Alhambra - Monastery of San Francisco

Monastery of San Francisco now the Pardor of San Francisco  © Michelle Chaplow
Monastery of San Francisco now the Parador of San Francisco

Monastery of San Francisco

by Lawrence Bohme

Although the current name of this former monastery is the Parador de San Francisco, the part that interests us is not the luxury hotel, but the remains, embedded in its interior, of the original Moorish and Christian constructions, and which make it one of the most extraordinary buildings of Granada.

Moorish courtyard inside the old Monastery (current Parador). © Lawrence Bohme
Moorish courtyard inside the old Monastery (current Parador).

Under the Nasrids, this was the site of a palace, with its own mirhab or prayer room. When the Catholic Monarchs were laying seige to Granada, Queen Isabella promised that, after the victory, she would build a shrine in the Alhambra to her beloved Saint Francis. The monastery was installed in the expropriated Moorish palace, and when the Monarchs died, over the following two decades, they were buried here, in the monastery church, awaiting the completion of the Royal Chapel in the city below.

Marble plaque commemorating the burial place of the Catholic Monarchs. © Lawrence Bohme
Marble plaque commemorating the burial place of the Catholic Monarchs.

In the 18th century, the old Moorish building was rebuilt in the classical style, but because the Catholic Monarchs had been buried in an alcove of the old palace, this part of the building was left intact, in their memory.

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

Ruins of the old cloister before restoration in 20th century. © Lawrence Bohme
Ruins of the old cloister before restoration in 20th century.

The transferral of their bones to the final resting place, down the Cuesta de Gomerez and through Plaza Nueva, is said to have been the grandest ceremony the city has ever seen. The funeral cortège even included - incongruously - a delegation of Granada's moriscos, dressed in their traditional costumes.

The monastery, and most of the Spanish Church's enormous property, was expropriated by the State in 1835. The monks were driven away and the building was used as a tenement house and, finally, a donkey stable, until it fell into ruins (as shown in this old photo). It was saved from demolition by a group of local intellectuals, in the early 20th century, and became a retirement home for artists.

The roof of the old church had collapsed, but it was decided to leave the nave uncovered, creating the curiously-shaped courtyard we discover as we enter from the hotel lobby. Next to this "false" patio, we step into what was once the inner garden of the Moorish palace, and which the monks used as their cloister, rebuilding it in the classical style in the 18th century.   The present day Parador Hotel keeps its roof covered with transparent material, so that it is no longer open to the sky.

The only trace of the original garden is the water channel which crosses the floor, filling a rectangular pond. This courtyard was similar to the "patio de la acequia" of the Generalife, but on a much smaller scale.

Next page > Moorish Baths

Parador Monastery of San Francisco

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This itinerary was written for Andaluca.com by Lawrence Boheme author of “Granada, City of My Dreams”. For, what fascinates us about this universal city is not only its monuments but its marvellous story, “the encounter between Moor and Christian, gypsy and Jew, medieval and Renaissance, glistening snow and Mediterranean sun. Lawrence Bohme, poet, illustrator and curious traveller, has filled these pages with luminous descriptions and drawings, the culmination of forty years of wanderings through the palaces and labyrinths.