Spain, a Western European country rich in Mediterranean flavors and Arabic influence, is a few countries packed into one. With its location in the southern end of Europe and just a hop away from North Africa, Spain serves as Europe’s link to the Arab world. This link has been running strong for centuries: Having been ruled by the Moors for centuries, evidence of Arabic influence is still in full display in Spain today.
One of the best display of Moorish influence in Spain is the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex constructed in the mid-14th century by the Moorish rules of the Emirate of Granada. It is the country’s most significant Islamic architecture and one of the few remaining buildings showcasing the Umayyad architectural style. The Alhambra is located on the top of the hill of the Assabica in Granada – the last city to be reconquered by the Christians.
Irving’s Love Affair with the Alhambra
After falling into disrepair for centuries, the Alhambra was “discovered” in the 19th century by European scholars and travelers. One of the instrumental characters who helped reintroduce the Alhambra to Western audiences was Washington Irving, an American author, biographer and historian. He was considered to be America’s first genuine internationally best-selling author, earning acclaim especially in Europe. After receiving an invite by the American Minister of Spain, he traveled to Madrid and began working on a biography of Christopher Columbus.
Introducing the Alhambra to the World
In 1829, Irving moved to Granada and stayed in the Alhambra, ”determined to linger here,” he said, “until I get some writings under way connected with the place”. At first sight, he described it as “a most picturesque and beautiful city, situated in one of the loveliest landscapes that I have ever seen.” During his stay, he wrote Tales of the Alhambra based on his observations and research on the city’s history. The book became one of the most important documentation on the Alhambra. A plaque now marks the rooms in which Irving stayed while writing some of his book.
Today, the Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most visited monuments in Spain. Many travelers visit the Alhambra, Granada, on a day-trip from Malaga, but considering the sheer size of the complex, it’s best to spend a few days slowly exploring the historical grounds and getting to understand Washington Irving’s love affair with it.