Granada: Cathedral, Royal Chapel, Wandering Around
November 2, 2019
A light drizzle fell when I arrived in Granada by train from Córdoba today, the first rain I experienced on this Spain trip. Fortunately, it didn’t last long. I took in the Granada Cathedral and the Royal Chapel, and did some mostly aimless wandering in dry comfort.
I started writing these words before dinner, but I likely won’t post them until after dinner. Why is that relevant? The forecast calls for rain at dinnertime. That’s more significant than it sounds, but more on that toward the end of this dispatch. Suffice it for now to say, if I don’t post this, it might be because I’m lying in a hospital, or worse. (Spoiler: You’re reading this.)
The Granada Cathedral, or more formally in Spanish, Catedral de Granada, Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación de Granada, is, not to put too fine a point on it, a big old church. It started out being planned as a Gothic church. But then the Renaissance snuck up on them, as Renaissances may do if you’re not vigilant. They (you know, “they”) then constructed it in the Renaissance style. The interior decoration, on the other hand, is baroque. I wish people could just make up their minds and stick with it. Some people. Really.
The ribbed, decorated ceilings in the Granada Cathedral soar majestically, but you’d expect that from a Renaissance, née Gothic cathedral.
The high altar in the Main Chapel is beautiful. A big, bold majestic monstrance sits in front of the altarpiece. I normally probably wouldn’t mention the monstrance, but I only learned what a monstrance was when I visited the Mesquita Cathedral in Córdoba yesterday. I wanted to show off my newfound knowledge of the word here.
Side chapels line the sides of the cathedral. That’s why I called them side chapels rather than, say, middle-of-the-cathedral chapels or out-in-an-abandoned-lot chapels. The side chapels are decorated in various styles and degrees of elaborateness.
The sacristy now houses a small art collection. They don’t allow photos in there (or, as the signs in that room say, “NO FOTOS. NO VIDEO.”). So, use your imagination. I’ve heard that raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens are a few of the favourite things that someone or other likes to imagine. Go with that.
The Royal Chapel (Capilla Real de Granada) adjoins the Granada Cathedral, but has a separate public entrance. The audioguide provided in the chapel points out a door between the Royal Chapel and the Granada Cathedral. The general public can’t use that door.
Of course not. Then the public might visit both, but avoid paying separate admission fees for each. Heaven forbid. (Just to be clear, the audioguide mentioned only the door. The parts about two separate admission fees and heaven forbid were my interjections.)
It’s not a big deal. Admission is only €5 for each. But there’s no reduced seniors rate in either place. That’s a bad move on their part. Us seniors can be a cantankerous lot if we don’t get our discounts.
The Royal Chapel is much smaller in all three physical dimensions than the Granada Cathedral. And, although it is decorated with paintings, sculptures, a beautiful high altar, and architectural gewgaws (art historians, you know who you are, will hate me for calling them gewgaws), it’s not, to my eye, as splendorous as the cathedral.
In 1492 …
The Royal Chapel’s claim to fame is that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (also referred to as Isabel) are buried there. Yeah, that Ferdinand and Isabella. They were the ones who issued the final decree expelling the last of the Jews from Spain in 1492. So, they’re not my favourite king and queen of all time.
Ferdinand and Isabella also sponsored Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America. (Although, even after he went and came back, he thought he visited the far east. Bright guy, that.) So, I imagine there were some South and North American indigenous people who weren’t thrilled with Ferdinand and Isabella when conquests and diseases started happening.
Ferdinand and Isabella’s successors, Philip the Fair and Juana the Mad, are also entombed in the Royal Chapel.
Marble sarcophagi for the two couples sit on the chapel floor, one for each couple. Two marble sculptures, one of each member of each couple, lie in repose on the tops of each the respect sarcophagi. (Rather spend a lot of time trying to make the preceding sentence less ambiguous, allow me to clarify that there are four statues in total, with two, one male and one female, on each sarcophagus.)
You’d think that would be it. Here lie the bodies of Ferdinand, Isabella, Philip, and Juana, inside the sarcophagi, right?
Not so fast. It’s a false front. Or, rather, a false top.
Two staircases sit in front of the sarcophagi—one to go down, and one to return back up. At the bottom of the stairs, I looked through a window into a plain room under the sarcophagi. Inside the room sat four unadorned, simple, boxy lead coffins. Those are the final resting places of the royals’ remains.
But, wait. There’s more.
In addition to everything mentioned above above, the Royal Chapel contains a treasury displaying a crown, a scepter, a couple of swords, and other valuables. There’s also a gallery to show off Isabel’s art collection.
Isabel was quite a collector. By the time of her death, she amassed more than 200 pieces. Sometime later, Napoleon paid a visit to Granada. When he departed, only 31 of Isabella’s pieces of artwork remained. I hope they counted the silverware too.
“No Fotos. No Video.” signs appeared throughout the Royal Chapel. And the guard at the entrance told everyone the same thing. Consequently, the only photo I offer here is the one above of the Royal Chapel entrance from outside.
Wandering Around Granada
My wandering around today took place primarily in one of the old sections of Granada. There is an interesting blend of street types there.
A street that wouldn’t look terribly out of place in North America runs along what I’m guessing is one of the boundaries of that old section.
The rest of the streets are varied. And pretty well all of them would definitely be very out of place in a modern North American city. Most are stone- or brick-surfaced. Some are too narrow for cars, but cars drive along them anyway. Some are even narrower. Cars don’t drive on those because they’d get jammed in between the walls, likely crunching in the sides of the cars first.
Still others have “Calle” in their name, which Google Translate tells me is Spanish for “street,” and they look like streets on the mapping application I use, but they have no business being called streets. They are narrow laneways, at best.
What’s more Granada is built on hills. Some of those “streets” are stairs made of stones and some sort of mortar or, possibly, compressed earth. Most of the risers are basically short curbstones, and the treads are usually long (sometimes a few strides long and sloped), so walking up them wouldn’t be too much of a chore if there were fewer of them. But they are steps nonetheless, not streets, no matter what the signs and maps say.
The reason I said “old sections” rather than “old section” is there’s at least one other. I know this because when I got to the top of the hill in the old section I wandered around in today I got a spectacular view of the Alhambra Complex, a Moorish Palace, sitting on another hill off in the distance, on the other side of what looked like a somewhat newer part of Granada. I don’t imagine you find too many Moorish Palaces in new sections of towns.
I’ll have more to say on Alhambra in a couple of days. When I booked my Granada hotel, the hotel sent me an email saying that if I wanted to visit Alhambra I should buy my ticket online right away because they sell out well in advance. I jumped on that suggestion immediately. Despite being about a month in advance of coming here, the only ticket I could get was for my last day in Granada.
In the introduction to this post I tried to introduce some suspense about a possible mortal danger I faced due to the possibility of rain during dinner. (Although, I ruined that suspense by including a spoiler.)
It’s not that I’m afraid I’ll melt in the rain. It’s this. The restaurant where I made a dinner reservation is near the top of the hill in the old section I wandered through today. It’s high enough that the dining room has a large picture window that looks out at Alhambra on the far hill.
By the way, Alhambra is gorgeously lit at night. I took the picture to the left outside, but close to the restaurant. That was basically the view I had while eating dinner. The picture doesn’t come close to doing it justice.
I tend to get distracted sometimes. Where was I?
Oh, yeah. The dangerous part. The “streets” between my hotel and the restaurant are mostly stone steps, many with sloping treads, that look like they’d be extremely slippery when wet. Gulp. Slipping and breaking one’s neck appear to be real possibilities.
The good news is, the rain held off. The ground was bone dry when I walked back to my hotel, and, fortunately, not with my bones scattered upon them. I lived to eat another day.