Europe's Top 5 unique architectural secrets

It's no secret that Europe is home to some of the world's most incredible architecture - The Colosseum, Notre-Dame de Paris, Sagrada Família among others. But you don't need to be an expert to enjoy some of the lesser known marvels.

Take a look at these five examples of some of Europe's hidden architectural secrets. Get off the beaten track, veer away from the crowds and come home with a little bit of culture under your belt.

The Dancing House, Frank Gehry - Prague


We all know Ginger danced the same moves as Fred, only backwards in high heels. But could she ever have imagined dancing by his side on the banks of Prague's Vltava River?

Built on the site of a WW2 bombing, Prague's most controversial building was designed to resemble the famous dancing duo. The glass tower represents Ginger, as she curves around her concrete Fred (complete with a ginger tuft of hair).

The Dancing House was completed in 1996 by Vlado Milunic and renowned American architect Frank Gehry. The two parts symbolise the transition of Czechoslovakia (Czechia) from communist regime to parliamentary democracy.

Being surrounded by Prague's Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings means there was a lot of controversy when it was first unveiled. Its deconstructivist design features quirky windows that appear to have been stuck on haphazardly, but it also includes a number of classical design components including a colonnade and dome. 

But over the years, the Dancing House has become one of the city's most popular and beloved landmarks. The nearest metro station is Karlovo NámÄ›stí. But be warned, this is on a really busy traffic junction. Trams 3 and 17 run right along the side of the building, so you need to be aware when trying to get that perfect photo. We suggest heading there on foot, which gives you the chance to stroll along the banks of the Vltava.

Eden Project - Cornwall


This crazy, amazing geodesic dome structure houses over a million plants and is Cornwall's most famous attraction. It's built along the side of a massive clay pit and boasts three biomes designed to represent three distinct climates around the world.

What's a biome, you ask? It's a community of plants and animals living together in a certain kind of climate. Here at the Eden Project you can visit the the Rainforest Biome and the Mediterranean Biome, and the Outside Biome which is actually just...outside.

Besides being absolutely stunning, Eden is also a remarkable architectural achievement. The designers wanted to recreate these foreign climates using as little additional energy as possible. So most of the heat is generated by storing the sun's energy inside the biomes. The ventilation and watering systems are also energy efficient and computer-controlled.

The Rainforest Biome houses the world's largest captive rainforest, covering 3.9 acres. It's probably the most spectacular of the three thanks to colourful tropical plants like fruiting banana trees, coffee, rubber and a giant bamboo. 

The Mediterranean Biome is a real feast for the senses, as you wander past lemon trees, olives trees, vines and perfumed herbs.  And outdoors, you'll find plants from climates in Chile, the Himalayas, Asia and Australia, including tea, lavender, hops, hemp and sunflowers.

Bone Church - Sedlec Ossuary in Kutná Hora, Sedlec


The Sedlec Ossuary doesn't look like much from the outside, just a medieval gothic church in the tiny town of Sedlec in Kutna Hora. But inside, prepare to feel chilled to the bone...literally. Because the interior of the church is decorated by around 50,000 human bones.

After plague ravaged the area in the 14th century, burial space became a hot commodity. The city was beginning to develop, and more room was needed. So between 40,000 and 70,000 bones were transported from their mass graves to the crypt of this chapel. The story goes that in 1511, a half-blind monk started to exhume the skeletons and stack their bones into pyramids.

Later on, around 1870, the owners of the chapel asked Frantisek Rint to become their chief interior decorator. He was commissioned to continue the work of the monk and create works of art from the bones, including crosses, columns, chalices, and even a coat of arms for the family who owned it.

One of the most jaw-dropping works is the chandelier of bone. It contains at least one of every bone in the human body, and hangs from the centre of the nave with garlands of skulls draping the vault.

The Sedlec Ossuary is about 1.6km from Sedlec, and is within comfortable walking distance from the train station. Or if you're in the centre of town, you can take a taxi or bus from Masarykova Street. 

The chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, Le Corbusier - France

This one is small, but mighty - and possibly one of the most unique and beautiful buildings you could ever hope to see. 

Hidden away in the tiny town of Ronchamp in rural France, you have to hike through a village, a graveyard and up a tiny path to reach the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut (also pictured above). Once there, you will be rewarded with a masterpiece in modern architecture and one of the finest and best-known examples of Le Corbusier's work.

It's the curves you'll notice first. The walls, roof and even the floor are curved to reflect the shape of the hill it sits on. Small stained-glass glass windows, some of which are 10ft thick, punctuate and pierce the walls. They allow the a dramatic and awe-inspiring light to stream in, lighting up the interior like a sparkling jewel. 

Many have been moved to tears on arrival. It welcomes both religious and architectural pilgrims, sending them on their way cleansed, refreshed and full of hope. 

Kunsthaus Graz, Austria

It doesn't get much weirder than this one. Affectionately known as "The Friendly Alien" this unique, biomorphic design combines architecture, design, new media, internet art, film, and photography all under one roof.  

Unveiled in 2003, it is a shocking and inspiring example of blob architecture - a movement in which buildings have an organic, amoeba-shaped, bulging form. This big, bright, blue bubble stands out like a sore thumb, surrounded by 18th century pastel-colored Baroque buildings. Its shiny, scaly, acrylic-glass skin flashes and glows in the dark, and offers amazing and distorted views of the city riverscape in its reflection.

As an exhibition centre for contemporary art, it was built as part of the  European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2003. Graz is an extraordinarily pretty town, around three hours by train from Vienna. The entire eastern side of the Kunsthaus Graz is a high tech visual display facing the Mur River and city centre. 

 

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