Spain has been one of the most influential countries of modern history. For 120 years, Spain was the largest empire on earth, spanning from the Americas to the Philippines. Over the centuries there have been many famous Spanish people: kings and queens, actors, generals, artists, etc. that have helped build the world as we know it today.
If you are interested in Spanish culture we believe this article on what is Spain famous for will also be of interest for you.
Here is our list of the top 15 famous Spanish people. We have included some more current figures and some more historic, but all have left their mark on the world, in one way or another. We hope you enjoy our list of the most famous Spaniards.
Instead of mentioning just one player we think it appropriate to highlight Spanish soccer as a whole. Spain is a hotbed of soccer talent, producing some of the best players to ever lace up a pair of cleats. From Raúl,- Real Madrid– to Guardiola to Iniesta (FC Barcelona) there are almost too many players to mention.
The Spanish national team has long been considered one of the strongest national teams in Europe. In European competition, Spain has claimed gold 3 times and has one world cup back in 2010. They also boast a silver medal in the Olympics.
But one of the best and more current players Spain has is David de Gea, current goalkeeper for Manchester United and the Spanish National team.
David de Gea Quintana started off his career with Atlético de Madrid and became one of the top goalies in European soccer. In 2011 de Gea signed a record breaking deal with Man U and went on to dominate the Premier League. He is the only Manchester United player to win three consecutive Sir Matt Busby player of the year awards, and was one of the key players in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory in 2016.
Pau Gasol is a Spanish Basketball player born in Sant Boi de Llobregat, outside of Barcelona. Pau is the most successful Spanish export in the NBA.
Gasol started his career on FC Barcelona’s Basketball team. He burst onto the scene as an 18 year old during his second season playing on a pro level. FC Barcelpona would go on to win the copa del Rey and the Liga ACB and Gasol was named MVP of both tournaments, attracting a lot of attention from NBA scouts.
In 2001 Pau was drafted nº3 overall by the Atlanta Hawks, but was inmediatly traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. As a member of the Grizzlies he was named NBA rookie of the year in 2002 and became an NBA all star in 2005. The 7-footer would then go on to play for the LA Lakers and, alongside the late-great Kobe Bryant, wining 2 NBA titles in 2009 and 2010. He would also be named to the All Star team 3 more times during his stint with the Lakers and twice more as a Chicago Bull.
But Pau’s is beloved in Spain for his contributions to the Spanish National team. Pau is the team’s all time leading scorer and rebounder and has led the team to numerous medals in international competition including a gold medal in the 2006 Basketball World Cup and a silver medal in the 2012 Olympics in London. You can find more information about Spain´s best basketball players in this post.
Rafael Nadal was born in Manacor, in the Balearic Islands in 1986. He was born into a family of athletes: one of his two uncles, Miguel Angel Nadal, played soccer professionally for FC Barcelona and RCD Mallorca. His other uncle, Toni Nadal, played tennis professionally and was who mentored Rafa when he was starting out in the sport.
Rafel Nadal is constantly in the conversation for the best tennis players EVER. Rafael “Rafa” Nadal Parera has won 19 Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic gold medal, making him only the second player to earn the Career Golden Slam, at only 24 years old! Rafa is particularly dominant on clay courts, but has won Grand Slam titles on grass and hard court as well.
Rafa is a great source of pride for Spaniards as he has always proven to be a great ambassador for the country and the sport of tennis world wide. Rafa has founded several youth tennis schools and has helped children across the globe through his charity the Rafa Nadal Foundation.
The Spanish cinema industry has always produced some very influential movies, actors, directors, etc. outside of hollywood. From Luis Buñuel, to Almodovar, to Antonio Banderas, Spaniards have a long and fruitful relationship with the “big screen”. Many of the famous movies that take place in Spain have been very important holywood productions.
Spain also hosts some of the most important international film festivals. In particular, the San Sebastián Film Festival and the Sitges Film Festival are two of the most famous and prestigious.
Perhaps the most famous Spaniard in the movie business right now is Penelope Cruz. The Spanish actress has starred in dozens of Spanish and Hollywood Films, often preferring difficult roles and complex characters. Penélope Cruz’s first feature film was the 1992 film “Jamon, Jamon”, co-starring her now husband, Javier Bardem.
Cruz has been nominated for the Golden Globes for her roles in “Nine” and “Volver” and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Pedro Almodóvar Caballero is a Spanish filmmaker, director, screenwriter and producer. He is well known for his particular directorial style characterized by his casting of only certain actors and creative personnel and his use of complex narratives, pop culture, melodrama, irreverent humor, and highly stylized esthetics.
Almodóvar gained fame during the Movida Madrileña, a sort of cultural revolution that followed the end of Francoist Spain.
Almodóvar reached international fame after the realese of his 1988 comedy-drama “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
He would gain even more notoriety after his 1999 film All About My Mother and his 2002 film Talk to Her both earned him the Oscars for Best Original Screenplay.
Almodóvar is one of the most internationally successful Spanish filmmakers, and he has developed a fervent cult following over the years. In total, he has won two Academy Awards, five British Academy Film Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, four prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, six European Film Awards, and nine Goya Awards.
Salvador Dali is easily one of the most famous painters, and all around characters, of the modern era.
Dali, born on the Catalonian coast in the beautiful village of Cadaques, is famous for his surrealist style and bizarre imagery. Dali came up at the Real Academia de las Bellas Artes in Madrid where he became a proficient technical painter. It was later on when he was introduced to the works of Miro, when he began delving into surrealism.
It was this clash that defined his style where Dali would take traditional painting styles and archetypes and distort them to create his own avant-garde style. Dali was also a sculptor, a filmmaker, and photographer. Some of his most important works can be found at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid.
Picasso was born in Málaga, Andalucía. Like Dalí, Picasso began as a very technical artist. Once he was able to establish his own style, he became one of the most influential (if not THE most) artist of the 20th century.
He is the creator of Cubisim, three-dimensional constructed sculpture and collage. Picasso’s inquisitive nature led him to explore different art movements and techniques over his long career. The influence of these different movements on Picasso are evident as they created very unique phases in his career such as the Blue Period, Rose Period, African influenced Period, and Cubism. His most famous paiting, El Guernica, is exposed at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid.
Julio José Iglesias de la Cueva is perhaps the most famous and successful singer and composer to ever come out of Spain. He was born in Madrid in 1943 and took no time to jump to international stardom.
In his youth, Julio Iglesias actually pursued a career in sports. He played goaltender for Real Madrid’s farm team and was even called up to play professionally. But before he had time to make a name for himself on the pitch, Juli suffered a devastating car accident that put an end to his athletic career. The car accident would leave him semi-paralyzed for over a year and he wondered if he would ever be able to walk again. It was in this time that one of his nurses would gift him a guitar and a young Julio Iglesias would start to learn how to play and write songs.
Iglesias burst on to the music scene after finishing 4th in the 1970 Eurovision music competition. He had already released his first CD and had some local success in Spain, but it was the Eurovision competition which gave him international recognition.
By 1983, at the age of 40, he was recognized as the artist who had sold the most amount of albums in the widest range of languages in the world. In 2013 he became the bestselling Hispanic artist ever and the most successful European artist to date. He has sold over 300 million Cd’s which puts him in the top ten for most albums ever sold by an artist.
Julio Iglesias has put out 80 albums in 14 different languages which have earned 2600 gold and platinum records and is the highest-selling musical artist in the history of Spain.
Another painter on the list. Diego Velazquez is the great master of the Baroque period, and one of the most famous portrait artists in history. Born in Seville, Andalucía, Velazquez became the court painter for King Philip IV, and only produced about 120 canvases in his lifetime. Velazquez was tremendously influential but Edouard Manet was particularly affected by the works of the spanish painter, who he described as “the painter of painters.”
You will be able to enjoy some of the most interesting paitings from Velazquez (including Las Meninas) at the Prado Museum in Madrid.
Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, born in 1852, was a Spanish architect known as the greatest Catalán Modernist. Gaudí’s style is very particular to him and can be defined as sui generis. Most of his most important works can be found in Barcelona, including his uber-famous magnum opus, the church of the Sagrada Família.
Gaudí’s work reflect his three great passions: architecture, nature, and religion and every detail is thought out and chosen with intention from the ceramics to the glasswork, all the way down to the ironwork and carpentry. He also pioneered new techniques such as trencadís which repurposed broken ceramic pieces which would discarded otherwise.
Gaudí was part of the Modernist movement, which reached the height of it’s popularity in Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century. His work, however, transcended the movement resulting in his afore mentioned unique style. His organic style developed among other reasons because he rarely drew detailed plans of his works, and preferred creating three-dimensional scale models and molding the details as they came up.
Seven of Gaudi’s creations have been declared world heritage sitesby UNESCO and the Sagrada Familia, which still has not been completed, is the most visited monument in all of Spain.
Miguel de Cervantes is the author behind the classic tale of Don Quixote. This masterpiece is considered to be the first modern novel, and it has influenced the culture over 400 years. From music, to film to, obviously, literature Don Quixote is perhaps the most influential book of the modern era. The image of and old Don Quixote in his weak horse moving towards the old wind mills of Spain is universal.
A survey among current influential authors was done to determine which was the best book of fiction ever written, and Don Quixote won overwhelmingly, by over 50 percent.
Today, The Institute Cervantes brings the study of Spanish language and culture all over the world.
Juan María Arzak Arratibel is one Spains greatest chef. He is one of the most famous and successful chefs in the world. He was born in San Sebastián in 1942. He leaned to love cooking from his mother, who notoriously didn’t want her son to become a chef.
He was sent to study at Alfonso XII school in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, to become a mecanic. He soon changed gears and went to study at the “Escuela Superior de Gastronomía de Madrid”, Madrid’s top culinary school at the time. his grandfathe had opened a restaurant in 1897, and he wanted to continue the gastronomic traditions of his family.
Before heading off to run the kitchens at Arzak, the young Basque chef took some time to travel the world and study different cuisines from around the world. He worked at Sandersens in Paris, Girarder in Switzerland y was mentored by Paul Bocuse, from whom he learnt how to navigate the restaurant business, Arzak however, would take that knowledge and would create his own concept: cooking a an art form.
When he finally returned to San Sebastián, he had a clear visión of what he wanted to achieve with the restaurant: re-imagine Basque cuisine, staying true to its roots.
The restaurant slowly gained fame and notoriety, offering avant-guarde yet accessible cuisine. Arzak would end up earning 3 Michelin stars and it is considered the best restaurant in Spain.
Arzak, who is now 78, has passed the torch to his equally talented daughter Elena, who currently runs the restaurant.
Ferran Adrià Acosta is one of the most creative and influencial chefs living today and the mastermind behind one of the greatest restuarants in the world: El Bulli.
Adrià was born on the 14th of May of 1962 in Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona. He revolutionized the culinary world and marked a new era in the industry. Times magazine named Adrià one of the 10 most innovative figures in the world in 2004.
The restaurant that launched Adrià into superstardom was el Bulli, that closed its doors in 2011. El Bulli was considered be the best restaurant in the world by all the main industry publications and the only restaurant to recieve the S. Pellegrino award 4 years straight, the only restaurant to ever achieve said feat.
Since the closing of his flagship restaurant, Adrià has dedicated his life to educating future chefs and to investigating and developing new culinary techniques. El Bulli still operates, but as an investigation center and as a very exclusive culinary school where the best of the best upcomming chefs go to perfect their skills and learn from the worlds top chefs.
Hernán Cortes was the military leader of the colonization of the Americas and, notoriously, responsible for the downfall of the Aztec Empire. Cortes was born in Spain but moved to Cuba to seek his fortune, and came to serve under the governor.
Once he had made a name for himself he was commissioned to lead an expedition into Mexico. At the last minute however, the mission was cancelled, but Cortes in an act of defiance rallied his armies and set off to conquer the Yucatan peninsula and the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.
Queen Isabel I of Castile, wife of Ferdinand II of Aragon, was the leading force behind the reconquering of Spain back from the moors. Between Isabel and Ferdinand they were able to reconquer and unify Spain. They were also the monarchs that funded Christopher Columbus’s 1492 expedition to the new world, resulting in the discovery of the America’s. Isabel laid the groundwork for Spain to become the most powerful empire on the planet for over 100 years.
Spain has given the world immensely talented painters, writers, athletes, and leaders. These amazing individuals have influenced billions of people through power, sport, and culture