I had the pleasure of attending Spain’s Architectural Splendors: a lecture by Professor Barbara von Barghahn two weeks ago. The speakers resume and awards were impressive. And we’re not talking about getting voted best substitute teacher at the elementary school type of awards; we’re talking about being a Knight Commander of the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator among other accomplishments. When you have a speaker of that caliber you know you will learn and enjoy your experience greatly. She was not only enjoyable; providing history, dates, and religious influences but also presented all of this information in fun and straightforward ways a layperson could understand. Professor von Barghahn focused on five sites: Santiago de Compostela, the Alhambra, El Escorial, Parc Guell and Sagrada Familia.
Santiago de Compostela is a pilgrimage church located in northwestern Spain. It combined the styles of Baroque and Romanesque, specifically the grandeur of the Baroque style and the simplicity of the Romanesque. I really enjoyed the Portal of Glory and the main altar. The Portal of Glory was a massive entrance, beautiful in its simplicity, with the columns and arches depicting the apostles, angles and major and minor prophets in various acts. Interestingly, all of the vices are portrayed on the bottom of the columns in order to remind those who enter through here those behaviors to be emulated and those to be avoided. On the other hand, the main altar looked so ornate that it could easily have been created in Hollywood. Almost every single piece of the altar was made of gold and covered in precious stones. There are so many pieces of the altar that it makes the space it occupies seem confined. Professor von Barghahn focused on the dichotomy of the portal and altar, explaining to us that the reason for this difference in lavishness was the different directions those responsible for building the cathedral took it.
Seemingly built in another world all together was the Alhambra at Granada. Instead of looming spires, arches, and enclosed spaces with minimal light the beauty of the Alhambra lay in its symmetry and simplicity. Designed in Arabian fashion, gardens and other homages to nature adorned this entire palace. Stars were very important to their culture, both for religious and practical purposes, and this was evident in the Hall of Two Sisters and the Starred Dome. Whereas Santiago de Compostela was decorated with scenes from the bible, the Alhambra called upon nature for its inspiration, especially in the Court of the Lions and various gardens. Even the frescoes focused directly on nature while be religious metaphors for the Arab kings.
In The Sagrada Familia Cathedral, I saw influences from both of the previous buildings. The exterior is very much like Santiago de Compostela: huge towers representing the apostles, scenes from the bible depicted in stone and ornate displays. The east side of the building has stucco work clearly modeled after the Alhambra style and on west side, even though there is a passion façade, it is very simple and symmetrical just like the Alhambra. Amazingly, building began for the Sagrada Familia in 1882 and is still only around 65% complete today!
Professor von Barghahn really wanted to make sure we saw the influences of the different buildings on each other by presented each site in historic order. Each building was in some way influenced by the buildings before it, combining styles all the way up to the Sagrada Familia. If you have the opportunity to see Professor von Barghahn it will be time well spent. You will not only learn a lot but also have some fun.
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