UNESCO Sites in the Iberian Peninsula
UNESCO World Heritage sites on the Iberian Peninsula reflect eons of human habitation, cultivation, and innovation. Here’s a sample of the 54 World Heritage sites currently listed in Spain and Portugal; delights await for every interest.
New: Discover the UNESCO sites of the Iberian Peninsula with our interactive map!
A river runs through it
The Douro River of Portugal has contributed to perfect grape growing conditions in the Alto Douro Wine Region of Portugal for thousands of years; it is one of the oldest recognized wine areas and is most famous for its delectable Port wines. UNESCO lists the Douro Wine Region because of the profound impression the winemaking tradition has left on the landscape and local society. Enjoy a tour of the area by car or train, or take a relaxing cruise to enjoy the beautifully terraced vineyards. Be sure to visit some wineries and taste the lush regional wines.
The Coa, a tributary of the Douro, has appealed to rock artists almost forever: in a 17 km. valley cut by this river you can see spectacular rock carvings dating from 22,000 B.C. to the present day. The Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites in the Côa Valley are UNESCO-listed depictions from the Paleolithic and Iron ages of deer, horses, goats, auroch (the massive predecessor of today’s domesticated cattle), and human figures; these are some of the best examples in the world from that era. In the 17th century artists once again carved symbols of religious and daily life, and the most recent designs are from a few decades ago. The carvings were discovered only in the 1980’s during the building of a dam; now the area is a large archeological park where guides will show you this astonishingly ancient art.
How to make your head spin
Travel to the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct in Spain and there’s little doubt that your head will pivot like a radar dish to take in all the buildings. Consider the stunning Roman aqueduct: almost 2,000 years old and over 90 feet high at its tallest point, with two rows of arches and not a speck of mortar, plaster, or lead to hold it together! Near the Queen Victoria Eugenia Gardens is the 11th century Alcazar fortress, impossible to miss with its 262 foot tower, 12 turrets, and moat. Take time to climb to the top for an eagle’s eye view of the city and surrounding landscape. The 16th century cathedral is replete with expressive, late Gothic stonework stonework as well as more recent Baroque and neo-Classical additions.
A Beautiful Place of Business
For an outstanding example of Gothic architecture, and a rare example of its use in civic buildings, come walk around La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia, the Valencia Silk Exchange. This group of four buildings is a perfect example of what money could buy in the 15th century: over 2,000 square meters of imposing facades, lofty arched ceilings, and beautifully carved twisted columns. The Trading Hall is bound with a golden inscription encouraging merchants to conduct business always with honesty.
Industrial Age Innovation
Just west of Bilbao in Spain is a seminal solution to crossing water: the Vizcaya Bridge. Conceived and completed at the end of the 19th century, the Basque architect Alberto de Palacio applied the latest developments in steel manipulation to well-known ironwork methods and designed the first bridge to carry wheeled traffic on top of the bridge and foot traffic suspended below in a gondola! The Vizcaya Bridge was the first and is now one of the last of its kind, and was used as a model for similar transporter bridges around the world. UNESCO recognizes it as one of the most outstanding iron constructions of the Industrial Revolution, and almost six million people per year still regard it as a great way to cross the Nervión River.