For a place that is renowned for its architecture and also its religious fervor, it’s only fitting that there would be numerous cathedrals and basilicas that are the quintessential destinations when visiting certain Spanish cities. After taking a breathtaking trip a few weeks ago, I decided to list the most majestic, immense, and important ones in the country.
- Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See (Seville)
It’s the 3rd largest church, but the biggest cathedral, in the world; The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the gem of the beautiful medieval city of Seville. The burial site of Christopher Columbus, it was completed in the 1500’s where it surpassed the Hagia Sofia as the worlds largest cathedral. A title held for over 1,000 years.
- Almudena Cathedral (Madrid)
Here for its historical significance as well as its interior beauty. It’s certainly not because of the exterior, which is intentionally dull so as not to outshine the Royal Palace across the street. Inside is a different story with modern renderings juxtaposed against Baroque and Gothic exteriors. Probably because even though the Spanish broke ground in the late 1800’s, they didn’t finish until 1993. It’s the place where King Felipe VI married, making it a significant landmark for Spain regardless of religious status.
- Santiago de Compostela Cathedral (Galicia)
The alleged burial site of one of Jesus’s twelve apostles – St. James. It is also the final stop on the legendary Camino de Santiago, or in English the St. James Way. The famous pilgrimage trail concludes at the Shrine of St. James in this legendary church.
- The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (Barcelona)
Also known as Barcelona Cathedral, the heart of Barri Gotic houses one of Spain’s most important churches. The church is famous for its jagged spires at its top and the gargoyles jutting out from the side. Personally, I think the most beautiful aspects are within the walls. The atrium fountain and elaborate tombs of Eulalia and Olegarius.
- Primate Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo (Toledo)
The old seat of the Spanish Empire – this cathedral, like Seville, is the exclamation point on a romantic medieval city. Only an hour drive from Madrid this is maybe the most important and beautiful Gothic cathedral in Spain. And it’s about as old as Columbus’s “discovery” of America. The whole old town and river bank are worth the walk.
- La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona)
Probably the most famous landmark in a city full of them. This basilica is Gaudi’s magnum opus and is a stark contrast from the cold, uninviting churches you find elsewhere. Draped in warm rose windows on the inside and amorphous figures ooze up from the outer walls. With long and one-of-a-kind towers bolting up it is supposed to represent the Earth’s attempt at connecting to Heaven. The craziest part is it’s not even done yet. But apparently, it’ll be even grander by its completion date in 2026.
- The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona (Girona)
Since I’ve talked so much about beautiful medieval city centers in Spain, I’d be remiss not to mention Catalonia’s greatest one in Girona. The old town is a major locale for King’s Landing and Braavos for the upcoming Game of Thrones season. The Cathedral is the location for the legendary “Shame” scene from season 5. It’s also the exterior of the home of the Sparrows.
Its history goes way beyond television, though. A church existed before at least 717 AD, but the earliest remnants are from the 11th century with the Charlemagne Bell Tower. With redesigns and renovations carrying on in the 15th, 16th, and 20th centuries; you can see different styles from the dominant periods of the time as well as artifacts crossing these periods. Even more impressive, it has the second largest nave in the world and the largest Gothic one.
- Basilica Nuestra Senora de Pilar (Zaragoza)
Not as famous as its counterparts, this is my favorite church that I’ve ever encountered. It’s massive and beautifully lit on the outside, rests on a perfect spot on the Ebro river, has beautiful masonry and paintings, and a fascinating history. Home to some of Goya’s most impressive work, it’s probably best known for being the spot where Saint James saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary shortly before her assumption. Many churches stood here at different periods of time. With the first coming in the 1st century AD, the current version sprung up between the 17th and 19th centuries. A baroque style church that luckily survived the dropping of three bombs during the Spanish Civil War that thankfully never exploded. Divine intervention? You have to see it to decide for yourself.