World Heritage Sights in Spain

A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place (such as a forest, mountain, lake, desert, monument, building, complex, or city) that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance. The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 states parties which are elected by their General Assembly. The program catalogues, names, and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity. Under certain conditions, listed sites can obtain funds from the World Heritage Fund. The programme was founded with the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on November 16, 1972. Since then, 186 states party have ratified the convention.

As of 2011, 936 sites are listed: 725 cultural, 183 natural, and 28 mixed properties, in 153 States Parties. Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites to date with 66 sites inscribed on the list. UNESCO references each World Heritage Site with an identification number; but new inscriptions often include previous sites now listed as part of larger descriptions. As a result, the identification numbers exceed 1200 even though there are fewer on the list. While each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located, UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.

List of Sites in Spain

  1. Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada — 1984, 1994
  2. Burgos Cathedral — 1984
  3. Historic Centre of Córdoba — 1984, 1994
  4. Escorial Monastery and Site of the El Escorial, Madrid — 1984
  5. Works of Antoni Gaudí — 1984, 2005
  6. Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain — 1985, 2008
  7. Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of Asturias — 1985, 1998
  8. Old Town of Ávila, with its Extra-Muros churches — 1985
  9. Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct — 1985
  10. Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) — 1985
  11. Garajonay National Park (Canaries) — 1986
  12. Historic City of Toledo — 1986
  13. Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon — 1986, 2001
  14. Old Town of Cáceres — 1986
  15. Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville — 1987
  16. Old City of Salamanca — 1988
  17. Poblet Monastery — 1991
  18. Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida — 1993
  19. Route of Santiago de Compostela — 1993
  20. Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe — 1993
  21. Doñana National Park — 1994
  22. Historic Walled Town of Cuenca — 1996
  23. La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia — 1996
  24. Las Médulas — 1997
  25. Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona — 1997
  26. Pyrénées: Mont Perdu— transboundary property, shared with France — 1997, 1999
  27. San Millán Yuso and Suso Monasteries — 1997
  28. Rock-Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula — 1998
  29. University and Historic Precinct of Alcalá de Henares — 1998
  30. Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture — 1999
  31. San Cristóbal de La Laguna (Canaries) — 1999
  32. Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco in Tarragona — 2000
  33. Archaeological Site of Atapuerca (Burgos) — 2000
  34. Catalan Romanesque Churches of the Vall de Boí — 2000
  35. Palm tree forest of Elche — 2000
  36. Roman Walls of Lugo — 2000
  37. Aranjuez Cultural Landscape — 2001
  38. Renaissance Monumental Ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza — 2003
  39. Vizcaya Bridge — 2006
  40. Teide National Park (Canaries) — 2007
  41. Tower of Hercules, in A Coruña — 2009
  42. Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites in the Côa Valley and Siega Verde — 1998, 2010 (shared with Portugal)
  43. Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana — 2011

Below are some of our Favourites

Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe

Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe is a Roman Catholic monastic establishment in Guadalupe, Cáceres province of the Extremadura autonomous community of Spain; it was the most important monastery in the country for more than four centuries. It is protected by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


The monastery had its origins in the late 13th century, when a shepherd from Cáceres, named Gil Cordero, discovered on the bank of the Guadalupe River a statue of the Madonna, which had been apparently hidden by local inhabitants from Moorish invaders in 714. On the site of his discovery a chapel was built. King Alfonso XI, who visited the chapel more than once, invoked Santa Maria de Guadalupe in the Battle of Rio Salado. After gaining the victory, he ascribed it to the Madonna’s intercession, declared the church at Guadalupe a royal sanctuary and undertook an extensive rebuilding program. In 1389, the Hieronymite monks took over the monastery and made it their principal house. Construction works continued under the auspices of the order’s first prior, and in 1474 Henry IV of Castile was entombed in Guadalupe, next to his mother.

The monastery is rich in associations with the New World, where Our Lady of Guadalupe is highly revered in the Mexican Basilica of Guadalupe and elsewhere. It was here, in Extremadura, that Christopher Columbus made his first pilgrimage after discovering America in 1492 and it was here that he first thanked heaven for his discovery. Even after the monks from Guadalupe founded the famous monastery of Escorial, which was much closer to the royal capital, Madrid, Santa Maria de Guadalupe retained the royal patronage. It remained the most important cloister in Spain until the secularization of monasteries in 1835. In the 20th century, the monastery was revived by the Franciscan Order and Pope Pius XII declared the shrine a “Minor Papal Basilica” in 1955.


The monastery, whose architecture evolved throughout many centuries, is still dominated by the templo mayor, or the main church, built by Alfonso XI and his immediate successors in the 14th and 15th centuries. The square chapel of Santa Catalina is also of the 15th century; it is known for a cluster of ornate 17th-century tombs. The 16th-century reliquaries chapel connects Santa Catalina with the baroque sacristy (1638-47), lavishly decorated and boasting a series of paintings by Zurbarán. Behind the basilica is Camarin de la Virgen, an octagonal baroque structure (1687-96) with the impressive stuccoed Chamber of the Virgin and nine paintings by Luca Giordano. The jewel of this profusely ornamented hall is a throne containing the statue of the Madonna which gave the monastery its name. Other notable structures include the Mudéjar cloister (1389-1405), with the magnificent Plateresque portal; the late Gothic cloister from 1531-33, and the new church, commissioned by one of Columbus’s descendants in 1730. Regrettably, the palace of Isabella I of Castile (1487-91) was pulled down in 1856.

Royal Palace of Aranjuez

Palacio Real de Aranjuez

The Royal Palace of Aranjuez  is a residence of the King of Spain, located in the town of Aranjuez, Community of Madrid, Spain. The palace is open to the public as one of the Spanish royal sites. It was commissioned by Philip II and designed by Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera, who also designed El Escorial. It was completed during the reign of Ferdinand VI by the mid-18th century; Charles III had two wings added to it.

The huge gardens, built to relieve its royal residents from the dust and drought of the Spanish meseta using the waters of theadjacent Tagus and Jarama rivers, are Spain’s most important of the Habsburg period. The Jardín de la Isla is on a man-made island bounded by the River Tagus and the Ria Canal. The Jardín del Principe contains a miniature palace (the Casa del Labrador, built for Charles IV) and the Museo de las Falúas Reales, housing the most important extant collection of Spain’s royal pleasure barges.

The Concierto de Aranjuez is a composition for classical guitar and orchestra written by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo, who was inspired by the palace gardens. The work attempts to take the listener through sounds of nature in and around the gardens during the period in which it was written. The palace’s important art and historical collections include the Museo de la Vida en Palacio, describing the daily lives of Spain’s monarchs.

Palmeral of Elche

Palmeral de Elche / Palmerar d’Elx

The Palmeral of Elche is a plantation of palm trees in the Spanish province of Alicante. It is the largest palm grove in Europe and one of the largest in the world, surpassed in size only by some in Arab countries.

The Palmeral includes the Parque Municipal and many other orchards (huertos), covering over 3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi), including 1.5 km2 (0.58 sq mi) within the city of Elche (Elx). It contains more than 11,000 palm trees, mostly date palms (Phoenix dactylifera), with individual specimens up to 300 years old. At its peak, in the 18th century, it may have covered an area twice as large, with up to 200,000 trees. The dates are harvested in December. A famous date palm is the “Imperial Palm” (Palmera Imperial), with 7 stems in the shape of a candelabra, named after Elisabeth, known as Sissi, the Empress consort of Franz Joseph, who visited the plantation in 1894.

It is thought that palms were originally planted in this location as early as the 5th century BC by Carthaginians who settled in south-east Spain. The plantation survived under the Romans and the Moors. The irrigation system was extended in the times of Abd ar-Rahman I and remains in use. The formal landscape of the palmeral that still exists today was created when the city was under Moorish control in the 10th century. Although the area has an annual rainfall of only 300 mm (12 in), the palm trees planted along a network of irrigation canals from the salty River Vinalopó creates a patchwork of agricultural plots (huertos), each demarcated and shaded by the palm trees to create a protected microclimate. Laws were passed to protect the plantation after the Reconquista.

In 2005, it was discovered that the larvae of the red palm weevil (Rhynchophorus ferrugineus) had infested some trees, laying its eggs inside the stems.

San Millán de la Cogolla

San Millán de la Cogolla is a sparsely populated municipality in La Rioja, Spain. It takes its name from a 6th-century saint (Saint Emilianus or San Millán) who lived here, and from the shape of the surrounding mountains (the word cogolla means “cowl”). The village is famous for its twin monasteries, Yuso and Suso, which were declared a World Heritage Site in 1997. There were 293 inhabitants registered in 2009, the population having fallen significantly during the twentieth century.

San Millán has a claim to being the birthplace of the Spanish language. The area is Spanish-speaking but some of the local place-names are of Basque origin, and there is evidence that Basque was spoken locally a thousand years ago .

Jews were living here as early as at Nájera, and they suffered greatly in the civil war between Peter of Castile and Henry II of Castile. On October 15, 1369, at the request of the directors of the small aljama of San Millán, whose cause was advocated by “certain Jews who were received at court,” Henry II of Castile ordered that “the Christian men and women and the Moorish men and women” should immediately discharge all their debts to the Jews, “that the last-named might be able to pay their taxes the more promptly.” On September 10, 1371, however, the king released the abbot and all the monks of San Millán from whatever debts they had contracted with the Jews since the Battle of Nájera

Archivo General de Indias

The Archivo General de Indias (“General Archive of the Indies”), housed in Seville, Spain, in the ancient merchants’ exchange, the Casa Lonja de Mercaderes, is the document repository of extremely valuable archival documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. The General Archive of the Indies is housed in a structure designed by Juan de Herrera, an unusually serene and Italianate Spanish example ofRenaissance architecture. The building and its contents were registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

he origin of the structure dates to 1572 when Philip II commissioned the building from Juan de Herrera, the architect of the Escorial to house the Consulado de mercaderes of Seville. To that time, the merchants of Seville had been in the habit of retreating to the cool recesses of the cathedral to transact business. The building encloses a large central patio with ranges of two storeys, the windows set in slightly sunken panels between flat pilasters. Plain square tablets float in the space above each window. The building is surmounted by abalustrade, with rusticated obelisks standing at the corners. There is no sculptural decoration, only the discreetly contrasting tonalities of stone and stucco, and the light shadows cast by the slight relief of the pilasters against their piers, by the cornices, and by the cornice strips that cap each window. The building was begun in 1584 by Juan de Mijares, working to Herrera’s plans, and was ready for use in 1598, according to an inscription on the north façade. Work on completing the structure proceeded through the 17th century, directed until 1629 by the archbishop Juan de Zumárraga and finished by Pedro Sanchez Falconete.


In 1785, by decree of Charles III the archives of the Council of the Indies were to be housed here, in order to bring together under a single roof all the documentation regarding the overseas empire, which until that time had been dispersed among various archives, as Simancas, Cádiz and Seville. Responsibility for the project was delegated to José de Gálvez y Gallardo, Secretary for the Indies, who depended on the historian Juan Bautista Muñoz for the plan’s execution. Two basic motivations underlay the project; in addition to the lack of space in the Archivo General de Simancas, the central archive of the Spanish Crown, there was also the expectation, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, that Spanish historians would take up the history of Spain’s colonial empire. It was decided that, for the time being, documents evolved after 1760 would remain with their primary institutions. The first cartloads of the documents arrived in October 1785. Some restructuring of the Casa Lonja to accommodate the materials was required, and a grand marble staircase was added in 1787, to designs of Lucas Cintara.

The archives are rich with autograph material from the first of the Conquistadors to the end of the 19th century. Here are Miguel de Cervantes’ request for an official post, the Bull of Demarcation Inter caetera of Pope Alexander VI that divided the world between Spain and Portugal, the journal of Christopher Columbus, maps and plans of the colonial American cities, in addition to the ordinary archives that reveal the month-to-month workings of the whole vast colonial machinery, which have been mined by every Spanish historian in the last two centuries. Today the Archivo General de Indias houses some nine kilometers of shelving, in 43,000 volumes and some 80 million pages, which were produced by the colonial administration:

  • Consejo de Indias, 16th-19th centuries
  • Casa de la Contratación, 16th-18th centuries
  • Consulados de Sevilla y Cádiz, 16th-19th centuries
  • Secretarías de Estado y Despacho Universal de Indias, de Estado, Gracia y Justicia, Hacienda y Guerra, 18th-19th centuries
  • Secretaría del Juzgado de Arribadas de Cádiz, 18th-19th centuries
  • Comisaría Interventora de la Hacienda Pública de Cádiz, Dirección General de la Renta de Correos, 18th-19th centuries
  • Sala de Ultramar del Tribunal de Cuentas, 19th century
  • Real Compañía de la Habana, 18th-19th centuries

The structure underwent a thorough restoration in 2002–2004, without interrupting its function as a research library. As of 2005, its 15 million pages are in the process of being digitized.

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