With her dark skin, brightly coloured clothes and wild, alluring nature, she came to symbolise a freedom that you either despised or desired.
Her ability to love freely, to travel openly, to slip between communities as easily as she slipped between Basque and Romani placed her beyond the rigid confines of Christian society and marked her not only as an outsider, but as something exotic; something essentially Spanish.
The Allure of the South
Based on the story by Prosper Mérimée, Georges Bizet's opera was first performed at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, on 3 March 1875, but left both audiences and critics unmoved despite its offering of sex, smuggling, cigarettes and murder.
Almost 140 years later, the Gazpachomonk investigates why this French production has turned into an icon and a synonym of Southern Spain. Read more....
Back in the early 1990's
No-one could say that life doesn't - at times - move in mysterious ways. It was in 1994 that two incidents occurred almost simultaneously. I had just met a woman who was a graphic designer working on the cover design of two films that were imminently to be released on video in Britain: Carlos Saura's Blood Wedding and Carmen. That Graphic Designer was to become my wife and the video covers were to re-appear sooner and more realistically than I would have imagined.
Later that year I moved to Seville for a year as part of a degree course. And where in Seville would I be studying? Why the university of course - a building that had been converted from its original use as the infamous tobacco factory - the very same tobacco factory in which Bizet's Carmen worked.
Spain: An Incomprehensible and Dark Continent
Whether I wanted to or not, Carmen was going to be a part of my life, as she has been for so many others since Bizet's Opera opened in France many years ago. Back in the late 1800's the bourgeoisie of Europe had at last mustered the courage to travel outside their comfort zones, and their collective vision began to settle on "the part of Africa that began at the Pyrenees": Spain.
It was an incomprehensible, exotic and dark country, one that came to be symbolised by the sensual, wild and demonic Carmen.
Carmen was a "gypsy" - the English word deriving from "Egyptian" - the land from which they are mistakenly said to have originated (as too does the word Gitano from Egiptano). But this was the name non-gypsies (payos) give to Romani people, and in so doing help little but to perpetuate the negative stereotypes. I was no different, I too fell for the stereotypes.
I found myself nodding in agreement as Sevillanos condemned the lazy lifestyle of the "gitanos" - particularly during the April Fair, as they dressed in Flamenco costumes, rode on horseback and drank and danced for 7 days.
Or during the Romeria as they rode the streets in old wagons pulled by horses - imitating the stereotypes of the very people who lifestyles they condemned.
It would be several years later that some of these stereotypes would be seriously challenged. I had rented out a flat above a Romani family in the middle of Toledo. A family that opened my eyes to many things. But that is another story for another time.
Like the Jews, the Romani are an exiled race, expelled each country and only surviving by withdrawing into their own culture, language and customs for self-preservation. Customs that it appeared were being expropriated through myth and popular media - like Carmen.
In the past, the Romani in Spain had been forbidden to marry their own kind, to speak their language, excluded from all public office and even placed in labour camps. A familiar story for most indigenous groups the world over.
Was the Popularity of Carmen helping or hindering the cause of these people? What did it say about Andalucia and its people? Had Spain expropriated "gitano" culture for its own touristic ends? Or does Saura's film, the Pepsi advert and Maria Callas offer us an opportunity to redefine these popular themes?
Put up your feet, grab a drink...and decide for yourselves.
To get a feel of how Carmen has been portrayed in the media, check out the video clips below for some unusual presentations. If you enjoy listening to podcasts, then download the free BBC play Carmen from here.
Watch one of the most famous musical songs from Carmen and the surreal, and hypnotic conductor of the orchestra in this short clip with Maria Callas.
Yes, even Opera can sell cola it appears.
For animation lovers, this rare shadow-puppet version of the Carmen.
Finally the film that started it all off. Carlos Saura's Classic version of Carmen is now viewable in its entirely on Youtube. Watch in awe as Antonio Gades glides past to the strum of Paco de Lucia's guitar. Magic.....