This is not by any means an exhaustive list of amazing architecture. Humans have proven for thousands of years to be creative architects and engineers. These are just some of my favorite buildings and I would really suggest visiting them in person to get the full experience of what these places have to offer!
The Florence Cathedral, the Duomo, Italy
Construction on the Florence Cathedral, commonly called “The Duomo”, began in the 13th century but was not completed until the 15th century. You see, there wasn’t an architect who could come up with a way to build the dome, it was too big! In the early 1400’s there was a competition to see who would (or even could!) build the dome. Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi were selected, but Brunelleschi was the architect who ultimately built it.
The sheer size of the dome made the construction inherently difficult and the architect had to be very creative in his design. Ultimately, the dome was constructed with a double shell with space in between the two. It was built with no scaffolding, unheard of at the time, and the architect used a pulley system to lift the necessarily heavy material to put it in place and the dome supported itself from the bottom to the top. The plan was genius and expensive, which is why it was financed by the rich and well-known Medici family. If you have a chance to see this beautiful cathedral in person, do it.
It literally stopped me in my tracks when I came around the corner to go to my B&B from the train station and saw it. It’s huge, bright white and looming in the piazza.
This aqueduct was built by the Romans in the 1st century in order to supply the city of Nîmes with water. Most of the aqueduct is subterranean but the part that is visible is a true engineering feat with three levels of arches, each level used to support the next one up. It took 1,000 local workers to build this impressive structure. You can find it in Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France straddling the Gardon River. To visit, stay in Vers-Pont-du-Gard and bus or cab it in to the aqueduct. Visit the museum that is on-site for interactive history of the area and the Pont-du-Gard.
Kunsthaus Graz, Austria
I visited Austria in 2017 and I saw this building from the castle in Graz adjacent to their clock tower (more on that later). It’s reminiscent of a black, alien heart with too many blood vessels in it and it looked weird. It houses a contemporary art museum, which makes perfect sense. Additionally, while looking on the museums website, the staff listed is all female! Which I think is pretty rad. Check this place out!
Fun fact: the hands of the Graz clock tower were installed backward!
Pantheon, Rome, Italy
The Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Emperor Augustus (Julius Caesar’s nephew) and finished and dedicated in the 2nd century during reign of the Emperor Hadrian (of Hadrian’s Wall fame).
It was the largest unsupported dome of the time and there were nooks throughout the building that were dedicated to the major deities in the Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses. It’s in a busy piazza so I suggest visiting in the early morning when there aren’t a million tourists. It houses the tombs of many important Romans including a couple of Italian kings and the Renaissance artist Raphael.
The ancient city of Petra has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The Nabatean people made it a thriving stop on multiple intersecting trade routes and they increased their wealth substantially in the process. The city featured an extensive water management system which helped the Nabateans establish their city and society as a veritable oasis in the middle of the desert. There’s a long, windy canyon leading into the city, but the part you’ll recognize, that I’ve pictured here, is the Treasury.
Note; Ancient treasuries aren’t like banks which hold physical money. An ancient treasury was usually a sacred, but at least a very important, building that holds the valuable “things” that a civilization has, like precious or semi-precious stones or metals.
The notable things about the Treasury at Petra are two-fold: 1.) this Treasury was carved from the top down (uncommon at this time) and it was not actually built and 2.) there are Hellenistic (think Greek-like) influences in the pillars and other parts of the city were influenced by other civilizations because of its location in the center of all these trade routes.
Have you visited any of these? Fee free to share your own appreciation and thoughts on innovative architecture in the comments section below.
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