Europe, Wanderlust

Catholic Granada: Ferdinand and Isabella’s legacy

If the spirit of the Moorish empire lives on in the alleys of the Albaicin and the memory of Granada’s Jews is kept alive in the Realejo, there’s no question of the eventual victors.

The jewel in the crown of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, the final success of the Reconquista, the fall of Granada united Spain under the pious king and queen.

A view over the rooftops of Granada, dominated by the huge Granada cathedral - Catholic Granada Ferdinand and Isabella and their legacy

Mosques became the foundations for churches galore, dotted around the city’s hills. But if you’re in any doubt, you simply need to look at Granada’s cathedral… not hard as it’s visible from most viewpoints in the city and unmissable if you’re in the city’s centre.

This was a building designed to show the power and majesty of the Catholic church, and to remind the city’s subjects just who was in charge in Granada Ferdinand and Isabella. Grand and imposing, it brought to mind another cathedral in Albi, south west France.

Built at the time of the crusade against the Cathars, that’s another brick behemoth that’s as much statement as architecture.

The facade of the huge Granada cathedral - Catholic Granada Ferdinand and Isabella and their legacy

When we visited, there was a wedding about to take place, so we only had chance for a quick look. The first oddity is the way it seems so much smaller on the inside – but in fact, the exterior building is divided with the Capilla Real, or Chapel Royal, taking up one section.

The second is the layout. Rather than a traditional cruciform nave, all focused on the high altar, the side chapels cluster around a central section under a high vaulted ceiling which made both guests and tourists almost vanish in the echoing space.

But while it’s certainly worth a visit, including the small museum if you’re not restricted by impending wedding vows, it was the Chapel Royal which made most impact.

Ferdinand and Isabella's marble effigies in the Capilla Real attached to Granada cathedral - Catholic Granada Ferdinand and Isabella and their legacy

Built as the final resting place of the two monarchs, joined by their daughter and her husband (plus the coffin of another young prince), their carved marble memorials dominate the space.

Raised up high, it’s not so easy to take in all the regal detail – but head down the stairs underground and you can see the simple, austere black coffins, in complete contrast to the pomp and circumstance above.

There are also two small side chapels, including royal portraits, but the other eye-catcher is the main altar, an intricate gilded screen showing tales of the saints and the crucifixion, flanked by two statues of Ferdinand and Isabella.

Then in the sacristy museum, something to help bring these two figures out of history and almost to life – a crown, luxurious royal vestments, a sword, documents, plus a small collection of religious art, including a Botticelli and Rogier van der Weyden.

Plenty of food for thought on the religious world which they grew up in, influencing their lives and acts and perhaps adding some perspective which the stone monuments don’t.

Outside, I couldn’t help but smile when I spotted the Alcaiceria, streets of stalls selling crafts and souvenirs that seemed to come straight from a north African souk. Perhaps some victories are never quite as complete as they seem.

Need to know
Granada Cathedral costs 5 Euros to enter, free for children. It is open from 10am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday, and from 3pm to 6pm on Sundays. You can enter for free on Sundays if you reserve in advance, or if you’re attending mass in the morning.

The Capilla Real is open daily (with a few exceptions such as Good Friday and Christmas Day) from 10.15am-1.30pm and 4-7.30pm Monday to Saturday and 11am-1.30pm and 2.30-6.30pm on Sundays in Spring/Summer. Autumn/winter opening hours, and public holidays, are slightly different. Entry costs 4 Euros although there are free visits on some Sundays if you book in advance.


Catholic Granada - the legacy of Ferdinand and Isabella in this Spanish city, where Moorish, Jewish and Christian heritage all make it a unique place to visit


Images courtesy of Pixabay; tomb via Emilio I. Panizo/Flickr