It’s the architecture that sets the atmosphere of a city. After all, it’s the very foundations upon which some of humankind’s most iconic metropolises were formed. It’s what makes each street become imbued with its own unique character. Turn a corner and something new and yet more mesmerising is revealed. And guess what? If you’re a fan of architecture, there’s a world of wonderful European buildings just a few hours’ flights away…
Nowhere is the personality of a city more entwined with its architecture than Barcelona. The fiercely independent character of the city is revealed in the distinctive work of its local genius, Gaudí. His curving, twisting forms appear alive, creating the organic out of the inert. Check out the rooftops of Casa Milà, where alien-like forms spiral over the cityscape, or the kaleidoscopic colours that create a rainbow of free-form mosaics in Parc Güell. No trip to the city is complete with a visit to his magnum opus, La Sagrada Familia. This basilica of soaring spires and intricate stonework is so complex, it’s not due to be completed until 2026, the centenary of the great man’s death.
Just like the city itself, Paris’ architecture is a thrilling fusion of the classic and contemporary, where the shock of the new meets the established order in utterly exciting ways. The Louvre is a case in point. Yes, there’s the palatial courtyard with all its 18th-century finery, but I.M Pei’s sheer glass pyramids that serve as the entrance are now just as iconic. This contrast becomes ever more apparent when you spot the exposed pipes and structured angles of the Pompidou Centre set near the flowery neo-renaissance style of Hotel de Ville.
Eerie gothic grandeur comes alive in the City of a Hundred Spires. This is one capital where we actively encourage an autumnal break. At this time, there’s a chance you may see the evening mist set over the sepia tones of the Charles Bridge. And watching the golden light of Prague Castle set its silhouette on the dusky sky is an unforgettable experience. Yet there’s a modern side to the city too. Be sure to see the irregular lines of the Dancing House, where concrete almost collapses in on itself to earn the comparison with Fred and Ginger.
If there’s one European city with a sense of scale, this is it. Rivalling even the mega-structures of the US, Vienna seems to have a colossal construction awaiting around every corner. You’ll notice this as you stand in the centre of Maria-Theresien-Platz, with the twin, neo-classical facades of the Natural History and Art History Museums on either side of you. Naturally in one of the original capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, palaces also take centre stage among the courtyards and landscaped gardens of Belvedere and Schönbrunn.
The very fact that Venice was built upon a lagoon already makes it an architectural wonder. Layered on top of these unexpected aquatic foundations, you’ll see a rich mix of architectural styles spanning the byzantine and the Renaissance. Your first focal point is where all the tourists head – St. Mark’s Square. Napoleon named it ‘The Drawing Room of Europe’, but you’re here to see how the Eastern-inspired domes of St. Mark’s Basilica sit alongside the elegant gothic arches of the Doge’s Palace. Watching the sunlight refract below the Rialto Bridge is one of many more wonders of the stonework here, a sight that Canaletto captured so beautifully.
Moving on nicely to the ‘Venice of the North’, this canal-crossed capital also has a unique style. The neat rows of narrow townhouses along the waterfront are the perfect counterpoint. There’s a reason for their slender forms – due to the cost of the foundations, buildings were taxed according to their width. To see how respectful modern renovations in the city have been, the Rijksmuseum is the right place to start. This iconic gallery had a ten-year, €375-million refurbishment. The result is an architectural wonder, where light falls on and frames the clean lines of the glass roof atrium.
It’s impossible to describe the architecture of Rome without mentioning the mighty ancient structures that still impose upon the cityscape. Even if you’ve only a passing interest in masonry, the sheer adventure on show at the huge oval that makes up the Colosseum is a sight to behold. It’s also there in all its glory at the intricate friezes and inscriptions on the Arch of Constantine set in its shadow. One more stonework feature that’s set to wow – head to the Pantheon on a grey day and watch raindrops fall through the oculus at the centre of its dome. You may think Rome is only about the ancient, but the sharp, geometric lines of the MAXXI will tell you otherwise.
As the twin capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire alongside Vienna, Budapest offers its own twist on imperial splendour. The many-tiered façades of Buda Castle peer from its hilltop, overlooking the glassy Danube below. The palatial style of this spa city’s many baths are also well worth admiring, especially the extremely ornate Gellert Baths. Yet one of the most recognisable structures of the city was formed near the end of the empire – the Hungarian Parliament Building. The intricate detail of its skyward-reaching spires deserves to be seen up close.
Posted: 17th Jan 2020.