Continental Wonders: Five architectural highlights of Europe

From medieval to modern, there is a veritable feast of styles for the architectural eye when taking a tour of Europe. The continent continues to capture our imagination with its stunning structures built to be admired and explored.

Read on to discover in detail five of some of the finest examples of European architecture standing today.

The Tower of Pisa

Pisa, Italy

This stunning Romanesque-style medieval structure is a household name synonymous with Italy, but no less worthy of attention from those viewing it. The beautiful building was constructed over an extensive period of 199 years and is the freestanding bell tower for the city of Pisa’s Cathedral located within the Square of Miracles.

The towers famous listing occurred while under construction in the 12th Century due to softer subsoil on one side of its foundations. In the two centuries before its completion, the tower’s tilt grew more severe and was not truly stabilised until the 20th and 21st Centuries, when experts confirmed it would stop tilting further for another 200 years. Throughout the years, there have been many misguided missions to right the tower, which in many cases made the lean worse. Despite these attempts, the internationally known bell tower is still standing and, despite bearing a reputation for being unsound, is open to visitors eager to reach the top.

Guggenheim Museum

Bilbao, Spain

Designed by unconventional Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao opened in 1997 to immediate recognition and acclaim. At its inauguration, renowned architect Philip Johnson referred to it as “the greatest building of our time”.

The Guggenheim Museum seamlessly combines the materials of glass, light-coloured limestone and silver titanium into a structure seemingly without a beginning or an end. The museum’s architecture has been described as both expressionistic and sculptural and is erected in a series of interlocking abstract shapes impossible to define. Gehry utilised state-of-the-art technology with the aid of computers to describe poetic forms with the reality of architecture. Comparisons to a portion of an artichoke or a fish without fins have been suggested by onlookers unable to pin down its unfathomable sculpt.

The “Guggenheim effect” has now become symbolic of how culture and art can miraculously bolster a regions struggling economy. Before the museum’s presence, Bilbao was in deep decline, but the architectural marvel encouraged millions of people to visit transforming the Spanish city’s fortunes.

Sacré-Cœur

Paris, France

Rising high above the city the Sacré-Cœur Basilica (Basilica of the Sacred Heart) stands at the top of Butte Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. Designed by French architect and restorer of buildings Paul Abadie, the impressive church and basilica began construction in 1875 and was finished in 1914. A further six architects worked on the elegant structure before it reached completion.

The style of the structure overall is presented with Roman-Byzantine elements freely interpreted. The Catholic Church’s architecture, which was unusual in its time was a purposeful reaction towards the Palais Garnier, the Paris opera house with its extravagant neo-baroque design.

Many architectural features of Sacré-Cœur illustrate nationalistic themes. French saints King Louis IX and Joan D’arc are depicted on horseback in bronze at the triple arched portico of the basilica and church’s grand Savoyarde bell, weighing 19 tons, is symbolic of Savoy’s annexation.

The exterior stone of the structure known as ‘Chateau Landon’ originates from a quarry located in Seine et Marne not far from Paris. The travertine stone was chosen for its durable nature and its tendency to whiten when coming into contact with rain, allowing Sacré-Cœur to preserve the purity of its facade over time.

Rakotzbrücke

Kromlau, Germany

Deep within the lush green of Kromlauer Park stands a parabolic bridge that astounded those who laid eyes on it for decades. In 1860, Herrmann Rötschke a knight from the local township commissioned this narrow arched bridge across the river Rakotzsee. It was specifically designed to be almost semi-circular to work in conjunction with its own reflection in the waters below and form the illusion of a full circle.

Ingeniously engineered for its time the span was dubbed a “devil’s bridge” by the superstitious struggling to comprehend how such a structure could be fashioned without unearthly assistance.

The architectural structure is thought to be hand constructed from boulders and basalt from quarries found nearby. Thin spires of extrusive igneous rock have been erected close by as part of the design, and to add character to the ingenious overpass. Favouring aesthetics over functionality, the structure is very steep on either side and highly precarious to pass over. While visitors today can approach the bridge at both ends, in order to preserve this historic arch a crossing is no longer permitted.

Turning Torso

Malmö, Sweden

In the coastal city of Malmö, stands Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s neo-futuristic skyscraper entitled ‘Turning Torso’. As a twisted skyscraper, the residential building is regarded to be the first of its kind and is owned and constructed by HSB a cooperative association in Sweden.

It was opened officially in 2005 and the same year won the coveted Gold Emporis Skyscraper Award. Not only an architect but a painter, structural engineer and sculptor Calatrava based the building’s design on a marble sculpture of his own creation called ‘Twisting Torso’ at the request of HSB.

The skyscraper is constructed from nine sections of five-level pentagons that twist in opposition to each other as the building rises. The pinnacle pentagonal segment is twisted at an angle of 90 degrees in relation to the ground level. The structure is maintained via a central vertical core and an exterior framework crafted from steel.

Standing 623 feet high, it is the tallest building in the Malmö skyline and supports 147 living spaces in its 54 levels.

From the functional to the fantastic, Europe possesses exceptional instances of mankind’s incredible capacity to design and build. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself travelling through its countries, make sure you take the time to appreciate the achievements of the architects who made their mark across the continent.

Posted by Mark
May 3, 2019
Features

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