Baraja (playing cards)

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Spanish deck printed in Valencia in 1778.

The Baraja (literally deck/pack of cards) is a deck of playing cards associated with Spain. It is usually called Baraja Española (literally Spanish Deck). It has four suits and is usually made up of 40 cards. It has a quite high resemblance to the Latin deck, and somewhat less to the Anglo-American-French deck.


The traditional 40-card Spanish baraja is an ancient deck that existed in Spain since between the 14th-16th century. The suits closely resemble those of Italian cards and Latin suited 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). The Baraja is widely used in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America and almost every Spanish family has at least one Baraja.

Baraja in the Spanish language can refer to any type of card deck.

Cards and suits[edit]

GNU themed Spanish deck of 40 cards.

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.

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

There are instances of ancient 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 Anglo-American-French deck. They have been not common for playing in Spain, but some German decks retain the four different figures, albeit lacking most of the numbered cards.

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

Games that use the Baraja[edit]

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


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. However, at some point, these cards were changed for the Anglo-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.


Baraja cards are also prevalent in Morocco, where Spanish card games such as Tute or Ronda were introduced by Moors fleeing the persecutions following the Reconquista. Spanish words are still in use: shbada (espada), tromfo (triunfo), copas, rey etc..