THE MOST STUNNING CHURCHES IN SPAIN AND FRANCE

​​Over thousands of years of history, churches and cathedrals have been a place or worship, which people have both and loved and feared throughout the ages. And yet, here they still stand today, having witnessed and sometimes even been the epicenter of some of history's most important, tragic and revolutionary moments, all of which have contributed to life as we know it. 

Today, not only are they remnants and survivors of our past, they are exquisite and marvellous works of art, labored over by many for many years, capable of making us feel emotions and wonder at their beauty, transporting us back through time. In any case, they are most definitely worth a visit during your Renfe-SNCF en Cooperation trip to these beautiful cities in France and Spain. 



SPAIN

La Sagrada Família, Barcelona



Views of La Sagrada Família

La Basílica y Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia, or, in English, The Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family is quite possibly one of, if not the, most famous church in the entire world, and most certainly the most famous and popular attraction in the beautiful city of Barcelona. It was based on the design of world-famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who has many of his masterpieces featured and adored throughout this city. Gaudí gave this church his own unique and exceptional style (which is visible in all his works), marrying Gothic and Art Noveau creating the masterpiece today known as one of the most interesting and exceptional churches in the world. The church’s mysterious and sensational exterior is not all there is to admire however, as entering its impressive doors will open a gateway to what some describe as a magical forest made of stone, with all but overwhelming colors and lights and pillars from floor to ceiling built like tree trunks. 
The church’s construction began all the way back in 1882, and was taken over by Gaudí one year later, who dedicated the last decades of his life to it, dying in 1926. Upon his death however, the church was not but a quarter complete, and, more interesting, is still not finished today. Relying on private funding only, and having been interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, the project passed the halfway point only in 2010, and is expected to be finished only in 2026, on the 100th anniversary of the architect’s death. 


San Jerónimo el Real, Madrid



San Jerónimo el Real and Stained glass - Steven Cortinovis, Wikimedia Commons

San Jerónimo el Real (Saint Jerome the Royal), known to many simply as Los Jerónimos, is a Roman Catholic church dating back to the very beginning of the 16th century in central Madrid. It is what remains of monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome, and after centuries worth of destruction, disintegration, remodelling and restoration, today it is a part of Madrid’s El Prado Museum
Part of is charm, is, of course, its evolution and reformation over the centuries, but that continues to betray the beauty and mystery of its past, portraying both late-Gothic as well as well as Renaissance and even hints of Madrid’s own architectural styles. Large parts of the building that stands before us today, however, is from its 19th century reconstructions, and is today the only Gothic style building in all of Madrid. 
When you pay your visit to the El Prado Museum (which you should most definitely do during your trip to Madrid) be sure to take a moment to admire the majesty and power of this building which, day or night, will take your breath away. 


FRANCE

Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris



Views of Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame de Paris (meaning Our Lady of Paris), is a Catholic Cathedral located in Paris’ 4th Arrondissement, on the banks of the Seine on the Île de la Cité, and is widely known as one of the largest and most famous churches in the world. Its fame is not unrelated to its key role as the setting of French novel and fairytale The Hunchback of Notre Dame, featuring a misfortuned but kind hunchback and half blind bell-ringer Quasimodo, who is hidden from the world in the Notre Dame bell tower, and eventually saves and falls in love with a beautiful gypsy dancer named Esmeralda
The churches area takes up no less than 5,500m2, and is commonly considered to be one of the finest existing examples of French Gothic architecture, with is impressive silhouette being among the most famous of Paris’ city skyline. 
Its construction began back in 1163 under the reign of French King Louis VII, and, under the influence of many different leaders, architects and supervisors along with many design changes, was finally finished in 1345. Its design and style is most famous for its mesmerizing stained glass windows, impressive and creative gargoyles and its two 69-meter-tall towers offering stunning views over the city. 


Sacre Coeur Basilica, Paris



Views of Sacre Coeur Basilica 

La Basilique du Sacré Cœur, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is an extremely popular landmark and Roman Catholic church located in the heart of Paris, know not only for its beautiful and impressive design and history, but also for its location: at the very top of the Montmartre hill, the highest point in the whole city. Based on Roman-Byzantine style architectural designs by Paul Abadie, construction began in 1875 and was finished by 1914, being consecrated after the end of World War I, in 1919
It is easily recognize by it unique white colored stone façade, and 3 pointed domes which can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. Inside, it features a sensational ceiling tiled with France’s largest mosaic at about 480m2. As if the incredible views over the city from its steps is not enough, the Sacré-Cœur allows its visitors the possibility to access the highest dome of the church, offering panoramic 360º views over the entire city of Paris. 


Notre Dame de Fourvière, Lyon



Views of Notre Dame de Fourvière 

Whether by funicular or by tram, on foot or in a car, a visit up to La Notre-Dame de Fourvière, Our Lady of Fourvière, is an absolute must when visiting the wonderful city of Lyon. As its name may suggest, it is located on top of the Fourviere Hill, towering in watch over the city, on ground that was once occupied by the Roman Forum of Trajan (remains of which can still be seen nearby) and after by other churches than have since been destroyed. 
The famous church that stands there today was designed by Pierre Bossan in the mid-late 1800s, in a Romanesque and Byzantine architectural style which was quite unique for the time. Curiously, the Basilica actually contains not one, but two churches, separated into two stories, on on top of the other. While the downstairs interior is relatively simple, the upper church has a much more intricate and ornate interior decoration. 
Although the church before our eyes today is fruit of the 19th century, its ancestors date all the way back to the 12th century, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. What many do not know, is that an age old tradition based on this location has actually given origin to one of Lyon’s most beloved and world famous festivals. The year was 1643 when the horrendous Black Plague was devastating Europe, while those who had not yet been affected were praying with all their might that their city may be spared. History tells us that the people of Lyon had not yet been hit by the Plague, and they made their way up to the Fourviere Hill praying to the Virgin Mary, begging her to save them, promising to light candles every year in her honor. And save them she did, as Lyon was, in fact, spared from the Black Plague. Keeping their promise, the good people of Lyon would light a candle at the beginning of December in her honor for saving them from that, and so many other disasters. This candle lighting on the 8th of December has since taken on a slightly different meaning, and is today known as nothing other than Lyon’s very own Fête des Lumières, the Festival of Lights. 


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