Modern Marvels: 'Architectural change was slow to happen in Andalucia'

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The Independent Travel

So much attention is paid to the glorious architecture of many of Andalucia's old buildings that it is easy to forget that plenty has been built in the region in more modern times, too. Most noticeable are the new housing areas or "urbanizaciones" that have sprung up along the coast. Many of them are reminiscent of the old Moorish villages; others, like Sotogrande, are luxurious resorts showcasing modern tastes in comfortable living.

Architectural change was slow to happen in this traditional region, but it was kick-started in 1929 when Seville hosted the Ibero-American Exhibition in Maria Luisa Park. The park was redesigned and several of the pavilions, built as showcases for the exhibitions of various countries, still remain. The Plaza de España, an elaborate semi-circular expanse with a canal and fountains in front of it, was built to house the Spanish exhibitions.

Many of the region's modern buildings are civic ones, created through the needs of its citizens for schools, hospitals and other public institutions. Examples include places like the university in Cordoba, the bus station in Almeria and, later, the Santa Justa railway station in Seville. Increasing industrialisation has been a driving force, too, resulting in some striking commercial premises: the Bodegas Garvey, headquarters of the Garvey sherry house in Jerez, for example, and the fish market in Barbate.

Malaga, a city which has seen rapid development in the last century thanks to the demands of mass tourism, has some interesting examples of modern architecture. Most obvious is the new Congress Hall, opened in 2003, whose trapezoid windows and wave-like roof mark it out from the urban sprawl around it. Opened in the same year, but beautifully converted from the older Mercado de Mayoristas, built in 1939, is CAC Malaga, the city's Contemporary Art Gallery on Calle Alemania (00 34 952 120 055; www.cacmalaga.org). The building is typical of the style popular in the early days of the Spanish republic: solid, rather squat, with clean lines and long rectangular windows.

Perhaps the single most striking example of modern architecture in Andalucia is the Alamillo Bridge in Seville. Designed by the well-known Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to provide a northern entrance to the site of Expo '92, this 250-metre bridge is at once dramatic and graceful, and consists of a single leaning pylon held in place with cables attached to different points along the bridge.

RONDA: A MOORISH TREASURE TROVE

After the Reconquest was complete, the Spanish began to eliminate all traces of Moorish architecture. Some survived - and more in Ronda than anywhere else. Built just outside the city walls, the bath house, or baños arabes, was a popular meeting place in Moorish times. The baths have been carefully restored so that their three main areas, the hot, warm and cold rooms, are clearly identifiable.

More important was the Mondragon Palace, residence of several Moorish kings. It is a lovely building, containing a series of interior courtyards, arches, overhanging balconies and tiled walls that clearly show its Moorish origins.

When the town was first reconquered, the king ordered the building of a new church in commemoration of the victory. The Church of the Holy Spirit was built on top of the existing mosque in a gothic-renaissance style, with a single nave, which gives the building a real sense of grandeur. St Mary's church was also converted out of a mosque, and it is this building, on one side of Ronda's attractive main square, that the residents of the town refer to as their cathedral. It is part ornate place of worship, part museum, with the original Muslim prayer niche, partially hidden in the entrance where the tickets are sold.

Everything in Ronda seems to have been built on something else: the 18th-century façade of the Casa del Moro sits on top of the ancient Moorish water gallery; the arch of Philip V is an 18th-century entrance through the city walls, thought to replace an older original.

Baños Arabes (00 34 952 873 889) opens 10am-7pm Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm at weekends. Admission €2 (£1.40).

Mondragon Palace (00 34 952 878 450) opens 10am-7pm Monday to Friday, 10am-3pm at weekends. Admission €2 (£1.40).

Church of the Holy Spirit opens 10am-1.30pm and 4pm-7pm Monday to Saturday. Admission €1 (70p).

St Mary's Church (00 34 952 872 246) opens 10am-8pm daily. Admission €3 (£2.15).

The Tourist Office is at Paseo Blas Infante s/n (00 34 952 187 119; www.turismoderonda.es).

The nearest airport to Ronda is Malaga. British Airways, operated by GB Airways, flies to Malaga from London Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester. For more details visit www.ba.com

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