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13 destinations with interesting architecture
Great cities are defined by their architecture. Some offer up an extraordinary unity of architectural styles, both ancient and modern; others highlight the evolution of one important style. Below we look at some of the world's major architectural eras and highlight the places that showcase them best – a collection of cities no right-minded architecture buff should miss.
No architecture list is complete without Athens, the birthplace of modern civilisation and home to the 2,500-year-old Acropolis. The Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles handed down by the Ancient Greeks have had a profound affect on architectural evolution, adapted first by the Romans and still influencing architects to the present day.
Influenced by art nouveau, but embracing geometry and the march of technology, art deco architecture is evident across many US cities, the most famous examples of which are New York's Empire State and Chrysler buildings. But America's art deco district par excellence is undoubtedly Miami Beach, where hundreds of facades and interiors are preserved to reveal a window onto the dominant architectural style of 1925-1945.
The capital of art nouveau, and notable too for its intact medieval centre, Brussels has countless examples of the sensuous, organic architectural style that took the world by storm around the turn of the 20th century. Belgian architect Victor Horta was the movement’s key proponent, and his former home – now the Musée Horta – is a masterpiece of art nouveau architecture and design.
Love it or loathe it, Brutalist architecture came to dominate the urban landscape of the West during the 1960s and 70s. Bold, blocky, concrete and functional in the extreme, this new civic architecture remains controversial to this day – though the best examples inspire as many followers as they do detractors. In London, the sprawling South Bank and Barbican complexes showcase Brutalism at its best.
Byzantine architecture emerged around the fall of the Roman empire, borrowing from Roman architectural styles to develop the religious architecture of the early Christians – which in turn influenced the domes and minarets of Islamic architecture. The Byzantine period centred around Constantinople, now Istanbul, and its most outstanding architectural legacy is the magnificent Hagia Sophia church, later a mosque.
Along with Athens, Rome is a must-visit destination for classical architecture. The main sites need little introduction – among them the Coliseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and the Temple of Venus – each a masterpiece of symmetry and engineering that has stood the test of time.
Desert Modernism: Palm Springs, USA (c. 1935-1965)
Desert Modernism: Palm Springs, USA (c. 1935-1965)
The boom times of the mid-20th century in America saw the emergence of the mid-century modern style – also known as 'desert modernism' – notably in Palm Springs, where wealthy residents and architects competed to outdo one another in their designs. Today, the city is a showcase of airy, modernist buildings full of floor-to-ceiling windows and open spaces.
The only entire city in Britain to achieve UNESCO World Heritage Status, Bath showcases a unified collection of elegant Georgian buildings and terraces built using golden-coloured local stone – most notably the Royal Crescent and the Circus. Georgian architecture succeeded the elaborate English baroque style, looking instead to the balance and symmetry of Palladian architecture.
Originating in 12th-century France, Gothic architecture was the dominant style of the late medieval period, evolving out of Romanesque architecture and characterised by pointed arches and flying buttresses – the best examples of which are showcased in the great cathedrals and abbeys of Europe. Paris has some of the finest, including Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle.
The Gothic Revival movement emerged in England in the mid-18th century and reached its peak a century later when it was a key influence of Victorian architecture. During this time many of London's now-iconic buildings were completed, including the vast and elaborate St Pancras railway station, the Natural History Museum and the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament).
Modernista architecture is one of the primary draws of Spain’s Catalan capital, Barcelona, thanks to the work of modernista master, Antoni Gaudí. His organic approach to architectural design, closely linked with the parallel art nouveau movement, is in full evidence in residential buildings such as La Pedrera and most notably Barcelona’s stunning showpiece, the Sagrada Familia church.
Moorish: Granada, Spain (c. AD 800-1400)
Moorish: Granada, Spain (c. AD 800-1400)
Moorish architecture emerged out the Hispanic-Islamic culture of North Africa and southern Spain. Examples of European-Islamic architecture can be seen across the cities of Andalucia, including the Mezquita in Codoba, the Alcazaba in Malaga and the Giralda minaret in Seville. But the highlight is undoubtedly the stunning Alhambra – the quintessential Moorish palace-fortress-city, laid out along the crest of a ridge in Granada.
For Italian Renaissance architecture, one destination stands out above all others. The churches of Florence are stuffed with Renaissance treasures, many frescoed by the finest artists of the time, from Michelangelo to Giotto. Other architectural wonders include the Palazzo Vecchio and the medieval, shop-fronted Ponte Vecchio bridge.