The Grandeur of Granada

The main altar in the church of the Monastery of Caruja

The main altar in the church of the Monastery of Cartuja

Traffic posts topped with pomegranates

Traffic posts topped with pomegranates

Named from the Spanish word for pomegranate, Granada is a vibrant city with the energy and buzz you would expect from a university town.  Rather than one sprawling campus, the University of Granada is parsed out over a number of sites including buildings with historic and cultural importance – churches, seminaries and royal houses.  I tried to imagine how unique my college experience would have been had I studied in such a historic atmosphere.  Rated one of Spain’s top universities and with 80,000 students, I now understand the youthful dynamism that Granada radiates.

The altarpiece in the Monastery of Cartuja by master, Sanchez Cotán, is painted to give the illusion it is made of grey marble.

The altarpiece in the Monastery of Cartuja by master, Sanchez Cotán, is painted to give the illusion it is made of grey marble.

The most iconic site in all of Granada is The Alhambra, the Moorish citadel and palace overlooking the city dating back to the 9th century.  We did not tour The Alhambra mostly because I did not purchase tickets in advance, and admissions sell out daily.  I felt bad at first about missing out.  However, I have seen so many palaces and fortresses in the last couple two years of travel that I am not too disappointed.  Also, every blogger who has traveled to Granada has written much about The Alhambra.  I do not think I could have shared anything new.  We made up for any loss of discovery with a few stunning additions to our ongoing ABC Tour*.

This marble and ebony shrine sits beyond the main altar of the Carthusian Monastery behind a wall of Venetian glass.

This marble and ebony shrine behind the main altar of the Carthusian Monastery is partly concealed by a wall of Venetian glass.

We first visited the Monastery of Cartuja.  The construction, which began in 1516, was never completed even after three centuries.  The Carthusian Order of monks derive their name from the Chartreuse Mountains of the French Alps, as do the English Charterhouse monks.  Although this order at one time occupied twenty-four monasteries in Spain, most of these were confiscated and secularized in 1836.  Today, only four Carthusian monasteries still exist in Spain.

Carthusian monks are permitted leave their cloister only three or four times per year.  The rest of the time they spend in silent meditation and prayer.  They speak only when necessary.  They dine together only on Sundays and Holy Days.  Their meals are always vegetarian.  They pay for their basic needs by performing various crafts including making rosary beads from rose petals.  We saw some samples of these rosaries in the monastery gift shop, and they still have a flower scent.  A set of rosary beads costs €40, about $55.

There are two identical pipe organs facing each other overlooking this massive sanctuary of the Cathedral of Granada.

There are two identical pipe organs facing each other overlooking this massive sanctuary of the Cathedral of Granada.

We later made our way to the Cathedral of Granada.  The towering Gothic façade has one tower because the original design calling for two towers was too massive for the foundation built atop the city’s ancient mosque to support.   The cathedral’s Renaissance interior is so huge in scale that I could not help but feel small.  The massive, ornate columns soar nearly 200 feet to the arched ceiling.  It took over 180 years to build this cathedral, and I can understand why given its size and infinitesimal detail.

One last stop on the ABC Tour was the Church of San Jerónimo, or Saint Jerome, the 4th century priest who translated The Bible into Latin.  While modest compared to the grandeur of the Cathedral of Granada, it was still impressive.  The Catholic Monarchs, Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II, founded the monastery and church, which was built in a distinctive Renaissance style.  If the names of these monarchs seem familiar, these are the same Spanish monarchs who commissioned the sailing expedition of Christopher Columbus to find a western trade route to the East Indies.  His discovery of the Americas led to the rapid rise of Spain to the stature of a world power.  The tombs of the king and queen now rest in the Royal Chapel just outside the Cathedral of Granada.

Classical music played by students of the music conservatory made our Granada visit complete.

Classical music played by students of the music conservatory made our Granada visit complete.

Granada made the leap from a medieval city with narrow, winding streets to a modern city by razing some medieval buildings that had historic significance.  What was lost to antiquity was replaced by a downtown with gardens, parks, plazas and streets lined with sidewalk cafes, bakeries, shops, apartment buildings and hotels.  The current mix of old and new is quite appealing.  Add in a free classical quintet concert (flute, clarinet, bassoon, French horn and oboe) at the top Royal Conservatory of Music during this, Granada’s 2014 Week of Chamber Music, and this made for a great addition to our tours of the great cities of Spain.

*ABC Tour stands for ‘Another Blessed Cathedral’ in reference to the churches and cathedrals we have visited in a dozen countries in the last three years.
Note: All photos are the copyrighted property of Florence Lince.
The high mountains of the Sierra Nevada provide winter skiing and year-round fresh water for Granada and the fertile valley where it lies.

The high mountains of the Sierra Nevada provide winter skiing and year-round fresh water for Granada and the fertile valley where it lies.

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5 comments on “The Grandeur of Granada

  1. reocochran says:

    Granada is a place I wish I could visit! I had not been to this Spanish city and wonder why it wasn’t on our tour? Too many places, not enough time! I always look forward to the ABC tours since they are filled with such majesty and splendor. Sometimes, you have captured in your words all that would be needed to know, then I look at the photos that tell ‘the rest of the story.’ I would have enjoyed the history and the different sights, as you showed us just the tip of the iceberg, I am sure! I bet your Seattle, Washington love of mountains really went into ‘full gear,’ up in this place! I am sure the conservatory musical quintet was wonderful. Did it seem to feature any Spanish music, or was it more in the traditional European music? This was a grand post about Granada! Smiles, Robin

    • Mike Lince says:

      I found the beauty and energy of Granada quite satisfying. If I were looking for a city in Spain to live full-time, Granada would top my list.

      The music played by the quintet was classical. One piece was by Mozart. I don’t remember the second piece’s composer, but I will update this comment after I look it up in the program. Arrangements for the specific instruments in this quintet were done by professors at the conservatory. Since I played clarinet and saxophone for eight years, I was particularly pleased with the quality and precision of the musicians. – Mike

  2. jimhornnews says:

    OMG Mike, the Alhambra isn’t like any other “fortress” in the world. It is one of the ten MUST see places in the world. Incredible furnishings, tile work, fountains, jaw dropping beauty. And the gardens along side it are spectacular. And lunch in the Parador on the grounds. One could spend the whole day here, but of course they rush you through the palace because of the long lines. The lines are there for a reason. It is just so spectacular. But you have to plan ahead and hope it’s not a day when the cruise ships send 20 to 40 busloads. You could skip the whole rest of the city if you had seen this incredible site. I do hope you will find a way to go back.

    • Mike Lince says:

      Jim, we will be in Spain until July, so I may still have the opportunity to visit The Alhambra. The miss was my fault for thinking I could book at this time of year less than two weeks in advance. Unfortunately not. – Mike

      • jimhornnews says:

        Mike, there might be an excursion from your local travel agent. I know Florence thinks group tours are “silly” but you would have advanced reservations, little or no wait in line, and a guide who would explain things in detail. You lose so much time and miss so much trying to do it all on your own.

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