Spanish playing cards

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Spanish deck printed in Valencia in 1778.

Naipes Españoles or Cartas Españolas (literally "Spanish cards") are playing cards associated with Spain. The deck is also called Baraja Española (literally Spanish Deck). It has four suits and is usually made up of 40 or 48 cards. It is categorized as a Latin deck and has strong similarities with the Italian deck and less to the French deck. Spanish suited cards are widely used in Spain, southern Italy, parts of France, Hispanic America, North Africa and the Philippines. Baraja in the Spanish language can refer to any type of card deck.

Description[edit]

The traditional Spanish baraja is an old deck that was brought over by the Moors to Spain during the 14th century. The cards are still called naipes after the nā'ib cards found in the Mamluk deck. The suits closely resemble those of northern Italian cards and Italian tarot decks. In fact, the Baraja, like the tarot, are used for both game playing and cartomancy. The Baraja have been widely considered to be part of the occult in many Latin-American countries, yet they continue to be used widely for card games and gambling, especially in Spain. Among other places, the Baraja have appeared in One Hundred Years of Solitude and other Spanish and Latin American literature (e.g., Viaje a la Alcarria by Camilo José Cela). Almost every Spanish family has at least one Baraja.

Cards and suits[edit]

GNU themed Spanish deck of 40 cards. Note la pinta around the edges.

A traditional Spanish deck consists of four suits of ten numbered cards (1-7, and 10-12, with 10,11 and 12 being picture cards). Jokers are not used, except in the rare 50 (that is, 48 plus 2) cards deck (where they are called comodines). The four suits are bastos (clubs), oros (literally "golds", that is, golden coins), copas (cups) and espadas (swords). The four suits are thought to represent the four social classes of the Middle Ages. The suit of coins represents the merchants, the clubs represents the peasants, the cups represent the church and the swords represent the military. Unlike the suits found in northern Italy, Spanish swords are straight and the clubs resemble knobbly cudgels instead of ceremonial batons. Swords and clubs also don't intersect (except in the 3 of clubs card).

The three face cards of each suit have pictures similar to the jack, queen, and king in the French deck, and rank identically. They are the sota, which is similar to the jack/knave and generally depicts a page or prince, the caballo (knight, literally "horse"), and the rey (king) respectively.

There are instances of historical decks having both caballo and reina (queen), being the caballo of lower value than queen. These decks have no numbers in the figure values, not even letters like in the French deck.

Each card has a box outline to distinguish the suit without showing all of your cards: The cups have one interruption, the swords two, the clubs three, and the gold none. This mark is called "la pinta" and gave rise to the expression: le conocí por la pinta ("I knew him by his markings").

It is also possible to find 52-card French decks with Spanish pictures.

Extinct Portuguese pattern[edit]

Reproduction of an early Japanese karuta set. Note the dragon like Aces (far right) characteristic of Portuguese decks.

Latin-suited cards (with cups, swords, coins and sticks like in Spain) were also used in Portugal during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, until roughly 1800 when these cards were abandoned in favour of the French deck. Popular games like Arrenegada (Portuguese name for Hombre), Bisca (Portuguese name for briscola) and Sueca, which were played with Latin-suited cards, had to be adapted to the new French-suited cards. Thus:

  • the old suit names were attributed to the new suits - this is the reason why Portuguese names for suits don't match the suit drawings. In Portuguese, the Hearts suit is called Copas ("cups"), the Spades suit is called Espadas ("swords"), the Diamonds suit is called Ouros ("gold coins"), and the Clubs suit is called Paus ("clubs" or "sticks").
  • the new face cards (King, Queen, Jack) had also to match the old ones (King, Knight, Knave). The King match was an obvious one, but the Queen was held for the lower court card because the old Portuguese sotas were female, and so it was matched with the Knave. The Jack was thought to be the Knight (Cavalier). Thus, in traditional Portuguese games, the cards usually rank King-Jack-Queen.

The extinct Portuguese deck featured straight swords and knobbly clubs like the Spanish suits but intersected them like the northern Italian suits. The Aces featured dragons and the knaves were all distinctly female. The closest living relative of the Portuguese deck is the Sicilian Tarot which has these features minus the Aces. This has led to speculation that the Portuguese may have influenced the Sicilians or vice-versa. The extinct Minchiate deck also shared some features.

Portuguese decks also started the development of karuta in Japan though they bear little resemblance to their ancestor.

Current regional patterns[edit]

Diffusion of Spanish suited cards (orange) in Italy

There are many regional patterns that use the Spanish suits:

  • Castilian: the national pattern of Spain, 40 or 48 cards plus 2 jokers
    • Mexican: androgynous or female knaves, 40 cards
  • Catalan: popular in Hispanic America, 40 or 48 cards plus 2 jokers
    • French Catalan: has Cádiz elements, 40 cards
  • Cádiz: found in North Africa, the Philippines, and parts of South America, 40 or 48 cards plus 2 jokers
  • Aluette: found in Brittany and the Vendée, no la pinta, no numeric indices or uses game hierarchy indices, androgynous knights, 48 cards
  • Estilo Paris: found in parts of South America, hybrid of Cádiz and Aluette, 40 or 48 cards

Spanish-like suits in Italy:

  • Sardinian: the most Spanish of them but lacking la pinta like the others below, 40 cards
  • Neapolitan: androgynous or female knaves, no numeric indices, 40 cards
  • Sicilian: androgynous or female knaves, no numeric indices, 40 cards
  • Romagnole: hybrid of Neapolitan and Piacentine, no numeric indices, 40 cards
  • Piacentine: derived from Aluette, no numeric indices, reversible face cards, 40 cards
  • Tarocco Siciliano: heavily influenced by extinct Portuguese pattern, centered indices, female knaves, 63 cards plus one unneeded card

Games that use the Baraja[edit]

The Baraja is used to play several games. Examples are:

See also[edit]

References[edit]