After a short drive uphill from the small village of San Millán de la Cogolla, I found myself standing before the Suso monastery. Founded by the 6th-Century hermit monk St Millán, the monastery feels as if it belongs to another time and place. From this secluded spot surrounded by woodland, I had views of the Cárdenas Valley below and Mount San Lorenzo’s peak in the distance. Around me, bluebells marked the entrances to mountainside caves where monks lived long before Suso’s construction.
I was in Spain’s La Rioja region, a part of the country that draws visitors for its famous vineyards and the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. But I was here to learn about how the region shaped the way in which millions of people around the world communicate with one another.
As I walked through the monastery’s cool, dark corridors, I could feel the walls reverberate with the rumblings of linguistic history. Standing in silence, it was easy to picture monks hunched over Latin manuscripts, furtively making notes in the margins about the meanings of the scriptures in the local language more than 1,000 years ago.
That language is what we now call Spanish.
The official language in 20 countries and the mother tongue of 480 million people around the world, Spanish is the second most widely spoken native language on the planet after Mandarin Chinese, according to the Spanish language institute, the Instituto Cervantes. In San Millán de la Cogolla, I listened to words roll off locals’ tongues in rapid succession as they discussed the weather and exchanged news about their families – as if this complex language had always existed.
Read more: BBC Travel