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Many countries' national anthems feature riveting lyrics that inspire patriotism, loyalty, and profound appreciation for one’s homeland. But some have national anthems with no words whatsoever. Spain's Marcha Real ("Royal March") is one of only four national anthems without official lyrics.
One of the world's oldest national anthems, the Marcha Real was originally known as La Marcha Granadera ("March of the Grenadiers"). It was composed by Manuel de Espinosa de los Monteros in 1761 for the Spanish infantry and adopted soon after by Charles III as the official Honor March, which led to frequent performances during solemn public occasions. During the late 19th century, the Marcha Real survived efforts to create a new state anthem, as a jury of respected composers deemed the Marcha Real to already have that coveted status. The official musical score, orchestrated by Bartolomé Pérez Casas, was adopted in 1908.
While words have been written for the Marcha Real in the past, most notably during the reign of Alfonso XIII in the 1920s and later during the regime of dictator Francisco Franco, no official lyrics have ever been adopted. The Francoist words were vehemently dropped in 1978, but another attempt was made to find lyrics for the anthem in 2007 at the behest of the Spanish Olympic Committee, which was then bidding for Madrid to host the 2016 Summer Games. However, the winning lyrics, penned by Paulino Cubero, were met with widespread criticism and controversy, with many saying they were too nationalistic or authoritarian, especially given Spain's decades-long experience with dictatorship under Franco. Thus, the words were never adopted.
Who needs words, anyway?
- Besides Spain, three other countries have national anthems without lyrics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, San Marino, and Kosovo.
- The Spanish government purchased the Marcha Real copyright from the Pérez Casas estate in 1997 for around 781,315 euros to avoid future legal problems.
- Many soccer fans learned about the lack of lyrics in Spain's national anthem when it was played during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, in which Spain defeated England 1-0 in the final.