Granada is one of those showcase cities whose eternal beauty lies deep within her Spanish colonial roots. Founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, much of the city remains the same as it was hundreds of years ago when the Spanish landed in Granada and conquered the people and their land. Despite being ransacked, destroyed and burnt to the ground, Granada has remained shockingly intact with its glorious cobblestone streets, opulent Catholic churches and vibrantly colored architecture, making it one of the most beautiful cities in Central America.
Catholicism arrived in Nicaragua in the late 16th century during the Spanish conquest of Latin America. To build their empire, the Spanish constructed grand, elaborate cathedrals throughout the region and Granada received her fair share of beautiful churches. Today roughly 90% of Nicaraguans practice some form of Christian denomination with the majority being Roman Catholics.
The sound of church bells is a constant reminder that you are in a Catholic country where religion still plays an integral role in people’s lives.
There are five main churches that grace Granada’s picturesque streets: The Iglesia la Merced, the Cathedral on Parque Colón, The Iglesia de Xalteva, the Igelesia Guadalupe and the Antiguo Convento San Francisco. All are worth checking out as they are equally beautiful in their own right.
Iglesia la Merced
Built in 1534 (sacked and burned and rebuilt again in 1670), the views from the bell tower are the most spectacular in the entire city. High on top, you are rewarded with a 360 degree view of Granada’s terra-cotta rooftops, the stunning lake and the volcano.
Climbing the narrow stairs, you reach the centerpiece of the church: The bell tower. The panoramic views from high above the busy streets of Granada, are sensational and perhaps my favorite view in all Granada.
I could have stayed her all afternoon watching the world go by on the streets below but alas I had four more churches to see and it was getting hot.
Here is a beautiful view of the Cathedral on the central plaza, the heart and soul of Granada. You can also see the lake, Lago Cocibolca and Las Isletas where I would go for a sunset cruise later on that day.
The outside of the Iglesia la Merced shows its wear and tear yet the inside remains pristine.
Looking up at the entrance to the church.
Given the heat of midday and the lunch time was rapidly approaching, I decided to visit the Cathedral on the Parque Colón, (Central Plaza) next before the bell tower closed for the day. It was sweltering hot with not a wisp of wind. I was melting in sweat but was too inspired by the beauty of Granada to let a minor discomfort stop me from exploring the city.
Arguably the most prominent landmark in Granada, the brilliant yellow neoclassical Cathedral dominates the Parque Colón,and can be seen soaring proudly against the deep blue sky throughout most of the city. Built in 1583 and destroyed in the 19th century, this glorious cathedral was rebuilt again in the early 20th century and has stood proud ever since.
The interior of the church has three naves and four chapels, and is decorated with extensive stained glass windows.
Once again, I paid a dollar to climb up the bell tower and take in the views. Just like at the Iglesia la Merced, signs in english were everywhere saying “Please do not ring the bell!”. While I was up there taking photos, the bell was rung and it chimes could be heard throughout Granada.
The church bells should have warned me that it was time to head back for lunch and take a break. But I kept going and soon realized I was one of the few people crazy enough to be out there in the prime heat of the day, walking around. But I only had a few more hours of daylight left in Granada, so I had to endure the heat and press ahead to the next church.
Iglesia de Xalteva
This lovely church once again has a history of being built, destroyed and rebuilt. It was first built during the colonial period and had to be rebuilt between 1895 and 1898 after a major earthquake struck Granada. All restoration work was not completed finished until 1921.
I found this church rather by accident as it was not in my guide book and I just saw its beautiful looming tower poking up in the sky. I think by far it was my favorite one.
Iglesia Guadalupe was built during the 17th century yet is sadly in a state of disrepair. Its faded and crumbling exterior give us a sense at its rough history. It was used as a fortress in 1856 by American William Walker who attempted to take over Nicaragua by naming himself president. He razed the entire city of Granada and destroyed much in his path. Walker was executed by firing squad in 1856 and it began a long history of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua that is not pretty.
Antiguo Convento San Francisco
The last church that I saw was the Antiguo Convento San Franciscan. Built by Franciscan monks in 1529, this church too was burned to the ground and had to be reconstructed. I didn’t go inside the church but my guide book said that its courtyards hosts a wealth of priceless artwork that is wonderful to see.
If I hadn’t been so hot and tired, I would have certainly explored more of the Antiquo Convento San Francisco but a dip in the pool, a cold beer and a lukewarm shower were awaiting. It wouldn’t be much longer before I set off on my next adventure for the day: A sunset cruise of Las Isletas. I could hardly wait!