This richly ornate Renaissance cathedral with its spectacular altar is one of the country's architectural highlights, acclaimed for its beautiful facade and gold-and-white interior. It was begun in 1521 and completed in 1714.
Enrique de Egas created the original Gothic-style plans, but it was Renaissance maestro Diego de Siloé who designed the facade and the chief attraction inside the cathedral, the Capilla Mayor, a rotunda circled by an ambulatory. Capilla Mayor is surmounted by a 45m (150-ft.) dome. The graceful rotunda has two architectural layers, the upper one adorned by art by Alonso Cano depicting the life of the Madonna along with stunning stained glass that dates from the 1500s. At the entrance to the rotunda is a pair of panels, one depicting Ferdinand and Isabella in prayer, the other by Alonso Cano depicting Adam and Eve.
Several glittering side chapels also decorate the cathedral, and one is especially extravagant, the carved and gilded Capilla de Nuestra Señora de la Antigua, also known as the Capilla Dorada, on the north wall. Before leaving the area, and once outside, note the Puerta del Perdón, a notably elaborate side entrance facing north on Calle de la Cárcel.
Behind the cathedral (entered separately) is the Flamboyant Gothic and Plateresque Royal Chapel, where the remains of Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand are. It was their wish to be buried in recaptured Granada, not Castile or Aragón. Work was begun by Enrique Egas in 1506 but completed in 1521 when Charles V reigned as emperor. Nonetheless, the chapel still has a unity of architectural style. Visitors enter through the Lonja (Exchange House), which is an adjoining structure on Calle de los Oficios, a narrow pedestrian street that runs alongside the cathedral.
Inside, the chapel is a virtual celebration of the Isabelline style, with its ribbed vaulting along with walls emblazoned with the arms of Isabella and Ferdinand, the conquerors of Granada.
A highlight is a visit to the chancel, enclosed by a screen by Master Barolomé. This adornment contains the mausoleums of Ferdinand and Isabella on the right. You may be surprised by how short they were. Occupying much larger tombs are the remains of their daughter, Joanna the Mad, and her husband, Philip the Handsome. Domenico Fancelli of Florence sculpted the recumbent Carrera marble figures of the Catholic monarchs in 1517 and Bartolomé Ordóñez the figures of Juana la Loca and Felipe el Hermoso, the parents of Charles V, in 1520.
Look for the stairs at the royal feet of the sculptures. These lead to a crypt that contains a quartet of lead caskets where the royal ashes actually lie, including a very small casket for one royal grandchild. Of special interest is the high altar retablo dating from 1520. This was one of the first retablos in Spain to show no Gothic influence. If you head for the north transept, you will encounter the most celebrated triptych in Granada (much reproduced on postcards). By Fleming Thierry Bouts, it is called the Triptych of the Passion.
In the sacristy you can view Isabella's personal art collection, including many works by Flemish masters and various Spanish and Italian artists, including Rogier Van der Weyden and Botticelli. Some of the most outstanding pieces of art are by Memling, Bartolomé, and Bermejo. A glass case contains Ferdinand of Aragón's sword and Isabella's scepter and crown, as well as a reliquary and a missal. You can also see the queen's ornate jewel chest. Church vestments are also on display in the sacristy. Above the chapel's exit doorway is a copy of the famous painting of Boabdil's surrender to Isabella. She is depicted wearing her filigree crown, the one you've just seen.
The cathedral is in the center of Granada off two prominent streets, Gran Vía de Colón and Calle de San Jerónimo. The Capilla Real abuts the cathedral's eastern edge.
- © Frommer's 2013
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