The Alhambra Palace, one of Spain's most visited monuments is enthralling. For anyone who has read Washington Irvings Tales of the Alhambra it doesn’t take much for the imagination to run riot. His stay in the palace during the 1820s, where he wrote much of the book, and the subsequent publication is said to have been the salvation of the monument.
The Spanish government declared it a national monument in 1870 after the huge interest taken in it by Washington Irving along with other romantic writers of the era, such as Richard Ford.
Francisco de Asis de Icaza wrote
“ Give him alms, woman. For there is nothing in life so cruel as to be blind in Granada”
Granada is a city set amidst green and fertile land, well watered by the melting snows of the Sierras. The old city is magical, especially at night, take a walk in the early evening up to Mirador San Nicolas and watch the incredible sunsets and the lights of the Alhambra come alive, a more Romantic and fairytale setting is hard to find. The former US president Bill Clinton described it as the most beautiful view in Spain.
Set high above Granada, with the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada behind, the red fortress towers dramatically over the city. The name Alhambra, comes from the Arabic meaning red castle, and was a fortress from the 9th century. In the 13th and 14th century The Nasrids added the palace and a small city which doesn’t exist today.
In 1492 The Catholic Monarchs gained control of Granada and moved into the palace. Later adding a convent and a church, Carlos I then had part of the Nazaries Palace removed to make room for a huge granite Renaissance palace which anywhere else might have been the most famous Renaissance buildings from his reign. Here in the Alhambra, sitting on the city that was, and dominating the Moorish palace it’s a misfit.
By the 18th century the Alhambra was abandoned, and used only by vagabonds until during the Napoleons occupation it became barracks to his troops, a store for ammunition, and a pen for goats.
Looting and pointless destruction by the French troops could have been the end for The Alhambra, but thanks to the hasty retreat they had to make, their planned destruction wasn’t total.
What we see today is major restoration, how near it is to the original, we’ll never know. Our thanks to Washington Irving, the hasty French retreat and the Spanish governments timely acknowledgement can never be fully realised.
The Alhambra is a wonder, and as writer Mary Lee Settle says in Spanish Recognitions
“If you cannot relearn wonder again at the Alhambra, you may as well stay at home and die."