14 Masterpieces of Gothic Architecture in Spain

14 Masterpieces of Gothic Architecture in Spain

A list of some of the most beautiful churches and palaces in gothic style in Spain

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Spain
Kasper Christiansen
Text & photos: Kasper Christiansen
22. December, 2020

Spain has a beautiful collection of gothic architecture spread out over the whole country. Barcelona even has a neighborhood called The Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic), filled with spectacular architecture in gothic style. Here you find buildings like the King's Palace, and churches like Santa María del Mar, Santa María del Pí, the townhall and the Cathedral.

Further south and to the east the Catalans built gothic buildings in Valencia and on the Balearic Islands: in the capital of Mallorca, you will find one of the biggest gothic churches in Spain.

‘‘In Spain, beautiful Gothic architecture is spread all over the country’’

But to find the earliest examples of gothic architecture, you will need to go the centre of the country: in Burgos and Ávila two magnificent cathedrals were built. And in Andalucía, in Seville, the Cathedral of Virgin Mary is the biggest gothic church in the world.

Kasper Christiansen

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Gothic architecture in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona
Gothic architecture in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona - on the photo, the royal palace and the Santa Agatha church

The origin of Gothic Architecture

Gothic architecture evolved from Romanesque style during the 12th century. Architecture became radically different from earlier because of several structural inventions: the churches became much bigger and taller than the small churches of the Romanesque period.

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The structural improvements were made by several inventions in engineering: these are ribbed vaults, pointed arches, flying buttress. These inventions, on the other hand made it possible to make the windows much bigger, including the creation of stained-glass windows with tracery.

 

Characteristics of Gothic Architecture
  • Pointed arches
  • Ribbed vaults
  • Slender columns
  • Big mullion rose windows with tracery
  • Elaborated artworks in wood, bronze and oil paintings for interiors

Gothic architecture was developed in France, and in the first years, the new building style became known in Europe simply as Opus Francigenum, the French Work. The first gothic building is considered being the Abbey Church of Sainte Denis built by Abbot Suger in the 1140's.

The early gothic buildings (from 1140 to 1200) later gave way to the 'Rayonnant Gothic' of the 13th and 14th century, characterized by more ornamentation, thinner walls, bigger windows and elaborate geometric designs, and finally the 'Flamboyant Gothic' from 1375 to approximately 1550, characterized by flame-like shapes in tracery,

When did Gothic architecture arrive to Spain?

It took a few decades after the Gothic structure was developed for the new type of architecture to cross the border into Spain.

It first arrived to the north west and center of the country and the first gothic buildings in Spain are the cathedrals of Burgos, Ávila and Cuenca, all three begun construction in the first decades of the 13th century. It took longer for the gothic architecture to arrive further south, and it did not arrive to Barcelona until the 1260's.

Gothic Art

Gothic art is often religious art, but daily life and historic events start to enter art.

Main characteristics of the Gothic art
  • Frescos
  • Oil painting (that evolved into the elaborate Renaissance paintings)
  • Stained glass
  • Manuscripts
  • Panel painting
Gothic Art
Gothic Art - Oil painting from the MNAC Museum, Saint Augustin

14 Gothic works of architecture & Art in Spain

1

The cathedral of Seville

The cathedral of Seville (La Catedral de Santa María de la Sede) is the biggest gothic cathedral in the world, and the third biggest church in the world. It was finished early in the 15th century.

The cathedral stands on top of an earlier mosque, and it still has several Islamic elements. The most important Islamic elements that have been conserved are the beautiful bell tower, La Giralda, and the entrance Puerta del perdón, a beautiful horseshoe arch that was the original main entrance to the mosque. Both were built by the Almohads, who had control in Spain from 1147 to 1248. The cathedral has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1987.

The Cathedral of Seville
The Cathedral of Seville - one of the most beautiful gothic monasteries in Spain

2

The Cathedral of the Saviour (Ávila)

The Cathedral of Ávila (La Catedral del Salvador) was built in later Romanesque and Gothic style with posterior Renaissance and Baroque elements added. It is both a church and a fortress.

The cathedral is one of the very first gothic cathedrals built in Spain, and there is great resemblance with the Abbey Church of St Denis in France - the first gothic church in the world. It was started by Girald Fruchel, who came from France, hired by Alfonso VII. It was probably built between 1160 and 1180 AD. It is known that Fruchel died in 1192 and therefore the construction comes to halt. The aisles date from the 13th century.

The Cathedral of Ávila
The Cathedral of Ávila - detail from the Western entrance

3

The Cathedral of Burgos

The cathedral of Burgos in one of the most important gothic buildings in Spain. Construction was finished in record time in the 13th century, but the church was later modified various times in the 15th and 16th century with renaissance and baroque elements and later in the 18th century.

The first stone was places in 1221, with the King Ferdinand III of Castile being present. One of the inspirations was the French cathedral of Reims. Already in 1238, most of the transept were finished and in 1260 the religious temple was consecrated.

The church contains important art works by the Flemish sculptors Gil de Siloé and Martín de la Haya. The church is - as the only Spanish cathedral - one UNESCO's World Heritage List without belonging to a city (this is the case of other Spanish UNESCO cathedrals like Santiago de Compostela, Ávila, Córdoba, Toledo and Cuenca)

In recent years, the church has undergone an important restauration, that has costed more than   30 million Euros.

The cathedral of Burgos
The Cathedral of Burgos - one of the most beautiful gothic monasteries in Spain

4

The Monastery of Santes Creus

The Monastery of Santa Maria de Santes Creus (in Catalan: Reial Monestir de Santa Maria de Santes Creus) is a Cistercian monastery in Aiguamúrcia from the 11th century. However, the present monastery was built later, in the 13th century by the count of Barcelona and King of Aragon, Pere III, who wanted a royal crypt. Later, the royal crypt was transferred to the nearby Monastery of Poblet, another Cistercian Monastery in the area.

The monastery of Santes Creus
The monastery of Santes Creus - forms part of the Cistercian triangle in Catalonia

5

Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona

The impressive church of Santa María del Mar was built in just 54 years (from 1329 to 1383) to protect people at Sea. The church is located in Barcelona's Born Quarter, that has many other gothic buildings.

The church has famously been the center of attention in the novel Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones, that sold many millions of copies and was turned into a Netflix series in 2018. The novel tells the story of Arnau and his rise from a builder (bastaix) on the church to the novel society in 14th century Barcelona.

Santa María del Mar, Barcelona
Santa María del Mar, Barcelona - a magnificent basilica in gothic style

6

The Monastery of Pedrables (Barcelona)

The Monastery of Pedrables is a gothic monastery in Barcelona's Pedrables neighborhood. The building is made in white stone and the name Petras Albas (white stone in latin) developed into Pedrables. The Monastery was built for Jaume II and Elisanda de Aragón in 1326. There is a beautiful church annexed to the monastery, the chapel of Saint Michael.

The Poor Clares were living in the monastery until recently and they still live in the area, after the monastery was turned into a museum.

The Monastery of Pedralbes
The Monastery of Pedralbes - one of the most beautiful gothic monasteries in Spain

7

The cathedral of Palma

According to the myth, construction on the Cathedral of Palma (La Seu) was begun immediately after Jaume I conquered the island on New Year's Eve in 1229. However, most scholars agree, that work on the church was not begun until 1306. Until it was finished, the former mosque was used for worship. Construction ended in 1601 and today, it is one of the most impressive cathedrals in Spain.

Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, later added details in the church between 1904 and 1914.

The westerns facade (the formed main entrance) is called the Portal Mayor. This is not gothic but renaissance style in 1594 by the sculptor Antoni Verger. The facade is adorned with a statue of the Virgin Mary (the Immaculate Conception) and 15 symbols of Marian litanies like the Sun and the Moon, the Fountain of Life and the wholy spirit.

A Latin phrase pronounces an ode to Virign Mary from the fourth century. The text in Latin has the following meaning "All beautiful you are, my friend, and the original sin is not in you":

"Tota Pulcra es, amica mea, et macula originalis non est in te"

Above is a coffered vault like a triumphal arch. Further up is the largest rose window in a gothic cathedral in the world, measuring almost 100m2. Four figures surround May: Ramon Llull, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Catalina Tomàs.

The Cathedral of Palma -
The Cathedral of Palma - one of the most beautiful gothic monasteries in Spain

8

Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes (Toledo)

One of the most impressive buildings in Toledo, the Franciscan Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes was built in Isabelline Style - a transitional style between gothic and renaissance that was the dominant architectural style of the Crown of Castile during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabel I of Castile. The style combines Castilian tradition, Flemish and  Mudéjar. Heraldic motifs like the yoke and the arrows and the pomegranate are omnipresent.

The monastery was built between 1477 and 1504. Isabel was planned to be buried in the church, but when Granada was conquered, the Catholic Monarch changed the idea and were buried in the Royal Chapel by the cathedral of Granada.

San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo
San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo - a fantastic gothic masterpiece

9

The Generalitat of Barcelona

The Generalitat is the main seat of the regional government of Catalonia. The building complex consists of various styles made in different periods, from early to late, flamboyant gothic style, to renaissance and baroque elements. The facace of the building, that includes a sculpture of Saint George (the Patron Saint of Catalonia) by Andreu Aleu, is of a new date and is designed in renaissance style.

The chapel of Saint George is one of the most impressive elements of the Generalit, built in flamboyant with elaborate tracery. The central courtyard was designed by Marc Safont from 1424, but the pavement is of later date, made by Tomas Barça and Antoni Carbonell in 1545.

Generalitat, Barcelona
The Generalitat - flamboyant style with stone tracery

10

Valencia's cathedral

The cathedral of Valencia (the full name is the Metropolitan Cathedral–Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia) was built over a former Visigoth cathedral on the same place. The main style of the church is Gothic, but it also has Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque elements. The Porta de l'Almoina dates to the 1260's and 70's in Romanesque style with clear mudejar influence. The Porta dels Ferros is designed in Baroque style by a German architect Konrad Rudolf.

Most of the church was built between the 15th and the 17th century. The bell tower, called El 'Miguelete' (1381-1425) was built separated from the church but it was later joined with the main structure. The tower measures around 60 meters in height.

The Cathedral of Valencia
The Cathedral of Valencia - on the photo we see the flamboyant style elements in the bell tower and facade

11

The Royal Palace of Barcelona

The King's Palace in Barcelona (Palau Reial Mayor) is a complex of historic buildings in the Plaça del Rei of Barcelona. It was the residence of the counts of Barcelona and the Kings of Aragon.

The Square contains three different buildings: the Chapel of Saint Agatha (built by Jaume II in 1302), the Palace of the Lieutenant (built by Charles V in 1549) and the Saló de Tinell (built by Pere IV between 1359 and 1362).

The gothic King's Palace in Barcelona
The King's Square in Barcelona - the gothic King's Palace in Barcelona.

12

The Llotja de la Seda of Valencia

The Llotja de la Seda in Valencia, is a beautiful Gothic structure, that dates from 1482 to 1548. It was inspired by a similar Llotja in Palma (Mallorca) and was designed by Pere Compta. The building was used as Commodity Exchange, and the building's trading hall, the "Hall of Columns" (see the photo below) is a beautiful space with 24 twisted pillars covering close to 800 m2.

The building has been a National Historic and Artistic Monuments since 1931 and a UNESCO World Heritage building since 1996. UNESCO writes the following text about the Llotja:

"The site is of outstanding universal value as it is a wholly exceptional example of a secular building in late Gothic style, which dramatically illustrates the power and wealth of one of the great Mediterranean mercantile cities.
The Llotja of Valencia
The Llotja of Valencia - a commodity exchange

13

The cathedral of Girona

The cathedral of Girona is located in the historic centre of the city, and is famous for having the widest nave in a gothic cathedral in the world. Most of the church is made in Gothic style, but there are also romanesque elements. The main facade is of a newer date, designed in Classicist-Baroque style, finished in 1733. The facade has with sculptures of Saint Peter, Saint Paul and the Virgin Mary.

One of the most important treasures from the cathedral, is the Tapestry of Creation (Tapiz románico de la Creación) - a Romanesque (the period before Gothic style) needlework from the end of the 11th century that represents the Creation of the World .

The cathedral of Girona
The cathedral of Girona - the church with the widest nave in the world from the gothic period

14

The cathedral of Toledo

The cathedral of Toledo (the full name is Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo) was built in the 13th century in high gothic style. However, there are also later Renaissance and Baroque elements. In the triforium, there are mudejar elements: multifoiled or cusped arches.

The Capilla Mayor has an enormous golden altar and behind you will find The Transparente, that symbolizes the ascent to Heaven. In the sacristía (sacristy), you will find marvelous paintings by Caravaggio, Titian, El Greco, Raphael, Zurbarán, Van Dyck, and Velázquez. El Greco arrived in Spain in 1576 and settled in Toledo, so you can see works of him in many churches in Toledo other than the cathedral.

The cathedral of Toledo
The cathedral of Toledo - a massive gothic structure in the city center of Toledo

 

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