The Curious Origins Of The Word “Siesta”

No word so encompases the imagination about Spain & the Spanish than”siesta”. In fact in any word association about the two, “siesta” will invariably be amongst the first to come to mind.

However, although very much part of the Spanish lifestyle, indeed according to the most recent poll 1 in 5 working age Spaniards have a siesta during the week and 50% admit to having regular siestas after lunch on the weekend and holiday days.

In fact according to the historian and Madrid resident, Peter Besas the word, that is so typically Spanish, actually harks back to ancient Roman times.

It refers to the “sixth hour” or sexta hora. This, in the Roman daily timetable of 12 daytime and 12 nighttime hours, corresponded roughly to our lunchtime (11:15 a.m. – 12:00 in winter, and 10:44 a.m. – 12:00 in summer).

The ninth hour of the day, nona, from which our “noon” was derived, is actually a misnomer since it originally came after noon, anywhere from 1:29 to 3:46 p.m.

In the Sixth Century, Saint Benedict, strongly feeling that only when the day was properly ordered would the monks in his monastery be able to perform the tasks required to serve God, even instructed his underlings to build clocks to count the hours in order to guide them in their duties.

Benedict adapted the Roman timetable and set up a rule whereby at certain hours the monks would be required to work, to pray or to stop for meals and rest. All these were part of the daily routine.

Among the time divisions, the sexta corresponded to midday and was the hour in Benedictine monasteries set aside for rest, many times including a short snooze, in other words, a siesta.



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