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History of San Francisco Monastery, Alhambra

History of San Francisco Monastery, Alhambra

The Hotel Parador of Granada enjoys one of the most unforgettable locations in Spain: inside the celebrated Alhambra complex of Christian and Moorish palaces, set high on a hilltop above Granada.

Nasrid history

Under the Nasrids, this was the site of the early 14th century Palace of the Infantes, built by Mohammed V, with its own mihrab or prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca. It was located in the eastern part of the medina (old city).

Later, when the Catholic Monarchs were besieging Granada, Queen Isabella I of Castile vowed that, after the victory, she would build a shrine in the Alhambra to her beloved Saint Francis. As a result, a Franciscan monastery was built at the end of the 15th century, the Moors having been expelled from the city in 1492.

Christian history

In her will of 1504 , Queen Isabel asked to be buried in the monastery. She was laid to rest in the monastery church, awaiting the completion of the Royal Chapel in the city below. Today she and her husband,  King Fernando of Aragon, lie today in the Royal Chapel of Granada Cathedral.

Over the centuries, the roof of the monastery church became damaged, and in the 18th century, the old Moorish building was rebuilt in the classical style. Because the Catholic Monarchs had been buried here, this part of the building was left intact, in their memory.

At that stage it took on its present form, with the construction of the bell tower and an entrance door, made of brick and pilasters, with a semi-circular arch and niche with the image of San Francisco.

20th Century history

By the early 20th century the old monastery building was in a state of ruin. 

“The fact that it survived as a monument, and was not demolished, is due to the conservation architect of the Alhambra, Leopoldo Torres Balbás,” says Maria Angeles.”

In 1920, Torres started the project to restore the entire Alhambra and convert it into what we see today. Previously it was not protected, or even fenced off: anyone could walk in and simply do what they wanted, for example take anything they found inside.”

Torres’ restoration in 1927 enabled the most valuable elements to be recovered. Given the artistic importance of the Alhambra, the monastery was converted into a residence for artists until, in 1945 when it became a Parador hotel.

In 1949, remains of the early Arab baths were discovered, remains of whose original tiling are preserved. These can be seen from the present restaurant terrace.

More recently, a marble plaque was laid in the place where Isabel and Ferdinand were temporarily buried, in front of the altar of the church.

Original elements that we can still see today include the main courtyard, Patio de Isabel La Catolica, in what used to be the Nazari palace.

This cloister, which boasts 16 Tuscan columns with low arches between, is open for the public to visit, while those staying in the Parador have more time to contemplate and examine the fine details. Hotel guests, and visitors, can also see the magnificent qubba, now a viewpoint overlooking the Generalife. A qubba is a square structure with a dome.

Other elements which survive are the oriental room (now the Arab room of the Parador) and the water channel that crosses the courtyard of the Parador, once part of the royal canal that ran along the hill. Read more about Monastery of San Francisco.

This a historic Parador hotel which forms an integral part of the history of one of Spain’s most-visited monuments, with elements of both Moorish and Christian cultures within the same building – and also featuring in the cuisine. It is an unparalleled place to stay when visiting the Alhambra, and to soak up the extraordinary atmosphere of this unique place.

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