Architecture in South America

Stretching back thousands of years, the eye-catching architecture of South America unravels the story of the continent piece by piece.

Due to a mass of cultural influences from all over the world, as well as homegrown talent, South America has a wealth of architecture that cannot be missed. From Quito’s historic centre to the ultra-modern Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro, whether you are visiting a small colonial town or a bustling metropolis, the buildings that hem the streets will be sure to leave an impression.

Elegant theatres, breathtaking places of worship and imposing government buildings across the vast South American continent are just some of the architectural delights that you can expect to see during your stay. European-inspired Baroque churches such as La Compania de Jesus in Cusco, with its gilded interior and ornamental façade, showcase the intricate design features that became popular as South America developed into the destination we know today. Meanwhile, other churches are very much entwined with the people who built them; take Igreja da Ordem Terceira de Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Pretos in Salvador de Bahia, for example. Built by slaves over the course of a hundred years this pretty blue church gives a powerful insight into Brazil’s social history as well as housing a number of captivating works of art.

If you are drawn to colonial architecture, you will be spoilt for choice. Every country in South America possesses a plethora of incredibly well-preserved towns with perhaps one of the most popular being Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. For quieter cobbled streets, head to Paraty in Brazil, where you will discover gorgeous white-washed buildings with picture-perfect beaches as your backdrop. The first half of the 20th century, again, saw a boom in iconic buildings. Visit Uruguay’s capital city Montevideo and delight in the collection of Art Deco creations scattered throughout. Heading along the coast meanwhile, Piriápolis still proudly boasts many of the Art Deco features that were erected in its heyday as a popular holiday resort.

Of course, we can’t look at South America’s architecture without exploring the work of some of its internationally renowned experts. Thanks to the likes of Oscar Niemeyer and, more recently, people such as Isay Weinfeld, South America has been given a thoroughly modern twist. With Niemeyer’s work standing out in both Brasilia and Belo Horizonte, even sports stadiums have been updated with smooth curves and clever engineering, Arena da Amazonia in Manaus being a prime example of this. Wherever you choose to travel in South America, you can be sure to be greeted with far more than simple bricks and mortar.

Architecture in South America Highlight:
  • A juxtaposition of old and new architecture in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • The Spanish colonial buildings erected atop Inca ruins in Cusco, Peru
  • The gorgeous, brightly coloured Old Town in Cartagena, Colombia
  • Casapueblo, an ethereal seaside home built by Carlos Páez Vilaró, in Punta del Este, Uruguay
  • Cathedrals, churches, monasteries and colonnaded streets in Arequipa, Peru
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