Continental Wonders: Five architectural highlights of South America

From ancient cities high in the mountains to post-modernist cathedrals, there are many testaments to the architectural genius of our race throughout the great continent of South America. From Columbia down to Argentina you can explore a handful of these wondrous structures in the following passages.

Palacio Barola

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Up until the year 1935 Palacio Barola was the highest manmade structure in the continent of South America. Luis Barola, an Italian empresario and textile tycoon in Argentina, commissioned architect Mario Palanti, also from Italy, to design this amazing office building in 1910. Barola was convinced Europe would be destroyed by war and was an immigrant in Argentina at the time.

The office tower was inspired by Palanti’s deep love of Dante Aligheri’s work, and the building itself was based on ‘The Divine Comedy’. The ground and basement levels were designed to depict Hell, with the next 15 levels representing Purgatory. Finally, floors 16 through to 22 (culminating in a lighthouse tower) would exemplify heaven.

Many features from Dante’s work are also present in the Palacio’s details. The alchemical symbol for fire can be found three times and the building bears inscriptions from the famous work, along with devilish statues inside.

The impressive building was established as one of the nation’s historic monuments in the year 1997.The Palacio Barola is not unique however, it has a taller twin located near the coast in Montevideo, Uruguay, called Palacio Salvo.

San Felipe Castle

Cartagena, Colombia

This strategic stronghold can be found on the hill of San Lazaro and possesses a vantage over both sea and land visitors approaching the city of Cartagena. Construction began in 1536, but the fortress was built gradually over 120 years.

The San Felipe Castle, or the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas to give it its full Spanish name, is famous architecturally for its mazelike network of tunnels and impressively grand entrance way. It is considered the pinnacle of Spanish military architecture for a defensive complex with innovative features, including collapsible sections that could be exploded to thwart attackers gaining ground on the outer walls.

Named to honour Spain’s King Philip IV, this Colombian landmark is one of the most visited in Cartagena and is listed now as a World heritage Site by UNESCO.

Catedral Basílica Menor de Nuestra Senora de la Paz

La Paz, Bolivia

At the corner of La Paz’s central plaze, Plaza Murillo, stands the great cathedral.

Construction finished on the church in 1692 after 70 years of work, but due to the materials and methods used, the structure was deemed dangerous when large cracks began to appear. In 1831, the cathedral was demolished and rebuilt. It officially opened in 1925 marking 100 years of independence for Bolivia, but was nowhere near completion. Over 150 years on from when construction first started on the church, it was finally finished in 1989.

The result has proved a showcase of Bolivian architecture, with features including lofty domed ceilings and robust neoclassical pillars in a Corinthian style. The magnificent building is famed for its astonishing window of stained glass illustrating God offering Bolivian politicians divine intervention

Baroque elements are also present, including Greco-Roman elements. The top of the Cathedral is dominated by three metallic cupolas, including two that sit high on the towers.

Beneath the ground, a massive crypt is installed covering a staggering two hectares.

Brasilia Cathedral

Brasilia, Brazil

An eye-catching edifice in Brazil’s bustling capital city, the Brasilia Cathedral is a futuristic vision of what never-before-seen shapes a church can take. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer (a Brazilian architect) and made real by Joaquim Cardoza (a structural engineer) also from Brazil, the incredible Brasilia Cathedral is constructed using 16 columns of solid concrete to form a hyperboloid structure. Each one of these gigantic 16 columns weighs a full 90 tons.

Those visiting the striking cathedral enter the building through a dark tunnel into an illuminated space as the structure is finished with a glass top and sides. Ingeniously, a 16-inch deep reflecting pool is fitted on the roof in order to assist in cooling the cathedral.

Niemeyer’s conceptual design is fashioned to reflect two human hands reaching skywards to heaven forming a unique and unforgettable form on the cityscape. Drawn by its unusual design, close to one million visitors enter the astonishing cathedral each year.

The full title of this one-of-a-kind structure is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Aparecida, and it was completed on May 31, 1970.

Machu Picchu

Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountains, Peru

Sitting atop a 7,970-foot misty mountain ridge stands one of South America’s most ancient examples of architecture, the majestic Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu. Dating back to the 15th Century, most archeologists consider the city to be the estate of Emperor Pachacuti of the Incas.

While the buildings that were constructed of granite still stand, the original timber logs and straw roofing which covered them have long since deteriorated. Most of the structures follow the traditional rectangular form of Inca masonry, except the Temple of the Sun, Machu Picchu’s most eminent building, which features a semi-circular wall.

Other notable monuments displaying the fascinating Inca architecture are the Room of the Three Windows, the Intihuatana stone, the Residence of the Priest and the Royal Mausoleum.

The traditional Inca structures were constructed from specifically shaped granite stone carved to fit perfectly with one another. While regular buildings in Inca architecture were built using stones rectangular in shape with six sides and eight corners, religious structures utilised large multifaceted polygonal stones. One of the temples present in Machu Picchu features a wall with an extraordinary 33 corners.

These incredible creations, inspired by sources such as literature and religion, continue to astound visitors setting their sights on South America. If you find yourself deep in this rich history of revolution and ancient Incas, ensure you see as many as you can of the beautiful buildings that stand across the lands of this southern continent.

Posted by Mark
May 29, 2019

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