Outside old Granada downtown, the city has extraordinary monuments and examples of its rich heritage, which should not be ignored in your visit to Granada.
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The Carthusian Monastery
The Carthusian Monastery of Granada is one of the treasures of Spanish baroque from the start of the 16th century until the onset of Neoclassicism at the end of the seventeen hundreds.
Its history dates back to a time prior to the conquest when the monastery of the Paular de Segovia reached an agreement to establish another convent, yet without knowing where they wanted to place it. The project got off the ground in 1513 when Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, the Great Captain (Gran Capitán) decided to establish it in one of his almunias (a type of Andalusian rural building) in Granada, the Pago de Aynadamar. Disagreements between the Order and the Gran Capitán determined the move to different location, on the same estate in 1516, now without financial help from the Fernández de Córdoba family. Now without financing, the work took three centuries, without it having been finished by the time of the ecclesiastical confiscations of Mendizábal in 1836.
Today, what is preserved is only a small part of the Cartuja complex; a church, the old small cloister and the common rooms which form an impressive amalgam of construction over different time periods and styles.
The monastery is accessed through a rich Plateresque doorway, giving way to a large atrium decorated with a good sampling of Granada cobblestone work done in 1677. A large staircase leads up to the Ionian façade of the church, the statue San Bruno, the founder of the order.
The periphery of the church was started in the middle of the 16th century, although the main effort for this part was the first third of the following century, with the graceful tower of the complex, the only one of four that were initially planned to be built.
The entrance to the monument was accomplished through the Claustrillo (small cloister), built halfway through the 17th century. It is only a single floor of semicircular galleries that four chapels are connected to, with two of them being home to noteworthy baroque sculptures: the Virgen del Rosario by Risueño and the famous Ecce Homo made of terracota by the brothers García. This courtyard was initially decorated with rich iconography of canvases glorifying their martyrs, some painted by Vicente Carducho and others by the lay brother Juan Sánchez Cotán. Today divided into different rooms of the complex, the Claustrillo is nearly an art gallery of these great painters from the first baroque period, related to the Carthusian order.
Lay brother Juan Sánchez Cotán is the main artist of the Refectory. It was built between 1531 and 1550 in the gothic style and covered with ribbed vaults. A cross in trompe l’oeil dominates the front, along with a canvas of the Last Supper, very appropriately for a dining room in a monastery, as well as a variety of other paintings glorifying the Carthusian martyrs, some painted by Vicente Carducho and others by Sánchez Cotán himself.
Right next to it is the hall known as the Sala de Profundis del Noviciado de Legos (Anterefectory of the Novitiate of Lay Brothers). Its reredos of San Pedro and San Pablo, with three other canvases, decorate the hall.
Interior of the Carthusian Monastery
The work of Carducho is located in the following halls. It mainly narrates scenes from the life of the holy founder of the order and of the martyrdom suffered by the Carthusians at the hands of Henry VIII’s England.
The Claustrillo also includes the chapter of friars and lay brothers, which is one of the oldest parts of the complex, and the monks’ hall, the Sala Capitular.
The interior of the church was finished in 1662 with excessively ornate baroque plasterwork with a myriad of heavy polychromatic plasterwork with corbels and mouldings. Its nave is divided into three parts; the first is shorter and more understated, reserved for the people. The second part or chancel of lay brothers, with a marvellous door featuring inlay and bevelled glass, was made in 1750 by Granada lay brother José Manuel Vázquez. The canvases by Sánchez Cotán of the Baptism of Christ and Rest on the Flight into Egypt. The third and predominant part is the chancel for monks, with canvases of the Virgin Mary, by Pedro Atanasio Bocanegra. This complete Marian series of pieces is directly derived from the Cano series featured in the Cathedral.
The arms of the transept and the apse a virtually an art gallery in situ, with four pieces of the Passion of Christ from Sánchez Cotán and another six Marians by Bocanegra.
Tabernacle and Sacristy of Cartuja
The later and most surprising areas are masterpieces of the Spanish Baroque period: the Tabernacle and the Sacristy.
The Tabernacle of the Cartuja is a extremely lavish piece. Its solemnity stems from the use of polychromatic marble, which is home to some excellent sculptures: Maria Magdalene by Duque Cornejo, Saint Joseph de Mora, and Saint John the Baptist by José Risueño. The dome is an allegory glorifying the order, the monastic life and the Eucharist: San Bruno with guardianship of a world, next to the Holy Trinity. In the centre there is a lavish tabernacle made from polychromatic marble, the most felicitous expression of these types of altars focused on Granada art.
The Sacristy is a masterpiece of Granada’s Baroque period. Its uniqueness lies in its brave use of plaster decoration. The black and white flooring, the ochre marble from Lanjarón in the base and the inlaid containers by lay brother José Manuel Vázquez. The arches on the edges accentuate the illusion of expansive space and they added strong contrasts of light: white, blue and golden hues, similar in a way to the palatal decoration of the Alhambra.
Monastery of San Jeronimo
The construction of the monastery of San Jeronimo that changed the artistical and urban development of Granada.
It was founded in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs as a part of their Christianisation policy for the newly conquered city. It is located in a district called Dar ibn-Murdi (the house of ben Murdi). With a generous amount of revenue and goods provided by the Monarchs, the construction of the ambitious building soon began, with the first main cloister completed in 1519 and the other side by 1526 at latest. In 1521 the monks could already start getting settled in the new building. Ambassador Navagero would take notice of the layout of the monastery in the early days when he visited it in 1526 while visiting for honeymoon of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Empress Elisabeth. The second courtyard, one of the first in the renaissance style in Granada, was set up as an emergency residence for Empress Elisabeth during their stay at the Alhambra after she was given a bad scare by an earthquake.
The figure of the Great Captain in the monastery of San Jerónimo
It was founded by the Catholic Monarchs in recognition of the individual who was their right hand man during the first christianisation of the city, the Order of St. Jerome monk friar Hernando de Talavera. Shortly afterwards, the monastery took on an innovative and historic character thanks to the family of the Gran Capitán (Great Captain) Gonzalo Fernández de Córdova. After converting the apse into a funeral chapel, Jacobo Florentino and Diego de Siloé replaced the initial gothic style with a renaissance one, feeling that the new style better expressed the values of the new Christian nobility in Granada. From the 16th to the 18th century, the spiritual and architectural development of the monastery turned it into one of the most important ones in the city, with it including numerous courtyards, pens, stables, cellars and guest quarters while enjoying large rural holdings. It rose to become one of the most important and aristocratic urban growth centres in modern Granada. At the turn of the turbulent 19th century major changes took place. First the monastery was plundered by French soldiers, the tomb of the patron was desecrated, its banners and objects stolen and the stones from the steeple were used to create the bridge known as Puente Verde.
However, more was lost in the ecclesiastical confiscations of Mendizábal and the social upheaval of the nineteenth century, as it was turned into a military headquarters; a sizable portion of its courtyards, pens and gardens were divided up and sold and its art treasure was reduced. However, the misfortune did not stop there. In 1926 it was damaged by a fire that mainly affected the covering of the second courtyard, destroying upon its collapse everything below it, with the Baroque dome of its main staircase as well as the north-east of the main cloister burning.
In recent decades its monasterial character has been restored, as nuns came here due to the closure of the monastery of Santa Paula, adding the art treasure from that monastery at the same time.
It is preferable to access the monastery by Calle Rector López de Argüeta, which lets you enjoy the best view of its cobbled courtyard, surrounded by acacias, cypresses, elms, orange trees, magnolia trees, etc. which has a way of letting us slow down and peacefully move back in time, gradually getting closer to the magical angle created by the gates of the church and the monastery, joined yet separate at the same time due to the slim tower.
The construction of the monastery of San Jeronimo
The church, most assuredly done by Enrique de Egas, based on to its similarly to the Royal Chapel was started in 1519, but when just four meters of the perimeter had been built a key event changed its artistic fate. María Manrique, the Dutchess of Sess and Terranova, and the Gran Capitán’s widow, made a request to Emperor Charles V to cede the largest chapel and its transept for the burial of her and her husband. Construction began in 1525, with Italian sculptor, painter, joiner and architect Jacabo Florentino, who with his work on the Capilla Real had shown himself to have a deft hand in employing the new renaissance elements.
Florentino died a short time after, in January 1526, and in order to continue to work Diego de Siloé from Burgos was brought in. His participation in the project, starting in March 1528, was a light which was to shine upon Granada’s artistic panorama in the following decades. According to the initial contract, Siloé had to design, apart from the apse, the grill, the main reredos and the tombs needed to complete the commemorative programme. While he oversaw the main chapel, work continued on the main body of the church.
Over time, inside the monastery many high profile Granada families established private chapels and patronages in the loop of the main cloister, with a series of façades bearing witness to it, along with those done for the monks’ rooms. They are an impressive collection, from the most ornate and plateresque to the ones of Mannerist design done at the beginning of the 17th century. In the 18th century the luxurious stairway was added as well as its stone doorway that joins the two floors of the main cloister.
Despite the great importance of preserving the complex, the monastery has lost two courtyards, the guest quarters and other rooms.
The main cloister of the monastery is nearly square and impressively large, with two floors and galleries of nine arches on each side that enclose a central garden. The lower arches are semicircular, the upper ones are basket arches with capitals with a variety of decorative motifs based on a mix of animal and human figures. The coats of arms of the Catholic Monarchs and Archbishop Talavera are featured on the central arches. The central garden was replanted with orange trees during the modern restoration, as it was back in the 16th century according to what Navagero saw and described.
Surrounding the first cloister one finds the typical rooms of a monastery, such as the dining room and the anterefectory or the chapel antechamber, the chapter hall, as well as other rooms and chapels or altars for burial.
The second cloister is the current one for nuns and is therefore unavailable for tourism, but one can get a glimpse at it by looking down a hallway next to the main stairway. Completed prior to 1526, this can be considered one of the first renaissance courtyards in Granada. Those who want to see their private chapel, accompanying the nuns for daily mass must wake up quite early, since it takes place at the daybreak.
The Church of San Jerónimo
The church is one of the most important in Granada both artistically and as far as originality.
The apse is the most important part of it, both in expressive and dynamic power. As a public expression of title and ownership, the altar cloth features a large coat of arms for the Fernández de Córdova family, held up by soldiers, with a placard that reads: GONSALO FERDINANDO A CORDUBA MAGNO HISPANORUM DUCI GALLORUM AC TURCARUM TERRORI. The flanking walls feature medallions with idealised portraits of María de Manrique (Dutchess of Sesa) and the Gran Capitán.
The beauty of the apse is enhanced by an atmosphere of respect, small but pleasant, with orange trees which in May give off their unmistakable aroma.
The inside of the church, as far as the ground plan, is presented in Franciscan style, characteristic of late Spanish gothic. It includes a nave, transept that does not protrude from the walls and a polygonal apse. The upper nave houses four lateral chapels on each side and is covered in a simple ribbed vault. At its feet there is a large chancel.
Most of the side chapels were burial places for high profile families and now include many Baroque reredoses, altars and images such as La Soledad, a beautiful face credited to Pedro de Mena. Halfway up we can admire two Baroque organs on each side of the chancel, with their casing adorned with wooden carvings.
The masterpiece of the church is the main chapel and the transept, letting you appreciate this place as unique in the Granada art world and one of the most inspired of the Spanish Renaissance. On the sides of the transept there are stone reredoses with three alcoves that include soldiers and the large coats of arms of the patrons, rounded out with paintings of angels, masks and figures of the virtues: Faith and Hope, on the left, and Fortitude and Justice on the opposite side. Coming to the vaults, the sculptural and symbolic repertory enhances them and turns them into a heroic discourse.
The vault of the high altar is divided into two parts. The first has reliefs with saints who stood out due to their soldier-like and earnest character such as the patrons and lawyers of the Gran Capitán and his wife. Throughout the chapel and reredos the masculine-feminine duality is set out as an explicit discourse; always arranging the male figures on the left and the feminine ones on the right, as corresponds to the hierarchical protocol; the Dukes are also placed in the reredoses in the same fashion. All of this historically coherent, rhetorically impeccable, visually magnificent and the incomparable work of the great Diego de Siloé. Even though we have not captured its symbolic message, merely contemplating these vaults is always impressive to behold.
The main reredos is also noteworthy, done by Diego de Siloé along with the grill, the crypt and the tombs. Only the reredos remains as testimony to this great project. It can be considered the most grandiose and monumental of 16th-century reredos in Granada, due to its aesthetic qualities, iconographic complexity and size, with the only one that is comparable being in the Capilla Real. This reredos alone is reason enough for the visit and dignifies the monument that houses it even more.
Below on the sides, Gran Capitán and his wife stand in perpetual and serene prayer; with him wearing armour as a victorious soldier; and her with a veil, robe and cloak, as a modest and pious woman.
In the transept, at the foot of the stairway of the main altar, the few remains left of the founders are located, under a simple marble slab with the inscription: “The bones of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, who with his bravery earned the title of Gran Capitán, lie here in this tomb until eventually they return to the everlasting light. His glory was by no means buried with him”.
The walls and vaults of the temple are decorated with paintings of great scenographic and theological value that came to complete the symbolic discourses of this boundless space even further. They form a complex and varied iconographic programme, that ranges from the motifs of the birth and life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, the lives of saints, the triumph of the Eucharist and the church, etc., to the personalisation in the transept with themes referring to the Gran Capitán.
The building is perceived as a closed block. Its massive presence conceals its health care function, its prominence in the urban planning of the Triunfo area, and its monumental and historic importance.
Its history is inseparably joined to the Catholic Monarchs, who favoured the establishment of a number of royal institutions in the city.
Originally there was the intention of placing Royal Hospital (Hospital Real) inside the Alhambra, but later it was decided to place it in a new location, in the area of the old cemetery outside the walls of Puerta Elvira, away from the urban centre and with good health promoting conditions. In 1511, the construction of the Royal Hospital began to move forward, in the “Isabelinian style” or the Catholic Monarch style: decorative repertories from the late gothic period.
Construction moved slowly in the beginning, until Emperor Charles V stayed in Granada for his honey moon in 1526, when a room was prepared to house the sick people from the Alhambra. This decision, however, ended up creating continuous complications over the course of that century: reconciling construction with the presence of the sick.
The slow speed of the work would determine the final finished construction, as an amalgam of styles and tendencies developed between the 16th and 17th centuries. Enrique Egas would employ the cruciform model created in the Santiago de Compostela based hospital of the Catholic Monarchs, a cross inscribed in a square, with four bays coming together in the centre, constructed via four symmetrical courtyards.
Strength, severity and functionality are the fundamental characteristics of this regal symbol, with decoration left for later stages. Only the Gallery of Convalescent, facing the Triunfo Gardens, breaks with the solid character of the building.
The renaissance stage began in 1520, with two large courtyards build with renaissance-style arches on the southern side. However, construction came to a halt as a result of a terrible event: the July 3, 1549 fire. From then on, the majority of funds would be allocated for slowly restoring the complex, in particular, after the drastic decrease in revenue and profit due to the Expulsion of the Moriscos from Granada in 1570. The two courtyards on the right-hand side were never finished being decorated.
In 1982 the building was established as the Vice-Chancellor’s office of the University of Granada, becoming home to the main library of the University of Granada with interesting old documents.
San Juan de Dios Hospital (St John of God)
San Juan de Dios Hospital is doubtlessly one of the most representative buildings in the city, with a level of architectural importance and heritage that is superseded by its role as a charitable institution and the head office of the Hospitaller Order, with centres worldwide. The landmark is comprised of two buildings: on the one side the Hospital of Sain John of God, San Juan de Dios Hospital, and on the other side, the Church Basilica of San Juan de Dios.
History of San Juan de Dios Hospital
The hospital of San Juan de Dios, known in the 16th and start of the 17th century as “The Hospital of John”, which was established first in the street Calle Lucena, and in 1539 and afterwards, in 1547, on Cuesta de Gomérez, finally reaching its definitive resting place at this location. The building belonged to the Brothers the Order of Saint Jerome (San Jerónimo) and this was where the order’s first monastery was. Later it was a refuge for travellers and pilgrims.
In the decade of 1540-50 the Jeronimos ceded the plot to the Hospitallers, who started building the new hospital according to plans drawn up by Juan de Maeda. In 1593, after a lengthy lawsuit with the Jerónimos, it became property of the Hospitaller Order. The main renovations and noteworthy parts of the building were done in the 17th century, starting with the façade, the main courtyard and the stairs, between 1733 and 1759 construction on the basilica dedicated to the saint and the second cloister of the hospital.
With the ecclesiastical confiscations of Mendizábal, in 1836, the building became the property of the state and, afterwards, to the Provincial Council, operating as a health centre run by the sisters of Caridad de San Vicente de Paúl until the 1990s. It currently provides government health services, while awaiting renovation and a new functional purpose.
Cultural Patrimony of San Juan de Dios
It has two courtyards with a number of rooms around them, renovated many times over recent centuries. The oldest identifiable one is the coffered ceiling in the first chapel, part of which is visible in the current hall. The façade was finished in 1609, possibly designed by Ambrosio de Vico. It was done in grey stone from Sierra Elvira and marble from Macael. The niche in the upper part that houses the stone statue of the passing or death of the founding saint. The back of the niche is a canvas which attempts to depict the room where the saint died, and when he felt himself on the verge of death, got out of bed, kneeled down and then embracing the cross, passed away.
The main courtyard is accessed through a wide hall. It is made up of four galleries on two floors. The third figure on the side of the church is a later addition. The walls of the lower galleries have a set of canvases and mural paintings depicting the life of San Juan de Dios, done between 1749 and 1759. Despite their state, they bear witness to great devotional and celebratory importance. There is a baroque fountain in the middle of the courtyard with the emblem of the order. Underneath it lies a large cistern.
The main staircase is, doubtlessly, one of the crowning achievements of the hospital. José de Bada made it in 1737 with great baroque ornamentation and it is covered by a large golden lacquered pottery. In its walls pictures, of Juan de Sevilla are exposed.
In the old chapter room of the brothers’ hospital, the plasters that divided it in rooms for the sick persons have been removed and its rich mudejar coffered ceilings have been restored. Presiding over it, the picture El incendio del hospital (Th hospital Fire), by the Granadian Manuel Gómez Moreno, previously in the Museum of Fine Arts, is exhibited.
Church Basilica of San Juan de Dios (St. John of God)
The Church Basilica of San Juan de Dios, the first thing to keep in mind, as a peculiar value of this temple, is the perfect union produced by its structure, decoration and iconographic repertoire, since everything was done in just 25 years, was overseen by architect José Bada. The works began in 1734, finishing the platforms and the chancel in 1738 and the great façade in 1741; as to the reredos, images, paintings and other decoration, work started in 1740 and continued with construction of the alcove until the end and blessing of the temple in 1757.
On the outside we can remark on the oblique arrangement to the street with a fairly sharp angle, a variation that however is hardly noticed when entering inside since it is compensated for by the polygonal arrangement of the vestibule.
The façade ends in two towers fully covered in slate spires that flank the façade itself. The main street is presided over by the holy founder, determined, great dignity and a pained expression on his face.
On the access arch the relief work the Esperanza y la Caridad [Hope and Charity] accompany the Hospitaller emblem. Under the lateral medallions, two stones recall the period over which the temple was made, from 1735 to 1757. The pediment of the finish features God the Father and above, the Hospitaller emblem again. The delicacy of the relief work and the mouldings is enhanced by the use of stones in a wide range of colours, giving the façade the most monumental appearance in Baroque Granada.
Spectacular view of the Baroque interior of the Basilica of San Juan de Dios
The interior is in the shape of a Latin cross dominated by the huge reredos and alcove with relics from the saint. The semi-circular chancel, at the feet, emphasises the clear scenographic sense present in the whole temple.
It is in the baroque style with a collection of elements such as an infinite amount of cornucopias, mirrors, alabasters, emblems, motifs of leaves, the plethora of golden mouldings, arches and pillars, in addition to grandiose reredoses, paintings, sculptures and altars, a complex array covering the whole interior. A photograph, whether one or many are not enough to give us a full idea of the vision and experience of the interior.
The main reredos has a strong vertical section that includes from the bottom on up, the shrine, on a windows of the alcove and higher up a small tabernacle or second alcove with the image of the Immaculate Conception, to which the temple is dedicated. The sides of the reredos are octagonal in order to shelter the ensemble. The iconographic motifs are all sculpted.
An element of special architectural-, fine art- and religious interest is the alcove. It can be accessed up an intricate stairway, with rich wooden railings and a base of marble and tiles. Here we pass through the alcove which itself is divided into two areas. The first includes the silver urn containing the remains of San Juan de Dios, protected by a lavish golden wooden tabernacle. The dome and the walls of the area are literally lined with paintings, carved leaf motifs, mirrors, cloths, estipites, medallions, wreaths and endless decorative details, but nothing is as impressive as the 180 reliquaries that take on a variety of forms, most of martyr saints and, in an exceptional place, the cross of the holy founder.
San Juan de Dios Chapel (St John of God)
At the beginning of Elvira Street stands a small chapel in the same place where San Juan de Dios Chapel (“Saint John of God”) used to sell pious books to workers before beginning his hospital work.
This small bookstore allows him to be in contact with devotional and religious literature, which awakens his religious vocation, together with a sermon from San Juan de Ávila, which he presented in the Hermitage of the Martyrs.
The little bookshop was turned into a chapel devoted to the saint, the current neo-Gothic chapel. It has a simple pointed portal and a commemorative placard.
Church of San Andres
The church won’t be holding services temporarily due to restoration work. It was erected in 1521 as part of the city’s parochial plan, and was subsequently destroyed in a fire in 1818.
The bell tower is similar to that of the Santa Ana Church, and it is one of the most notable examples of a Mudejar Tower.
The church of San Andrés belongs to the first constructive stage of the parish churches of Granada, in the third decade of the sixteenth century. Today the partially reconstructed building is preserved despite the fire it suffered in the 19th century, which reduced the building to its perimeter walls and the tower. Its wooden roofs were replaced by vaults, only the octagonal armor of the chapel of the Marquis of Caicedo, to the right of the main chapel, was preserved.
The tower, from the middle of the sixteenth century, was a novelty for its rectangular floor plan, its glazed hairnets, the tucked ending, and the totally glazed roof, establishing a model for Granada Mudejar towers. Finally, it should be noted that among the works preserved in this church is a Crucified statue from the sixteenth century, a canvas of the Immaculate in the style of Ambrosio Martínez, another of the Virgin and Child, a copy of a lost original by Alonso Cano, and one of Jesus and the Baptism, work of Vicente Cieza from 1685