Last year I sent out a questionnaire to several travel bloggers I know who wrote about or lived in Spain. I asked them to compile a list of the top must-see attractions in the country. With a country as large and diverse as Spain, this was a very difficult task, but I have finally compiled the results. This list is by no means definitive. It is intended to be a starting point for a discussion of the great places in Spain.
With that, I present to you The Seven Wonders of Spain!
One of the most significant chapters in the history of Spain was the Moorish conquest. From roughly the 8th to the 15th Century, Moors controlled various parts of Spain and introduced elements of Arab and Islamic culture. One of the most significant examples of Moorish architecture remaining in Spain is the palace/fortress of Alhambra in Granada. Used as the seat of government for the emirs of Granada, it was also used by Spanish rules after the Reconquista in 1492. It has been used as the model for many examples of Moorish revival architecture around the world.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Not only is the Sagrada Familia the most iconic image of Barcelona, it might very well be the most iconic image in all of Spain. Designed by Catalonia architect Antoni Gaudí, construction of the church began in 1882 and is still continuing today. While the construction passed the midway point in 2010, taking 128 years to reach the point, completion is expected as early as 2026, thanks to modern advancements in construction. Construction is not funded from government or church sources. It comes completely from entrance fees and donations. It was dedicated as a basilica by Pope Benedict in 2010.
City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia
If there is one entry on this list which stands apart from the others, it is the City of Arts and Sciences. It is by far the most modern place on the list and it stands apart from the other entries like it does in the city of Valencia. The City of Arts and Sciences sits in the former bed of the river Turia which used to flow through Valencia. After the river was diverted because of flooding, the land was appropriated to various uses including parks and walkways. Once a section was devoted to a collection of buildings dedicated to the arts and science. Designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava, the site includes an opera house, a planetarium, a science museum, and an aquarium. The facility opened in 1998 and is personally my favorite place in Spain.
Mt Teide, Tenerife
Mount Teide is the highest point in Spain and lies in the center of the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. In addition to being the highest point in Spain, it is also the third highest mountain in the world as measured from base to peak, following only Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Teide is an active volcano who’s last eruption occurred in 1909. The area around the summit is a National Park and UNESCO World Heritage site. It is home to over 33 endemic species of plants, including the Canary Island Pine, and 70 endemic species of animals.
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Galicia
The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is believed to be the resting place of St. James the Apostle. It is also the destination for what is perhaps the greatest European pilgrimage route. All over Europe, you can see scallop shells in churches which mark the route of the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James). I have personally seen the symbol on churches as far north as Belgium and as far east as Prague. The routes and the cathedral constitute a three UNESCO World Heritage sites. Hiking the route to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral has exploded in popularity over the last several years, increasing from just 690 pilgrims in 1985 to over a 270,000 in 2010.
Roman Aqueduct, Segovia
Before Spain was Spain, it was the Roman province of Iberia. The Roman presence here lasted hundreds of years and saw many famous leaders from antiquity pass through the region. Perhaps the greatest remaining Roman ruin in Spain is the aqueduct in the city of Segovia. Created in the 1st or 2nd century, the aqueduct was created to transport water from the Fuente Fría river to Segovia, a distance of over 17 km (11 mi). It is perhaps the great example of Roman water engineering still in existence in the world today. The aqueduct was used to carry water to Segovia until the 20th Century, which is a testament to the abilities of the Roman engineers.
Cathedral–Mosque of Córdoba
I often think of the Cathedral/Mosque of Cordoba to be the opposite of the great Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Where the Hagia Sophia was a Christian church converted to a mosque, in Cordoba it was a Muslim mosque converted to a church. Originally built in the 7th Century as a Visigoth church, the building was converted to a mosque was expanded over several hundred years. After the fall of Cordoba in 1236, the building was converted back to a Christian church, which it has been used as ever since. During its period as a Mosque, it was the center of Islamic religious life in Moorish Andalusia. Today it still remains the Roman Catholic cathedral for Cordoba.
- Caldera de Taburiente, La Palma
- Torcal de Antequera, Andalusia
- Royal Palace, Madrid
- Cave of Altamira
- Prado Museum, Madrid
- Reina Sofía Museum, Madrid
- Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
Other articles in Gary’s Wonders of the World series:
Seven Wonders of the Philippines | Seven Wonders of Australia | Seven Wonders of New Zealand | Seven Wonders of Japan | Seven Wonders of Egypt | Seven Wonders of Spain