Thu 02.12.2021 Staatsballett Berlin

The history of »gitanos« in Spain

DON QUIXOTE choreographer Víctor Ullate grew up with Spanish dance. »Gitanos« have always been an integral part of Spanish dance history. Learn more about the history of Roma in Spain.

Music group from a ≫Gitano≪ family in Granada, 1890, Photo: Gonzalo Montano Peña Collection Music group from a ≫Gitano≪ family in Granada, 1890, Photo: Gonzalo Montano Peña Collection

»›Gitano‹ or ›gitana‹ (female), derived from ›egyptano‹, are the terms used by Roma in Spain to refer to themselves in general. It should be pointed out that the term ›gitanos‹ has a less pejorative meaning than its equivalent in other languages. According to a law passed by King Carlos III. in 1783, the use of the term for Roma as an ethnic group was forbidden because of the idea of a new, equality-based citizenship. However, in artist circles, the term »gitano« was used often as it was associated with an idea of artistic potential. Colloquially, the term »gitano« can be used as an adjective in order to refer to someone who is graceful, gifted with a penchant for art or the ability to influence others. However, »gitano« can also be used as an offensive adjective to describe someone who wilfully deceives others.«

Anna Mirga Kruszelnicka, Miguel Angel Vargas, Gonzalo Montaño Peña

More information: Gitano, Gitana (

Roma in Spain
»The history of Roma in Spain dates back almost 600 years but is marked by centuries of persecution. Roma were granted letters of safe conduct upon their arrival in the early 15th century. However, at the turn of the century, they were ordered to abandon their nomadic lifestyle, acquire a trade and serve a local lord. They were always allowed to earn a living through music, dance and singing. Later, decrees were issued, aiming at the dissolution of the Roma as a distinct ethnic group. The use of their language (›Romani-chib‹), traditional clothing and occupations were officially forbidden. At the end of the 18th century, the Roma were granted citizenship, aiming at assimilating them completely by forbidding them to maintain their distinct culture and traditions. The Roma's fate during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) remains largely under-researched. During the period of General Franco's dictatorship, repressive policies towards Roma continued: amongst other measures, the use of the »Caló« language (developed by the Roma after Romani-chib was forbidden) was strictly prohibited. From 1943, the Guardia Civil was given strict orders to control and monitor Romani communities. For Roma, the turning point for political mobilisation was the period of democratic transition after 1975. Democracy gave the Roma full and equal legal status as Spanish citizens and granted »the right of citizens to associate.«

Anna Mirga Kruszelnicka

More information: Eine Geschichte der organisierten Roma-Bewegung in Spanien - RomArchive