Art History Lab

Exploring the Rich and Diverse History of Spanish Architecture

Intricate arches, soaring towers, decorated facades, and vibrant colors – Spanish architecture is a blend of different cultures, spanning back centuries to its earliest days. The countrys architecture has evolved through various periods of cultural exchange, from Prehistoric times to Roman and Islamic periods, each having left their mark on the land and its buildings.

Lets take a closer look at how Spains architectural style came to be through the early days of Spanish architecture and the Christian and Islamic influences that shaped it.

Early Days of Spanish Architecture

Stone Age Spain, also known as the Neolithic period, is marked by the construction of burial mounds and megaliths – such as the dolmens of Antequera in Andalusia. These prehistoric structures are mostly associated with rituals and burials, and not much is known about their development or purposes.

The Bronze Age introduced more sophisticated building techniques, and the Iberian Peninsula was home to the Tartessians and the Celts whose fortified villages protected them from invaders. The arrival of the Romans in the 3rd century BC brought with it significant changes to the Iberian Peninsulas architecture.

The Roman presence brought technology, urbanization, and improved building materials like concrete and bricks – reinforcing and developing what would become the magnificent edifices of the future. Roman construction in Spain followed the same pattern as elsewhere in the empire, developing networks of roads, aqueducts, and ports.

The Roman Theatre of Merida, surrounded by remains of a temple and forum, and the Bridge of Alcantara, built in 106 AD, stand as the most prominent constructions of the time. In the first century AD, the Roman Empire constructed an imposing wall along the modern-day border of Asturias and Galicia, marking the end of their territorial conquest.

The Tower of Hercules, built around this time, became one of the most critical buildings of the era, serving as a lighthouse for sailors and symbolizing the importance of navigation to the commerce of the Iberian Peninsula.

Christian and Islamic Influences on Spanish Architecture

The 8th century witnessed the spread of Islam from North Africa, with the Moors occupying and influencing much of Spain for the next 800 years. They left a significant impact on Spain’s architecture, and the mudjar style evolved from this Islamic influence, which blended Islamic and Christian building techniques and styles.

The pre-Romanesque style emerged in the Asturian region around the 8th and 9th centuries. It is characterized by its sturdy construction with small windows and doorways arches, and decoration with ornamental arcades and lattice wrought ironwork.

The Palace of San Giovanni at Naranco and the Church of Santa Maria del Naranco in Oviedo are significant examples of pre-Romanesque architecture. The Romanesque epoch dominated European architecture from the 10th to the 12th century, characterized by round arches, sturdy structure, and barrel-vaulted roofs.

The style emphasized simple geometric forms rather than intricate decoration, with a focus on functionality over ornamentation. The Spanish Romanesque buildings feature a wider use of arches and the influence of the Mudjar art.

The Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, built between 1563 and 1584, combines Renaissance and the austere Spanish Baroque styles; it is a great example of the influence of Romanesque and Mudjar styles in Spanish architecture. The Moors also influenced Spanish architecture through their buildings and technology.

They introduced the horseshoe arch, which became a hallmark of many Islamic structures and mosques. The Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra of Granada are two of Spains most magnificent Islamic landmarks, boasting intricate designs, beautiful floral motifs, and abstract shapes.

Spanish Jews, known as Sephardic Jews, also made a significant impact on Spanish architecture, integrating Islamic and Jewish traditions. Jewish synagogues and quarters are visible in cities such as Toledo, Segovia, and Girona.

El Transito Synagogue in Toledo was built in the 14th century, offering visitors a glimpse into the majestic Mudjar designs on its walls and ceilings as well as its calligraphic inscriptions.


In conclusion, Spanish architecture is a fascinating story of evolution, responding to powerful influences emanating from the cultures that inhabited and ruled Spain over the last two millennia. From the prehistoric rock and stone structures to the Roman conquests, through the interplay of Christian and Islamic styles, Spains architecture is the result of a unique mix of efficient construction and decoration with vibrant colors, often with an unmistakable Arabic flourish.

Understanding these influences lets us in on the nuances and beautiful variations in the Spanish architectural style.

Italian Influences on Spanish Architecture

The Italian Renaissance had a profound impact on Spanish architecture, with the 16th-century Plateresque style emerging as a result of this influence. The term “Plateresque” comes from the Spanish word for “silversmiths,” alluding to the decorative silver work that inspired the ornate faades of the buildings.

This style is characterized by its richly-decorated surfaces, elaborate motifs, and asymmetrical designs, which contrast with the stark simplicity of the Gothic and Renaissance styles. The Real Casa de la Panadera in Madrid and the San Pedro Church in Teruel are examples of Plateresque architecture.

In the 17th century, the Baroque style flourished in Spain. Influenced by the Counter-Reformation, this style saw the dramatic use of light and shade, oval spaces, curving lines, and irregular shapes.

The Churrigueresque style, popular in the Baroque era, was named after the Churriguera family of sculptors and architects. This style emphasized ornamental, decorative details, with intricate carvings and flamboyant forms.

The Palace of Monterrey in Salamanca and the Church of San Lorenzo in Salamanca are two renowned examples of Churrigueresque style architecture. In the 18th century, the Neoclassical style emerged in Spain, marked by its strict symmetrical designs and Roman revival elements.

The purified lines and balanced compositions of this style were intended to evoke the purity of ancient Greece and Rome. The Herrerian style, named after Juan de Herrera, Philip II’s court architect, exemplifies the Neoclassical style.

The Royal Palace of Aranjuez and the Royal Palace of Madrid are two famous examples of Herrerian style architecture.

Arrival of Modern Forms in Spanish Architecture

In the 19th century, Spain saw the influence of the Renaissance and Gothic Revival styles, which resulted in a resurgence of Gothic Spanish architecture. The

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, designed by Antoni Gaudi, exemplifies the Gothic Revival style.

Gaudi’s unique style includes the incorporation of organic forms and materials into the architecture, like ceramics and wrought iron. The

Sagrada Familia is known for its towering spires, intricate stained glass windows, and unusual shapes.

In the 20th century, Spain witnessed the arrival of minimalist and regionalist architecture. Minimalist architecture involves stripping away excess ornamentation and complexity, favoring simplicity and clean lines.

The minimalist style was exemplified by the LIlla Diagonal commercial center in Barcelona, designed by Rafael Moneo. The regionalist style, on the other hand, was an attempt to recapture the essence of Spain’s regional architecture and traditions.

The Spanish Colonial Revival is an example of the regionalist style. This style borrows heavily from Spanish architecture found in former colonies like Mexico and the Philippines.


From the earliest days of Spanish architecture to its modern forms, the country has always been influenced by a multitude of cultures. The Italian Renaissance, Neoclassical styles, and the arrival of modern minimalist and regionalist architecture all brought their unique elements to the rich tapestry that is Spanish architecture.

The evolution of the Spanish architecture style reflects the many cultural influences that have shaped the country over centuries, making it one of the richest and most fascinating architectural styles in the world.

Famous Spanish Buildings

Spain is renowned for its remarkable architecture, spanning from prehistoric stone monuments to modern avant-garde constructions. Here are five famous Spanish buildings that highlight the country’s architectural diversity and artistic innovation.

Alczar of Segovia

Located atop a rocky cliff in Segovia, the

Alczar of Segovia is a castle-palace that dates back to the Romanesque era. The Alczar has undergone various modifications throughout its history, with the most prominent being the addition of the Tower of John II in the 15th century, a symbol of Gothic Mudjar architecture.

The Alczar’s fortified stone walls, turrets, and battlements served as a defensive fortress during the Arab and later the Christian era.

Sagrada Familia

Designed by Antoni Gaudi, the

Sagrada Familia is a prominent example of Catalan Modernism. This stunning basilica is a testament to the majesty of nature and is inspired by organic forms found in the natural world.

The basilica’s exterior is marked with intricate stone carvings, and the interior is illuminated by the sunlight that filters through its stained glass windows. The

Sagrada Familia’s plan resembles a Latin cross, with the central nave stretching up to 170 feet into the air and adorned with enormous columns in the shape of trees.

Plaza de Espaa

Built for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition in Seville, the

Plaza de Espaa is a magnificent example of Spanish Baroque Revival architecture, inspired by Renaissance and Baroque styles. The building features a semicircular structure with two large towers on both ends.


Plaza de Espaa is known for its fine brickwork, decorative tiles, and ornamental balustrades. The Neo-Mudjar style, with its arches and arabesques, is also found throughout, and its interior features over 50 painted scenes of Spanish history and culture.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Designed by Frank Gehry, the

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao is an iconic example of Deconstructivist Architecture, a style that rejects conventional forms and concepts of order. The museum’s faade is clad in shimmering titanium plates resembling fish scales reflecting the river and sky.

The interior is comprised of enormous spaces connected by curving walkways and bridged by a central atrium. This unique design brings together the building’s facilities while also creating a sense of unity with the surrounding area.

Marqus de Riscal Hotel

Nestled in the heart of Rioja wine country, the

Marqus de Riscal Hotel is a luxury retreat designed by Frank Gehry. The hotel’s arresting design is characterized by its asymmetrical curves and shimmering titanium plates that resemble the twisting vines of the surrounding vineyards.

The building’s exterior has a latticed pattern, with colorfully lacquered panels here and there punctuating its angular layout. The hotel’s interior is stylish, and its guestrooms are elegantly furnished, offering beautiful views of the surrounding vineyards and distant mountains.


From Gothic to Renaissance, from Baroque to Modernism, Spanish architecture showcases a range of styles and influences encompassing everything from Romanesque fortresses to Deconstructivism buildings. Every city offers unique insights into the country’s rich architectural heritage and displays an array of innovative architectural achievements.

Each building tells a compelling story about Spanish culture, history, and aesthetics, making them popular destinations for both tourists and architecture enthusiasts alike. With its diverse range of architectural styles influenced by various cultures and time periods, Spanish architecture stands as a testament to the rich history and artistic innovation of the country.

From the early days of stone monuments and Roman influence to the Christian and Islamic influences that shaped its distinct style, Spanish architecture has evolved through the ages. The Italian Renaissance brought the ornate Plateresque and Baroque styles, followed by the Neoclassical era and the arrival of modern forms such as Minimalism and Regionalism.

Additionally, we explored famous Spanish buildings like the

Alczar of Segovia,

Sagrada Familia,

Plaza de Espaa,

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and

Marqus de Riscal Hotel, each showcasing unique architectural elements and leaving a lasting impression. Spain’s architectural heritage is a treasure trove of history, culture, and artistic expression.

Take a stroll through its streets and marvel at the stunning buildings that stand as a testament to human creativity and ingenuity.

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