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    Known for its natural beauty, Norway is home to isolated villages, fjords, and mountains that create a culture and landscape without compare. Begin Your Journey!

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    Vatican City: Vatican Museums. Go Now!

    Vatican City
    The smallest country in the world offers the heart of Catholicism and among the world's finest art collections, including the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms (ceiling pictured). Go to Vatican City!

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Architecture of Spain

Most of Spain's oldest architecture is from the Roman times and the Romans left a substantial amount of ruins behind, many of which are considered among the best Roman ruins. The most unusual of these ruins is the Tower of Hercules (about 100 AD), the only Roman lighthouse still standing, in A Coruna. Perhaps the best of these ruins is the aqueduct in Segovia (about 100 AD), which is regularly considered the best preserved Roman Aqueduct in the world. In addition to these ruins, there are a couple Roman cities worth mention, the first being the rest of Segovia. The sight of Merida has some great ruins as well, including an impressive amphitheater; the ruins in Tarragona have a number of structures, and the ruins in Lugo are known for their Roman walls, as this is the only Roman city with its entire original wall still intact.

Spanish Architecture - Hercules Tower
Hercules Tower

After Roman architecture, Spain received few buildings until the Romanesque period, but the center of pre-Romanesque buildings in Spain is Oviedo. This Christian capital has a number of churches that have survived, including Santa Maria del Naranco (c. 848), San Miguel de Lillo (c. 848), the Camara Santa (800s), San Julian de los Prados (800s), and San Vicente de Oviedo (c. 781), although this final building has since been rebuilt in various styles, losing much of its original look and design.

The Romanesque style had a large and long lasting impact in Spain, beginning with the San Millan Yuso and Suso Monasteries in the town of San Millan de la Cogolla. These monasteries transitioned pre-Romanesque to Romanesque in design, but Spain has a number of more purely Romanesque buildings, primarily monasteries and churches. Poblet Monastery (1151) in Catalonia is a huge complex in the style and the Vall de Boi, also in Catalonia has a number of churches in the style (1100s), which are still in remarkable condition.

In addition to these stand-alone churches and monasteries, there are a couple towns that exhibit the Romanesque style quite well. Both Santiago de Compostela's old town and Avila have a number of buildings and city walls from this time (1000-1100s). Plus, in the town of Loarre (in Aragon), stands the Loarre Castle (1000s-1100s), which is one of the better Romanesque castles.

Spanish Architecture - Cathedral of Leon
Cathedral of Leon

In the early 1200s the Gothic style arrived from France and there are dozens of Gothic structures still standing in Spain today. The Burgos Cathedral (1221-1230) is one of the most impressive of these buildings and is quite loyal to the French Gothic style. The other prime example of this style is the Toledo Cathedral (1226-1400s), which slightly distinguishes itself from the French Gothic style. Girona Cathedral (1000-1200s), Barcelona Cathedral (1200-1400s), and the Palma Cathedral (or La Seu; 1229-1601) are each unique buildings in this style and perhaps more symbolic of Spanish Gothic. A final good example of the Gothic style, again more loyal to the French design is Leon cathedral (1200s-1500s).

During both the Romanesque and Gothic periods, the Moors from North Africa were in many parts of Spain and they left a huge number of buildings, primarily dating from the 700s to the 1300s. Among the early structures is the Great Mosque of Cordoba (today housing a Catholic Cathedral; 700s-900s), which is one of the best examples of early Mosque architecture in the western style. In fact, nearly all of Cordoba's old town is in the Moorish style.

The second Moorish city to note is the city of Granada, which remained the last stronghold of the Moors and remained in their control until the 1400s. It is also in Granada that houses the famous Alhambra, whose current structure dates from about the 1300s and was home to the Moor's Caliphates. This entire complex represents the height of Moorish architecture and the detail symbolizes their wealth and power during their rule.

Spanish Architecture - Seville

Unlike many of the locations mentioned already, there were numerous places in which the Spanish and Moors lived peacefully side by side and these locations still have architectural remains from this time period. The cities of Caceres, Salamanca, Seville, and Toledo all have Spanish and Moorish construction from the Medieval Ages. Each also has numerous buildings built after the Moors left the region, which were strongly influenced by earlier Moorish architecture.

As the Moors were entirely expelled from the peninsula in the late 1400s, the Renaissance style arrived from Italy. At first the Renaissance introductions in Spain were little more than ornamentation and the city of Salamanca was the proud recipient of most of these facades. However, soon after entire buildings were being built in the Renaissance style, including the Palace of Charles V (1526) in Granada, while others had Renaissance influence, but were not entirely in the style, such as El Escorial (1563-1584) just outside of Madrid. The cities of Ubeda and Baeza also exhibit a number of examples in this style.

Spanish Architecture - Gaudi architecture
Gaudi architecture

In the late 1600s Baroque made a brief entrance into Spain, but generally in no way other than as facades. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar (current structure from 1681-1872) is one of the few buildings of note entirely in the Baroque style. The Baroque period was short-lived though as the neo-Classical movement hit full stride in Spain in the 1700s. The Royal Palace (1736) in Madrid has aspects of both the Baroque and neo-Classical styles, before the latter style, along with Gothic Revival took over, but again, with little splash.

Spanish architecture was again put under the spotlight in the late 1800s as Barcelona, under the leadership of Antoni Gaudi, became the leader in a unique style that has not been replicated elsewhere, although it may be considered a form of Art Nouveau. Among the structures by Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia (begun in 1882) and Casa Batllo (remodeled 1904-1906) are perhaps the most notable. The Palau de la Musica Catalana (1905-1908) is another fine example of Art Nouveau architecture in Barcelona.

This page was last updated: May, 2014