The various peoples who conquered Spain over the centuries left remains of their architecture behind. The Romans constructed buildings with marble pillars and statues. The Moors built palaces and public baths with horseshoe-shaped arches, pairs of narrow windows, and white stucco walls. Some Spanish buildings are an unusual mix of styles because different groups of people added to them over the years.
The Romans were such excellent engineers and builders that sections of walls that once surrounded Roman cities still stand, and some Roman bridges are still in use. Over the city of Segovia, in central Spain, rises a huge aqueduct, which the Romans built to carry water from the nearby Frío River to the town. The aqueduct looks like a bridge. It is supported by 118 arches arranged in two layers. Amazingly, people used the ancient aqueduct until the late 1800s. The Romans built their long-lasting structures by fitting stones very closely against one another. The fit was so precise that no mortar or cement, both of which crumble over time, was needed to stick the stones together.
A Roman theater and amphitheater, built in 24 B.C., still stand in the town of Mérida, in the southwest of Spain. Romans watched plays in the theater, which seated about 6,000 people. In the amphitheater, up to 15,000 Romans sat and watched more elaborate plays, chariot races, or gladiators fighting each other. The amphitheater was sometimes even filled with water for sea battles.
The remains of Moorish castles and mosques exist mainly in the south of Spain, where the Moors first settled. The Moors decorated the ceilings of their buildings with delicate carvings, and their brick, stone, and marble walls with geometric patterns. Moorish buildings often had central courtyards with pools and fountains. The walls surrounding the courtyards provided much-needed shade, while the water cooled the air. Some Moorish castles and mosques can still be seen in cities such as Seville and Toledo.
On a hilltop in Granada, in the south of Spain, is the Alhambra. The Alhambra is a walled town with a fortress, palace, and gardens that were built by the Moors. Construction of the fortress, the Alcazaba, began in the 800s, but was not completed until 400 years later. It has 27 towers, the tallest of which is called Torre de la Vela, or Tower of the Candle. The palace, known as the Palacios Nazaries, was built for Moorish kings in the 1200s and 1300s. It is decorated with stone columns, pretty mosaics made from ceramic tiles, and beautifully carved stucco ceilings, archways, and domes. The carvings are so delicate that they look like lace. Many fountains and pools cool the palace´s patios, inner courtyards, and gardens.
Castles in Castile
About 1,000 years ago, Christians in Spain began to fight the Moors for control of the country. Both sides built hundreds of castles to protect their towns from attack. Many are in the province of Castilla-León, in northern Spain. This province takes its name from the Spanish words for castle, castillo and lion, leon. The Castillo de Coca lies about 30 miles (45 kilometers) north of Segovia. A moat surrounding the castle helped keep intruders away from its stone walls and towers. One of the creepiest features of this castle is its dungeon. The prisoners entered through a door in the ceiling, breaking their legs when they fell to the ground.
La Mota is a castle near the town of Valladolid. It was built by the Moors about 800 years ago. Large walls surrounding the castle kept intruders out, and a towering prison kept prisoners in. After conquering the Moors, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella moved into the castle and expanded it. In modern times, Spaniards used La Mota as a state prison before it became a military museum.
Modern architects in Spain experiment with a variety of materials in their work, including glass, concrete, and wrought iron. Elegant brick designs, as well as colorful ceramic ornaments and stained glass windows, decorate their buildings.
Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) is Spain´s most famous architect. Many of the houses and buildings he designed are in Barcelona. He did not design buildings with straight lines, which were common. Instead, he copied the flowing lines in nature. For example, he imitated the spirals in snail shells when he designed spiral staircases. His archways followed the shape of the web of skin between a person´s fingers. Gaudí´s fascination with nature led him to put sculptures of wildlife, including a lizard covered with orange, yellow, and blue tiles, on his later buildings.
Gaudí´s most famous building is the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona. It was started in 1884, and Gaudí worked on it for most of his later life. He became so obsessed with the church that he began living in it. When funds for the building ran low, he sold his own possessions to raise money.
Unfortunately, Gaudí died before the church was finished. While watching the construction of the church´s tower, he backed into the street and was hit and killed by a streetcar. Architects are still working to complete the church using Gaudí´s sketches and models, over 100 years after it was started.
Famous Buildings in Spain
One of the most striking buildings in Spain is the Andalusia pavilion created for Expo´92, a large, international fair that took place in Seville in 1992. The pavilion, which presented information about southern Spain, is a rounded blue tower that has many small windows and looks like it is leaning to one side.
The city of Bilbao, in northern Spain, is home to a masterpiece of modern architecture, the Guggenheim Museum. This art gallery, which opened in 1997, houses an international collection of modern art. It was designed by Frank Gehry, a Canadian who lives in the United States, to look like a shimmering beached whale from the outside. Inside, the Guggenheim looks like a mechanical heart. Its nineteen galleries, which are similar to the chambers of the human heart, are connected by glass elevators and suspended metal walkways.