Historical Sites in Spain

Historical sites in Spain can be found everywhere in the country. There are more than 40 Spain UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country, and almost all these have historical significance. Some of these, like the 17 caves of Altamira in northern Spain with their Paleolithic cave art are ancient, having been created between 11,000 and 35,000 years BCE. There are also late prehistoric rock art sites along the Mediterranean seaboard. The archaeological site of Atapuerca on the northern coast of the country are even more ancient, with fossils recovered that date more than a million years ago. Most of the country’s historical sites are much more modern, relatively speaking, beginning with the Tower of Hercules, a Greco-Roman lighthouse that has guided ships on the northwestern coast since about 100 years after the death of Christ. This is the only ancient Greco-Roman lighthouse to have retained a good portion of its structural integrity and to have a continuous history as a functioning lighthouse.

Serra de Tramuntana

Serra de Tramuntana
Serra de Tramuntana

Some of the Spain UNESCO Sites are cultural, such as the cultural landscapes of Serra de Tramuntana. This is a harsh mountain range along the northwestern coast of the island of Mallorca. Thousands of years of agriculture in this unforgiving landscape has left an extensive network of terraces, interconnected irrigation waterworks, aqueducts, and water mills.

Alhambra

Alhambra
Alhambra

One of the most iconic historical sites in Spain is the Alhambra, located in the southern city of Granada, which together with the Albaycin and Generalife Gardens atop adjacent hills comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Albaycin is a residential district with extraordinary Moorish architecture, and the magnificent Alhambra is a beautiful royal residence once occupied by the emirs who ruled Spain. Its serene beauty rivals that of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela

The Old Town of this celebrated pilgrimage site commemorates the struggle of Spanish Christians against Islam during the Moorish period. It was destroyed by the Muslims in the tenth century and rebuilt from the ground up during the next century. Buildings in the district include baroque, Gothic, and Romanesque architecture grouped around the magnificent St. James Cathedral. Santiago de Compostela is only one of the historical sites in Spain to encompass an entire city district. Other Spain UNESCO Sites that include entire districts are the city of Toledo made famous by the Crete artist El Greco, the Old Town of Avila, the Old Town of Segovia, the Old Town of Caceres, and the Old City of Salamanca.

Las Medulas

Las Medulas
Las Medulas

This is a remarkable landscape created by a unique first century AD Roman gold mining technique called “Ruina Montium” that used water hydraulically to undermine mountains. Large portions of the seven or more ancient Roman aqueducts, which can be found near the town of Ponferrada, remain intact today. As with strip mining in the United States and elsewhere, the Romans left behind a devastated landscape that today is extraordinarily beautiful and a valuable chronicle of the period.

Vall de Boi

Vall de Boi
Vall de Boi

The largest concentration of Romanesque art and architecture is to be found in this valley of northern Spain near the border with France. There are nine exceptionally well-preserved churches from the period of Catalonia that flourished in the twelfth century. This ensemble of lovely churches comprises one of the Spain UNESCO Sites because of the way it preserves the cultural landscape of that period.

Seville Cathedral

Seville Cathedral
Seville Cathedral

Together, the three buildings—the Seville Cathedral, Alcazar, and Archivo de Indias—form one of the Spain UNESCO Sites of monumental significance. The cathedral in Seville is the largest Gothic building in Europe and houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The elegant minaret on the Alcazar is a masterpiece of Moorish Almhad architecture, and the Archivo de Indias is the repository of thousands of historical documents from the New World.

The Works of Antoni Gaudi

The Works of Antoni Gaudi
Casa Mila (La Pedrera) by Antoni Gaudi

Some of the most modern of the historical sites in Spain are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are seven properties built by the architect Gaudi (who died in 1926) around the city of Barcelona. These buildings, which include Casa Batllo and La Pedrera (pictured), are of eclectic design and superb examples of the architectural technology that blossomed during the turn of the twentieth century. The still uncompleted La Sagrada Familia Cathedral is a hymn to the architect’s brilliance and faith.

Hospital de Sant Pau

Hospital de Sant Pau
Hospital de Sant Pau

As with the Gaudi structures, this is one of the historical sites in Spain that is quite modern. It was built in Barcelona between 1901 and 1930 by the modernist architect Montaner, and functioned as a hospital until 2009. Now it is refurbished as a cultural center and museum.

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