« Tapa » means « lid » or « cover » in Spanish.
There are several explanations of the origin of tapas. One legend has it that the Spanish king Alfonso X (1221-1284) was advised by his doctor to stay in bed and to eat snacks between meals. He liked the idea so much that he ordered all the inns to serve snacks to « cover» people’s appetites.
Another legend says that it was the owner of a tavern who invented tapas when he covered his wine carafes with a slice of ham to stop flies falling into them. The ham was eaten with the wine and the tapas was born !
Some believe the name originated sometime around the 16th Century when tavern owners from Castilla-La Mancha found out that the strong taste and smell of mature cheese could help disguise that of bad wine, thus "covering" it, and started offering free cheese when serving cheap wine.
Yet another popular explanation says that King Alfonso XII stopped at a famous venta (tavern) in Cádiz where he ordered a cup of sherry. The waiter covered the glass with a slice of cured ham before offering it to the king to protect the wine from the beach sand – Cádiz being a windy city. The king, after drinking his wine and eating the tapa, ordered another sherry "with the same cover".