Everything You Need to Know About Spanish Architecture
Impressive Spanish architecture has the power to leave you breathless. The intricate details, designs, and majestic structures make Spanish architecture world-renowned and a solid base of Spanish culture and history.
If you’ve had the opportunity to visit Spain or plan to do so in the future, I’m here to prepare you with everything you need to know about Spanish architecture! Join me on a fascinating journey back in time to explore the extraordinary buildings and styles of Spanish architecture.
Major Influences on Spanish Architecture
Cities in Spain possess a cultural richness that translates to diverse architectural styles. The history of Spain is broad and has led to multiple influences reflected in Spanish architecture.
Muslim invasions, the rise of Christian religion, the Renaissance, and other foreign influences have transformed Spanish architecture throughout history. Spain has managed to blend its traditional structures with modernity in cities including Barcelona, Bilbao, and Granada.
Spanish architecture reflects values and beliefs from earlier eras. For example, castles and Roman coliseums were meant to showcase political power. Architecture evolves along with the needs and trends of society.
Styles of Spanish Architecture
Spain is the second country in the world to have designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. Its countless buildings with historical significance prove Spain’s ability to preserve and value architecture.
Let’s take a look at the different architectural styles!
Pre-historic Spanish Architecture
Period: 3000 to 4000 BC
The first record of Spanish architecture are burial chambers that date back to 4000 BC. These structures were built by the first people who settled in the Iberian Peninsula and are known as dolmens. They resemble tables and are made out of stone. These first examples of Spanish architecture were made by Celts and Visigoths who migrated to Spain from the North. These sites were known to be places of pilgrimage and prayer.
The Celts focused on building walled villages on the mountaintops, known as castros. Many of these Celt settlements can be found throughout the provinces of Galicia and Asturias. They’re considered a great source of information for archaeologists and researchers.
Roman Style Architecture
Period: 218 BC to 410 AD
The Roman conquest of Spain led to the Iberian Peninsula’s Romanization. This period of Spanish architecture transformed settlements and allowed the population to adopt the culture and way of life of the Roman empire.
Large cities like Tarragona and Cordoba allowed urbanization to develop and road systems linked useful buildings and centers of commerce.
Roman Spanish architecture is similar to buildings found in Italy and Greece, both places where the Roman empire thrived and blossomed. Bridges, aqueducts, amphitheaters, coliseums, and monuments are examples of the engineering expertise of architects from this period. To this day, Roman buildings like the Tower of Hercules of La Coruña are still used.
Period: 7th to 10th Century
Pre-Romanesque Spanish architecture refers to Christian-influenced buildings. This period is characterized by innovating in design and structural elements, such as arches and lattices, massive thick stone masonry, symmetrical constructions, large towers, Celtic inspired medallions, Visigothic columns, and imagery like knights and animals.
The majority of Pre-Romanesque Spanish architecture examples are found in the province of Asturias, especially in the city of Oviedo. The Ermita de Santa Cristina de Lena is a great example of Pre-Romanesque style architecture preserved in ideal conditions. The sanctuary was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.
Period: 10th to 12th Century
Romanesque Spanish architecture developed in Spain next. This period was characterized by basic architecture with symmetrical constructions, thick bulky walls, round arches, functional columns, large round towers, and sturdy piers in the interior.
Romanesque monasteries served religious purposes, and the majority of these structures were designed by monks. The decorative elements of Roman architecture ceased to be important, and architects turned their attention to making buildings functional.
Mudejar Style Architecture
Period: 12th to 16th Century
Mudejar style originated from the collision between Islam and Christianity, by Moors who stayed in Spain and didn’t convert to Christianism. The style has influences from Syria and Persia. Elements that stand out are horseshoe arches with columns; intricate geometry; octagonal towers; glazed tile mosaics; and stucco, wood, and brick work.
Synagogues and mosques are examples of this architectural style. Even after the Moors left Spain, their contributions to architecture still prevail in modern constructions. The province of Andalusia is home to Mudejar and Mozarabic architecture, including UNESCO World Heritage sites, La Alhambra and the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba.
Period: 12th to 14th century
The Gothic style followed Mudejar architecture and fused European and Romanesque techniques. Its common elements are pointed arches, stained glass windows, gargoyles, thin walls, vaulted ceilings, and clusters of thin columns.
Gothic Spanish architecture is found throughout much of Spain. The style thrived during the 13th century, when it came to be known as High Gothic. It represented progress and innovation for Spain.
Gothic architecture was adopted by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, and several churches from this period give a sense of weightlessness. Nevertheless, Gothic churches are monumental buildings and with extraordinary engineering.
Period: 12th century
Cistersian Spanish architecture is the style that originated between the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. It’s often found in rural monasteries. It uses simple design and little embellishment, combining elements of Romanesque and Gothic Spanish architecture.
This architectural style was brought to Spain by rebellious monks of the Benedictine order of Cluny, who didn’t care for a lavish lifestyle of luxury. They believed it distracted believers from the church’s goal.
Renaissance Style Architecture
Period: 14th to 16th century
At the beginning of the Renaissance period, Gothic buildings were adapted to meet the standards of the new Renaissance style. The style began to spread among local architects and carried Italian influence, often mixed with Gothic tradition and local idiosyncrasy.
This mixture gave birth to a new style called Plateresco (Plateresque), which had ornate facades and intricately detailed silver work.
Common elements of Renaissance Spanish architecture are highly decorated facades, classical Roman design, symmetrical decoration, and Christian motifs like statues. Late in this era, the Gothic style finally started to fade and the finest examples of Renaissance architecture like el Palacio de Carlos V in La Alhambra, began to flourish.
Period: 16th to 18th century
Like Renaissance style architecture, the Baroque style came from Italian influences. It borrowed elements from the French Rococo style and carried particular elements that differentiated it from other styles. The Baroque Spanish architecture focuses on embellished facades, extreme florid detailing, and elaborate sculptural ornaments with lavish use of stone, brick, and metal.
Baroque style continued to evolve. A family by the name Churriguera didn’t care for the classic Baroque style and transformed it into an intricate, exaggerated, fancy style of decoration known as the Churrigueresque style. This variation of Baroque is possible to admire throughout the city of Salamanca, where Churrigueresque architecture blossomed to the fullest.
Period: 18th to 20th century
Neoclassical style architecture is technical and intellectual. It was initially promoted by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid. Like other Spanish architecture styles, Neoclassical style arrived from Italy as the modern go-to design style. It focuses on emphasizing symmetry and simplicity. The design elements are functional, efficient, and influenced by Roman architecture.
If you get a chance to travel Spain, you’ll find Neoclassical architecture in museums and modern sites like el Museo del Prado in Madrid.
Eclecticism and Modernism
Period: 19th to 20th century
These are my personal favorite and are a combination of elements of the previous Spanish architecture styles. Along with the arrival of the industrial revolution, new materials like glass and iron began appearing in architecture and led to new revival versions of older traditional styles.
A new movement called Eclecticism allowed Spanish architects to choose their style based on the purpose of their design. Architects like Antonio Palacios, combined Neo-Gothic, Neo-Romanesque, and Neo-Egyptian architecture. This influence is visible in his most notorious creation, the Palacio de Comunicaciones of Madrid.
While Eclecticism was unfolding, a new style called Modernismo began to grow in Catalonia. Architect Antoní Gaudí incorporated minimalism, industrial, and organic elements and focused on embellishing Barcelona and other Catalan sites with majestic buildings.
His most famous creation is the Basilica of La Sagrada Familia, which to this day remains a work in progress. Today, Spain continues to embrace the Modernism of Gaudí. New architects have developed designs that continue to push boundaries and fuse Spanish architecture styles.
Discover Spanish Architecture!
I’ve only shown you a glimpse of the variety of gems and treasures Spanish architecture has to discover.
I hope this blog post inspired you to view Spanish architecture with different eyes. Not only do these multiple styles continue to inspire architects around the world, but they’re of great value to humanity and their preservation is essential for history and culture.
Have you visited any of these sites? What is your favorite style? Leave a comment below and let’s talk about Spanish architecture!
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