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Architecture



The Murcian rural fincas and villas display many of the typical features of Spanish architecture. Older Murcian building were mainly made of stone with very thick walls to keep the house cooler. The rooves had beamed ceilings and the doors made of wood. Teracotta or stone floors were typical. Many of the new houses today display feature the same classic traits as the former buildings, including beamed ceilings and rustic tiles and stone. The houses now display all the modern comforts with a typically rustic appearance.

While the history of buildings is normally charted in terms of the great architectural currents sweeping through Europe, vernacular dwellings tend to follow their own pattern. These building were often either built by local craftsmen or by the owners themselves, make use of local materials, embody a more purely functional design, and generally are more at one with the surrounding landscape. In areas prone to heavy snowfall, like the Pyrenees or the Picos de Europa, steep pitched roofs were used, while in the Mediterranean an enclosed flat roof could serve as a repository for water. The arid climate of the Mediterranean also allowed for adobe construction, while northern Spanish building were always made of timber, stone or brick. Socioeconomic factors also played a part, the small tenant farmers of Galicia and Asturias lived in simple dwellings, while the system of land inheritance in Catalonia and Navarra favoured medium sized landholdings, evident in the larger farmhouse.
Galacian palloza

In Galicia the traditional farmhouse was the palloza, a small house, often accompanied by outside storage in the form of a small raised barn known as an horreo, where grain, meat, or dairy products were stored. In some regions a thatch roof was used and the building could be circular in shape. In contrast the caserio found in the Basque Country and Navarra was a much larger structure. Typically the ground floor was given over to animals, while the inhabitants lived on the first floor. This had the advantage, that the heat generated by the animals helped keep the inhabitants warm during winter.

Valencian barraca

Similar in design is the masia, found in Catalonia and the alqueria in Valencia. Again the animals occupied the ground floor and the roof space was often used to dry crops. The golden age of the Catalan masia was during the sixteenth century when stone construction began to be used and very few surviving masias were built before this period. Land reform enacted under Ferdinand II of Aragon also contributed by granting ownership rights to the farmers. The evocative barraca has today all but disappeared from Valencia and Murcia, but traditionally it was built from adobe. It was used by the poorer pheasants and is characterised by steep pitched roof made from reeds. Barracas are found away from the towns and were sometimes used as a temporary abode by the farmer when working the fields. The barraca may have been introduced by the Moors and is it bears some similarity in design to the kábilas found in north Africa.

Entrance into a cortijo

The cortijo is found in the south of the peninsula, the preserve of the wealthy Andalucian landed classes. The cortijo is a lasting symbol of the latifundia landowning system, huge estates worked by impoverished labourers. The cortijo is typically a large farm complex with whitewashed walls, built around a central patio with separate buildings for living quarters, stables, barns and a store for farm implements. Because of their remote location the cortijos were auto-sufficient, and might include an oven or stone mill to press olives. Usually the owners were absent, and the cortijo would be inhabited by an overseer, who would run the farm and contract casual labourers during harvest time. Smaller buildings found in the countryside in Andalucia belonging to pheasants go under the names rancho or cortijillo.

What is surely the most humble of rural houses, the whitewashed cubic structures from Ibiza, has had doubtless the greatest impact on architectural style. These are pheasant buildings, whose modular form allows extra rooms to be built alongside as the family requires more space. The clean lines and minimalist form were to influence the modern school of architecture from Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus movement, to Le Corbusier. Ibizan houses are built with thick walls and small windows to regulate the temperature inside from the punishing sun. What little rain falls in the island could be collected on the flat roofs, which are waterproofed with charcoal, and the houses usually had a small garden to the back where vegetable could be grown. An extension to Murcia's city hall makes a dignified contribution to the town's historic core.

Murcia, according to the nineteenth-century writer Augustus Hare, would, 'from the stagnation of its long existence, be the only place Adam would recognize if he returned to earth'. Founded by the Moors in the ninth century, Murcia evolved as an important trading centre on the south east corner of the Iberian peninsula. Four centuries later it became the regional capital, and during the eighteenth century was extensively rebuilt. Enclosed by mountains, the city still maintains an air of languid tranquillity, far removed from the coastal tourist resorts of the Costa Blanca.

Dominating the streets and plazas of the historic core is the baroque bulk of the city's cathedral. Begun in the fourteenth century and completed in the eighteenth, the cathedral's monumental facade presides imperiously over Plaza Cardenal Belluga in the heart of the city. The wedge-shaped plaza is an important public space, bounded on its south side by the eponymous cardinal's palace and to the north by an unremarkable row of houses. On its western edge, the demolition of an eighteenth century house on a site owned by the city left a glaring gap, dissipating the plaza's intimate sense of enclosure. The loss of the original urban fabric also allowed newer buildings to intrude. Aware of the sensitivity and importance of the site, the municipal authorities decided to give the plaza a new civic focus by constructing an extension to the existing city hall. Following an unsuccessful invited competition between three local architects, Rafael Moneo was commissioned to develop a proposal.

Church and state now face each other across the plaza in a tableau that embodies their historic relationship and influence on the city. Just as the imposing front of the cathedral evokes the power and prestige of the church during the eighteenth century, so Moneo's building is a contemporary manifestation of secular democracy and civic authority. Yet despite being clearly of its time, the new intervention respects and responds to the plaza's existing buildings. The confines of the building's urban surroundings generate the logic for both its internal organization and external expression