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Top 9X9 Secular Places in Spain

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40 DEGREES SOUTH

Top 9X9 Secular Places in Spain

Catherine de Boer

Visiting exquisitely beautiful Moorish palaces, experiencing the magic of Gaudi’s architecture, and engaging with modern art, was a pot-pourri of earthly delights on my recent visit to Spain. In the second of two blogs on this country, I review nine secular places that left an indelible impression upon me.

1     Magic Fountains, Barcelona

As an entree to Spain's offerings, my family and I walk across town to view the evening’s light show at Magic Fountains. The waters come to life in coloured spectacle most evenings in the Catalonian capital. 

The area is bustling with tourists. Beneath the bridge police direct an entourage of buses slowing to a halt. The series of fountains are a breathtaking sight- retained from when Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games. The fountains froth and bubble inhues of pinks, blues and greens against the steamy heat of the evening sky. This is a festive spectacle not to be missed.


2      Anton Gaudi's Park Guell, Barcelona

Park Guell is a whimsical fun park to visit, where the father of architecture in Spain, Antoni Gaudi experimented with much of the hallmark design that would become his signature and more mature style. We visit the park and access the courtyards that feature his prettiest work, such as sinuous curving landscaped columns. 
We see typical broken tile decorations known as ‘trencadis’ that were created by Gaudi's colleague, Jujol.

Much of Gaudi's amazing works is due to the generous patronage of industrialist, Eusebi Guell, after whom this park is named. Guell spent most of his 90 billion fortune bankrolling Gaudi and his contemporaries to create a raft of astounding visionary works.


3     Antoni Gaudi, Casa Battlo #43

Gaudi’s apartments in Barcelona showcase his iconic style and give a rare insight into his applied interior detail. The first of these is located in what is known as the Block of Discord, where three traffic-stopping apartment buildings compete with each other for the admiration of the many who come to visit and stare from the street.

The most famous of these is Gaudi's Casa Battlo #43. I immediately recognise the famous facade that I have been fascinated by for years. I cannot believe that I am here in the street gazing up at it at last! It looms over the street with its curvaceous and sinewy form, propping up seemingly skeletal balustrades. Swathed in green and blue ceramic speckled tiles, it glistens in the afternoon sun. The building is adorned with skull-like features, harlequins, and topped by an amazing curved roof resembling a dragon.


4     Antoni Gaudi, La Pederast (Casa Mali), Barcelona

Completed in 1912, this Bourgeoisie apartment is strikingly organic- there is not one square line anywhere. It is all curves and a seamless spatial design. The quality of light is fantastic, owing to the central light well,complete with an amazing roof with claypot chimneys. 
As I wander through the apartment, I dream of living here- it is such a beautiful space! 

Gaudi’s attention to detail extended to curvaceous doorknobs, organic shaped light fittings, and sinewy iron balustrades. The one main detraction for me in how it was presented was the inclusion of museum furniture and furnishings that were of less significance to the building. Although of a similar period, these pieces was not created by Gaudi at all. From this designer’s perspective, it confused the purity of the interior.
 

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5     Palacio Real, Madrid

I love European Rococo style, encapsulated here in the gob smacking, incredible Palacio Real with its sumptuous interiors. As we wander through the rooms, massive elaborate crystal chandeliers sparkle, suspended from cloth covered pendulous chains. In the dining room crystal glassware glistens, old silverware beckons use and Royal porcelain china is set for dinner for a typical 150 guests. Furniture is hand crafted by the court's master craftsmen.

I gaze incredulously at five priceless Stradivarius violins and cellos in one room. Enormous tapestries adorn the walls, woven by the Royal craftsmen, often copies of paintings of scenes of importance to the Royal family. Tessellated marble floors lie beneath awe-inspiring paintings and frescoed ceilings painted by the Royal court artists brought here from Italy.

I loved the regal dark blue and gold wallpapers of Carlos 111 Anti-chamber, with its huge crystal chandelier, family portraits hung on the walls, hand crafted carpets and elaborately painted mural ceiling.

The jewel in the crown is the breathtaking Gasparini Room (gasp!) - a pure work of art in high Rococo style.


6     Alcazar, Sevilla

Originally a Christian rulers palace, Alcazar is built by Moors and with Moorish artisanship. Today it is still a functioning palace, UNESCO world heritage site and Europe’s oldest palace. We visited the oldest areas of King Pedro’s Place and are amazed at the splendid decoration and craftsmanship in the rooms. The royal palace is in a style called Mudejar - a mix of Islamic and Christian elements. It was changed during each period of reign and over many centuries. It was so easy to get disorientated, as this was a deliberate planning strategy by the King, so that in times of danger, he could retreat down little known passages.

These are exquisitely beautiful spaces. From the sublime Baths of Lady Maria, to the Hall of the Ambassadors, with its ornate handcrafted cube, topped with a half dome. I love the enormous tapestries adorning the walls of the Hall of Tapestries. They are so old and intricate, depicting several scenes of battle from the Kings Court. We pause to appreciate the beautifully manicured courtyards with shady orange trees, our minds full of admiration at this amazing Palace.


7     Hammam El Banuelo (Moorish Baths) and Hammam Bafios Arabes (Arab Baths) Granada

What a delight to visit the Moorish Bath ruins on our morning walk around the old Albayzin Moorish part of town, and later that afternoon, to enjoy a steamy session of relaxation and massage at the Arab Baths.  The Moorish Bath (ruins) once served as meeting place and social mixing place for the Muslims. Starlight shaped skylights provided ventilation and temperature control within. Unclothed segregated bathing was the norm. 
 

My visit to the Arab Baths follows a time honoured bathing ritual. The baths are splendid with candles, steamy with scented oils, decorated with patterned ceramic tiled walls, marble flagstone floors, and intricate stuccowork ceilings. 
I move between bathing in three baths of different temperatures: the first is ice cold, the second - a warm bathing pool, where I lazily swim, and a third; a hot bath to soak in. A dreamy massage with scented oils completes an afternoon well spent in serious relaxation.


8      The Alhumbra, Granada

This is the last of the greatest Moorish palaces within a compound of a small walled city that features 4 sites: Alcazaba Fort, Generalife Gardens, the former Charles Vs Palace- now a museum and, the jewel in the crown- Palace Nazaries. It is a World heritage UNESCO site.

The Moors built the Palace for Moorish rulers. There is an amazing display of craftsmanship in this exquisite Islamic Palace. As we move through the rooms we soak up its magnificence. Outside the gardens, courtyards and fountains of the Generalife Gardens are superb and expansive, taking us over an hour to walk through.

We dine that evening enjoyed our last look at The Allumbra at sunset from the hilltop area near St Nicholas church, with the music of Spanish guitarist buskers playing in the background...a day never to be forgotten.


9     Frank Gehry, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

This is one of the most amazing buildings in the world: the Titanium icon, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum. The baroque sculptural form inspired by fish scales, is resplendent in the morning sun, as we circumnavigate it, taking it in from every conceivable angle.

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We are first met by a huge Jeff Koon’s 42-foot tall installation, Puppy that almost bounds out to greet you, at the entrance with a wagging tail. Made entirely of flowers, it blooms seasonally all year round. Giant chrome Tulips, also by Jeff Koons, lay in the sun on the terrace. The museum houses a massive work by steel artist, Richard Serra, A Matter of Time - a series of curved steel forms, uniquely formed by extruding two ellipses at 90 degrees skewed to each other. The resultant series of curved forms either move towards or away from you as you walk through the spaces. A 30-foot tall spider, by French artist Louise Bourgeois, calledMaman, looms over the exterior public space. 

We are first met by a huge Jeff Koon’s 42-foot tall installation, Puppy that almost bounds out to greet you, at the entrance with a wagging tail. Made entirely of flowers, it blooms seasonally all year round. Giant chrome Tulips, also by Jeff Koons, lay in the sun on the terrace. The museum houses a massive work by steel artist, Richard Serra, A Matter of Time - a series of curved steel forms, uniquely formed by extruding two ellipses at 90 degrees skewed to each other. The resultant series of curved forms either move towards or away from you as you walk through the spaces. A 30-foot tall spider, by French artist Louise Bourgeois, calledMaman, looms over the exterior public space.  
These works reside as part of the famous Guggenheim ‘family’ of museums, wrapped up in a Titanium clad sculptural masterpiece. At Bilbao our modern art visual feast concludes a memorable visit to Spain!