Spain’s cultural history stretches back far longer than any history book. Indeed, culture on the Iberian Peninsula started over 65,000 years ago with the elaborate painting of cave walls. In more recent times, many cities have, at one period of time or another, been ruled by Roman, Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. The result is a mixing pot of stunning architecture spread over a number of different cities, 15 of which have earned World Heritage status. Here, we take you on a quick tour of all of them.
Alcalá de Henares
Nestled in the outskirts of Madrid, Alcalá de Henares is best known as the home to one of Spain’s best universities. The town, which is naturally rich in student culture, is also full of monumental heritage and offers a glimpse of Castillan life during the Spanish Golden Age (1492 – 1681). This period of flourishing art and literature is best summed up with the life and work of Miguel de Cervantes, who was born in Alcalá de Henares and is widely considered to be the greatest writer in the Spanish language.
Protected by well-preserved ancient city walls, Ávila offers a true glimpse into Spanish life in the Middle Ages. The town’s past wealth – both financially and culturally – can be seen through a large number of Renaissance palaces. Ávila also boasts a large number of religious buildings – a legacy of Saint Teresa of Jesus who was born here. It is also a hot spot for gourmands with many coming to experience local dishes such as the Ávila veal cutlet and yemas, a dessert of sugared egg yolks dedicated to Saint Teresa.
Move south into the Andalusian region to visit Baeza, awarded Unesco World Heritage status due to the large proportion of Renaissance architecture. Tourists regularly visit Baeza as part of the popular Renaissance and Nazarite Routes, coming to see the wonderful examples of ornate stone buildings and staying for the wonderful olive oil that is produced nearby.
The city of Cáceres dates back to Roman times. It was developed as part of the Vía de la Plata, a Roman road linking Seville with Astorga. The architecture shows off the different stages of its life, from the Arabic walls that surround it to the Renaissance palaces. There is a strong tradition of shepherd dishes within the town and pork dishes dominate the menus of local restaurants.
Another prime example of the mixing pot of Spanish history, Cordoba is the product of several distinct cultures built over the course of a thousand years. This is perfectly embodied in the city’s Great Mosque-Cathedral, which was the centerpiece of the city under both Islamic and Catholic rule. Although rich in history, Cordoba is also a hub of modern culture and has a thriving nightlife scene.