- the alternative guide to Spain
finest cathedrals in Spain
From Romanesque to modern, the most beautiful and interesting
cathedrals in Spain
facade of the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela
As one might expect in a country whose
history has been heavily marked by Catholicism, Spain is a country with
many magnificent cathedrals. So many, indeed, that it is very hard to
decide which are the
ten best cathedrals in Spain. While there are some, such as the UNESCO
World Heritage site cathedrals at Santiago de Compostela, Burgos or
Cordoba that should feature in anyone's listing of the ten best
cathedrals in Spain, the tail of the list is less easy to establish.
There is even considerable disagreement as to
which is the oldest cathedral in Spain. Is it Jaca, in the Pyrenees,
with its Romanesque elements from the twelfth century? Or is it the
10th - 12th century basilica at Foz, in Galicia, which is not actually
a cathedral, though was one in the past? Or is it the cathedral at
Cordoba, which is undoubtedly the oldest... but not really the oldest
cathedral, since it was a mosque until the 13th century?
Experts will agree to disagree.
In all there are over 90 cathedrals in Spain, plus
some other major religious edifices, and virtually every one of them is
an impressive building in its own right.The architectural map of
Spain's cathedrals is unique among nations, as it reflects the slow
rechristianisation of Spain, after the Moorish period. The oldest
cathedrals in the north, where the Reconquest began in the Middle Ages,
later, more Baroque cathedrals in the south, the last part of Spain to
Spain's cathedral-building history continues to
this day, if we consider Gaudi's unfinished Sagrada Familia, in
Barcelona, to be a cathedral, which it is in size and concept, if not
in its official denomination. The list below is a choice of the ten
and most significant cathedrals in Spain, in the humble opinion of its
most impressive and significant cathedrals in Spain.
de Compostela (Galicia) - UNESCO World Heritage
site. Europe's most famous pilgrimage church since the Middle Ages, the
cathedral at Santiago is a magnet not just for pilgrims, but for anyone
interested in Europe's historic heritage. Not surprisingly, having been
a major European landmark for over 900 years, the church has been added
to periodically; and always lavishly. This single building is a
one-stop history of Spanish and European architecture from the 11th to
the 18th centuries. Essentially a romanesque structure, it also has
much fine work in the gothic and Spanish baroque styles.
- Mezquita. UNESCO
World Heritage site.
The Catedral -
Mezquita in Cordoba
Though the gothic cathedral in the middle of the
building is a fine structure in its own right, the completely unique
feature of Cordoba's cathedral is that most of the building was
originally a mosque. The great mosque of Cordoba, built between the 8th
and the 10th centuries, was once the second largest mosque of Islam,
after Mecca. It was converted for use as a cathedral after the
reconquest, then, 3 centuries later, part of the centre was pulled down
to make place for a more traditional cathedral. However when Emperor
Charles V came to inspect the new cathedral, he was horrified, and is
quoted as saying to the Cordoban bishop "You have destroyed something
that was unique in the world, to make something ordinary". Fortunately,
most of the old mosque is still there, making this one of the essential
stops on any cultural tour of Spain.
(Castila y Leon) - Catedral
de Santa María de Burgos - UNESCO
World Heritage site. Spain's most purely European gothic
cathedral, built between the 13th and the 16th centuries. This is a
European cathedral that would not seem out of place in France or
Germany or even England. Building of the cathedral was begun by
Ferdinand III of Castile and Bishop Maurice, born in England; and the
principal architects over time were one from France - possibly Jean de
Champagne - and later a German architect Johannes von Köln,
who brought the high Gothic style to Spain.
with the Giralda tower on the left
de Santa María de la Sede. UNESCO
World Heritage site. Covering 11,520 m², this is the
biggest gothic cathedral in the world, and the second largest cathedral
in Europe, after St. Peter's Rome. Originally built in the fifteenth
century, after the Reconquest, the cathedral was partially destroyed a
few years later when the dome collapsed. It was rebuilt, but the new
dome was destroyed by an earthquake in 1888. The rest of the cathedral
survived, and is lavishly decorated, a sign of Seville's wealth. Apart
from the gothic and later baroque decoration of its interior and
exterior, Seville cathedral is noteworthy for two other points; firstly
its tower, la Giralda, which is much older, being originally the 12th
century Almohad minaret for Seville's mosque. Secondly for the tomb of
Christopher Columbus, who is buried here.
(Castila y Leon) .
The oldest gothic cathedral in Spain, built between
the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. Earlier, and consequently less
ornate than many of Spain's other gothic cathedrals, Avila cathedral
has a classic gothic portal, as seen in many of the great French
cathedrals. The cathedral is also part of the city's unique
and has an interesting 16th century cloister
Familia : Gaudi's remarkable 20th century concrete
cathedral, consecrated in 2010, and strictly speaking a basilica rather
than a cathedral, is still being built, but has already been declared a
UNESCO world heritage site. This is a unique art-nouveau variation on
the classic gothic cathedral, and one of the principal tourist sites in
Catalonia. Completion is scheduled for the year 2026. Barcelona also
has a mediaeval gothic cathedral, though with a 19th century gothic
facade,. the Catédral de la Santa Cruz.
(Castila y Leon) -
Salamanca has two cathedrals, joined to
each other. Over the centuries, old mediaeval cathedrals and
churches in many cities were either destroyed or largely
modified, to make room for new cathedrals in the style of the new age.
But in Salamanca, when they decided to build a new cathedral in the
16th century, they foresaw many decades of work, so kept the old
cathedral operating, and built the new one right alongside it. The 12th
century late romanesque "old cathedral", which thus never got
demolished or much changed, is a remarkable building, notably
on account of its magnificent gilt and painted apse, decorated in the
14th century. The new cathedral, consecrated in 1733, is one of the
last classic gothic cathedrals built, at a time when most of the rest
of Europe had moved on to neo-classicism or baroque.
y Leon) - Another of Spain's great romanesque cathedrals,
dating from the twelfth century. This twelfth century cathedral is
particularly interesting for its romanesque architecture and
decoration, but also for the fact that it is part of a defensive
enclave within the city. The transept is capped by a dome that was
surely inspired by the early 12th century byzantine-style domes of St.
Front cathedral in Perigueux, France; the bishop of Zamora in the early
12th century was Bernard de Périgord.
- (Castila y Leon) Santa
María de León. Leon was a
major point on
the pilgrimage route to Compostela, and in the 13th century it was
decided to replace the old romanesque cathedral with a new gothic
cathedral, in the style of other great cathedrals along the pilgrimage
routes from France and beyond. With its rose window and flying
buttresses, this is a classic high gothic cathedral, particularly noted
for its fine stained-glass windows. Also in Leon, the basilica of San
Isidoro, with its pantheon of the kings of Leon, is one of the great
romanesque monuments in Spain.
- Two cathedrals in one, the
cathedral at Plasencia tells a strange story, that of a
romanesque-gothic cathedral being stopped while half built, and another
late gothic - platresque cathedral, on a very different scale, being
built to a different plan, on more or less the same site. The result is
two half cathedrals. The byzantine-romanesque chapter house of the old
cathedral is particularly interesting and unusual.
Among the other cathedrals in Spain, the following are particularly
recommended : Jaca, Saragossa, Lleida (Lerida),
Jaen, Granada, Valencia, and Cadiz.