If the Alhambra is the crown jewel of Granada, then the Granada Cathedral and the Royal Chapel are the lesser known gems.
Set right in the middle of the city, squeezed amongst buildings, the Granada Cathedral and Royal Chapel are a prominent part of the urban and religious cityscape. During your stay in Granada these churches are not to be missed, and overlooked for the more prominent Alhambra palace, if not for their architectural beauty and religious significance then for their importance in Spanish history. During the sixteenth century, the Spanish Empire rose to be one of the greatest kingdoms in the world and the construction of these churches was an assertion of Christian power in what was the last Muslim territory of Granada. Walking through the cathedral and chapel, you will experience a Spain on the verge of transition. Visit the Granada Cathedral and Royal Chapel and step back into one of the most influential times in Spanish History.
Visit of Granada Cathedral and Royal Chapel: a little history
To understand the historical significance of these churches, it is important to understand the political and social climate under which they were built. The story begins with Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Of course, many will recognize these names as the monarchs who sponsored Christopher Columbus’ voyages across the Atlantic, leading to his landing in the Caribbean. This event was tremendously significant to the Spanish conquest and colonization of the Americas and European expansion westward, but Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand’s reign was equally important at home. At the time, the Iberian Peninsula was not one but five kingdoms including Aragon, Navarre, Castile, Portugal and Granada. The marriage between second cousins, Isabella I and Ferdinand II, united Castile and Aragon, the two most powerful kingdoms in Spain and eventually the other kingdoms followed suit. Granada was the last of the kingdoms to fall. In 1492 Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, known as the Catholic Monarchs, officially regained Granada from the Moors.
The Royal Chapel
After capturing Granada from the Moors, Queen Isabella was eager to assert a symbol of Christian power. She wanted something tangible that would connect the royal monarchy, the Catholic church and Granada. So in 1504, the Catholic Monarchs issued a royal declaration, announcing the creation of the Royal Chapel. The chapel would be a mausoleum for Spanish royalty. Queen Isabella wished for her body, her husband’s body, and their heirs to be buried in Granada. The chapel was built in an architectural style called Isabel which is both Gothic and Flamboyant in appearance. You are able to notice this mixture of styles if you look at the chapel’s facade. The plain brick walls are finished with ornate cresting and vaults. The chapel is comprised of a single nave with four side chapels and an eight sided sanctuary. There is only one facade to the church as the other three sides are connected to the cathedral. Unfortunately, both Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand died before the completion of their royal mausoleum. Their remains were placed in the convent of San Francisco at Alhambra per Queen Isabella’s request. In 1521 Emperor Charles I moved the corpses of the Catholic Monarchs to the mausoleum where they now lie with their heirs, Joanna I, Philip I and Prince Michael. The Royal Chapel or Capilla Real in Spanish is the biggest funeral chapel in Spain. The Queen’s wish that all Spanish royalty be buried in her mausoleum was never realized as King Philip II focused his efforts on the construction of The Escorial, a royal burial ground near Madrid.
The Granada Cathedral
Although less tied to the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, the Granada Cathedral, connected to the chapel, is an architecturally impressive structure. Neither Queen Isabella nor King Ferdinand were alive to see this project started. The construction plans of the cathedral were drafted in 1506 by Enrique Egas. Egas’ plans were Gothic in style and said to be modeled after the Cathedral of Toledo. In the following years not much work was done to the cathedral as the construction of the Queen’s mausoleum took priority. Egas oversaw the laying of the first brick in 1523, but shortly after, in 1528, the construction of the cathedral shifted to the hands of Diego de Siloe who had a different vision for the church. Silos was able to convince the Emperor at the time, Carlos V, to approve a classical Greek and Roman Renaissance design of a Christian church. This was a novel idea and progressive for the time period. Diego de Siloe and his apprentice, Juan de Maeda, went to work on what is said to be Spain’s first Renaissance church. Triumph is a theme seen throughout the church. Spain’s triumph at this time is both political and religious. You will feel the sentiment of triumph as you walk through the main chapel of the cathedral under grand Corinthian columns.
What to see and do at the Royal Chapel and Granada Cathedral
You will want to pick up an audio guide when you enter each church. In both cases, audio guides are included in the price of your ticket. Although the tours can be rather long and you may find some information dull, you have the option to skip through sections of the tour until you find something that piques your interest. In the Royal Chapel you should definitely allot time to visit the Sacristy-Museum. There you will find gold and silver works, tapestries, beautiful Flemish wood panels, Italian and Spanish paintings, and books. Many of these artifacts are from Queen Isabella’s personal collection. Don’t miss the Botticelli painting! Be sure to go down to the mausoleum and crypt of the chapel. In the center of the crypt are the remains of the Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. The coffins on the side belong to Joanna I and Philip I. The small coffin is that of Prince Michael who was only two when he died. Prince Michael, grandson of the Catholic Monarchs, was to be the heir to Spain and Portugal. The coffins are distinguished by the owner’s initials. While you are in the cathedral, seek out the praying statues of the Catholic Monarchs. The high walls of stained glass are works of art, some of which were sent from Flanders. A great place to get a view of the facade of the cathedral is from Plaza de las Pasiegas. From there you can see the fifty-seven meter tall bell tower and the famous three door entrance of the church framed by Spanish architect Alonso Cano’s triumphant arches.
How to get there
The cathedral complex is located at: Calle Gran Vía de Colón, 5, 18001 Granada
- By bus
The cathedral and chapel can be accessed via LAC line by getting off at the Gran Via 1 stop.
- By car/taxi
The cathedral complex cannot be accessed via car because it is located in a pedestrianized area of the city. You are able to take a taxi to the churches as taxis are granted access throughout the city.
The Cathedral and Royal Chapel in Granada: rates and opening hours
The Royal Chapel
- Monday-Saturday 10:15-18:30
- Sunday 11:00-18:00
The chapel can be visited throughout the year except on Good Friday, December 25th and January 1st.
The chapel is closed on the morning of January 2nd and October 12th.
The Granada Cathedral
- Monday- Saturday 10:00— 18:30
- Sundays and Holidays 15:00–17:45
The Royal Chapel and Granada Cathedral
- Regular rate: 5€
- Students and differently abled individuals: 3.5€
- Children under twelve: free
The Cathedral and Royal Cathedral are also some of the places you can visit in Granada for free! You can enter the cathedral for free on Sundays from 15:00–17:45 but you must make a reservation at least twenty-four hours in advance online at the archdiocese website.
You can enter the chapel for free on Wednesdays from 14:30-18:30, but again you must make a reservation in advance.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You are allowed to take photos in the cathedral as long as it does not disrupt those in prayer.
You are not allowed to take photos in the chapel.
In both churches you are not allowed to bring food or drink.
You should dress with decorum and remain silent while in the church.
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