I’m typically not much of an architecture guy, but in both Valencia and Barcelona, there were a couple of buildings with which I fell in love. The common theme was that the buildings seemed to re-imagine gothic architecture in graceful modern forms.
First up was the Ciutat de les Artes. It’s a series of buildings at the end of what used to be the river Turia. In the ’80 the Turia was diverted to prevent flooding, and the riverbed became a massive park running through the whole city. The 8 buildings they put up at the end of the park make you wonder what other cities would do if they suddenly discovered a massive stretch of public land in the middle of the town. I didn’t find the rest of Valencia that impressive, but these buildings alone make the city a reasonable tourist destination. We spent a whole day wandering through them and then exploring Oceanografic, the largest aquarium in Europe which is at the end of the Ciutat de les Artes.
The picture above is the back side of the Science Museum. Meant to evoke a whale skeleton, it was the building that most invoked gothic style to me, just a long series of flying buttresses propping up a large lofty ceiling. Below on the left, you see the same building at night from the other direction with El Puente de l’Assut de l’Or (bridge and tallest structure int he city) and L’Àgora (covered plaza for things like tennis tournaments). To the right is the Hemispheric, which houses a wicked wrap around IMAX screen with headsets that cater to almost any language preference.
Further up the coast in Barcelona the great architecture continued at the Sagrada Familia, the second place site that claimed to be the most visited destination in Spain. This cathedral, which is very much still a building site, is the final masterpiece of the blindingly brilliant Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi died while construction was slowing and the building was only a fraction complete. Then shortly after his death all the plans and models were destroyed in the Spanish Civil War. Construction is now back on pace, and thanks in no small part to healthy tourist revenues, the building is back on track to be finished sometime in the next half century or so. You can see in the pictures below (which are both rather poor, apologies) that the style is imagining gothic cathedral styles in natural forms. So the pillars become trees, and the vaulted ceilings are a bed of flowers. It’s an impressive place, and I hope to be able to go back and see it when it’s finished. In the meantime it’s well worth the long queue and high price to wander around. Make sure to get the audio guide and take the lift to the top of the spires.
So in the end, many thanks to Spain and your beautiful public architecture. I know I missed some of the great ones, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, but glad for the splendors I was able to enjoy.
There are more than 220 million olive trees in Spain, giving it the largest surface area of olive production of any country. And those olives, and the all of their byproducts, are delicious.
Nearly every great landscape view in Andelucia was filled with rolling hills of olive trees. We drove through them on our way south from Madrid to Seville, and promptly started ordering a plate of olives with every meal. We drove by olive oil factories, learned how to order just about any type of olive product in Spanish, and after a little while it felt like my blood was turning into olive oil.
The climax of the olive experience came when we reached the small town of Ubeda, in Jaen province of Andelucia. Our first evening in town I wandered past the church in the middle of town and was rewarded with the view above. We headed back in the morning to see great views of the olive covered hills rolling off into the distance where they met the mountains, like you see below.
After a solid hour enjoying the views, I knew we had to chase down a closer encounter with olives, and started asking around to see if we could find an olive oil factory, or tour of any nature. One lady seemed to have an idea – a little place called La Laguna that wasn’t on any of our maps and received no mention in Lonely Planet. It look a good leap of faith, and a bit of hunting, but we eventually found it. As you can see on google maps, it’s not more than a compound out in a in a sea of olive trees. But that compound is fantastic, including a cheap hotel, bar, restaurant, and the Museo de la Cultura del Olivo. It’s build on an old olive processing site, so has giant vats for olive oil in the basement, as well as 24 types of olive trees from all over the Mediterranean and 3 different type of historic olive presses above ground. There are some signs in broken English, but if you love olives anywhere nearly as much as I do, they will be more than enough to keep you captivated for a long while as you explore the many uses and falvours of olives.
On the advice of a couple of other travellers, we wound our way over to Cordoba to see the old town and the Great Mosque – one of the greatest Islamic buildings in Spain, and one of the largest mosques ever built. It was indeed a pretty splendid building, a sea of columns with some fantastic treasures including a wall that was a mosaic of gold. It was a rough place to get a picture that really captured a sense of the space though, but it was very magnificent inside.
Unfortunately, the whole place left a bad flavour in my mouth because of the information pamphlet they gave out at the door. The whole thing had a condescending tone towards Islam, first off calling what everyone calls the Grand Mosque is called the the Grand Cathedral, and then diminishing the splendour of the mosque by saying:
Thus the beauty of the Cathedral of Cordoba does not reside in its architectural grandeur, but in the apostolic succession of the Bishop as a symbol of his pastoral service and the unity of the Church, founded upon the Word of the Lord, the sacraments, and the community of believers.
I just don’t understand why they have felt the need to diminish the grandeur of the building or the contribution of the culture that built most of it. Another choice line was:
It is a historical fact that the basilica of San Vincente was expropriated and destroyed in order to build what would later be the Mosque, a reality that questions the theme of tolerance that was supposedly cultivated in the Cordobra of the moment.
So here they are bashing the Islamic empire for a lack of tolerance in a pamphlet that is itself contains. It also condemns the destruction of the historical building, yet the Catholics plunked a massive cathedral right in the middle of the mosque. In any case, if you are in Andalucia, it is well worth seeing the building but I’d avoid the pamphlet.
This massive castle/palace complex claims to be the most visited site in Spain. Though Sagrada Familia in Barcelona also makes the same claim, the Alhambra is undoubtedly the best camera candy in the country. There has been some sort of palace/fortification on the site since at least the 11th century, with major construction taking place in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was the last hold out of the Islamic empire in Iberia, eventually captured by the Christians in 1492. In the 16th century Carlos V built a whole new palace on the grounds. But after that attention shifted away and the whole complex started a slow slide into disrepair until it started to attract tourists in the 19th century.
We spent a solid day wandering around the grounds, starting before sunrise as we had to queue up early in the morning to get some of the limited number of tickets to the Palacios Nazaries – the old Islamic palace. You can see one of the stunning ceilings from Nazaries above and a view out some of the windows looking over the city of Grenada below.