Culture By Dayna Engberg

Capitals of Architecture

When it comes to travel, there is no shortage of heated rivalries. Athens versus Rome. The Met versus the Louvre. Bordeaux versus Tuscany. From world monuments to museums, wine regions and more, everyone wants to be dubbed “the best.” Architecture is no exception, and although the two cities attempting to lay claim on the supreme distinction are both worthy contenders, they boast very different vibes. We’re talking about Barcelona and Prague, two ideal destinations for architecture lovers. Read on to see why you should visit them both. (You know, for the sake of fairness.)

Architecture

BARCELONA: GAUDI'S WONDERLAND

It’s a land of glaring contrasts, where the hyper-symmetrical shapes of decades-old Gothic buildings face the curvilinear forms and bold colors of the Art Nouveau movement. Dominated by the works of famed architect Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona is a surreal wonderland painted in Gaudí’s Modernisme genius alongside the Old-World architecture that influenced him.

For Gaudí fans, the crown jewel of the city is undoubtedly Sagrada Família. A combination of Gothic and Art Nouveau styles, the still-unfinished basilica was a monumental undertaking in 1882, even by modern standards, with only eight of the planned 18 towers completed today. Continue to the curvaceous stone quarry of Casa Milà and the psychedelic masterpiece of Casa Batlló to revel at the mind of this architectural genius.

Architecture

Want maximum Gaudí? The city also boasts a handful of other Gaudí works hiding under another name: those commissioned by industrial tycoon Eusebi Güell. These include the intricate iron gate at Finca Güell, the archaic-looking stone crypt of Colonia Güell, the urban mansion of Palau Güell and the colorful mosaics and sweeping views of the UNESCO-designated Park Güell.

Although the Gaudí craze is a justified obsession, the full Barcelona architecture tour isn’t complete without a healthy dose of Catalan Gothic styles. Make time to wander Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter, saving time for the stunning Barcelona Cathedral and enigmatic Medieval remnants like Sant Felip Neri’s Square or the Neo-Gothic Bishop’s Bridge.

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Architecture

PRAGUE: MASTERPIECES ABOUND

Where Barcelona is the Modernist wild child, Prague is the elusive shape-shifter. As one of the few destinations spared from the destruction of WWII, Prague is a living textbook of architectural styles— Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, Moorish Revival, Art Nouveau and more— juxtaposed in a dreamlike collage blanketing the entire city.

Perhaps the best and the worst thing about Prague is that there is truly an abundance of architecture. You’ll never be able to see it all, but you’ll stumble upon masterpieces no matter where you go. For architecture buffs, it’s an excellent dilemma. Some places, however, deserve a special trip. There’s the Baroque Saint George’s Basilica and Saint Vitus Cathedral—the largest church in the country and a flagship example of Gothic design—both located within Prague’s sprawling Royal Castle complex.

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Exploring

There’s also the neo-Renaissance National Museum and the Baroque Saint Nicholas Church, featuring frescos by Johann Kracker and a giant 4,000-pipe organ once played by Mozart. Or the colorful Kinský Palace seemingly plucked straight from a Wes Anderson film. From the dramatic Gothic towers—such as the Powder Tower and Old Town Bridge—to the modern, curvaceous lines of the Dancing House and the curious Žižkov Television Tower scaled by giant crawling iron babies, the architecture of Prague is a wild ride through history’s many phases.

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