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Spain’s World Heritage Sites

The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, the Palau de la Música, the Alhambra... EL PAÍS’s travel supplement ‘El Viajero’ takes a tour round the country’s architectural wonders

  • Opened in 1908, Barcelona’s Palau de la Música Catalana was designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of the chief exponents of Catalan modernism, and was originally meant as the headquarters of the Orfeón Catalán choir. This image was created in 2002 by the French photographer Jean-François Rauzier using a “hyperphotographic” technique.
    1Opened in 1908, Barcelona’s Palau de la Música Catalana was designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of the chief exponents of Catalan modernism, and was originally meant as the headquarters of the Orfeón Catalán choir. This image was created in 2002 by the French photographer Jean-François Rauzier using a “hyperphotographic” technique.
  • The old façade of the Palau de la Música Catalana, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997, is decorated with a group of sculptures known collectively as ‘La canción popular catalana’ (Catalan folk songs) created by the artist Miguel Blay. Guided tours of this shrine to Catalan music cost €18 – a reduced price of €11 is available to students, retirees and the unemployed.
    2The old façade of the Palau de la Música Catalana, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997, is decorated with a group of sculptures known collectively as ‘La canción popular catalana’ (Catalan folk songs) created by the artist Miguel Blay. Guided tours of this shrine to Catalan music cost €18 – a reduced price of €11 is available to students, retirees and the unemployed.
  • Santa María del Naranco is an extraordinary example of ninth-century pre-Romanesque architecture in Asturias. Several other churches in the area have also become World Heritage Sites, including the nearby San Miguel de Lillo, as well as Santa Cristina de Lena, San Julián de los Prados and the Holy Chamber inside Oviedo cathedral.
    3Santa María del Naranco is an extraordinary example of ninth-century pre-Romanesque architecture in Asturias. Several other churches in the area have also become World Heritage Sites, including the nearby San Miguel de Lillo, as well as Santa Cristina de Lena, San Julián de los Prados and the Holy Chamber inside Oviedo cathedral.
  • The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba embodies the various civilizations that have flourished in southern Spain. The spot was first occupied by a Visigothic basilica before the Umayyad caliphate replaced it with an enormous Muslim temple built in four phases between 786 and 988. Then, in the 13th century, it was converted to a Christian place of worship and a cathedral built within. Today, the Islamic courtyard and arches combine with the cathedral’s Christian art.
    4The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba embodies the various civilizations that have flourished in southern Spain. The spot was first occupied by a Visigothic basilica before the Umayyad caliphate replaced it with an enormous Muslim temple built in four phases between 786 and 988. Then, in the 13th century, it was converted to a Christian place of worship and a cathedral built within. Today, the Islamic courtyard and arches combine with the cathedral’s Christian art.
  • The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba has been a World Heritage Site since 1984, but Unesco later extended the designation to the entire historic city center. This area includes the bishop’s palace, the synagogue, the Catholic monarchs’ palace (alcázar), the Roman bridge and the Caliphate baths, among other monuments. Pictured: the outside of the mosque-cathedral complex as seen from the belfry. Access to the site costs €8.
    5The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba has been a World Heritage Site since 1984, but Unesco later extended the designation to the entire historic city center. This area includes the bishop’s palace, the synagogue, the Catholic monarchs’ palace (alcázar), the Roman bridge and the Caliphate baths, among other monuments. Pictured: the outside of the mosque-cathedral complex as seen from the belfry. Access to the site costs €8.
  • The aqueduct in Segovia was built in the first century BC and, despite having no mortar to hold together its granite stones, has remained standing ever since. It stands 28 meters at its highest point, and consists of two rows of 166 arches. The Roman monument was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985.
    6The aqueduct in Segovia was built in the first century BC and, despite having no mortar to hold together its granite stones, has remained standing ever since. It stands 28 meters at its highest point, and consists of two rows of 166 arches. The Roman monument was declared a World Heritage Site in 1985.
  • The aqueduct shares World Heritage Site status with the historic city of Segovia, which also has an 11th-century fortress – the Alcázar – and a 16th-century Gothic cathedral. Access to the Alcázar costs €5, while visits to the cathedral are €3.
    7The aqueduct shares World Heritage Site status with the historic city of Segovia, which also has an 11th-century fortress – the Alcázar – and a 16th-century Gothic cathedral. Access to the Alcázar costs €5, while visits to the cathedral are €3.
  • Built in the late second century, the walls of Lugo were made to defend the Roman city of Lucus Augusti, founded by Paulo Fabio Máximo in the name of Emperor Augustus in 13 BC. The monument has been preserved intact since that time.
    8Built in the late second century, the walls of Lugo were made to defend the Roman city of Lucus Augusti, founded by Paulo Fabio Máximo in the name of Emperor Augustus in 13 BC. The monument has been preserved intact since that time.
  • The walls of Lugo are 2,266 meters long and crowned by 85 imposing watchtowers. A few years ago, the monument was considered a hindrance to urban growth, but fortunately zoning laws were adapted and these days the walls are seamlessly integrated into the city. Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site in 2000.
    9The walls of Lugo are 2,266 meters long and crowned by 85 imposing watchtowers. A few years ago, the monument was considered a hindrance to urban growth, but fortunately zoning laws were adapted and these days the walls are seamlessly integrated into the city. Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site in 2000.
  • The origins of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) go back to prehistoric times. Later came the Celtiberian people, although the first significant urban center was the Roman city of Complutum, which was tremendously important at the time. In the 16th century, Cardinal Cisneros chose this spot to create the first planned university town, which later served as a model for many other universities in Europe.
    10The origins of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) go back to prehistoric times. Later came the Celtiberian people, although the first significant urban center was the Roman city of Complutum, which was tremendously important at the time. In the 16th century, Cardinal Cisneros chose this spot to create the first planned university town, which later served as a model for many other universities in Europe.
  • The University of Alcalá is a World Heritage Site along with the city’s historical center, which contains the archbishop’s palace, the Corral de las Comedias playhouse, the cathedral of Santos Niños Justo y Pastor, and the main street, Calle Mayor, which was built around the 12th century and features a characteristic colonnade. Pictured: the inside of the university rectorate, where the Cervantes Prize for literature is awarded each year.
    11The University of Alcalá is a World Heritage Site along with the city’s historical center, which contains the archbishop’s palace, the Corral de las Comedias playhouse, the cathedral of Santos Niños Justo y Pastor, and the main street, Calle Mayor, which was built around the 12th century and features a characteristic colonnade. Pictured: the inside of the university rectorate, where the Cervantes Prize for literature is awarded each year.
  • The Alhambra in Granada is Spain’s most-visited monument: over 2.4 million people paid €14 to tour the Nasrid palace complex in 2014. The inside is magnificent, but so is the view of it from several vantage points in the city. This image was taken from the San Miguel lookout point: from here, the Alhambra stands out against the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
    12The Alhambra in Granada is Spain’s most-visited monument: over 2.4 million people paid €14 to tour the Nasrid palace complex in 2014. The inside is magnificent, but so is the view of it from several vantage points in the city. This image was taken from the San Miguel lookout point: from here, the Alhambra stands out against the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
  • The first references to the Alhambra (in Arabic, ‘al Hamrá’ or The Red One) go back to 899, although it did not become a royal residence until 1238, under the Nasrid Dynasty. The complex includes several gardens and constructions, among them the Alcazaba, the Palace of Charles V, the Nasrid palaces, the Generalife gardens and the Mosque baths. The compound represents one of the pinnacles of Andalusi art, and the Courtyard of the Lions (pictured) is one of its most harmonious spots.
    13The first references to the Alhambra (in Arabic, ‘al Hamrá’ or The Red One) go back to 899, although it did not become a royal residence until 1238, under the Nasrid Dynasty. The complex includes several gardens and constructions, among them the Alcazaba, the Palace of Charles V, the Nasrid palaces, the Generalife gardens and the Mosque baths. The compound represents one of the pinnacles of Andalusi art, and the Courtyard of the Lions (pictured) is one of its most harmonious spots.
  • The fortified city of Cuenca, whose origins go back to the 15th century, has been a World Heritage Site since 1996. It is famous for its Hanging Houses, known in Spanish as Casas Colgadas, Casas Voladas or Casas del Rey. These homes have balconies with no solid material beneath them, and the houses are fixed to the wall with diagonal beams to prevent them collapsing.
    14The fortified city of Cuenca, whose origins go back to the 15th century, has been a World Heritage Site since 1996. It is famous for its Hanging Houses, known in Spanish as Casas Colgadas, Casas Voladas or Casas del Rey. These homes have balconies with no solid material beneath them, and the houses are fixed to the wall with diagonal beams to prevent them collapsing.
  • The ancient Roman city of Tarraco, today’s Tarragona, was one of the most important cities in Hispania during the Roman empire. Surviving remains include the foundations of the great walls near Pilates’ quarters and the Roman aqueduct of Ferreres, or the Devil’s Bridge, pictured above, which is 217 meters long and 27 meters high.
    15The ancient Roman city of Tarraco, today’s Tarragona, was one of the most important cities in Hispania during the Roman empire. Surviving remains include the foundations of the great walls near Pilates’ quarters and the Roman aqueduct of Ferreres, or the Devil’s Bridge, pictured above, which is 217 meters long and 27 meters high.
  • Tarraco is one of the largest archeological sites in Spain and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. Pictured above: the amphitheater by the sea, of which only a few vestiges remain as it was later used as a stone quarry.
    16Tarraco is one of the largest archeological sites in Spain and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. Pictured above: the amphitheater by the sea, of which only a few vestiges remain as it was later used as a stone quarry.
  • Seven of architect Antoni Gaudí’s buildings in and around Barcelona are on the list of World Heritage Sites. They are: the Casa Batlló, Casa Vicens, Güell Palace, Güell Park, the Sagrada Familia basilica, the Crypt of the Güell Colony, and Casa Milà, pictured above.
    17Seven of architect Antoni Gaudí’s buildings in and around Barcelona are on the list of World Heritage Sites. They are: the Casa Batlló, Casa Vicens, Güell Palace, Güell Park, the Sagrada Familia basilica, the Crypt of the Güell Colony, and Casa Milà, pictured above.
  • Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera, owes its name to Pere Milà and Roser Segimon, the couple who commissioned it from Antoni Gaudí. The Catalan architect completed it in 1910, but it was not opened to the public until 1987. The mansion is a prime example of the eclectic and highly personal style cultivated by Gaudí, who made major contributions to the evolution of architecture and construction techniques in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
    18Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera, owes its name to Pere Milà and Roser Segimon, the couple who commissioned it from Antoni Gaudí. The Catalan architect completed it in 1910, but it was not opened to the public until 1987. The mansion is a prime example of the eclectic and highly personal style cultivated by Gaudí, who made major contributions to the evolution of architecture and construction techniques in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Work on the cathedral of Santa María in Burgos began in 1221, following the French Gothic style. It underwent changes in the 15th and 16th centuries, when the spires on the main façade were built, as well as the Chapel of the Condestable and the dome over the transept. The most recent construction work was carried out in the 18th century. The predominant style is Gothic, with a few Renaissance and Baroque elements inside.
    19Work on the cathedral of Santa María in Burgos began in 1221, following the French Gothic style. It underwent changes in the 15th and 16th centuries, when the spires on the main façade were built, as well as the Chapel of the Condestable and the dome over the transept. The most recent construction work was carried out in the 18th century. The predominant style is Gothic, with a few Renaissance and Baroque elements inside.
  • Unesco bestowed World Heritage Site status on Burgos cathedral in 1984. It is the only Spanish cathedral to get the distinction on its own merit, without being attached to a historic city center.
    20Unesco bestowed World Heritage Site status on Burgos cathedral in 1984. It is the only Spanish cathedral to get the distinction on its own merit, without being attached to a historic city center.
  • The Poblet Monastery in Catalonia is the prototypical Spanish abbey, built in the style of the Cistercian order. Construction was sponsored by Ramón Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, who handed it over to the monks of the Abbey of Fontfroide in 1149. The monastery’s period of splendor was the 14th century. In 1835 it was abandoned after the cash-strapped Spanish state expropriated the Church’s assets to raise funds. Restoration began in 1930 and in 1940 a community of friars returned to the premises.
    21The Poblet Monastery in Catalonia is the prototypical Spanish abbey, built in the style of the Cistercian order. Construction was sponsored by Ramón Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona, who handed it over to the monks of the Abbey of Fontfroide in 1149. The monastery’s period of splendor was the 14th century. In 1835 it was abandoned after the cash-strapped Spanish state expropriated the Church’s assets to raise funds. Restoration began in 1930 and in 1940 a community of friars returned to the premises.
  • The complete name of the compound is the Royal Abbey of Santa Maria de Poblet. The royal pantheon of the Crown of Aragon lies within, and its monarchs were buried here from the late 14th century until the House of Aragon was extinguished the following century. Visits cost €7.50, though some parts of the abbey are off limits to tourists.
    22The complete name of the compound is the Royal Abbey of Santa Maria de Poblet. The royal pantheon of the Crown of Aragon lies within, and its monarchs were buried here from the late 14th century until the House of Aragon was extinguished the following century. Visits cost €7.50, though some parts of the abbey are off limits to tourists.
  • The Vizcaya Bridge was the world’s first transporter bridge, and remains operational today. A gondola ferries cars and people between Portugalete and Getxo, on the banks of the Nervión River in the Basque province of Vizcaya. It was designed by architect Alberto de Palacio and opened in 1893. Unesco has considered it a World Heritage Site since 2006.
    23The Vizcaya Bridge was the world’s first transporter bridge, and remains operational today. A gondola ferries cars and people between Portugalete and Getxo, on the banks of the Nervión River in the Basque province of Vizcaya. It was designed by architect Alberto de Palacio and opened in 1893. Unesco has considered it a World Heritage Site since 2006.
  • The Royal Palace of Aranjuez was commissioned by Hapsburg monarch Philip II, but its main architect Juan Bautista de Toledo died during construction, and the project was continued by his disciple Juan de Herrera. The chapel and one of the towers were finished, but the work was placed on hold after Philip died. Under the House of Bourbon, Philip V ordered construction to start again, before Ferdinand VI added significantly to the compound, and his work was continued by Carlos III. Its current 18th-century appearance is the work of Francisco Sabatini.
    24The Royal Palace of Aranjuez was commissioned by Hapsburg monarch Philip II, but its main architect Juan Bautista de Toledo died during construction, and the project was continued by his disciple Juan de Herrera. The chapel and one of the towers were finished, but the work was placed on hold after Philip died. Under the House of Bourbon, Philip V ordered construction to start again, before Ferdinand VI added significantly to the compound, and his work was continued by Carlos III. Its current 18th-century appearance is the work of Francisco Sabatini.
  • The Royal Palace of Aranjuez also features enormous gardens. The compound was declared a World Heritage Site in 2001. Pictured: the palace as seen from the portico on Florida street.
    25The Royal Palace of Aranjuez also features enormous gardens. The compound was declared a World Heritage Site in 2001. Pictured: the palace as seen from the portico on Florida street.