UNESCO Heritage Sites #113-121: Cathedrals, Hospitals, and an Aqueduct

From Roman ruins to modernist avant-garde architecture across four countries.

#113 – Speyer Cathedral

Speyer Cathedral in all its Romanesque glory

Built in the late 11th century, the cathedral is one of the most important examples of the Romanesque architecture. Its construction played an important role in the power struggle between the secular German kings and episcopal representatives of the Vatican. In the 11th century, Speyer was a small town of only 500 inhabitants, so building such a significant cathedral was unusual, and the construction was the king’s challenge to the will of the Pope. In fact, the strained relationship between is evident throughout several features of the city. One particularly interesting example is a large stone basin, around two meters in height, which was supposed to be completely filled by the new bishop as the burghers drank from it to his health.

#114 – Grande Île, Strasbourg

A typical view in Strasbourg

When one walks through Strasbourg’s Petite France, they may run the chance of an overdose on the charm and the aesthetic pleasure. Gently painted Fachwerk-style houses hark back to the times of tanners and millers, as the buildings nestle up on the banks of a lazy river. At night, the pedestrian bridges and the canal locks are lit up, with reflections shimmering in the ripples of tide pools.

#115 – Place Stanislas, Nancy

The gates opening up to Place Stanislas

The uniformity of the buildings surrounding the Place Stanislas adds to the grandiose feeling of the entire area. Built in the 18th century by the former Polish king of the same name, it was the type of harmonious urban planning that has rarely been seen before. While the Place Stanislas and the surrounding squares are only a small part of the city, I recommend any fan of architecture to venture out further into the city and explore the many Art Nouveau buildings in the style of the famous School of Nancy.

#116 – Reims Cathedral

The facade of the Reims Cathedral

The nearly-impossible-to-pronounce-for-an-English-speaker Reims (it’s not as easy as it looks on paper!) boasts one of the most important cathedrals in the country. The stain-glass windows are some of the main attractions of the cathedral, ranging from the medieval ones with multiple references to the champagne producers in the region all the way to the more recent ones created by Marc Chagall in his typical simplistic, symbolic style.

#117 – Stoclet House, Brussels

The greens and the greys of the modernist Stoclet House

I am not sure whether it was due the grey dullness of the day or the amount of verdigris building up on the building’s statues and roofs, but Stoclet House had an underwhelming effect on me. Built in the early 1900s, it was a departure from the Art Nouveau and fore-runner of the Art Deco movement with its attention to straight lines and rectangular shapes. What the house might lack in aesthetic inspiration, it certainly makes up in its architectural ambition.

#118 – Palau de la Musica Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona

Sun-kissed patient wards in Hospital de Sant Pau

When you hear of the Catalan modernist architect who built a lot of significant buildings in Barcelona, a lot of us would automatically think of Antoni Gaudi. The lesser-known architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, is responsible for his own share of the amazing, distinctly vibrant masterpieces. While Palau de la Musica is recognized for its cascading stained-glass skylight, Hospital de Sant Pau provides a respite for the eye with its tiled spacious buildings and colourful decor. The architect successfully found the balance between the practicality of an operating hospital and the decoration intended for the well-being of the patients. Orange trees, planted throughout the campus, complement the green and yellow tones of the hospital buildings.

#119 – Tarragona

249-meter-long Les Ferreres aqueduct

Travelling only one hour and a half away from Barcelona, you can find the remains of the major Roman outpost on the Iberian peninsula in the small town of Tarragona. There are many remains of the former imperial glory visible throughout the town, not the least of which is an amphitheatre with a Christian church built from its foundations at a later date, but the main attraction has to be the Pont del Diable, or Les Ferreres aqueduct, as known by the less superstitious. The aqueduct supplied the ancient city of Tarraco with the water from the Francoli river more than 10 kilometres away from the city.

#120 – Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau

The iconic building of the Bauhaus school in Dessau

Out of the chaos and uncertainty of the post-WWI Germany grew Bauhaus, a new movement in the architecture and design, abandoning the curvilinear shapes of Art Nouveau and instead embracing the function and form of the new materials such as concrete and steel.  Walter Gropius, the founder of the movement, along with many other like-minded architects, designers and artists, set up the first Bauhaus school in the capital of the new German republic, Weimar. Over the next 14 years, the school became the avant-garde institution in architecture and design until eventually being closed down due to the pressure from the Nazi government.

#121 – Classical Weimar

Weimar’s Stadtschloss with the Bastille tower

In the late 18th century, under the patronage of Thuringian royal family, Weimar became the cultural centre of Germany, attracting many renown artists and writers. The town boasts the residences of Goethe and Schiller, who were invited to make their living in the artistically blossoming Weimar. Just like the Meadows in Edinburgh, a large open green space dominates the centre of Weimar, with numerous castles, museums and other cultural buildings lining the sides of the park.


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