Four of Spain's lesser-known architectural wonders

From chapels to skyscrapers, the Iberian interior is littered with architectural treasures.

By Stephen Phelan
Published 31 May 2021, 06:05 BST
Barcelona holds many of architect Antoni Gaudí's most celebrated works, but more of his masterpieces — including ...

Barcelona holds many of architect Antoni Gaudí's most celebrated works, but more of his masterpieces — including the Episcopal Palace of Astorga — can be discovered outside of the Catalan capital. 

Photograph by Getty Images

1. The unsung ancient city 

Not far outside the Islamic-gothic bastion that is Seville, the lesser-known ancient Roman settlement of Italica is a semi-ruin of aristocratic mansions and swirling mosaics around an amphitheatre that seated 25,000. Believed to be the birthplace of emperors Trajan and Hadrian, its modern profile was raised by appearing in TV show Game of Thrones

2. The historic skyscraper

The Telefónica Building was Madrid’s first skyscraper when it opened in 1929, and soon became both a bombing target and an air raid shelter during the Spanish Civil War. Today, it hosts regular art exhibits behind a beautifully restored facade fusing Spanish baroque and New York art deco styles. 

3. The remote chapel

This dinky Romanesque chapel of Santa Margarida de Sacot gets its outsized oomph from its otherwordly location within a volcanic crater in Catalonia’s Garrotxa region. Historians think the medieval original was built for spiritual defence against molten hellfire below, though it was destroyed by a 15th-century earthquake and replaced in 1865. 

4. Gaudí’s hidden palace 

Barcelona doesn’t have a monopoly on the genius of Antoni Gaudí. The unruly architect, whose works dot the Catalan capital, was also called to rural León to design the Episcopal Palace of Astorga: a castle-like vision of spires and moats for the Bishop of Astorga. It’s now a museum to the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail, which passes nearby.

Published in the June 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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