The Best Ancient Sites in Spain

Merida, SpainIf you have ever travelled through South America, parts of Africa, Oceania or the Philippines, you may be more familiar with Spanish architecture than you realise already! The reason is that this ever-popular Mediterranean holiday destination was in fact a former colonising force to be feared, boasting one of the world’s largest empires between the 15th and 19th centuries, courtesy of – among other things – Christopher Columbus and his many exploits.

Historical attractions in Spain

As a result, their own traditional building style of terracotta-tiled townhouses, ornate archways and solid churches with pretty plazas are instantly recognisable. Here at ItinerWord we are extremely lucky, as the travel copywriting and content marketing requirements of our partners often include describing the must-see Spanish sites to be found back on the mainland itself, something we always love to do. There is, however, far more to Spain than at first meets the eye and certainly more to uncover than its well-known beaches, coastline and idyllic islands which, incidentally, we also love too!Plaza de Espana, SpainSpain has a turbulent history of civil war, religious uprisings and conquest from both Eastern and Western invaders stretching back further than even the Roman Empire, who themselves sourced several of their most famous emperors from here including Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, no less. So, with Spain and its islands being one of Europe’s favourite summer holiday destinations, as autumn beds in there’s no better time to take a snapshot look at just some of Spain’s architectural wonders, hopefully providing some inspiration for your next trip.

Must-see Spanish sites and top Spanish tours

It goes without saying that any list of Spain’s unmissable highlights could be long indeed, depending on exactly what you wish to see. There are heavenly beaches to be found across the Canary Islands, laidback city life and outdoor café culture in Madrid or remote and little-known landscapes to explore throughout the Pyrenees Mountains, for example. But it’s ItinerWord’s favourite archaeological and architectural gems that take our fancy for now, and there is quite simply nowhere else to start than the one and only Alhambra Palace in Granada, Andalusia.The Alhambra ArchwaysThe Alhambra was once the secretive home and fortress of Granada’s ruling Nasrid Dynasty during the 13th to 15th centuries, followed by later incarnations as a Christian court and monastery. Today, the imposing palace emanates that same sense of formidable grandeur, serving as a real-life history lesson for anyone walking the perfectly maintained grounds. Even a full day spent touring the Alhambra may not feel like enough, as you wander from orchards to ancient allotments, one stunning viewpoint to another, hidden passageways, decorative fountains and pools, defensive walls, chambers and chapels – the list really does go on.

Everything here is incredibly well-preserved thanks to the Alhambra’s continual use for several centuries, making it quite simply a true highlight in Spain. Similar can be said of the Alcazar of Seville, another phenomenal piece of Moorish architecture that later went on to become a Christian Palace after the conquests. The Catholic Church’s influence can be seen elsewhere across Seville’s historic sites, as any visit to the spectacular Cathedral, Plaza de Espana or Giralda will attest, among countless others.

The Alhambra

Just as walking around the grounds and up the minaret towers of these astonishing Spanish buildings is always the best way to see them, the same can be said for the towns themselves. Though it is not only Granada and Seville, but the city centres of Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Valencia, Bilboa, Toledo, Cordoba and Cadiz that all also make for their own truly unforgettable tours. Each reflects the lesser-discussed side of Spain, the one that in certain parts fuses early Muslim influence with traditional Roman culture before it, and strictly regimented Catholic control thereafter, embodied by the grisly Inquisition. This is not even to mention Spain’s Palaeolithic history or impact of the Iberians, Celts and Vandals across the centuries. So beyond Madrid’s Puerta de Alcalá, every famous cathedral, castle and impossibly perfect rural Spanish town – either lining the riverbank or veiled among mountains – awaits with a hidden history and many fascinating secrets that are always there to uncover, wherever your Spanish holiday ends up.Mezquita, Cordoba

The best Roman archaeology in Spain

Although Spain is home to that heady mix of cultural and architectural influences, added to its impressive collection of galleries, exhibits and fine museums, there is always something extra special about Roman remains, no matter where you are in the world. And, having once been Rome’s breadbasket, feeding the empire with olive oil, wine and pomegranates, there is plenty to explore here, including the very infrastructure that fed this ancient mass production.Segovia, SpainSo, history buffs can rejoice in the aqueducts of Segovia, Les Ferreres and de los Milagros, the Roman Bridge of Cordoba, walls of Lugo or the UNESCO-listed circus, temples and theatre of Merida. In fact, the foundations of Tarragona, Seville, Cordoba, Toledo, Valencia and even Barcelona have their origins dating back to Roman rule. Temples and sites, such as the trading centre of Baelo Claudio or Acinipo Theatre – to name a few – can actually be found right across the country and make for an entire archaeological trip to Spain in themselves. Meanwhile, many of the most important artefacts and finds from this period are today housed in those fantastic museums, providing an intriguing day out even as an afterthought to the beach.

Spain’s off-the-beaten-path gems

As well as the big-hitting sites, palaces, forts and cathedrals, there also lie many hidden gems in less obvious places throughout Spain, a fact that our travel copywriting agency has been lucky enough to both write about and explore over the years. The Altamira Cave near Santillana del Mar, for example, is perhaps one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe, home to remarkably accurate and well-preserved wall paintings of bison and other animals thought to be between 14,000 and 20,000 years old. This is an astonishing ancient wonder that is all too overlooked when visiting Spain.Altamira Cave, SpainThere’s Tarraco in Catalonia too, where arenas and ruins from over 2,000 years ago can be witnessed; or Numancia, an atmospheric though largely depleted site thanks to decades of war with the Romans ultimately ending in locals intentionally burning the town to the ground, all before Roman soldiers could get in. From ancient Itálica near Seville, to monolithic tombs in Dolmen de Viera, the Visigoth city of Reccopolis, Moorish Medinat Azahara or, for real history fanatics – Atapuerca, north of Burgos, a place of recorded humanoid activity dating back some 400,000 years; the hidden wonders of Spain’s past are simply everywhere.