Andalusian cathedrals and churches were commonly built on the site of mosque remnants. Some were demolished to give way to a new construction while some were redesigned to fit into the city’s new masterplan. Granada cathedral was no exception to this rule. The Reconquest of the last Moorish enclave marked a new chapter in the Spanish history, during which a series of architectural revolution in the former Muslim territory took place to manifest the Christian victory. The Catholic Monarch, Isabelle of Castille, requested that the cathedral be built on the main mosque right in the middle of the Muslim district in Gothic style as originally planned. However, with some alterations in the original design, a new architect was hired in the name of Diego Siloe and it was decided to construct a house of worship in Renaissance style, thus becoming the first Spanish cathedral with that architectural influence. A century later, the Baroque facade was added and some horseshoe-shaped windows are still visible as lingering vestiges of its Moorish past.
I ignored the fact that it was going to rain that day despite seeing the gathering gray clouds above my head. Since there was nothing to be found open between 2 and 4 pm (not even museums nor churches), I got caught in a downpour right in the middle of the square. It was like a big joke to walk on the marble pavements around the city center in the rain when the floors get uncontrollably slippery and made me wonder what practical joke the architect must have thought during the construction of the sidewalks and squares. So, I began to walk barefoot and wet after falling on my butt in front of the cathedral.
Finally entering the church after a long siesta, that imposing atmosphere inside the cathedral made me forget that I was soaking wet and dripping all over. Although it looks seemingly small on the outside, the interior part of the cathedral is intimidatingly monumental with vast spaces, which made me feel lost in the middle of a grand, deserted 16th century edifice. I couldn’t help looking up all the time, fascinated by the different designs of the vaulted ceilings that awoken my innate passion for church vaults. Another work of art that stood out in front is the altar or the Capilla Mayor (Main Chapel) designed by its architect, Diego de Siloe. The semicircular structure was intended to be used as the royal mausoleum featuring the glorifying sculptures of the Catholic Monarchs. The retablo of Santiago Matamoros is seen in the south chapel that depicts him on a horseback with a sword raised in the air. Known as St. James the Moor Slayer (in order to be considered saint, one had to kill Moors just like Seville’s conqueror, (King) Ferdinand the Saint), he is the patron saint of Spain, who, according to the myth, miraculously appeared in the fictional Battle of Clavijo, in which he defended the Christians from the Moors during the Reconquest. Although considered as a legend, it is to be believed that his body lies in Santiago de Compostela. More than the relics, retablos and church artifacts, it is the vaulted ceilings that caught my attention.
The Catholic Monarchs: Up, Cold and Personal
Attached right next to the Cathedral stands a small chapel adorned with a rich plateresque façade (added in 1527). It was upon the Catholic Monarchs’ request that they be buried in this austere building where a Mosque used to stand as a triumphant symbol of the expulsion of the Moors from the Kingdom of Granada. The location of this burial monument may not be as extravagant as the one in El Escorial but its austerity gives the visitor an impression of a humble reign. On the entrance is a copy of a painting by Pradilla that depicts the submission of Boabdil to the Catholic Kings and one noticeable feature of the chapel is the gate to the tombs of the kings, where the emblem of each monarch that corresponds to their graves is attached to the iron grill. In front of the altar lie four marble sculptures that represent the four monarchs, beneath which one could get to meet the monarchs up, ‘cold’ and personal in the crypt. Not only are Ferdinand and Isabelle laid to rest in the chapel but their daughter Juana La Loca (Joan the Mad) and Felipe el Hermoso (Philipp the Fair) are also found underneath the mausoleums. Despite their elegant representations out of marble, their coffins show nothing but austerity and simplicity. The sacristy is a must visit in the Capilla Real, in which a collection of Italian, Flemish and Spanish paintings are exhibited together with some belongings of the sovereigns, including the real crown worn by Isabelle and a silver sword of Ferdinand.