In our final 48 hours in Spain, we roamed the streets of Granada. Last week, I wrote about the Alhambra, but the historical palace is not the only thing to see in the ancient city. When we arrived, we were starving and bee-lined it for the well-documented and reviewed Calle Elvira (pronounced “el-veer-ah”). In our research, people were saying that was the place to find good eats.
While we found a great place among all of the sukes and Arab shops, the entire street catered to tourists only. The only locals were the shopkeepers and restaurateurs. Jeff and I like to stay local, but if we can’t do that, we definitely try and avoid the hoards of tourists. We pushed our way through the crowds, and made a decision based on hunger. Thankfully, it paid off, but I would definitely recommend venturing elsewhere for “local” eats.
Now fueled and ready to see the city, we made our way to The Royal Chapel and final resting place for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castile and their offspring: Queen Juana I and her husband, Felipe I. Also interned is their oldest grandson, Miguel de Paz.
When you walk into this space, you see the massive Nave and Grille that are decorated and gold. It’s quite breathtaking to see such gorgeous walls in such a small space. But then you go through the Grille or chapel doors, and you see two massive marble tombs with statues of the respective monarchs lying side by side. I thought it interesting that Queen Juana I and King Felipe I were higher than Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand considering their weight in history, but their intricate tombs were no less gorgeous.
The royal bodies were not in the tombs but rather just underneath. There is a small staircase behind the tombs where you an go underground and see through glass the actual lead-lined coffins that hold the bodies. It was such an image, that we went down twice. We were not allowed to take photos, so this is a picture of the postcard I bought.
I was curious to know more about Miguel de Paz because his death actually shaped the history of Spain:
Isabella of Aragon was the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castile, and Miguel de Paz was their first born son. Just after the birth of her son, Isabella of Aragon died. Miguel de Paz was quickly sworn in as the heir to Aragon, Iberia, Castile and named their heir to Portugal. But unfortunately for the country, Miguel de Paz died two years later.
Miguel’s father remarried and had another son, so the dreams that Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand had of uniting Portugal and the aforementioned kingdoms was dashed. When Queen Juana took over Spain, she brought in the Habsburgs via Charles V, her son, (Queen Catherine of Aragon’s nephew). The country wound up staying close to Queen Catherine of Aragon when her daughter with Henry VIII, Queen Mary (Bloody Mary), married King Phillip II. But Portugal remained its own country separate from Spanish rule.
To think, if a royal two-year old had matured, where would Spain and Portugal be today?
The remaining area in the Royal Chapel is a small museum with religious art dating back to the 1500s, the sceptre and crown of Queen Isabella of Castile, the sword of King Ferdinand, and the Royal Warren creating the chapel, signed by the two monarchs. That is something I am always surprised to see: 500+ year old documents framed under glass for the modern traveler and citizen to see.
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Right next door to the Royal Chapel is the Granada Cathedral. There are specific hours with this church, so make sure you check online before heading that way. But getting to this church must be on your list of things to do. The space rivaled Westminster Cathedral for us. It was massive yet gorgeous. We felt the Seville Cathedral was too big, so at the risk of sounding like Goldilocks, this one was just right for size, decor, and history.
The audio guide was handed to us, and I wholly recommend listening to it throughout the cathedral. This church couldn’t begin to be planned until 1492 because it had to wait for the Catholic revolution to overrule the Muslims before construction could commence. Because of the sheer size and intricacies, it took 181 years to build.
There is a wall of massive wooden statues on the right side of the cathedral with a prominent statue of the Virgin Mary. The story of the statue is that it was a gift to Catherine of Aragon from the Pope as a thank you for bringing Catholicism back to Spain. Now it hangs proudly high on the walls of the cathedral.
The other thing that captured my eye was the stained glass around the center vault. The pictures depict various stories of Jesus’ life, but also the life of the apostles. Each level of windows has a different style and story making it one of the most developed displays of biblical life. It really was gorgeous.
As we worked the kinks out of our necks, we circled the vault to see each of the chapels dedicated to various saints. Each one featured its own statue and history, and it was all encompassing after we spent well over an hour in the space.
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The last place we made a point to see was the Cartuja Monastery on the far north side of the city. We meandered through side streets and heavy graffiti to get there, and we were wondering if we were headed the right direction because this was obviously not where tourists go.
The sparse and quiet monastery was built between the 16th and 18th century and doesn’t see a lot of tourists because it’s so far away from the city center. We did intend to see the more famous Saint Jerome Monastery, but it was closed when we got there, so plan ahead if you want to make it to the historical church.
After we walked a good three miles, we were a little disappointed in the Cartuja Monastery. We walked through low-income neighborhoods to get there to only see one room and a small art gallery of more religious art. While it was out of the way and far from tourists, there is obviously a reason why. Make time to see Saint Jerome instead, and leave a comment to tell us what we missed.
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And that is it. We spent 10 lovely days meandering through 3 cities in Spain. We took planes, trains, buses, and automobiles on our travels, and spent Christmas with dozens of oranges trees and blue skies. We tried sherry, tapas, and had some of the best wine of our lives. While we do hope to make it to Barcelona and other smaller cities in the country, we are extremely happy with what we’ve seen: famous figures, artwork for the centuries, and more culture than I certainly anticipated.
If you can make it to Spain, I whole-heartedly encourage you to do so. And report back your findings!