Spain is a country of high sierras and broad mesetas, settled early by Celts, Romans and Visigoths. Across mountain and plain the forces of Islam and Christianity contended for power from 711 to 1492. This struggle, and simultaneous close cultural interaction, forged modern Spain. Medieval Islamic civilisation’s heartland was Andalucía. Seville has its Alcaza, Córdoba one of the world’s greatest mosques, and Granada its incomparable Alhambra. Here, and further north in Toledo, Muslim mosques, palaces and shrines, Jewish synagogues and Christian churches, monasteries and palaces reflect the richness of medieval Hispanic culture. This was reformulated dynamically in later eras. In the north, medieval Christian frontier culture is expressed in Ávila’s and Segovia’s city walls, churches, cathedrals and fortified houses. Castles like Coca and La Mota were also Christian bastions. In the far North, the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela has marvellous Romanesque shrines like San Isidore, León, Burgos Cathedral, Santo Domingo de Silos Monastery and Santiago Cathedral. They all have some of Europe’s best medieval sculpture. Interactions between Christianity and Islam also forged Spain’s rich, unique garden tradition, from Granada’s Islamic Generalife to Eduardo Mencos’ fascinating contemporary projects.
The full-bloom of Renaissance sumptuousness is expressed in the fine town of Úbeda, the intricate plateresque architecture of Salamanca, in Segovia Cathedral and in Philip II’s daunting Palace Monastery at El Escorial. Seville’s Museo de Bellas Artes and the Prado hold masterpieces of Spanish Habsburg ‘Golden Age’ court culture. Paintings also express Spain’s Counter Reformation religiosity. El Greco, Velázquez, Zurbarán, Herrera, Murillo are among its greatest painters. The Prado has Philip II’s collection of Flemish masterpieces by Rogier van der Weyden, Hieronymous Bosch and many others.
Spain’s great contribution to modernism is expressed Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid’s La Reina Sofia Museum and in Barcelona’s Picasso Museum, Miró Foundation, and Gaudí’s architectural masterpieces. The latter include the Sagrada Familia, Casa Milá and the Parc Guëll. Lluís Domènech i Montanera’s Palau de la Música Catalana is startling. Meanwhile, the restless, energetic experimentation of contemporary Spain is expressed in Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim and Málaga’s Centre Pompidou.
Horticulturalist Stephen Ryan and Anneli Bojstad, author of 'Great Gardens of Spain', share a feast of splendid gardens & great monuments from Seville to Old Castile, north of Madrid. Read more