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perpendicular 15For centuries, Europe has been a source of inspiration for some of history’s most famous architects. One member of the KMA Architecture and Engineering team, Heather Mertes, recently found herself in one of the continent’s culturally-rich melting pots of design, Andalucia, Spain. From its architectural intrigue to its hole-in-the wall eateries, Mertes gives us a candid recap of her journey.

What elements of Spanish architecture set it apart from other styles? Some of the elements prevalent in early Andalusian architecture include: the horseshoe arch; multicolored tile work with foliage and Arabic calligraphy patterns; the arrangement of rooms around a central courtyard with water features and gardens; and muqarnas, three-dimensional plaster carvings that look like stalactites which are found in domed ceilings or arched forms. You can really see Moorish influences in the architecture of southern Spain, which undoubtedly resulted when the Moors from north Africa took control in the early 700s AD.

Do you see the influence of other architectural styles in Spanish architecture? Many of the buildings within the Alhambra in Granada reflect elements of Roman and Greek domestic architecture, which is evident in the open-air central courtyards with water features and colonnades surrounding the perimeter.

How has modern design impacted Spain’s architectural footprint? Much of modern Spanish architecture turns its back on traditional Andalusian architectural elements and embraces a modernist aesthetic. There are architects like Rafael Moneo who successfully modernize historical architectural elements, as seen in his design of the Seville Airport, which incorporates flared column capitals, arches and domes. I also saw many buildings in Spain that honor and preserve the work of their predecessors. The newly constructed Metropol Parasol, located in one of the old quarters of Seville is an example. During construction, parts of a Roman town were discovered below the site, and a decision was made to incorporate them into the project. The columns of the new structure were strategically placed among the Roman ruins, the archaeological finds were preserved, and a museum called the Antiquarium was opened below the Parasol allowing public viewing of the discovered remains of Roman houses, mosaics and fish salting vats.

What building did you find to be the most inspiring and why? The Sevilla Cathedral, which I believe is the largest Gothic Cathedral ever built. When I entered the cathedral, the shear height of the structure took my breath away. You cannot truly understand the immensity of it just by viewing it from the ground outside. I also had a chance to check out one of the cathedral’s unique exhibits, an enormous wood brace that was carved in the 1990s and used to stabilize one of the immense stone columns in the cathedral during repairs. We climbed the adjacent Giralda tower, too, where you can see the roof of the Sevilla Cathedral and the immense buttresses needed to support the height of the structure.

What was the most unusual building you came across in your travels and why? The Banos Arabes in Ronda, which is the most well-preserved Arab bath on the Iberian peninsula and dates back to the 13th or 14th century. Designed as a place for meeting, resting and cleansing, it was built adjacent to the river Arroyo de las Culebras in order to have a steady supply of water. Travelers were required to stop at the baths before entering the city. Over the last five to six hundred years, silt was deposited at the banks of the adjacent river, covering the entire bath complex. It remained encased and well-preserved in this manner until it was excavated.

Heather’s Travel Tips:

  • Translation Tip: “Parking Libre” means “available parking”... NOT “free parking.”
  • Best Accommodations: Hotel Casa 1800 in Seville
  • Best Hole-in-the-Wall Eatery: Las Columnas, around the corner from Hotel Casa 1800 (Heather recommends their delicious tapas!)
  • Favorite Dessert: Cortadillo de Cidra, a small cake filled with candied melon and sprinkled with powder sugar
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