Churros and Hot Chocolate
A visit to the tiny but rather special botanical gardens followed by the magnificent cathedral, were on our agenda for our first morning in Granada. There is truly no better way to start the day in Spain than with deep fried crispy churros dunked into hot thick chocolate at one of the local cafes or bars. I doubt there are many children that would detest a sweet breakfast that most people would consider a treat. Jerome loved these Spanish style doughnuts so much he ordered a second portion. It felt great to sit outside on the cobbled square in the autumn sun, not yet warm enough for a t-shirt but a welcome change to the already chilly weather in London.
Juan de Dios Hospital
Adjacent to the café we discovered the old Juan de Dios Hospital. Most people would probably not consider a hospital to be of interest but the building contains a long history and dates back to 15th century when it was built to help the poor and sick. While most parts of the building are off limits to visitors, as it remains a full working hospital, people passing by should step into the entrance way and into the courtyard to admire the remaining magnificent murals, and tiles, and imagine the beauty it must have once possessed.
The botanical garden is a short walk away and had been recommended by our hosts as a place to visit nearby. The gardens were surprisingly small and it is better to not expect a manicured garden or a place for the kids to run between flowerbeds to let off some pent up steam on a stroll through town. The botanical garden is more of interest to those plant aficionados that seek unusual species of flowers, herbs and other flora and it contains some valuable trees, including a very old ginko and Japanese pagoda tree.
Strange Water Plants
Jerome found some exotic blossoms we had not seen in real life before and we admired the pond with its variations of strange water plants. The botanical garden belongs to the university and we could constantly see students pass through the garden and into the building.
Passing Through the Streets of Granada
Walking on towards the cathedral of Granada we passed through streets lined with shops, bars and cafes and we spent quite some time inspecting board games and puzzles in one of the stores. Close to the cathedral were the standard tourist shops with their colourful flamenco dresses for kids and castanets. The imposing cathedral is almost too boxed in between the surrounding houses and could easily be missed.
Visiting the Cathedral
There were no queues to get inside this vast church and at 4 € it should be on your places to visit during a stay in Granada. I was astounded at the intricate ceiling of the cathedral, all white, like the icing on a cake, not like the typical display of opulence in other catholic palaces of worship. The patterns of the ornaments changed constantly and even the windows were rather understated with their pictures of stained glass. Only under the canopy of golden starred sky above the altar did I feel transported to the many cathedrals we have visited in the past.
The boys rarely share my passion in visiting the Christian houses of god and I cannot blame them, I felt the same when I was a child, although to be fair both of them do look at the architecture and perhaps a little of the history. For me these buildings not only show the wealth the church possessed in the past, I find the architecture and scale of these building so fascinating. Besides the main hall of the cathedral we were able to venture into some of the adjoining rooms, including a little courtyard, part of the living quarters of the nuns and priests.
Palacio de La Madraza de Granada
Located right behind the cathedral is The Palacio de La Madraza de Granada, a school and university that was founded by Nasrid sultan Yusuf I in 1349 and now is part of the university and houses an art gallery in one of the most magnificent Moorish rooms outside the Alhambra. The school building is by far nowhere near as grand in size and beauty as the one we visited in Marrakesh but it has some original features, including the baroque façade that made it worth the slight detour. Stepping into the building Jerome was captivated to hear the story of how the prayer room was covered under plaster and boarding in the religious conversion of Granada from Muslim to Christianity, and lay hidden for centuries and was only to be discovered a few years ago after a fire had damaged the cladding. The ceiling is covered in star shaped wooden ornaments, so typical of Islamic architecture and the walls were intricately stucco with complex floral-geometrical designs and Arabic inscriptions that recite sutras from the Quran. Underneath our feet we could see the remains of an Islamic cottage through the glass floor.
The Stairs and Knights Room
We then walked up the baroque stairs, the dome decorated with a pebbly composition and the large painting of Christ’s baptism. Upstairs we saw the XXIV Knights Room and the ceiling is a notable example of Granadian art at the time. It combines three different styles at once and the wooden pieces are arranged to fit like a jigsaw puzzle.
The Cobbled Streets
Outside we found ourselves back on the cobbled streets of Granada, and spotted a painter sketching one of the back entrance doors to the cathedral.
Sketching the Cathedral
Jerome stopped to watch him draw skilfully before strolling through the narrow alleys of the old town towards the Fundacion Rodriguez Acosta, one of the hidden gems in Granada.
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