Gaudi’s Episcopal Palace

5 Spanish architecture masterpieces
along the Camino de Santiago

When we undertook the Camino de Santiago from Sant Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela, through northern Spain, we expected countryside and cute villages. We were however surprised to find many great feats of Spanish architecture in an eclectic mix of styles. Here is an infographic of five of the most inspiring architectural works we found along the Way – with photos and descriptions below.

5 Spanish architecture masterpieces along the Camino de Santiago - illustrations by Dan Convey
5 Spanish architecture masterpieces along the Camino de Santiago – illustrations by Dan Convey
Spanish Architecture - Puente la Reina, Navarre
Puente la Reina, Navarre

Puente la Reina

Puente la Reina, Navarre

This impressive Romanesque bridge provides a pathway for Camino pilgrims over the Arga River. It joins up two pilgrim paths – one from the direction of Roncesvalles and one from the direction of Toulouse.

The civilly engineered bridge was built in the 11th century and consequently gave its name to the surrounding town. Its purpose was to help travellers on their pilgrimage after walking through the town’s quaint street – Rúa Mayor. The bridge itself makes waves with its seven romanesque arches and features smaller arches to enable the river to flow through when the water rises. The bridge previously boasted two towers at each end and one in the middle for purposes of defense. The central tower featured the image of Virgin de Puy (or Txori) until it was moved to the nearby church of San Pedro in 1843. Legend has it that a bird (txori) would clean the image and whenever it appeared, bells would ring and festivals begin.

Spanish Architecture - Burgos Cathedral
Burgos Cathedral, Burgos, Castile and León

Burgos Cathedral

Burgos, Castile and León

One of the main cities on the Camino after Pamplona and the Riojan capital of Logroño is Burgos. Pilgrims walking through the castle-like main entrance to the Old Town and onto the main plaza, with a spectacular view of the cathedral will be forgiven for feeling a little awestruck.

This major Gothic wonder is recognised by UNESCO and is located in Burgos, Castilla y León, Spain. Building of Burgos Cathedral began in 1221 and wasn’t completed until 1567. It is a stunning example of Gothic art throughout, from its exterior architecture through to the interior stained glass window, choirs stalls and paintings. The ground plan of the magnificent building is inspired by the proportions of a Latin cross and represents the Gothic style of northern France.

The cathedral was put on hold from the end of the 13th century until the middle of the 15th century. During the next 100 years, architect Juan de Colonia and his son Simon worked on the front facing towers, spires and the interior chapels, while Felipe de Borgoña overlooked the choir stalls, cupola and lantern tower. The staircase of Diego de Siloe; the tomb of Bishop Alonso de Cartagena, featuring Limoges goldsmith work; and the tomb of El Cid, as well as the resting places of Castille´s monarchy are some of the highlights of this internationally recognised example of European Gothic style.

Spanish Architecture - Casa Botines, Gaudi
Casa Botines, León, Castille y León

Gaudi’s Casa Botines

León, Castille y León

Casa Botines was re-designed by Antoni Gaudi and is loosely named after Joan Homs Botinàs, the founder of the textile company it once housed. The textile company sold mainly to Eusebi Güell’s company in Catalonia and this is how the commission to Gaudi came about. In the same year (1891) that the managing partners Fernández and Andrés purchased a city centre lot, Eusebi Güell recommended that Gaudi make plans to redesign the building, and transform it into something spectacular.

Fitting in with the historical centre buildings of Leon and the grand Plaza de San Marcelo, Gaudi designed an impressive neo-gothic feature with a medieval feel. The neo-gothic aspect of the construction is highlighted by its corner towers and the size of the building with its basement, four floors and attic, stands out magnificently on the plaza.

The building was bought out for the headquarters of a savings bank in 1929. However, it became possible to visit the interior of Casa Botines this year (2017). Inside visitors will be able to see expositions about art, the house itself and Gaudi.

Spanish Architecture - Gaudi’s Episcopal Palace
Episcopal Palace, Astorga, León

Gaudi’s Episcopal Palace

Astorga, León

Bishop Joan Baptista Grua proposed that Antoni Gaudi build the new Episcopal Palace after the original one burnt to the ground in 1886. Gaudi put forward his plan the next year, but was not able to start until three years later as objections and paperwork needed to be ironed out. Busy with ongoing projects, Gaudi remained based in Barcelona and took trips to oversee the Palace developments. However the well-known architect dropped the project in 1893 due to the constant struggle with local authorities. Another architect, Ricardo García Guereta, capped off Gaudi’s masterpiece by 1915.

The Palace is constructed in a neo-Gothic modernist style, and Gaudi requested granite stone from El Bierzo to make the building standout against the red sandstone of the Cathedral, just a stone’s throw away. The four pointed towers and trench give the building a fairytale castle look and feel, while the three entrance archways give it that extra feeling of majesty. Inside, the palace is a wondrous playground of light and colour, that changes depending on the time of day. The trench surrounding the architecture also aids lighting and ventilation of the basement, a technique also used in Casa Botines.

This magnificent feat of architecture is currently the home to a museum about the Camino de Santiago, and is a popular spot for pilgrims to brush up on their knowledge.

Spanish Architecture - Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia

Santiago Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela, Galicia

The end of the Camino for many pilgrims, and after weeks walking, Santiago Cathedral forms a point of relief and elation.

The Cathedral de Santiago forms part of the city’s UNESCO world heritage site. Works on the Romanesque Cathedral began in 1075 commissioned by Maestro de Platerías (Master Estaban) and records show were mainly carried out by stonemasons ‘Bernard the Elder’ and ‘Robert’ and around fifty other masons. After a short period of interruption and in 1168, Master Mateo became in charge of its completion and in 1211 it was consecrated.

The facade of the south transept is named the Puerta de las Platerias (Portal of the Silversmiths) and is one of the remaining Romanesque designs. However, the west exterior was designed in the Spanish Baroque style by Fernando de Casas Nuova during the mid-18th century.  

Inside the cathedral, the nave, with its rounded arches and the relief sculpture of the Portico de la Gloria, is again representative of the Romanesque period.  

Jose de Vega y Verdugo was responsible for modernising the Cathedral towards the end of the 17th century and hung an elaborate baldachin over the main altar, designed by Domingo Antonio de Andrade, who was also responsible for the protracting clock tower.

The last event in the Pilgrim’s mass to finalise the journey is the swinging of a 1.5 metre tall thurible above the awestruck pilgrims. Hoisted up by eight people, assisted by a pulley system attached to the ceiling, this is for many, the pinnacle of the Camino.

Photos copyright of Dan Convey