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 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*.
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.
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.
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.