Hi Frugalistas! One of the things I love most about Europe is its architecture. Coming from a relatively young country, with homogeneous building styles, I love the regional and historical variation found in European architectural styles. I love the sheer age of the buildings. Early nineteenth century? That’s a “new” building. Choosing my favourite buildings has been very difficult. After all, I haven’t been everywhere in Europe, and there is just so much to choose from. After much thought, and an update to the post, I’ve managed to narrow my choices down to my favourite five. In no particular order, here are my favourite buildings in Europe (so far!)
1. St Peter’s Basilica in Rome
I visited St Peter’s Basilica on my first trip to Europe over 25 years ago. Although I’m not religious, I found it a genuinely overwhelming experience. The sheer grandeur and detailed glory of it. The way the sun shone in – it did look truly mystical, as if God was shining down inside.
To make it even more special there was a group of Polish pilgrims visiting at the same time as me. The Iron Curtain was still up, so Eastern European tourists were rare. To see the genuine adoration of those pilgrims, some with tears streaming down their faces really added to my experience. Like the best architecture it moved me in a way I did not expect.
2. Versailles Palace
Regular readers would know how much I love France, so it comes as no surprise that Versailles is on my list. You can’t beat Versailles for an over the top unbeatable French experience. But there’s more to this grand chateau than Baroque extravagance. I recommend visiting the palace when the fountains (boules) are turned on. They really do add to your experience of the gardens.
I also recommend taking the little train further down into the grounds to the Trianon Palace and even further down into the outer reaches of the gardens to Marie Antoinette’s hameau (village) – it really is another world down there. I love how the grounds of Versailles reflect the fortunes of the French monarchy during the Revolution – the initial excess of the main chateau, then receding deeper into the background into more humble circumstances as the Revolution raged around them. Finally ending up in humble village surroundings prior to their arrest.
3. Ste Chapelle
Ste Chapelle is definitely my favourite building in Paris. I love how small but perfectly formed it is. I love how pretty, and how feminine it is. I love how it is always far less crowded than the more famous Notre Dame Cathedral. I love how old it is and the amazing craftsmanship. Whenever I visit Ste Chapelle I never cease to be awe-inspired by the glorious stained glass windows. Ahh, I just love it……
4. Sagrada Familia
Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia also makes my list of faves. While its architecture is somewhat of an acquired taste (I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea) no one can deny its sheer creativity. With riotous colours, fruits, flowers and light everywhere it is an assault for the senses. I love the faith that inspired this building – Gaudi knew it would not be finished in his lifetime, but he did it anyway.
5. Hagia Sophia
I thought long and hard about what to include from Istanbul. I adore Istanbul and I particularly love its architecture, so choosing just one building was tricky. In the end I went for Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia was the one place I desperately wanted to see when I went to Istanbul. It was the one place is genuinely hoped would be as beautiful as the photos I had seen. It was the one place I didn’t want to be disappointed by……
Hagia Sophia ticked all my boxes. In fact it was far more beautiful than I imagined. Not everyone who visits goes upstairs to see the stunning Byzantine frescoes, so I wandered around the gallery capturing every tiny detail, both on my camera, and in my mind. Hagia Sophia is one place where you must just put the camera away, and soak in its grandeur and beauty.
Great architecture is about more than just the walls and floors. It moves us. It teaches us. It reflects culture and history. It creates a sense of place. I truly believe you cannot genuinely appreciate any place without visiting, understanding, appreciating, and just be in awe of its architecture.
What is your favourite European architecture, and why?
All photos author’s own, except St Peters Basilica – Wikimedia commons
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