Fun with Spanish Flags: Exploring Their History and Meaning
You may ask yourself: how are flags fun? Normally, when we learn about different countries, we have to memorize their flags. That’s no fun! But, entering the world of Spanish flags shows us the rich (and fairly bloody) history of each country that they represent. By learning about each Spanish flag’s symbols, we are able to see another world that existed in the past. Indeed, it is a window into the history, politics, and cultural values of each country. With this in mind, let’s take a look at all of the Spanish flags and the meanings behind them.
Where are Spanish Flags Found?
There are at least four countries in the world where Spanish is a significant minority language and should not be entirely ignored. Those countries are Andorra, Belize, Gibraltar, and the United States of America. Clearly, Spanish has had a big impact on these four countries. Even so, we will focus only on the countries that recognize Spanish as an official language.
There are twenty-one countries or territories worldwide that set Spanish as the official language. Listed in order from highest to lowest populations, they are: Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Cuba, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Paraguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Panama, Uruguay, Equatorial Guinea. So, how does each country tell its own story through the symbols on its flag?
The Symbols of Spanish Flags
Military leader Manuel Belgrano led Argentina to independence against Spain in 1812. He designed the flag to build the image of a new nation. The blue horizontal bands around the central white one stand for the sky that opened between the clouds during the Liberation movement. The protests began in Buenos Aires in May 1810 and, with time, led to the country’s independence. The sol de mayo or “Sun of May” was added as a national emblem in 1818. It is a tribute to the native Incas who worshiped the sun god Inti. They believed he was a direct descendant of the sun.
Uniquely, Bolivia offers us two Spanish flags. The original flag has represented the nation since it was adopted in 1851. It shows three bands of red, yellow, and green. The red represents the brave soldiers of Bolivia, especially during the battles for independence. The yellow stands for the wealth of mineral deposits found in Bolivia’s soil. Finally, the green represents the nation’s rich vegetation. In 2009, the whipala became a national flag to be used in concert with the original flag at all times. The 49 squares of the rainbow are symbols of seven central concepts. Specifically, red represents the Earth and the Andean man, orange society and culture, and yellow energy. Also, the white stands for time, green for natural resources, blue the heavens, and finally violet for the Andean government.
Chile’s tricolor, single-starred banner reveals the values that the country presently holds. The single star represents the powers of the government, which is a representative democracy. It is proudly known for upholding the values of political freedom. The blue behind the star represents the Pacific Ocean, whose waters flank the western shoreline from north to south. The white represents the Andes Mountains, which can be seen from essentially any point from within the country. The red stands out as a reminder of the blood spilled during the war of independence against Spain in 1818.
The Colombian flag shows blue and red with the three yellow horizontal bands symbolizing freedom and justice. Some say that they represent the historically “gold Colombia” that existed before Spain conquered it. The blue stands for loyalty as well as the contact that Colombia makes with two oceans. The red horizontal band stands for the blood of the battles for independence, which stirs a sense of victory and pride among the people. The flag was established in 1861 and has been in use ever since.
The colors of the Costa Rican flag are horizontal bands of red, blue and white. The flag divides into five stripes: red in the center, white on each side of the red, and blue at each lower and upper end. The left side of the red stripe displays the national crest. It is a shield with three mountains that separate the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. On each side of the ridge are sailboats that represent trade with the rest of the world. The seven stars at the top represent the different provinces within the country. Above the shield is a ribbon of blue, on which read the words “Central America”.
The former Spanish empire often had triangles on flags of colonized nations to represent the interests of the Freemasons. They were once considered the most powerful of all secret societies. As a result, Cuba’s flag keeps the triangle as a memory of the power held by this group over its government. The blue stripes symbolize the Spanish military rule over Cuba. The country had tried to claim independence, but until 1898 had gained little freedom. It represents this with the white stripes on the flag that stand for patriotism. By 1898, the Spanish-American war brought Cuba support from the USA and their battle was finally won. The single white star, the Estrella Solitaria, stands for their independence as a nation.
There are only two Spanish flags that are divided into four parts. The flag of the Dominican Republic bears a large white cross as a symbol of its strong religious influence. A Christian-based secret society named La Trinitaria urged on the revolution for independence from the newly-independent Republic of Haiti. The leader of this society was Juan Pablo Duarte, the man who eventually designed the flag that would fly for the first time in 1844. The blue represents liberty, the red is the blood of the national heroes, and white is for salvation. The coat of arms says, “Dios, Patria, Libertad” which means “God, Fatherland, Liberty.” In the very middle of the shield, there is a Bible and a yellow cross. Many people believe that the pages of the Bible open to the Gospel of John 8:32, which states, “Y la verdad nos hará libre” (And the truth will make us free).
Francisco de Maranda, the first national hero of Venezuela, holds a very special place in the history of Ecuador’s independence and flag creation as well. As a strong military general, Maranda viewed South America as a continent that deserved its freedom from Spain. He fought for it in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador, which formed the confederation of Gran Colombia immediately after achieving independence. The color code has multiple meanings that have evolved over time. Ecuador views the significance of its flag’s colors somewhat differently than the other Gran Colombia countries. Yellow represents both the sun and gold of their ancestors. Blue is the sky and sea of Ecuador as it also celebrates their liberation from Spain. Red holds steady in its symbol for the blood lost by the patriots in their efforts during the revolution.
El Salvador’s flag is divided horizontally into three identical bands. The middle is white while the top and bottom are blue. In the center of the flag is the national emblem. It has a semi-circular pattern of the words “La República de El Salvador en La América Central,” meaning “The Republic of El Salvador in Central America.” In the middle of the circle is a triangle with five volcanoes inside it that overlook the blue waves of the sea. It is a symbolic representation of the five countries that joined together in the United States of Central America. Above them on the staff is a Phrygian cap, a symbol of the struggle for independence. The date inscribed on the emblem, September 15, 1821, shows when El Salvador obtained its independence. The blue stripes represent the waters of the Pacific and the white symbolizes the people’s desire for peace.
Of all the Spanish flags, the only one that originates from Africa belongs to Equatorial Guinea. The flag has a very interesting coat of arms. The silk tree in the middle of the shield praises their independence. In 1968, Spain and a local ruler signed their first peace treaty. Presently, the six stars above the tree represent sovereign parts of the country: five islands off the coast and the mainland. All of these territories occupy space in the Gulf of Guinea. The national motto reads, “Unidad, Paz, Justicia,” meaning “Unity, Peace, Justice”. The colors of the flag tell their own story. The green is the country’s farmland, while the white represents peace and purity. The red color reminds us of the fighters’ sacrifice for freedom. The blue triangle on the hoist represents the sea.
Guatemala’s flag, adopted in 1871, features a bicolor of blue and white vertical bands of identical width with the national emblem placed in the middle. Both the government officials and civilians use the flag with the coat of arms displayed proudly. The creation of the United States of Central America in 1823 established their freedom from the imperial powers of Spain. The blue and white color represents the political bond that these nations once shared. The scroll in the coat of arms shows the date of the country’s independence, September 15, 1821. On top of the scroll sits the Quetzal bird, a symbol of freedom. The two rifles and swords represent war in order to maintain freedom, but the laurel branches around them express a preference for peace. The blue bands represent the two oceans that surround the mainland. Lastly, white signifies purity.
Honduras was once a part of the United States of Central America, along with four other nations (Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua). The people of these nations use a tricolor flag of blue and white horizontal bands of equal width. The country gained independence in 1838; however, the five stars were added to the center of the flag’s blue and white stripes when José María Medina was president in 1866. In the hope that Honduras reunites with the former nations in the future, the five stars of the flag remain united. The blue represents the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, while the white symbolizes integrity and faith.
The design of Mexico’s flag dates back to when the Aztecs first made their way to Mexico and established Mexico City as their capital. The leader of the Aztecs, named Tenoch, had been visited in his dreams by the God of War, who told him to settle only where they saw an eagle perched on a prickly cactus, consuming a serpent. They discovered this sight in a very inhospitable swamp that is today the main plaza of Mexico City. The significance of the colors was changed in 1968, despite having been adopted in 1821. As a result, there are conflicting reports of meaning. Originally, the green vertical band represented independence, the white boasted of Catholic pride, and the red symbolized the union of Americans and Europeans. Now the green represents hope and the white unity of the nation. The red stands for the blood of the national heroes.
Similar to other Spanish flags from nations that were once a part of the United States of Central America, the Nicaraguan flag shows a blue color in its upper and lower bands, and the middle part is white. The official coat of arms sits in the middle of the white stripe. This triangular emblem was established in 1823 and is a symbol of common ground. The five peaks of the volcanoes symbolize the union of the five original member states of Central America. The rainbow on the mountains is a symbol of peace. Lastly, the red Phrygian cap is for the desire of all people for freedom. Due to the rainbow on the flag, Nicaragua is one of two nations in the world to use the color purple.
The Panamanian flag is different from other Spanish flags in Central America due to its shape and color. It displays three colors: white, blue and red. Divided into four small equal rectangles, the first is formed by a white background, in the middle of which there is a blue five-pointed star. The second rectangle on the left is red. The third quarter, bottom right, is blue. The last quarter is white, while a second red star is in its center. In all, this flag has a simple but harmonious style. The two predominant colors are those of the existing political parties in Panama. Blue is the color of the Conservative Party, while red is the Liberal Party. The two parties agreed to make peace, shown by the white color. Panama’s flag shares an image of hope and a promise of peace.
Paraguay is the only country in the world to have two national emblems. One is the coat of arms, displayed on the front. The other is the Treasury Seal, displayed on the back. The three bands of red, white, and blue found on the French flag inspired the design of Paraguay’s flag. Together, the colors represent freedom. Separately, red stands for courage, white for unity, and blue for liberty. Paraguay gained independence from Spain in 1811 and adopted the flag in 1842. Notably, it is one of the oldest Spanish flags in the world. The Treasury Seal reads “Paz y Justicia”, which means “Peace and Justice.”
By 1825, the people of Peru established the flag that they proudly raise in present day. The red color represents the blood shed by the patriots during the revolutionary wars. Similarly, the white represents purity like many other Spanish flags. Peru’s coat of arms is used on the flag when raised by the government for official purposes, while the civil flag does not show it. The shield has three emblems: the top left interior shows an ancestor of the llama, called the vicuña, and stands for freedom, national pride, and heroism. The tree to the right is the cinchona tree whose bark produces quinine, the active ingredient in anti-malaria drugs. The cornucopia seen at the bottom of the shield shows golden and silver coins spilling out of it, referring to the wealth of minerals found in the fertile soils of the country.
The Puerto Rican flag is formed by a blue triangle on the left side. The base of the triangle extends over the entire height of the flag. In the center of the triangle is a five-pointed white star. To the right of the triangle are five horizontal bands of the same height. Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, the flag was inspired by the colors and design of the American flag. The blue color symbolizes the coastal waters that surround the country. It also represents the blue sky. As for the red color, it represents the color of the blood shed by the brave warriors of the country. White shows the universal color of peace. Also, it expresses victory and freedom. Lastly, the triangle illustrates the governing branches that are the executive, legislative and judiciary.
The Spanish flag shows a monarch who sought to own as much land as possible. There are two red horizontal bands around a thick central yellow band where the coat of arms sits on the hoist side. In the very center of the coat of arms, there is a shield that houses six distinct coats of arms. Each stands for a conquered territory. The pillars on each side of the shield represent the Straits of Gibraltar where the limit of the known world was thought to exist. For this reason, the red ribbon around the pillars once read “Ne plus ultra,” which means “Nothing more beyond”. Once Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, the flag changed the wording to “Plus Ultra,” or More Beyond. On top of the pillars are two crowns, one is for the Imperial Crown and the other the Royal Crown.
Uruguay has a violent history as the subject of war between Spain and Brazil. In 1828, Uruguay achieved independence from the two great powers that fought over it. The flag’s design is a blend of Manuel Belgrano’s blue and white colors for Argentina’s flag and the flag of the USA. It is clear that these two nations had an effect on the patterns of Uruguay’s flag. The blue and white stripes represent the former nine departments of Uruguay that fought for independence. The sol de mayo, the “Sun of May,” stands for the joy the people felt when they gained freedom from Spain and Brazil.
The people of Venezuela adopted the flag in 1836 after a long battle against Spain. The first national hero to lead Venezuela to independence was Francisco de Maranda. He is the revolutionary credited for the design of the Venezuelan flag. Maranda fought both within Venezuela and overseas in Spain. He began his military journey as a soldier in favor of Spain, while he secretly held plans to overthrow their government in South America. Eventually, Maranda joined another national hero of Venezuela, Simón Bolívar, in order to fight the powers of Spain inside Venezuela. The flag speaks of revolution through its colors. Namely, the blue represents independence from Spain, the red signifies courage of war, and the 8 stars refer to the provinces that supported the revolutionary efforts.
A Spanish Flag: Worth a Thousand Words
As can be seen, a quick look at the symbolic nature of each flag will reveal interesting facts about each country’s history and values. In fact, learning about the Spanish flags is an excellent first step to understanding their origins and sources of national pride. Ultimately, flags are the most important symbol that a country can use to express its uniqueness.