Granada Cathedral of the Incarnation

Cathedral in Granada

Main Nave Of The Granada Cathedral.
CC BY-SA 4.0 / FDominec

The Catedral de Granada, Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de la Encarnación de Granada  or Granada Cathedral of the Incarnation is a Roman Catholic church in the city of Granada in Spain. This cathedral is a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance style. This grand 16th century church largely dates back to the Renaissance and is 115 metres long and 67 metres wide. The Capilla Real, the Royal burial chapel, abuts the cathedral and can be visited separately, holds the effigies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella created by Granadino sculptor Pedro de Mena.  King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were the Catholic monarchs who seized Granada from the Moors in 1492.

History of Granada Cathedral in under a Minute

Granada Cathedral was commissioned to be built by Queen Isabella after the conquest of Granada in 1492. The cathedral’s construction was started in 1501 on the site of the Mosque in the old Muslim Medinaand the first stone was laid in 1523. Its architect was Enrique Egas, a master of the Old Gothic School and its earliest plans had Gothic designs, such as are evident in the Royal Chapel of Granada also by Enrique Egas. However most of the church’s construction occurred when the Spanish Renaissance style was replacing the Gothic in Spanish architecture.

These works on the foundations, lasted five years and Egas was replaced by Diego of Siloam, another Spanish sculptor and architect trained in Italy. His first decision was to change the Gothic style of Granada Cathedral to the Renaissance style. He worked for nearly four decades on the structure from ground to cornice. The cathedral was finally put to use in 1561.

After Siloam’s death, a succession of prestigious architects – including Juan de Maena, Juan de Orea and Ambrosio de Vico – worked on the Renaissance cathedral, but their predecessor’s ingenuity had already left its mark on the building. Changes and additions have occurred, such as the Baroque dome church Iglesia del Sagrario in the place of the planned second tower. For nearly 200 years, various architects laboured on the build of this cathedral, making the cathedral of Granada a mix of Renaissance and Gothic styles.

What does the Granada Cathedral look like?

The cathedral dominates with its imposing mass the surrounding district. Cathedral of Granada has impressive facades and a stunning interior with a grand altar and several chapels. It is the 4th largest Cathedral in the world. Granada Cathedral has many chapels of different ages and styles, the most interesting being the chapel of Nuestra Senora de la Antigua. The Cathedral of Granada was left incomplete in its facade. Of the two towers planned, only one was built one and its height had to be lowered because the foundations for a Gothic cathedral could not resist the heavy mass of the tower.

Diego de Siloé’s Cathedral Design

A problem that Diego de Siloé faced was how to combine the cathedral’s height with the proportions of the Classic architecture. According to these ‘rules of proportion’, the height of the pillars should be determined by their diameters. However this would have gone against Renaissance feeling of spaciousness. His solution was to adapt and use 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 and shaft capital in harmony with those of the Roman temples. In addition he introduced an additional tier which added a base and pilaster to fill the distance between the upper part of the building 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 may 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 of the Catedral

The cupola is traditionally the most important part of the cathedral with its stained-glass windows providing 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. Again following the rules of Gothic architecture, the altar should be placed as a natural conclusion to the central aisle while in the Renaissance, it was common to have a central raised altar or something in between the two options. Siloé had chosen to move the elevation to the end of the nave and made an opening in the cylinder where it joined the central nave however this caused a large part of its support to be removed. To solve this issue he designed a great arch which handles a third of the weight of the dome. This arch is also framed by two smaller arches and perfectly blends the basilica and the central areas of the church.

The Door of Forgiveness

The main door into the cathedral is the greatest of all Siloé’s achievements and is full of symbolism. He worked on the door himself, which displayed his skills 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.

Stained-Glass Windows

The stained-glass of the cathedral is full of complexity and quite rare to find during the Renaissance period in Granada, with the only other example being the church of St. Jerome. One of the main features of these windows is their quality. They are like paintings on glass instead of a canvas. Color, 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 colored 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.

The Façade

Cathedral FaçadeDesigned 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

Tours of Granada Cathedral and its Environs

If you were wondering which tickets and tours are the best ones to explore the Granada Cathedral?  Check out these popular options:

Artistic Innovations of the Granada Cathedral

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.

Insider Tips for Visiting the Granada Cathedral of the Incarnation

  • To soak up the brilliance of the Catedral, one can stand in the main chapel and lift your gaze to the stained glass windows, sculptures and paintings on the sides.
  • There is no prior need to buy tickets as they are always available.
  • You can stroll around and try visiting an adjacent chapel where the Spanish Catholic kings that conquered Granada from the Turks are buried.

The Granada Cathedral of the Incarnation appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Granada!

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Visiting Granada Cathedral of the Incarnation


Monday – Saturday: 10:15 – 18:30

Sunday: 11:00 – 18:00


€ 5, Up to 10 years: free / 65+ and students: € 3.50

Duration: 30 minutes
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