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Cities are often defined by their architecture; reflecting their history, culture and people. If only these varied and spectacular structures had mouths to speak, they would reveal all sorts of anecdotes and secrets about the city’s past. Here we outline some of the greatest architectural cities in Europe.
The most natural place to start when considering the marriage of architecture to a city’s identity is in Ancient Greece. Best known for its temples, many of which are now in ruins, Athens is home to some of the greatest ancient structures left standing in the world today. The Parthenon is one of the most significant surviving structures in Athens, and one of Europe’s oldest monuments. Ancient Greek buildings and monuments have a rich and distinctive history involving celebratory events and honouring the deities. Built in 448BC, The Parthenon was dedicated to the Goddess Athena. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is also a significant structure, although only a few columns remain. It takes little imagination to realise that this was a seriously impressive building. It took several centuries to build, and now remains as a crucial representation of Greece’s cultural past.
Barcelona is teeming with unique buildings. The city is known for not only Antoni Gaudi’s work, but for its modern architecture. Gaudi was particularly influential on modern architects, whose breath-taking work was often regarded for its curves and layered detail. La Sagrada Familia, the large Roman Catholic church is a truly exceptional structure and it’s one of the most visited buildings in Barcelona. It has remained unfinished for many years, but has finally received a project completion date of 2026. Modern structures include the Forum building, designed by Swiss architects Jaquez Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who also designed the Tate Modern in London. Although it has been controversial as it encountered many problems during its construction, the overall design is still a showcase of Barcelona’s rich architectural heritage.
The Romans were masters of architectural innovation and this is testified to by the capital of this ancient empire, Rome. Just like Athens, Italy’s modern-day capital city is a haven for architectural lovers, as Rome is home to some of the most famous and distinctive structures in the world. An extremely popular tourist destination, which is largely due to the Colosseum, Italy’s most renowned monument and one of the most famous structures of all time. It was built in 80 AD and was used for public spectacles and gladiatorial contests until the medieval era, where it was reused for workshops, religious purposes and as a quarry. It is a remarkable building, an arena that could accommodate more than 50,000 people. Today, around 4 million people visit the Colosseum every year. Also, Rome is known for the Pantheon, which was one of the very first temples to combine classical Greek columns with concrete. Alongside this, the aqueducts are accomplished structures, which the Romans built to bring drinking water to the city.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam is famed for its distinctively elegant canal houses towering over the city’s waterways. Amsterdam also boasts numerous contemporary buildings, such as the Eye Film Institute, completed in 2012. It’s a gleaming white structure based around the shape of the eye that screens and preserves Dutch films and film history. Also, the Stedlijk is another contemporary building and a landmark museum for modern art. Amsterdam contains some of the most architecturally varied buildings.
Vienna combines traditional and modern architecture, creating a distinct cityscape. The city has a wide range of cultural buildings, such as the Hofburg imperial palace, which is a top tourist destination. It’s a huge complex that contains chapels and many museums. Built in the 13th century, it was the seat of power for the Habsburg rulers, but now is the office for the President of Austria. Also, Vienna’s most renowned structure is the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is the most significant religious building in Vienna.
In addition to its Gothic and Baroque structures, many traces of Art Nouveau can be found throughout the city. Buildings such as the Vienna Secession, constructed in 1897 is a great example of Art Nouveau which is a decorative and graphic European style. Also, Vienna has reshaped itself considerably in the 21st century and is now classified as one of the most prosperous cities in the world, which is a great achievement, considering the heavy bombings the city faced during World War II. Vienna’s flak towers are among the surviving buildings from the war. The bombings ultimately brought about an end of Viennese art Nouveau, but the birth of modernist architecture, redefining the city.
The urban landscape of Berlin is enriched with history. Cultural ideologies are imprinted on the very walls of Berlin’s buildings and the biggest names in architecture, such as Frank Gehry and Mies van der Rohe have left their mark all across the city.
Berlin is home to a number of great architectural landmarks. The Reichstag Building would be an ideal place to start on any walking tour, as it’s a historical edifice in Germany. Constructed during the German Empire, it encompasses the Italian High Renaissance style. It’s now notable for the glass dome, which sits on top of the buildings, providing a 360-degree view of the Berlin cityscape. Also, the Berlin Philharmonic is an iconic building that boasts an aesthetic and futuristic design. Interestingly, they are widely regarded as one of the best orchestras in the world. Berlin is also known for its museums, which all have distinct architectural designs, such as the Pergamom Museum. The twentieth century brought about the birth of modern and contemporary architecture in Berlin, and the buildings are some of the most unique in Europe.
Europe's history offers many exceptional architectural cities, which have an abundance of impressive buildings that have stood the test of the time. These cities are ideal destinations for anyone who is interested in architecture, with cities such as Prague and Istanbul making the honourable mentions list. Dynamic histories and unique architectural styles, these cities will definitely continue to charm those who visit them.
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