The Cathedral of Granada was built upon the site of the Great Mosque with a clear message that after 600 years of Muslim dominance, “The people of Granada give Faith and Charity to the Catholic Monarchs”. Like all cathedrals it took many years to be constructed. The construction started in 1523 with the foundation and finished in 1704. It took in total 181 years to be built. Although the initial designs were of Gothic style the Cathedral was mainly constructed during the Spanish Renaissance period.
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History of the Cathedral of Granada
After the conquest of the city of Granada and the great triumph of Christianity the construction of the Cathedral was not immediate. Granada had been under siege for many years and there were not enough funds to start construction. On top of that, wars in other locations diverted the attention of the Spanish rulers onto other projects.
In 1492, a papal bull authorised the construction of the foundation. From this moment, the episcopal church occupied other buildings of the city, like the Royal Mosque, two Franciscan Monasteries and the Great Mosque in the centre of Granada. It was not until 1523 (31 years after the conquest) that the Cathedral was to be constructed and was not finished until 1704 (181 years of construction). During almost two centuries of construction, the building went under numerous alterations. The most controversial was the change from a Gothic layout to a Renaissance elevation.
The architect Diego de Siloé was in charge of the work until his death in 1563. He had 17 successor architects to continue the work, hence there were numerous changes in style. The only master builder that could match Siloé’s expertise was Alonso Cano.
The cathedral includes many artistic innovations:
- The piers are very similar to those found in the cathedral of Pienza in Italy. They convey the impression of lightness and space.
- In contrast to the older longitudinal concept that leads to the main altar, the visitor is now invited to look into all directions. This is a similar concept to the one used by Brunelleschi in the churches of San Lorenzo and Santo Spirito in Florence.
- The whitewash lends a luminous effect to the inside. This is even more relevant when we consider that later architects decided to block a good amount of windows originally planned by Siloé (about half of the one’s planned by the architect)
- The Renaissance architecture assumptions are present in Diego de Siloé’s vision. In this cathedral concepts such as number, proportion, geometry and harmony take great importance.
Diego de Siloé’s Cathedral Design
The first problem that Diego de Siloé had to encounter was to harmonise the cathedral’s height with the proportions of the Classic architecture. According to these rules, the height of the pillars should be determined by their diameters. This would have gone against Renaissance feeling of spaciousness. The solution to this problem was to adapt the model of the Roman temples for pillars. It is thought that the source of inspiration for this solution was taken from the Great Mosque at Córdoba. The pillars in the cathedral contain plinth, base, shaft capital and entablature in harmony with those of the Roman temples. In addition he introduced a further tier with an added base and pilaster to fill the distance between the entablature and the base of the vaults.
Another innovation from Diego de Siloé was to move the cupola from its traditional location above the crossing to the apse. This could have been done so that the main altar receives daylight from the outside or because the royal pantheon was not to be placed in the sacrarium.
The cupola is the most important part of the cathedral. It´s stained-glass windows gives a great amount of light. The structure of the cupola uses the medieval technique of buttressing with traditional buttresses and flying buttresses. This gives a greater strength to the cupola walls.
Following the rules of Gothic architecture, the altar should be placed as a natural conclusion to the central aisle. In the Renaissance, it was common to have a central raised altar or something in between the two options. Siloé chose to move the elevation to the end of the nave and made an opening in the cylinder where it joined the central nave. The only problem is that a large part of its support was removed. To solve this issue he designed a great arch which is attenuated towards the middle and is hidden from the floor level. This arch handles a third of the weight of the dome. This arch is also framed by two smaller arches and perfectly blends the basilical and the central areas of the church.
The Door of Forgiveness
The main door into the cathedral is the greatest of all Siloé’s merits and is full of symbolism. He worked himself on the door, showing his great capabilities as an architect, sculptor and carpenter. He left his own signature in a cartouche below one of the niches in the lower stage of the door. An inscription alluding to the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs is displayed above the central arch and an eagle with the royal shield appears on top of the left-hand pier. The cathedral also represents the greatest project of the Roman Emperor Charles V so it was necessary to add a double-headed eagle on the right-hand pier. This eagle represents the marriage between the empire and the Catholic religion.
The many empty niches at the door suggests that the idea was to fill them with statues combining religion and the message of power from the central cartouche. Diego de Siloé worked on this doorway from 1535 to 1538 combining Justice and Faith ideas with nature icons. The upper stages of the doorway should have also been decorated the same way but Siloé’s successors did not follow his design. This can clearly be seen by the lack of ornamentation and relief.
The stained-glass of the cathedral are full of complexity. They have a very high value as examples of an art that was very scarcely represented in Granada during the Renaissance. Apart from the church of St. Jerome, you will not find any other example of Renaissance stained-glass windows in Granada.
One of the main features of these windows is their quality. They are like paintings on glass instead of a canvas. Colour, composition and light contribute to a very realistic result that is not common in the time. It is no doubt that Siloé intended these windows to be a central part of the main chapel. The following reasons were part of his decision:
- The tradition dictated that stained-glass windows should be incorporated to create coloured light.
- The main chapel, the Sancta Sanctorum and the place of the tabernacle need to be illuminated with a different light from the rest of the cathedral.
- He needed to support the development of iconography in the chapel. Other methods like frescoes, murals and figures had suffered a setback in the past years.
Symbolism of the Main Chapel
The iconographic subjects of the main chapel represent the life, passion and death of Jesus Christ. The light entering through the windows seems to convey the message “I am the light of the World”. Other interpretations point that the idea of triumph over death prevails and it´s the main focal point. In any case, the last reference is to the authors of these works, the Flemish artists Teodoro de Holanda and Juan del Campo. although each artist has its own style, both sets of stained-glass panes are very similar.
Below the stained-glass windows hangs a series of canvases painted by Alonso Cano. these are unique in the history of Spanish painting. Cano combined monumentality, emotion and religion in each of his seven canvases. These paintings celebrate the life of the Virgin Mary. The theme was already decided by Siloé, but he wanted to include sculptures rather than paint. The church is also dedicated to the Incarnation, hence the central canvas is devoted to this mystery. Finally, there was a strong support for the Immaculate Conception after the conquest which explains where this paintings are situated.
Designed in 1667, the façade of the cathedral of Granada does not match the general standards of the Baroque. Alonso Cano had a bigger sympathy for the Classic style and he tried to keep the same styling trend as the rest of the cathedral. The façade includes a triple arch that clones the interior of the structure.
The elements that can identify this work with the Baroque are:
- The circular oeil-de-beuf window in the centre, finished with zig-zag teardrops.
- The use of ornamentation on top of plaques and cartouches
- The pronounced cornices
Opening times Cathedral of Granada
|Monday – Saturday||From 10:00 to 18:30|
|Sunday and Bank holidays||From15:00 to 18:00|
Contact Phone: +34 958 222 959
Tickets Cathedral of Granada
You can buy tickets at the ticket office of the Cathedral or book a tour in advance.
|Adults||EUR 5 – Audioguide is included|
|Children (under 12)||Free|
Tours to the Cathedral of Granada are combined with Royal Chapel and have a duration of 2h.
Accessibility Cathedral of Granada
Cathedral of granada is fully accessible by wheelchair. There is a ramp with rails that will lead you to the interior. Inside there are no steps or narrow areas that block the way so you will be able to enjoy a full visit.