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Nicaragua: Granada, Leon, Masaya
Granada, Nicaragua: All things colonial
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Granada is a Nicaraguan city on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. It’s home to multiple Spanish colonial landmarks that have survived repeated pirate invasions. Revered for its colonial architecture, its streets are lined with buildings distinguished from each other by their successive shades of pastel hues. Palms rise amidst a sea of red tile roofs against the backdrop of lake shores and volcanoes. There are baroque and Moorish aesthetic influences interspersed throughout the cityscape.
The city of Granada would be the last stop of our Nicaraguan leg. Driving from Masaya, we reached our hotel La Gran Francia early evening.
Located right off the main square of the historical colonial city of Granada, La Gran Francia is a splendid ancestral building whose existence historians argue dates back to the years immediately following the founding of Granada in 1524. This architectural jewel was restored during the decade of the 1990's, recovering the majesty and splendor of its heyday and today housing Granada's finest hotel.
Similar to places in Central America like Panama City, Granada’s strategic location made it a prime spot for explorers, conquistadors and pirates. Dating back to the 16th century, the city was an important trade post and port for Spanish transport of silver and gold from the Americas. Naturally, it didn’t take long before other imperialist nations caught wind of its economic importance, and the French, English, and Dutch successively attempted to claim it for their own. Add a few stints of plunder by pirates – Captain Morgan himself is known to have paid the city a visit!
For dinner that evening, the group dispersed and were on their own to find cuisine of their choice. Granada, being a popular destination with tourists, there are plenty of options for food. It was a Saturday night. The streets were full with locals and tourists alike. Restaurants laid their tables on the side-walk and street artisans were busy performing. Music was in the air. 4 blocks away from our hotel, few of us opted for Maharaja - served delicious vegetarian Indian cuisine. Few others from the group walked into a Lebanese eatery and the remaining hunted down a pizza joint!
The air was humid and hot, enveloping visitors with the unmistakable sense of stepping into a tropical Spain. The surrounding natural beauty has also inspired artists, poets, and writers well before the Spanish founded it in 1524. Combine these charming features with the relaxed air of the Nicaraguan people – one of the happiest in the world – and you have quite possibly the most laid-back and accessible city in Central America, fully imbued with color and culture.
As the city was waking up the next morning, I stepped out of the hotel to explore the town on my own. The next couple of hours I soaked in the colourful streets and the architecture standing on either side. The highlight of the walk was the city’s main plaza and the Central Park, that's dominated by the colorful, neoclassical facade of the Cathedral of Granada, originally dating to 1583.
The building has been rebuilt several times after it was first constructed as a parochial church in 1583. The building was completely destroyed by William Walker in 1856. At the end of the nineteenth century construction of the new cathedral was ceased due to lack of funds. With new plans from the architect Andrés Zappata the construction continued again until 1915, when the cathedral was as good as finished. The neoclassical style can be easily recognized in the facade of the building. Within the building there are three naves and four chapels.
The Episcopal Palace is located in the southeast corner of the Plaza de la Independencia and the street called Calle La Calzada. At the end of the nineteenth century a militar building was located at this site. This building was destroyed in an explosion in 1897. The current building was constructed in 1913 by the Cardenal family, and donated to the bishop of Granada to be used as his residence in 1920.
The trip surely built up an appetite for a hearty breakfast. Post which, we were ready to explore the Islets of Granada.
The islets of Granada are located in Lake Nicaragua, just southeast of the city. The islets are a group of 365 small islands scattered about the Asese peninsula. The islets are of volcanic origin and they were formed when the Mombacho volcano blew much of its cone into the lake thousands of years ago, thereby creating the archipelago. Most of the islets are covered with vegetation and rich with bird life.
We had a boat for ourselves to discover the beauty around.
Many residents of the islands were forced to relocate to the mainland in the 1990s after having lived there for several generations. During Somoza's dictatorship, members of his National Guard forced many locals to either sell their islands or risk being forcibly removed. After the Sandinista revolution, many of islands were returned to their previous owners. However, some of these islands were sold to wealthy Nicaraguans and foreigners, resulting in an uncertain future for the local Nicaraguans who have traditionally lived on the islands and nearby peninsula.
The fort of San Pablo is also located on the islets. The fort was built in order to protect the city of Granada from Pirates in the 18th century. The San Pablo Fort on the Islets has witnessed the battles and conflicts endured during the Colonial Period. We spent some time at the fort and enjoyed a refreshingly fresh coconut water.
After spending enjoyable 2 hours on the boat, waiting for us, near the jetty were colourful carriages driven by strong and stout horses.
There are almost 30 carriages in Granada, all of them pulled by two horses and providing space for up to four people. In general there are enough carriages available and the drivers will all invite you to hop in. We had pre-booked 4 carriages and let the driver decide the route for the next 30 minutes. During the ride, we passed by old colonial houses and other important buildings like the San Francisco Convent, Guadeloupe Church and the Xalteva Church. Granada has narrow, often one-way streets. The carriages will fight with cars and cyclists over the limited space, which can be an adventure by itself.
One of the oldest churches in Central America and one of the most striking building in Granada, Iglesia San Francisco boasts a robin's egg-blue birthday-cake facade and houses both an important convent and one of the best museums in the region. Originally constructed in 1585, it was subsequently burned to the ground by pirates and later William Walker, rebuilt in 1868 and restored in 1989.
The Guadalupe church is located in the eastern part of Granada, at the street La Calzada. It was constructed in 1626 by Fray Benito Baltodano as a cloister. In 1856 it was used by William Walker for 18 days as his last bastion. This caused damages to the church, which have later been repaired. Reconstruction took place until 1965.
Xalteva Churche’s name is taken from the indigenous settlers of the area where it is located. The building is situated in the western part of the city, at the Calle Real Street. The church was built during colonial times and due to its location it was used as a military fortress. The facade and the interior were rebuilt after the church was destroyed during the national war. In 1890, the church was severely damaged by earthquakes, and once again rebuilt between 1895 and 1898. The final reconstruction work ended in 1921.
It was time to bid farewell to the charming city of Granada. It was time to head to the airport.
We would be flying to Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Granada Image Gallery Photo viewer
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