Spain’s Most Fascinating Cathedrals

The peak of religious architecture is the cathedral temples. Their stones have withstood conflicts and storms. With the passing of time they have been enlarged and modified according to the canons of each era. Thus, these great works have managed to spread their religious value to become universal cultural symbols. From those of Castile and León to those of Andalusia, these are some of the most fascinating cathedrals in Spain.

Seville Cathedral

Catedral de Sevilla

Seville Cathedral. | Shutterstock

This is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. This huge building rose throughout the 15th century. The last stone of the dome, the transept tower, was laid on 10 October 1506. The initiative to build it was the idea of the powerful local town hall, which would see its influence increased even more following the Discovery of America. Together with the Royal Alcazars and the Archive of the Indies, it is a World Heritage Site. Before the current construction, the site of the temple dedicated to Santa María de la Sede was occupied by a mosque that had been readapted to become the headquarters of the prelate.

The Giralda and the Patio de los Naranjos have been preserved from the old Arab temple. The former is perhaps the most famous tower in the country. Formerly a minaret, it became a bell tower and, for centuries, the tallest building in Spain. The Patio de los Naranjos, on the other hand, is a beautiful garden. The dome of the cathedral of Seville has collapsed twice throughout history, shortly after the completion of the works and at the end of the 19th century.

Burgos Cathedral

bellas catedrales del camino frances

Burgos Cathedral.

Its motto calls it “beautiful and pure”, in reference to the virgin, in a very accurate way. Located in the heart of Castile and the 13th century, Burgos Cathedral is the most outstanding cathedral in its autonomous region, next to the one in León. A Gothic treasure that is a World Heritage Site on its own. Its main entrance is reminiscent of the great French temples. With a multitude of details, it presents an overwhelming sculptural ensemble.

Its lantern tower does not fall behind, as well as other façades. For example, the Puerta de la Coronería, through which those who took the French Way to Santiago passed to the interior. Not in vain, the cathedral of Burgos is one of the most famous of the Jacobean pilgrimage. Meanwhile, inside there are chapels and elements ranging from Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque styles. The tomb of El Cid Campeador and Doña Jimena, his wife, stands out. Near Burgos there are other notable Jacobean cathedrals such as Santo Domingo de la Calzada or, a little further away, Logroño.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.

The goal of the Way to Santiago was the epicenter of one of the pilgrimages that helped form the concept of Europe. From the discovery of the tomb of the apostle and the first arrivals of the faithful, such as that of Alfonso II the Chaste, the history of the temple began. From its Romanesque past stands out the Portico de la Gloria del Maestro Mateo, today covered from the outside but open to the public after years of restoration. Ourense’s Cathedral has a very similar one. It is situated behind the main entrance, a kind of stony baroque altarpiece.

The other three facades of the cathedral of Santiago are those of the Platerías, Azabachería and the Quintana. In them the styles go from Romanesque to Neoclassical. Inside, a splendid organ of baroque origin stands out. Its wide spaces are adapted to its function as the culmination of the popular Jacobean route. Thus, the apse allows with two stairs to go up to the baldachin or temple to embrace the figure of the saint or to go down to contemplate the tomb of Santiago Apostle. The botafumeiro, a large incense burner used in antiquity to appease the smell of the pilgrims, today is only used on payment or on special dates.

León Cathedral

gótico en España

Leon Cathedral.

Without leaving the Way to Santiago, the former capital of the kingdom of León has another jewel of the Gothic. In this case it is a luminous temple and less recharged than the previous ones. Its clean walls rise in a space previously occupied by Roman baths, a pre-Romanesque cathedral and another Romanesque one. At the beginning of the 13th century, work began to build what would become the present Leonese temple.

Its cloister and facades have seen innumerable faithful, curious and pilgrims pass by, the latter on their way to Astorga and Ponferrada. The Gothic style predominates despite the reforms that were carried out over time, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was precisely in 1966 when a lightning strike started a fire that destroyed the roof of the cathedral of León. However, what stands out most is the extensive collection of stained glass windows of medieval origin, one of the most important in the world.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

que hacer en barcelona

Sagrada Familia.

Although it is technically a basilica, the Sagrada Familia can be included in the list of the most fascinating cathedrals in Spain thanks to its dimensions and aesthetics. Gaudí’s work has been in progress since 1882. It is also one of the most visited in the world. However, the death of the architect from Reus was a blow that took decades to overcome. However, technical advances mean that its completion is planned for the mid-20s.

Its facade of El Nacimiento, the most recognized, is of a great verticality. Gaudí himself supervised its construction, as well as that of the extraordinary crypt. The facade of La Pasión was developed by Josep María Subirach and the facade of La Gloria is being executed. The cloister surrounds the whole set except the main facade. Thanks to this, the temple is isolated from the outside. In the same city, the cathedral of Santa Cruz and Santa Eulalia is also interesting.

Palma de Mallorca Cathedral

Catedral de Palma de Mallorca

Palma de Mallorca Cathedral. | Shutterstock

La Seu, a synonym for cathedral, on the main island of the Balearic Islands looks directly at the sea. Its rose window is among the largest in Europe. It has a peculiar aspect, very rectangular. This gives a compact sensation and great amplitude on the outside. This is due to the passage from one to three naves during its extensive construction, which took from the 13th century to the beginning of the 17th century. However, it has continued to be extended and reformed without stopping. Among the best known and controversial touches are those carried out by Gaudí between 1904 and 1914. It was one of his main performances outside Catalonia, together with, for example, his Capricho in Comillas. The temple of Palma de Mallorca hosts the overwhelming Song of the Sibyl every Christmas.

Oviedo Cathedral

Escapadas baratas para el puente de diciembre: Oviedo

Oviedo Cathedral.

Together with Covadonga, Oviedo is the largest spiritual centre in Asturias. It was the capital of the kingdom before it was moved to León and a new crown was created. From there the fight against the Muslims was led from the end of the 8th century or the beginning of the 9th. Thanks to this condition, it was an almost obligatory stop on the Way to Santiago. It was said that “who goes to Santiago and not to the Salvador, visits the servant but not the Lord”. Today it is still the head of the Primitive Way, a route founded by Alfonso II.

Fruela I was the one who built the initial basilica, in honor of San Salvador. Shortly afterwards, Alfonso II the Chaste himself moved his court to the city and developed a kind of holy city, of which the Holy Chamber is preserved. Very damaged in the context of the Revolution of Asturias, it keeps since its inception many relics as the Cross of Victory. This pre-Romanesque complex included several churches, convents and structures for the clergy to live in. At the end of the 13th century, the Gothic building that can be seen today, a World Heritage Site, was begun.

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza

curiosidades del Día de la Hispanidad

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. | Shutterstock

The capital city has one of the largest temples in the world. In the Basilica-Cathedral of the Pillar is kept the patron saint of Zaragoza, which focuses the festival of the same name on October 12. Legends place the origin of her worship in the first century of this era, when the Virgin appeared to Santiago on a column. It is supposed that the Pillar would have received continuous attention since then. However, its relationship with the Aragonese city could only be witnessed from the Middle Ages onwards.

A Gothic church was built over a Romanesque chapel and temples, which was finally replaced by the current building in the 17th century. This fact came shortly after it obtained the degree of co-cathedral next to the Seo. After the conformation of the main body there was a quick reform by Ventura Rodriguez that contributed a neoclassical touch. He was also responsible for the Holy Chapel. Despite suffering in the War of Independence, it managed to survive and was completed with towers and domes during the 19th and 20th centuries. Its official consecration did not come until October 10, 1872. With it, it rose as one of the most recognizable monuments of the province of Zaragoza.

Zamora Cathedral

Catedral de Zamora

Zamora Cathedral. | Shutterstock

The next stop in the tour of Spain’s most fascinating cathedrals is Zamora. Its main temple is eminently Romanesque, despite later Gothic additions. It was built in the mid-12th century and still has the almost original Puerta del Obispo. Likewise, its lantern tower has Byzantine elements that make it exceptional and differentiate the temple from the rest. It is worth mentioning that the rest of the town is full of religious Romanesque buildings, has a beautiful medieval bridge and is a passage zone of the mythical Silver Way.

Toledo Cathedral

Catedral de Toledo, una de las catedrales más espectaculares de España

Toledo Cathedral, one of the most fascinating cathedrals in Spain.

The Spanish Primate See is another extraordinary example of Gothic, a World Heritage Site along with the rest of the historic city of Toledo. Already in the Visigothic period the Toledo temple must have had a remarkable importance. The different councils held in it are evidence of this. Under Arab rule a large mosque was developed. It is said that after the conquest by Alfonso VI, his wife and a prelate decided to turn it into a cathedral. In this way, there was almost a rebellion of the Muslim population, as the signed capitulations were not respected..

Be that as it may, the cathedral-mosque was preserved until the 13th century. It was then that the works for the new building of the primate headquarters were inaugurated. It followed the French style of the time. At the same time, the elements inherited from its Arab past are very striking, a culture that dominated for centuries what is now the province of Toledo. Executed in white stone, it continued to expand over the centuries, accumulating enormous quantities of works of art in its chapels and the royal treasury. In the same autonomous region highlights the cathedrals of Cuenca and Sigüenza.

New Cathedral of Salamanca

Catedral de Salamanca

New Cathedral of Salamanca.

Castile and León is the community that provides the most members to this list, despite the fact that cathedral temples such as Astorga, Segovia, Avila and Valladolid have been left out. The last one that does enter is the New Cathedral of Salamanca. Like the whole of the capital charra, is World Heritage. It has the peculiarity of being built next to the Old Cathedral, so that they are attached. Its construction took almost 200 years, until 1733. The styles that can be seen in the interior and exterior range from Gothic to Baroque, including the Renaissance. During the 1755 Lisbon earthquake its tower was severely damaged and had to be raised again.

Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba

Mezquita de Cordoba

Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba.

Although its origin is not Christian and its use by this religion is the result of constant controversy, the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba is the largest temple in the country. It is also one of the most beautiful in Andalusia, which has large cathedral buildings such as those in Malaga, Baeza or Jerez. The Catholic building is embedded in the enormous space occupied by the mosque, the highlight of Caliphate architecture. With Almanzor it reached its greatest splendour before its conquest by the Castilians.

From the time the site was taken in the 13th to the 16th century, the Arab structure was respected. However, a large Renaissance nave was finally erected in the Mosque of Córdoba. The decision itself led to huge disputes. The word of Charles V was decisive in carrying out the reform. An alternative that he would regret in the end, when he cut down a unique monument. Nevertheless, a large part of the complex was preserved, such as the Patio de los Naranjos or a retouched minaret.

Cathedral of La Seu Vella in Lleida

Seu Vella de Lleida

Seu Vella in Lleida. | Shutterstock

Located on the Madrid-Barcelona axis that makes up the A-2, Lleida has been an important city since pre-Roman times. In a city with so much history and monuments, La Seu Vella stands out, closing this selection of some of the most fascinating cathedrals in Spain. Together with Urgell or Girona, it is one of the most outstanding cathedrals in Catalonia. Despite its architectural value, the religious service disappeared from it centuries ago.

Its greatest attraction is the mix of Romanesque and Gothic it offers. These characteristics are the result of the evolution of the first of these styles in Catalonia, which spread more than in the rest of the country. The cloister is its greatest landmark, one of the largest in Europe. Its tower is also very striking.


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