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Spain: An Architectural Odyssey

Renaissance Revival, Seville

If I were ever asked to name a favourite country from my travels, it would have to be Spain.

In no other place did I find such a perfect fit in the prevailing rhythm of life. Nine months of passionate living taught me to understand its people, its national love of food, and last but not least, its architecture. I left that country almost a year ago, but hardly a day passes by when I do not think about the life-changing time that I spent there. So as a way of wrapping up the latest series, I’d like to share a collection of images taken in eight cities across the Spanish mainland.

By no means is this a complete picture of Spain’s architectural heritage; I did not get the chance to see the Roman ruins of Mérida, nor the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, nor the dreamlike Alhambra. But these photos are a testament to her long and fascinating history, as a land that has absorbed a multitude of outside influences.

It was the Greeks who introduced the vine, the Moors who brought in citrus fruit, and the Romani who created Flamenco. Artistic movements such as Romanesque and Gothic soon found their way over the Pyrenees, the latter being beautifully expressed in the cathedrals of Burgos and León.

But of all the nation’s architectural treasures, perhaps there is none more telling than the Cathedral-Mosque of Córdoba. Built over the site of a Visigothic church, the Great Mosque of the Umayyads used columns and capitals quarried from Roman sites nearby. Following the Christian re-conquest of Andalucía, the mosque remained virtually unchanged for years, until the 16th century when a soaring cathedral nave was inserted right into the middle of the prayer hall. It’s a combination that is strange, contradictory and captivating, all at the same time.

Roman Aqueduct, Segovia

Street scene, Segovia

Maqsura, Great Mosque of Córdoba

Light & dark, Great Mosque of Córdoba

Old prayer hall, Great Mosque of Córdoba

Door handle, Cathedral of Seville

La Giralda, Seville

Alcázar, Seville

Mudéjar church, Zaragoza

Old town, Oviedo

Sculptural detail, Cathedral of León

Rose window, Cathedral of León

Cimbori, Cathedral of Valencia

Marble Palace, Valencia

Convento de San Esteban, Salamanca

City Hall, Salamanca

Modernist detail, Valencia

Mercado de Colón, Valencia

Plaza de España, Seville

35 Comments Post a comment
  1. Love European architecture. The fact that it has stood the test of time and remains so classic inspires me. Your collection is awesome. Hope to get out there and see for myself one of these days! Spain is such a fascinating place – couldn’t think of a better country to explore in! Have only been to Barcelona and Mallorca so far – still so much to see!

    May 1, 2012
    • Agreed – Spain was especially lucky as it wasn’t involved in World War II; I can’t imagine the level of destruction that it might have suffered otherwise. The country as a whole is just so diverse, there are so many parts of it that I have yet to cover!

      May 1, 2012
  2. James, that was a tiny, vivid, taste of the architecture which so captivated me forty years ago. Lovely to see it in such beautiful photographs.

    May 1, 2012
    • You described it perfectly when you said “tiny” – I don’t think anyone could distill 2000 years of Spanish architecture into a library, much less a volume!

      May 1, 2012
      • James, I usually grumble that people don’t edit their shots so I end up brain dead from over stimulation. If you had to ‘do’ Spanish architecture in one post, you’ve shown marvellous restraint, for which I applaud you:)
        You could hardly have done better – you’ve just done a piece on Gaudi’s Barcelona; perhaps a little more Romanesque? and the Alhambra and Santiago as you mentioned.

        May 1, 2012
      • Thank you. 🙂 I came close to excluding two or three of those images, but they were good for the overall effect so I ended up keeping them in.

        Those are some great ideas – unfortunately I haven’t been to either the Alhambra or Santiago, so that will have to be after the next trip!

        May 1, 2012
      • Well, seems like you’ve got a couple more excuses for going again soon:)

        May 1, 2012
      • Absolutely. 😉

        May 1, 2012
  3. QQ #

    beautiful, southern Spain is on my bucket list

    May 1, 2012
    • I’ve only been to three cities in the south – Córdoba, Seville and Cádiz. I would love to return and get to know the region a bit better. 🙂

      May 1, 2012
  4. DSmithImages #

    Fabulous post! Spain is definitely on my “go to” list in terms of international countries.

    May 1, 2012
    • It’s said to be one of the most well-known but least-understood countries of Europe – I would recommend it to everyone!

      May 1, 2012
  5. The mesquita in Cordoba was my favourite place in Spain, closely followed by the Alcazar in Seville. We also loved Cadiz, but Italy is my favourite European country.

    May 2, 2012
    • The Mezquita is one of my all-time favourites as well… I could keep going back and be blown away every time.

      May 2, 2012
  6. It’s amazing to see how diverse Spain’s architectural heritage is. I guess her geographical position plays a very important role in enriching Spain’s architecture over time. The more I read your posts about Spain, the more I love the country! (even though I’ve never been there).

    May 2, 2012
    • It’s true, there is just so much variety between each region, sometimes it makes you wonder how it could all be part of the same country! I felt like those nine months were not even enough to see all the places (and buildings) on my wishlist.

      May 2, 2012
  7. James, you’ve done it again. Thanks for sharing your fabulous photos. I particularly like the last one – the Plaza de España, Seville. Very nice. Many years ago I was in the mosque in Cordoba – no photos to show for it, but your photos took me back. Terri

    May 2, 2012
    • You’re welcome, Terri! It’s good to know that the mosque has stayed the same in recent years, I would never want it to change.

      May 2, 2012
  8. Great post James! I love Spain too! I’ve been there a couple of times and my most recent visit was when I was 13 weeks pregnant with my son Max. Not a good place to be when you are sick to your stomach, have to use the loo every minutes and also eat so late! But we hit a lot of the sites you did and I must say Granada was my favorite! I want to go back and scan some of my photos from Spain and share them. We also went to the gorge at Ronda which was stunning and to the Straits of Gibralter. There I remember staring longingly at Morocco wondering when I’d be there and little did I know, eight years later I would!
    What were you doing in Spain? Studying?

    May 3, 2012
    • Thanks Nicole! The eating hours did take a bit of time to get used to, but after leaving Spain I actually started to miss it! I didn’t make it to Granada in the end – word was that an important part of the Alhambra was under renovation, so I thought I’d leave it until the next trip. I was there for 9 months doing an intensive language course; I loved every moment of it!

      May 3, 2012
      • Fabulous….you know what they say….you’ll have to go back! 🙂

        May 3, 2012
  9. She is a beautiful lady isn’t she? Your post does her justice James! Love the pictures! I started following your blog after reading your post on Cordoba! You might want to reblog it. We went to southern Spain a while ago and my images – all hard copies – from that time aren’t very good.

    May 3, 2012
    • Absolutely Madhu! I would reblog the one on Córdoba but I feel like the writing isn’t nearly as good as some of the more recent posts. That said, the one on the mosque is up there among my favourites. With those hard copies, you could try scanning them in – sometimes film photos are much better at conveying colour and atmosphere than their digital counterparts!

      May 3, 2012
  10. Beautiful photos! The architecture really is amazing. I’ve only been to Barcelona myself so far in Spain, but one day I hope to see all of the places you posted. Kudos and I hope you have more adventures! 🙂

    May 5, 2012
    • Barcelona is a pretty good place to start – the next time you will have to go south to Andalusia to see the strong Moorish influence!

      May 12, 2012
  11. Your pictures are great!! So did you stay in Spain for the whole 9 months? Did you stay in one place and then travel around? Sorry, I know you wrote about the beginning of Plus Ultra relating to Spain but I can’t quite remember…!

    May 5, 2012
    • Thanks! I did stay in Spain for a full 9 months, with the exception of two weeks when I went home for Christmas. I was based out of Salamanca and did my travelling on holidays and weekends.

      May 12, 2012
      • Oh right! that’s great, I’d love to have a “living experience” like yours in so many countries! I’m currently planning my next trip – to Spain! 😀

        May 12, 2012
      • That’s awesome Sophie! Feel free to drop me a message if you need any recommendations for Salamanca or Spain in general! 😀

        May 12, 2012
      • Thank you James 😀

        May 13, 2012
  12. I wish I had something insightful to say, but all I can think of is how much that old prayer hall makes me think that’s what Mr. Mint’s land must look like in Candy Land!

    May 6, 2012
    • Yeah, it’s the alternating red and white pattern on those arches!

      May 11, 2012
      • and now I want a peppermint mocha!

        May 15, 2012
  13. Nice post! I am super keen on visiting southern spain , specially for architecture and your post definitely inspires me to book my tickets soon! I also adore Spain for the amazing food, specially the northern part of Spain. I would say if you haven’t been to basque country yet, put it on top of your tarvel list 🙂

    December 15, 2016
    • Thanks! I did love the Basque Country and managed to visit twice, once in 2009 and then in 2011. You are right that the food there is amazing – I couldn’t get enough of pintxos and the fresh fish/seafood that was often served! 🙂

      December 17, 2016

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