Andalusia’s stunning architecture has a long and fascinating history. The area was originally controlled by the Romans, even before the Muslims crossed the Straits of Gibraltar back in 711. Today, much of the original architecture is gone, but there are a few exceptions that withstood the test of time and still offer a glimpse into the ancient history of this beautiful land.
The ruins of Itálica are situated in Seville; it was a Roman city founded around 206 BC and at its peak was the world’s third-biggest city. During the Middle Ages the site was used as a source of stone, and statues, marbles, and sculptures were taken from the site over the centuries; for this reason it is in a state of ruins, but one of the main attractions today is an Amphitheatre capable of holding 25,000 people – it was one of the largest in the Roman Empire. This itself is by no means in its original state but it is still a sight to behold. It is also still possible to see the Hadrianic baths, and a main attraction of Itálica is the intricately detailed mosaics, with their various depictions including interesting scenes, portraits, animals, and more. The site stands around nine kilometers northwest of Seville, close to the town Santiponce.
Great Mosque of Córdoba
Once the Romans had departed, the Muslims conquered Andalusia and made their mark on the land with Islamic-style architecture, creating the famous aqueducts, baths, palaces or ‘alcázares’ and fortresses, known as alcazabas.
The Great Mosque of Córdoba was built in the year 785 and is a jaw-droppingly beautiful piece of architecture. The famous arch is a sight to behold, with its calligraphy and stuccowork. The mosque sports what is called a Mihrab, an ornate corner designed for prayer, as well as the ‘Puerta del Perdón’ gate. Later, a cathedral was erected in the centre of the mosque, requiring demolition of some of the original Islamic architecture.
The Alhambra Palace, Granada
In the Nasrid era (1200 – 1500) the Reconquista paved the way for Sultans Isabella and Ferdinand to build one of the most spectacular palaces of all time. Built over the 1300 and 1400 in red-coloured clay, the word Al-hambra translates as “the red one. The grounds are enormous and consist of a mix of different styles of architecture such as palaces, towers and mosques; there are also stunning gardens to behold. In the 19th century the site was restored and one can view the impressive Patio de los Leones, with its 124 marble columns and centrally placed fountain surrounded by lions rendered perfectly from marble. Another unmissable part of this elaborate palace is the Salón de Embajadores throne room, which although built from inexpensive materials is nevertheless a magnificent piece of architecture, famed mainly for its mesmerizing ceiling.
Cathedral of Seville
Seville offers another stunning architectural attraction. During the Gothic period of the thirteenth century, the Cathedral of Seville was erected. It is arguably the most remarkable piece of architecture created in the famous Gothic-style of this province, but it is certainly not the only one. There are many other buildings churches, castles and mansions to be seen in Andalusia, however not all have been preserved as well as the Cathedral. Originally rounded in shape, the arches are now pointed; they were adapted in order to be able to carry a significantly larger weight. Huge stained glass windows display many scenes from the Bible, apparently so that those who were illiterate would be able to understand biblical events and stories. Constructed around the time of 1400 to 1500, gigantic column shafts support equally gigantic arches, reminiscent of the Renaissance, and towards the end of this period a Gothic-style altar was built.
The Gothic style was popular with the Spanish and they eventually formulated their own style, which they named Isabelline after the Catholic queen who reigned between 1474 and 1504. The elaborate décor covering the buildings from this period was the result of unparalleled craftsmanship and was described by artist Juan Guas as ‘a fantasy’; it is so intricate in places that it almost defies description.
Expo 92, Seville
Historically, Seville seems to have offered more architectural wonders than most other regions, and it hasn’t let us down in modern times either. Those with an interest in modern architecture with a futuristic vibe would have jumped at the chance to visit this gigantic site at Isla de Catuja, spread out over a whopping 215 hectors. Said to have ‘put Seville on the map’, Expo 92 was themed ‘The Age of Discovery’ (with reference to Columbus’ voyage to the new world) it took a fair few days to visit all the pavilions, given that over 100 countries were represented there.
Strange and wonderful innovations of architecture were erected, including the leaning Pabellón de Andalucía (which now has a cinema inside it) and the note-worthy five bridges including the Puente de Chapina, Puente del Alamillo and Puente de la Barqueta; all unique in design and features and all well worth a visit. The expo site is now derelict, although it is possible to visit if you wish to take a walk around the remarkable remains of the site and let your imagination be captured by the unique innovations of architecture still standing.