in Spanish films.
Spanish Conquistador: Francisco Pizarro
Francisco Pizarro, born in 1475, was a Spanish conquistador who conquered the Incan Empire and became governor of Peru (which was called Nueva Castilla at the time). He imprisoned and killed the Incan emperor Atahualpa.
The conquistadors were ruthless and are responsible for reducing the population from 80 million people to 10 million through smallpox and executing those who refused to practise Catholicism.
Pizarro wasn’t killed by the Incas but rather by other conquistadors wanting to take his place in 1541. The joys of the Spanish conquest...
Spanish Dictator: General Franco
While many would prefer not to hear about him, Francisco Franco is a famous Spaniard for his Nationalist Party and the dictatorship he created after a Spanish coup d’etat. He created a fascist dictatorship following the Spanish civil war that lasted for 36 years until he died in 1975.
The Caudillo, as he preferred to be called, was an anti-communist military leader. As the American historian Robert Paxton explained, Franco was “[v]iruently hostile to democracy, liberalism, secularism, Marxism, and especially Freemasonry.”
Franco’s heritage can still be seen through the presence of the Spanish Monarchy. He named Juan Carlos as the King of Spain. Similarly, while Spain was neutral during World War II, Franco was close to both the Nazi Party and Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy so Spain adopted the same time zone as the two authoritarian dictatorships to aid coordination.
In terms of culture, the end of the Francoist regime led to La Movida, the counter-cultural movement that took place during the transition from fascism. It's hard to believe that modern Spain isn't even fifty years old!
Which Spaniards would you add to this list?
If you're interested in learning more about Spanish and Spain, you should consider hiring a private tutor. There are plenty on Superprof offering face-to-face, online, and group tutorials.
While face-to-face tutorials are the most cost-effective, they're also the most expensive. Online tutorials are cheaper since the tutor has fewer expenses but aren't as personal. Group tutorials are the cheapest per hour, but you will have to share your tutor with the other students in the class.
It's up to you to choose which type of bespoke instruction works for you!