There are beautiful buildings, and then there is architecture so imbued with history and culture it takes your breath away. Here, Andrew Harper recounts 10 of his favorite locations where the architecture reveals the spirit and the story of a place; where it is an essential and inspiring part of the travel experience. We then ask the local hotel owners, concierges, tour guides and travel consultants who know these places best to weigh in, in their own words, about what makes the architecture so unforgettable.
“The extraordinary juxtaposition of Classical, Medieval and Renaissance buildings, exemplified by the Piazza Navona, a former chariot racing track.” —AH
From Armando Manni, owner of Casa Manni: “Casa Manni opens up onto the Piazza de Pietra, a plaza that perfectly expresses Rome’s most fantastic mixture of time. Here you have the Temple of Hadrian, with 11 columns from A.D. 145 still intact. Pope Innocent XII transformed the temple into the Roman Stock exchange in the late 1600s. So you have ancient Rome, the Baroque period and modern Rome, all overlapping and visible from the front steps of our hotel. And we are only a two-minute walk from both the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain—from ancient to Baroque, Caesar to la dolce vita—this is the marvelous architectural time travel of Rome.”
“The vernacular architecture of the English countryside. Medieval wool villages in golden stone, the prettiest being Chipping Campden.” —AH
From Nigel Power, General Manager of Buckland Manor: “Strewn with countless pretty villages built by Medieval merchants enriched by the wool trade, the Cotswolds fulfills most people’s idea of a ‘typical’ English landscape. Here, neat fields, narrow hedge-lined lanes, ancient woodland and clear streams combine with simple stone cottages, churches, manor houses and tithe barns to create a picture of timeless beauty.”
“The mountain range of Midtown seen from the upper deck of the 59th Street Bridge. Still the world's most impressive manmade landscape.” —AH
From Ashish Verma, General Manager of the Lowell Hotel: “The Manhattan skyline rises like a collage of lives lived to the fullest. It is a skyline that inspires one to be so themselves and yet to grow and be so much more. There is a story in every building here. This is home to some of the most culturally diverse and dynamically vibrant people from all across the globe, gathered together on this tiny island in search of our potential. The Manhattan Skyline is a synopsis of all that man can create—architecturally, economically, philosophically and practically. No wonder the view from any building in Manhattan is a view of life itself—full to its brim and overflowing with warmth, opportunity and success. This is New York.
“The adobe architecture of the Southwest, so often painted by Georgia O'Keeffe and photographed by Alfred Stieglitz.” —AH
From Gloria Castillo, Concierge of Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi: “Our guests love visits to the ancient Taos Pueblo, still home to Taos Native Americans, and the rustic adobe churches in Abiquiu, like the Penitente Morada and St. Thomas the Apostle, both built in the 1700s. These cultural treasures—and so much of the architecture in this area—provide a sense of discovery of the unknown; it is like you are stepping back in time. The people who still live in the Taos Pueblo, for example, possess a strong and sacred sense of community that is both heart-warming and inspiring.”
“Valley of the Kings. The unimaginable past preserved in stone.” —AH
From Abeer El Sherif, Nubia Tours’ Egyptologist: “A visit to Egypt is like traveling back in time for thousands of years, particularly when you go to Luxor and visit the Valley of the Kings. People always say there is something very particular in the air of the place, which houses more than 60 royal tombs, as if the rock-bound vaults radiate a presence of the distant past. Entering the tombs, you see the most beautiful scenes and vivid colors from 1500 B.C. They show the journey of the spirit of a king after death and the magical spells and prayers he needs to protect him. The most famous tomb is that of Tutankhamen; it was discovered in 1922, untouched, and was full of the most exquisite treasures. This valley keeps many secrets still waiting to be discovered.”
“European, Asian and Stalinist architecture all in one place; an illustration of Russia’s schizophrenic personality.” —AH
From Joe Colucci, Travel Consultant in the Andrew Harper Travel Office: “Red Square is an ideal place to witness the contrasts of history and architectural styles in Moscow. At the entrance, you have the Hotel Moscow, built in the Socialist Constructivist style under Stalin. Nearby loom the colorful onion domes of the Russian Orthodox Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Lining the eastern side of the square is the late 19th-century GUM department store; Stalin converted it into offices for his committees, and it now houses glamorous shops like Burberry and Herme`s. Also, a ride on the metro is like taking a tour through Moscow’s eclecticism. Some stops are in the grand Stalinist Baroque style, some are bare Cold War era, and others have beautiful mosaics and busts of Lenin. Each is a museum of its own.
“The crumbling temples and ashrams lining the Ganges that are at the heart of Indian culture.” —AH
From Somnath Mukherjee, General Manager of Nadesar Palace: “Varanasi is one of India’s seven holy cities, places believed to be gateways to divine realms. We have here some of the most sacred temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, like the magnificent Kashi Vishwanath. Not far from our hotel winds the Ganges, where you can see pilgrims at sunrise, waist deep in the holy waters, doing ablution and devoutly offering their prayers to the rising sun. A boat ride along the Ganges at dawn or at dusk is a mesmerizing experience. The majestic ancient temples and spirituality here can allure anyone to lose themselves amid the hustle and bustle of one of the oldest living cities in the world.”
“The wooden temples of the Zen monasteries, the so-called Five Great Zen Temples of Kyoto, Nanzen-ji, Tenryu-ji, etc.” —AH
From Emiko Sakaoka, guide for Abercrombie & Kent Tours in Kyoto: “The Five Great Zen Temples of Kyoto are a beautiful way to see how architecture can express a spiritual practice. For example, in Kennin-ji, founded in A.D. 1202, you can see the typical Zen-style building layout: the san-mon (a doorless gate of symbolic importance), the hatto (Dharma Hall) and the hojo building (abbot’s quarters) in a straight line. The hojo building’s coppercovered roof has a beautiful, gentle line. What I also like about this temple is the contrast of a quiet Zen temple and the surrounding area of Gion, which is known for geisha girls. At the temple known as Tofuku-ji, founded in A.D. 1255, you get a combination of traditional Zen temple buildings with the modern garden design of Mirei Shigemori, one of the most famous garden designers of the 20th century.”
“Spanish colonial mansions built on top of Incan ruins illustrate the collision of Old and New World civilizations.” —AH
From Jose Pilares Caceres, Concierge of Hotel Monasterio: “You can truly feel the culture and history of the Inca in Cusco, both in the pre-Conquest architecture, and with the Incas’ modern descendents, the Quechua, who are a vibrant part of life in this area today. Coricancha, a famous Incan temple, is one of the best places to witness the merger of Spanish and Incan architecture. Once dedicated to the Incan sun god and lined in gold, the Spaniards built over it, transforming it into the Convent of Santo Domingo. But you can still see the ancient, sophisticated Incan stonemasonry there. You can also imagine the Incan past at SacsayhuamaÅLn, an archeological site overlooking Cusco—it was once the temple of the lightning god, but now modern Peruvians celebrate the winter solstice there every June 24.”
“The view of this great Islamic city from the Palais Jamai overlooking the medina hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages. Arab civilization at its height.” —AH
From Jemima Mann-Baha, co-owner of Palais Amani: “Fes is over 1,200 years old and has the largest medina in the world, a vast labyrinth of narrow alleyways navigated only on foot or by donkey. These alleyways take you into another time, and allow visitors to experience life as it was when the city was first established. Once in the medina, you cannot imagine what lies behind the high crumbling walls and unremarkable doors that border the narrow streets. But if you push a door and step inside you move from a dusty paved alley to magnificent gardens with citrus fruit trees and huge mosaic fountains, or intricately decorated Koranic schools and places of worship. It’s a wonderful place to get lost; taking a wrong turn invariably brings you to a whole different experience and feast for the eyes.”