It’s my 100th blog post (and part 2 is technically the 101st) and it’s a celebration of a compilation Cathedrals in Europe! Although I may have some serious backlog I am trying my best to get there. I hope that readers would find the information useful in some ways and do feel free to leave comments to me for any feedback or questions. Here are the #6-#1 of my choices of the most “memorable” cathedrals in Europe – They are the top of the list based on its look, its scale, or its uniqueness. It was quite hard for me to pick them so maybe it’s not the same for you. I am looking forward to hearing about your experience as well!
#6 Santa Maria Del Fiore, Florence, Italy
Highlight: The largest cathedral dome in the world painted with world-class fresco
Standing at the Michelangelo Square, there’s the view of the city of Florence with a striking and eye-catching dome that dominates the skyline. The Giant dome of Santa Maria Del Fiore is the largest cathedral dome, and the largest brick and mortar one, in the world. How it was built remained a mystery as the architect Filippo Brunelleschi left no sketch or evidence about the know-how of constructing such a massive structure with only bricks and mortar 600 hundred years ago.
Not only the dome has incredible “hardware”, but also an incredible “software” as it was painted by the architect’s student with the fresco of “Last Judgment”.
Besides, the polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink were marvelous. More! – The breathtaking experience of climbing up 463 stairs to the top of the dome for a gorgeous panoramic view of the city. I could take a really close look at the fresco on the way up there.
Florence – Cathedrals, churches, mansions, and palaces… it takes days to look at them all! Check out The Birthplace of Renaissance
#5 Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Highlight: The building withstood 1400 years of chaos and it remained powerful and strong. Embrace changes and persevere!
The Byzantine-style building has undergone quite a few transformations over the last 1400 years. Originally an Orthodox church, it then became a Roman Catholic church. Later it was again converted to a mosque, and finally, it was secularized and converted into a museum. Although it’s not a place of worship anymore, I could feel the sense of sanctuary washed over me as I entered the museum and I could see traces of both Christian and Muslim religion here and there. In a city like Istanbul, the only transcontinental metropolis that straddles the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia, it’s also a symbol of the mix of oriental and western culture. It is simply unique. We arrived at the museum early in the morning before it opened and immediately it was swarmed with tourists from all over the world.
Learn more about must-visit places in Istanbul, check out Europe to the Left, Asia to the Right
#4 Notre Dame, Paris, France
Highlight: Paris would always have a place in my heart 🙂
Of all the beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Europe, the Notre Dame is a classic and of its genre. Standing in the historic center of the city, Île de la Cité, the cathedral is a symbol of Paris’s culture and history. Notre Dame de Paris was built in the 1240s and every part of the structure was art. The north rose window, the flying buttresses, the gargoyle statue, the tympanum of the last judgment, and the altar… it would take days to appreciate them one by one.
I always stayed in the area every time I visited Paris and sometimes I could see the beautiful cathedral from the window. Hop on a Seine River Cruise to view the architecture from the water, or go in and climb the stairs to view the city from the tower. Either way, they just make my love of Paris grew more and more.
The Île de la Cité has a lot of historic attractions and I would also like to recommend the La Sainte-Chapelle, simply because the royal chapel looks completely ordinary from the outside but it has the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collection anywhere in the world. Once I got in I was just “surprised”.
#3 Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
Highlight: Amazing thing comes in a small package
Another Cathedral that was converted into a museum yet its religious flavor didn’t quite fade away. The Red Square in Moscow was intense to me – simply because as grand as the square already is, every side and every corner of it stands an important Russian building or monument that was insane. Among these buildings, the Saint Basil’s Cathedral managed to be the most eye-catching and recognizable of all. I am not sure if it was the Kremlin or GUM that looked so massive, or it really was true; my first impression of the Saint Basil’s Cathedral was kind of …. tiny. Once I got into the museum it didn’t has a grand hall that most cathedrals had and instead, there were passages that connected us to different rooms of different churches (the churches actually consisted of seven churches around the central core.) Anyway, the small size was made up of amazing frescos and valuable artifacts on display. The museum has 2 floors – the ground floor is a foundation of the building and the churches are on the second floor.
Interesting, the layout of the cathedral was in perfect symmetry – a core in the center, four middle-sized churches built on the four compass points, and other smaller churches diagonally placed between the middle-sized churches. With multiple colors, size, and careful placements, the architectural wonder looks great and different from any angles and distance.
#2 Saint’s Peter’s Cathedral, Vatican, Italy
Highlight: The LARGEST church in the world. Period.
If you agree that size doesn’t mean everything then I am about to conflict everything I just said. I have never seen anything that’s quite big (Of course, Saint Peter’s Basilica is the largest cathedral in the world, and it’s 4 times larger than the second-largest cathedral in the world in terms of volume) and trust me: it was impressive, jaw-dropping, wowing. I had to gasp in awe as I enter because it was just so… huge. Every corner there is a sculpture, and every corner there is an art. My heading was spinning at all angles I was worried that I broke my neck. Of course, there were thousands of artworks worth admirations, and I would probably go back to Rome to appreciate them one by one.
Talking about sending a postcard back home and the Vatican and throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain over the shoulder…
About my trip to Rome in 24 hours – Check out Run! Run! Roma!
#1 Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain
Highlight: If you have passion, you get inspired.
Antoni Gaudi’s organic and unique style in architecture has influenced the world profoundly and I admire his work so much for a long time. “Organic” is such a great, and truthful word to describe Gaudi’s work. He regarded a building as a human body covered with skin, the structure itself was flesh and bones, so it’s curvy, and it has an element of randomness to the way he created art. Antoni Gaudi has countless masterpieces left behind and his final unfinished project, the Sagrada Familia, alone is already a lot to talk about.
It’s been under construction for 135 years and probably would take 20 more years to build. His organic interpretation of nature and how he applied it to his architectural work just amazed me profoundly. I am the MOST passionate (& fascinated :P) about the 2 façades – the Nativity Façade and the Passion Façade. One of them is complicated, classic and busy. The opposite one is clean, simple, modern… The Nativity Façade depicts the birth of Jesus Christ, sculptures (plants and animals and saints) organically ornate the façade without an inch of blank space. The Passion Façade represents the Passion of Christ. The entire storyline is vividly laid out one by one on the façade with modern giant sculptures.
The 2 façades face Northeast and Southwest, forward and backward, covered and bare, hard and soft, organic and passionate, life and death…
Check out the 4 Gaudi’s amazing works in Barcelona and more photos at The Gaudi’s Muse.
Must-see list of La Sagrada Familia:
- Passion Facade:
Among the Fachada de la Pasion’s stand-out features are the angled columns, dramatic scenes from Jesus last hours, an extraordinary rendering of the Last Supper, and a bronze door that reads like a sculptured book. But the most surprising view is from inside the door on the extreme right.
- Main Nave
The majestic Nave Principal showcases Gaudi’s use of tree motifs for columns to support the domes: he described this space as a forest. But it’s the skylights that give the nave its luminous quality, even more so once the scaffolding is removed and light will flood down onto the apse and main altar from the skylight 75m above the floor.
- Side Nave and Nativity Transept
Although beautiful in its own right with windows that project light into the interior, this is the perfect place to view the sculpted tree-like columns and get an overall perspective of the main nave. Turn around and you’re confronted with the inside of the Nativity Facade, an alternative view that most visitors miss: the stained-glass windows are superb.
- Nativity Facade
The Fachada del Nacimiento is Gaudi’s grand hymn to Creation. Begin by viewing it front-on from a distance, then draw close enough (but to one side) to make out the details of its sculpted figures. The complement to the finely wrought details is the majesty of the four parabolic towers that for the sky and are topped by the Venetian stained glasses.
- The Model of Colonia Guell
among the many original models used by Gaudi in the Museu Gaudi, the most interesting is the church at Colonia Guell. From the side you can, thanks to the model’s ingenious use of rope and cloth, visualize the harmony and beauty of the interior.