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Park Guell

Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain (Photo: iStock)

These cities with unusual architecture are more than just a pretty façade—they also have fascinating stories to tell.

Barcelona has some of the world’s most distinctive architecture thanks to Antoni Gaudí, whose contributions to the city’s religious buildings earned him the nickname “God’s architect.” Gaudí was active from the 1870s to his death in 1926. His most famous work is the Sagrada Familia Basilica, which was unfinished at the time of his death and is still under construction almost 100 years later. Gaudí’s style was organic, curvaceous, and bright, and many of his works incorporated ceramics in innovative ways to reflect his passion for pottery. Park Güell, another of his famous creations, features huge mosaics and sculptures covered in tile. Other Gaudí sites to visit in Barcelona include some of the private homes he built for wealthy patrons, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, and the Gaudí House Museum.

In Montreal, the remains of the 1967 World’s Fair provide a fascinating peek into thearchitecture and attitudes of the 1960s. Expo 67, as it was commonly known, was considered to be the most successful World’s Fair ever. Several of the pavilions remain in use, including the Biosphere, a gigantic geodesic dome that’s been turned into an environmental museum. Another quirky building is Habitat 67, a housing complex that looks like hundreds of cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other. Habitat 67 is now a 148-unit apartment building. There are several more sites around the city that are still standing, and the McCord Museum of Montreal History has a permanent exhibition on the sites and artifacts of the Expo.

After years of chronic flooding, the city of Seattle decided in 1889 to raise their streets by two stories. Employing some engineering ingenuity, city planners were able to build new streets 12–30 feet above the old ones. But the old streets didn’t disappear—in fact, for several years after construction pedestrians would climb ladders to move between street level and the underground sidewalks. In 1907 the city condemned the underground streets fearing bubonic plague outbreaks from unsanitary conditions. The buildings and basements were left to deteriorate and were often taken over as flophouses and speakeasies. Today you can tour the underground portion of the streets to see some of the original building facades and learn more about Seattle’s olden days.

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Jamie Smith

Jamie Smith

Jamie Smith is a writer, traveler and lover of cities currently living in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter at @shameonseamus.
Jamie Smith

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