Gothic Architecture in Spain

Instructor: Stephen Taul

Stephen has master's degrees in both architecture and city planning and has taught architecture design studios.

Explore the magnificent Gothic cathedrals of Spain. Learn about the architectural style's defining characteristics and the unique features of Spanish Gothic.

Gothic Arrives in Spain

Gothic architecture spread outward from France beginning in the 12th century, following the Romanesque period of the prior two centuries. Even though there were great differences among the particular Gothic styles represented in various countries, there are three unifying elements.

The elements that differentiate Gothic architecture from Romanesque are the use of rib vaults, pointed arches and flying buttresses. Rib vaults were used on roofs and over aisles, replacing the barrel or double barrel vault, which was very complicated. Pointed arches replaced semicircular arches and allowed for more flexibility in the design of tall buildings. Finally, flying buttresses made it possible to include more glass in the facade by acting as a structural support that was connected to the wall, but rested on a separate vertical foundation.

Burgos Cathedral

Two of the best examples of Spanish Gothic architecture are the cathedrals of Burgos and Leon. They are both strongly influenced by the Cathedral of Reims in France.

The Burgos Cathedral lacks uniformity because it was built over the course of three centuries on the site of a former Romanesque cathedral - started in the beginning of the 13th century, it was finally completed in the middle of the 16th.

Burgos Cathedral

However, many gothic elements can be seen on the building to this day. Some of these features include the pointed arches that dominate the western facade, the rib vaults along the ceiling and the flying buttresses that support the upper levels of the nave. While difficult to recognize from the exterior, it has a cruciform plan. Fifteen chapels added to the aisles and transepts make its plan quite unique, as well. The Chapel of the Condestable is octagonal-shaped and full of flamboyant Gothic ornamentation.

Leon Cathedral

Exterior of Leon Cathedral
Gothic Facade

The Leon Cathedral is much more uniform in style than the cathedral in Burgos. Due to this, it's an excellent example of High Gothic. It contains an enormous collection of medieval stained glass that decorates the windows along its nave; one particularly beautiful window is the rose window. The cathedral has been nicknamed the House of Light because of the effect of all of the stained glass. The choir stalls are among the oldest in the country. The cathedral was built on the ruins of ancient Roman baths in the 13th century.

Interior of Leon Cathedral
Interior Gothic

Seville Cathedral

The Seville Cathedral was built on the site of a mosque and is the largest Gothic building in Europe. The cathedral was designed to represent the city's power and wealth during the 15th century, when it was built. Since it was constructed from the same rectangular base as the mosque, it is extremely large compared to other Gothic cathedrals. Two portions of the mosque were preserved, including the Moorish entrance court and the minaret. The minaret, called La Giralda, is now the bell tower.

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