Most interesting landmarks of Spain

Below are listed the most amazing natural and man made landmarks of Spain.

Natural landmarks of Spain

Ordesa Valley, Spain
Ordesa Valley / taquiman, / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Ciudad Encantada – Castile-La-Mancha. Group of impressive rock formations shaped by karst processes. Some rocks look like oversized mushrooms rising over the trees, some resemble animals and humans.
  • Mortillano System – Cantabria. Longest cave in Spain, total known length of passages is 127 km, depth up to 950 m. System contains eight larger underground rivers.
  • Ordesa Valley – Aragon. Deep valley – canyon, formed by glacier. Magnificent scenery of the valley is adorned with dramatic mountain scenery, dense forest and numerous waterfalls.

Man made landmarks of Spain

Finds of early humans
  • Sima de las Huesos – Castile-Leon, Atapuerca Mountains. Cave at the bottom of 13 m deep rock chimney. Here have been found more than 5,500 bones belonging to humans (Homo heidelbergensis) who lived at least 350 thousand years ago. Here have been found also remnants of the extinct Deninger’s bear (Ursus deningeri).
  • Sima del Elefant and Gran Dolina – Castile-Leon, Atapuerca Mountains. Site where some of the oldest known hominins of Europe have been found. A 1.1 – 1.2 million years old molar of human (possibly Homo antecessor) was found in Sima del Elefante, while in Gran Dolina have been found bone fragments and stone tools of Homo antecessor.
Prehistoric cave art
Drawing of Altamira cave paintings by Sautuola, 1880
Drawing of Altamira cave paintings by Sautuola, 1880 public domain.
  • Cave of Altamira – Cantabria. Cave with some of the best cave paintings in the world, mostly polychrome paintings of wild mammals, 18 – 14 thousand years old.
  • Cave of Casares – Castile-La-Mancha. Cave with very interesting cave paintings from Paleolithic period. A series of paintings show the cycle of human life starting from inception. Some drawings show mammoths.
  • Cave of La Pasiega – Cantabria. This cave contains some of the most impressive collection of prehistoric cave paintings in Europe, with many painted and engraved walls, mostly showing animals and geometric symbols.
  • Cave of Tajo de las Figuras – Andalusia. Fine example of Paleolithic and Neolithic rock art in Southern Spain. Birds and weird four-footed man figures are most frequent, but fine drawings of bovines are present as well.
  • Caves of El Cogul (Roca dels Moros) – Catalonia. Rock shelter – sanctuary with interesting prehistoric art in red, black and bright red colors. Well known is a group of dancers named "the Dancers of Cogul".
  • Santimamiñe – Basque Country. Cave – archaeological monument with almost complete set of sediments from the Middle Paleolithic to Iron Age, left by Neanderthals and humans. Cave contains excellent paintings of animals from Magdalenian period.
  • Siega Verde – Castile-Leon. Large set of prehistoric rock carvings – 94 rock panels in a 3 km long section of Agueda River. Most carvings are from Gravettian cultural period (some 20,000 years old), there are also engravings from Magdalenian age (some 12,000 years old).
Prehistoric settlements
Drawing of Los Millares prehistoric settlement, Spain
Drawing of Los Millares prehistoric settlement / fraboof, drawing by Miguel Salvatierra Cuenca, / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Capocorb Vell – Balearic Islands, Majorca. Ruins of unusual megalithic monument – the best preserved talaiot village. Consists of the ruins of four circular talaiotes and three square mounds, best preserved ruins are up to 7 m tall. Most likely constructed before or early in our era and inhabited up to the late Middle Ages.
  • Los Millares – Andalusia. Ruins of fortified prehistoric village. This settlement was in use sometimes around 3200 – 2300 BC. Hilltop village is surrounded by three walls with bastions and gates. Next to the village stands cemetery with 80 passage graves. People lived inside the walls, in round, mound-like houses.
  • Torralba d’en Salort – Balearic Islands, Minorca. One of most impressive Talayotic settlements – a group of spectacular megaliths. Very impressive is the central pilaster – the largest Taula.
Megaliths and prehistoric burials
  • Bulls of Guisando – Castile-Leon. Four megalithic sculptures of bulls, made around the 2nd century BC. Sculptures are some 2.1 m long, 1.4 m high. In this region of Spain are known hundreds of such stone sculptures.
  • Calescoves necropolis – Balearic islands, Minorca. Large group of natural caves and rock-cut chambers, served as necropolis from the 9th century BC to the 3rd century BC. One of caves has been used as prehistoric sanctuary since the 3rd century BC.
  • Dolmen of Menga and Dolmen of Viera – Andalusia. Some of the largest dolmens in Europe. Menga dolmen is a megalithic burial mound which contains a 25 m long passage formed by giant slabs of stone. This is the only large dolmen in Europe which is oriented towards a land object. Largest stone weighs 180 tonnes. Viera dolmen has 21 m long passage, it is built in the 3rd millenium BC.
  • Naveta d’Es Tudons – Balearic Islands, Minorca. Unusual, large megalithic monument, best preserved of its kind. This 13.6 m long and 4.5 m high structure was built sometimes around 2000 – 1000 BC. It contained remnants of at least 100 people – it is possible that the deceased ones were dried in the upper chamber of the structure and their bones were stacked in the lower chamber.
Medieval cities
Ávila city walls
Ávila city walls / Pelayo2, Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-2.0.
  • Ávila – Castile-Leon. Medieval city with some of the best preserved city walls in world. City walls have nine gates and 82 semicircular towers, are 2,516 m long. Ávila was a fortified settlement already in the 5th century BC. Current medieval city flourished in the 11th – 18th century. Old city has numerous valuable buildings.
  • Cáceres – Extremadura. Authentic medieval city with some 30 fortified towers from the Islamic period and medieval walls. Founded by Romans in 25 BC, flourished under the Arab rule in the 8th – 13th century and later in the 14th – 20th centuries.
  • Córdoba – Andalusia. One of the major centers of the ancient and medieval Europe, intellectual center of Europe in the 10th – 12th centuries. Second largest historical city in Europe, with huge amount of very valuable buildings. Some of the most impressive ones are the Great Mosque of Córdoba, Roman bridge, Roman Temple and many others. Old city is surrounded by Roman walls.
  • Cuenca Old City – Castile-La-Mancha. Impressive historical city constructed between two gorges, with many impressive and unusual sights. City is surrounded by 1 km long walls.
  • Ibiza Old Town – Balearic islands. Historical town, built on a cliff rising over the Mediterranean. Town has developed since the Phoenician times, but many structures were built in Renaissance time, including the fortifications. Urban planning approach from Ibiza Town has been replicated in Spanish colonies of America.
  • Laguardia – Basque Country. Small medieval town, center of wine production. This hilltop town has developed around the 10th century castle and is protected by medieval walls. City has many underground passages – wine cellars.
  • Lugo city walls – Galicia. The only intact system of Roman built city walls in Europe, 10 – 15 meters high and 2.1 km long. Built in the second half of the 3rd century AD.
  • Salamanca – Castile-Leon. Historical city, the site of the old university (third oldest in Western Europe) and numerous valuable monuments of architecture and art. Salamanca contains outstanding buildings from different periods of history – Romanesque, Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque.
  • Santiago de Compostela – Galicia. One of the most beautiful medieval cities in the world, pilgrimage center of European scale. City contains a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture – cathedral, as well as the beautiful Plaza de España, Hospital Reál and many other valuable buildings.
  • Segovia – Castile-Leon. Historical city with a huge wealth of valuable buildings, such as the Roman built Aqueduct of Segovia, Alcazar of Segovia, Gothic Segovia Cathedral and many other buildings.
  • Teruel – Aragon. Historical city with huge wealth of architecture values. Especially beautiful are some of the best examples of Mudéjar Architecture – very ornate towers and other structures.
  • Toledo – Castile-La-Mancha. Very well preserved ancient and medieval city with a huge number of valuable buildings. The fortified city is located on a hill and surrounded by Tagus River from three sides. Served as administrative center in Roman times, capital of Visigoths, city flourished also in the 16th century AD.
Loarre Castle, Spain
Loarre Castle / Lamuga, / CC BY 2.0
  • Alcazar of Segovia – Castile-Leon. Fortress and royal palace on the top of cliff. First fortress built by Romans or earlier, current castle built mainly in the early 13th century. Castle has served as favorite residence to many kings of Castile. This castle has served as inspiration for Disneyland’s Cinderella palace.
  • Castle of Xavier – Navarre. Large, well preserved castle of high historical importance. Constructed in the 10th century, birthplace of Saint Francis Xavier and a destination of pilgrimage. Includes a mural which depicts the dance of the death.
  • Loarre Castle – Aragon. Spectacular fortification, built on cliffs in 1020 AD – the 14th centuries on the borders of Christian and Muslim lands. One of the best examples of Romanesque art and architecture.
Alhambra, Court of Myrtles in the night
Alhambra, Court of Myrtles in the night / JunCTionS, / CC0 1.0
  • Alcazar of Seville – Andalusia. Oldest existing royal palace in Europe, built by Almohades as a Moorish fort. Most of present structure was completed in 1364. Palace contains valuable interiors and artworks.
  • Alhambra – Andalusia. Huge palace and fortress with major cultural importance. Fortress was first constructed here in 889 AD, royal palace for Sultan of Granada was built in 1333 and represents a major achievement of Muslim architecture and art. Palace and its gardens were supposed to represent Paradise. Palace was taken by Christians in 1492. At the palace is set the wonderful Alameda de la Alhambra – park which is rich with wildflowers, fountains, birds.
  • Aljaferia Palace – Aragon, Zaragoza. Massive palace, built in Islamic times in the second half of the 11th century. It is one of most significant extant Islamic buildings in Spain.
  • Aranjuez Royal Palace – Madrid. Major palace, residence of the King of Spain. This huge Baroque palace was built in the middle of the 18th century. Palace is surrounded by sophisticated Baroque gardens.
  • El Escorial – Madrid. The enormous Spanish royal palace, also one of largest Christian monasteries. Completed in 1584. Basilica of San Lorenzo el Real is especially valuable monument of art and architecture, constructed in Late Gothic and also – unique, austere style.
  • Generalife – Andalusia. Summer palace of Islamic rulers of Granada, built in the early 12th century. Contains authentic, well preserved Moorish garden, especially impressive is Courtyard of the Cypress.
Seville Cathedral - third largest church in world, Spain
Seville Cathedral – third largest church in world / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Burgos Cathedral – Castile-Leon. One of the best Gothic style examples in church architecture worldwide, built in 1221 – 1567.
  • Church of St Mary at Mount Naranco – Asturias. Old church (originally – palace) in local, Asturian style, which emerged before Romanesque style. Constructed in 848 AD and for centuries was amazed as unique structure built without wood. Next to it stands a church – San Miguel de Lillo – in this same style, built in 848 AD.
  • Sagrada Familia – Catalonia, Barcelona. Largest and by far – most impressive Art Nouveau church in world, designed by Antoni Gaudi, started in 1882, due to be completed in 2026.
  • San Pedro de la Nave – Castile-Leon. Very old church, built in Visigothic style between 680 and 711 AD. Moved to its present place in 1930 – 1932. Adorned with excellent artworks in Visigothic style.
  • Santa María de Melque Church – Castile-La-Mancha. The most important remaining monument in Mozarabic – Visigothic style, built in the 8th century AD., a representative of Roman construction tradition.
  • Sant Climent de Taüll and other Romanesque buildings of Vall de Boí – Catalonia. The richest collection of Romanesque architecture in Europe. Sant Climent de Taüll is the most interesting church with large belltower and magnificent Romanesque frescoes. Constructed before 1123.
  • Santiago de Compostela Cathedral – Galicia. Pilgrimage church of huge importance. This Romanesque cathedral is adorned with later Gothic and Baroque additions – beautiful facades and towers. Main part is built in 1075-1128, the gorgeous western facade in 1738-1750.
  • Seville Cathedral – Andalusia. Third largest cathedral in the world, largest Gothic cathedral. Constructed in 1402 – 1506, burial site of Christophor Columbus. Incluldes Giralda – 104.1 m tall bell tower, originally – minaret.
  • Teruel Cathedral – Aragon. Very ornate cathedral in Mudéjar architecture style, built in the late 13th century. Well known landmark is the bell tower (1257).
  • Toledo Cathedral – Castile-La-Mancha. Possibly the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in Spain, built in 1226 – 1493. The structure is full with diverse gorgeous artworks, several monarchs are buried here.
  • Zaragoza Basilica-Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar – Aragon. Enormous and ornate basilica in Baroque style, constructed in 1681 – 1872. First chapel was built here in the 1st or 2nd century AD and was the first church building devoted to the Mother of God. According to legend Mother of God appeared here in 40 AD and gave wooden figure of herself and a column of jasper and ordered to build a church.
  • Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe – Extremadura. Established in the late 13th century, since 1389, as Hieronymites took it over and made it their principal house – the most important monastery in Spain up to 1835. Numerous values of art and architecture.
  • Poblet Monastery – Catalonia. Important and large Cistercian monastery, founded in 1151, well preserved.
  • Santes Creus – Catalonia. Fortified Cistercian monastery, established in 1158 and is one of best preserved in Europe.
  • Yuso monastery and Suso Monastery in San Millán de la Cogolla – La Rioja. Two closely located monasteries with great historical importance. Higher up in the hills is the older – Suso monastery. This is the likely place where Spanish and Basque languages for the first time were written (Codex Aemilianensis). This monastery is abandoned now, the structure is built in the 7th – 10th centuries. Yuso monastery was built in the 16th century and has ornate interior in Baroque style.
Other shrines
  • Santa María la Blanca – Castile-La-Mancha, Toledo. Oldest standing synagogue building in Europe, although not used as synagogue. Built in 1180 in ornate Moorish style.
  • Great Mosque of Córdoba (Cathedral of Cordoba) – Andalusia. Mosque, converted into church, renowned as the best example of Umayyad architecture. Begun around 600 AD as Christian church, rebuilt into mosque in 784 AD and in 1236 recaptured by Christians and converted to church. Inner hall contains 856 columns holding (for most part) double arches – architectural innovation.
Roman heritage
Tower of Hercules, Spain
Tower of Hercules / Álvaro Pérez Vilariño, / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Aqueduct of Segovia – Castile-Leon. Best preserved and largest Roman structure in Spain, most likely built in the 1st century AD. Aqueduct brought water from 17 km distance. Tallest part of aqueduct is in the center of Segovia – 28,5 m high.
  • Merida Roman theatre – Extremadura. Large, well preserved Roman theater, built in the 15th – 16th BC. Seating capacity is 6,000.
  • Puente Romano in Merida – Extremadura. Longest existing bridge which survives since the ancient times. Originally it was 755 m long and had 62 spans. Now the bridge is 721 m long. Constructed in the first century AD.
  • Tower of Hercules – Galicia. The only Roman built lighthouse in the world which still serves its original purpose. Constructed in the late 1st century AD. Original Roman construction rises 34 m tall, further 21 meters were built in the 18th century.
Catalonian Art Nouveau
Casa Batlló, Barcelona
Casa Batlló, Barcelona / T.Grasso, CC-BY-SA-2.5.
Besides the overwhelming Sagrada Familia Barcelona has several more important Art Nouveau structures:

  • Casa Batlló – Catalonia, Barcelona. Multi apartment house, one of Art Nouveau style masterpieces. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, design implemented by rebuilding an older structure in 1904.
  • Casa Mila – Catalonia, Barcelona. Multi apartment house, designed in bolf Art Nouveau forms by Antoni Gaudi, constructed in 1906 – 1912. Building has many innovations – underground parking lot, curtain walls, steel structures, and above all – unusual design with undulating walls.
  • Palau de la Música Catalana – Catalonia, Barcelona. Gorgeous concert hall, built in Art Nouveau style in 1905 – 1908, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
  • Park Güell – Catalonia, Barcelona. Unique garden, which is filled with Art Nouveau architecture designed by Antoni Gaudi, developed in 1900 – 1914.
Other man made landmarks of Spain
Vizcaya bridge, Spain
Vizcaya bridge / J.M.Ezquibela, CC-BY-SA-2.0.
  • General Archive of the Indies – Andalusia, Seville. Large building in Renaissance style, built in 1584 – 1598. Contains the extremely valuable archive of Spanish affairs in the Americas and the Philippines.
  • Vizcaya Bridge – Basque Country. World’s oldest transporter bridge, constructed in 1893. Consists of two tall towers holding a crossbeam at the height of 45 m. Crossbeam holds gondola, which travels hence and back the 164 m long distance.

Described landmarks of Spain

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The wealth of the cultural heritage in Spain is immense. Throughout the millennia this land has seen development and demise of many cultures, each leaving unique artworks and structures. Highlights of Spain are:

  • Medieval cities. Only Italy can compete (and possibly is winning) in the wealth and diversity of urban heritage. Some of the most interesting and beautiful historical cities in Spain are Córdoba, Toledo, Santiago de Compostela.
  • Churches. Spain has the largest Gothic church in the world (Seville Cathedral) and the tallest church (Sagrada Familia). Some of most beautiful church buildings in the world are Burgos, Toledo, Santiago de Compostela cathedrals. Unique are churches which serve as a link between Roman and Western European architecture traditions, such as Santa María de Melque Church.
  • Moorish castles and palaces. The Moorish palaces of Spain belong to most beautiful palaces in the world, some of best are Alhambra, Aljafería and Generalife palaces.
  • Cave art. Hundreds of caves in Northern Spain (also other regions of the country) are adorned with prehistoric paintings and engravings, often made with great artistic talent. Some of the most interesting prehistoric artworks are found in Altamira, Casares and La Pasiega caves.

Autonomous communities and cities of Spain

Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities. One of autonomous communities – Canary Islands – is described in its own page.

  • Andalusia
  • Aragon
  • Asturias
  • Balearic Islands
  • Basque Country
  • Cantabria
  • Castile-La-Mancha
  • Castile-Leon
  • Catalonia
  • Ceuta
  • Extremadura
  • Galicia
  • La Rioja
  • Madrid
  • Melilla
  • Murcia
  • Navarre
  • Valencia

Featured: Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Spain
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral / sedoglia, / CC BY 2.0

It was long ago and no one knows for sure how this happened – but may be the roots of modern Western Europe start exactly in Santiago de Compostela. According to legends here is buried Saint James who brought Christianity to this part of the world and the gorgeous Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is built over his grave.

Recommended books

Spain: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Oxford Archaeological Guides)

Spain’s opulent mixture of cultures and religions have left it rich with notable sites for the traveler to explore. Roger Collins presents a clear guide to over 100 major Roman, Celtiberian, Islamic, and Christian archaeological areas of interest dating from the Roman Empire to the eleventh century. From the Arab Walls of Madrid to the Roman hippodrome in Toledo, and from the palace complex of Seville to the Islamic fortress in Malaga, Spain is a thorough and convenient guide.

Rick Steves Spain 2019

Walk the Camino de Santiago, run with the bulls in Pamplona, or relax on Barcelona’s beaches: with Rick Steves on your side, Spain can be yours!

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