The Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain is rated as one of the ‘must see’ tourist destinations in the world, but behind the tourist façade of this great old palace of the Moors, the home of Spanish royalty and marauding thieves and robbers, lies the story of the 19th century American traveller, writer and diplomat, Washington Irving, who in 1829 travelled on horseback from Seville to Granada to visit the Alhambra, and ended up staying three months as a privileged guest. His story, described in Tales of the Alhambra, is the perfect bit of reading material to take with you when you go.
Washington Irving inspired us to go to Granada. His book entranced us with tales of Spanish hospitality, the legend and myths surrounding the occupation of the Moors (the North African Muslims who conquered Spain between the 10th and 14th centuries), and the history that lies in every brick and tile of the city.
With Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra in our hands, we explored the streets of Albaicin, the caves of Sacromonte and the wide boulevards and gardens of the Alhambra and we were not disappointed. Irving’s Granada still exists in perfect form; the whitewash houses, the narrow cobbled streets, the rocks and cliffs of the Sierra Nevada providing cool shade from the violent Spanish sun, the scent of the lemon and orange trees, the fiesta spirit that is always prevalent in Spain whatever the season. Irving’s Tales tells of a Granada of the 19th century where proud Spanish men rode horses dressed in military regalia and senoritas opened their houses for travellers, providing them with sustenance and stories filled with intrigue about the local characters.
Granada in 2016 is just as romantic; the Alhambra is the focal point of the entire city, rising up on the rock – as in Edinburgh – as the protective force that guides all visitors. The people of Granada are charming and welcoming; the attitude is one of calm acceptance that sharing their beloved city with the world is what is meant to happen. Something as eerie and steeped in mystery as the Alhambra should never be kept secret.
The Alhambra was once a proud headquarters of the Muslim invaders in Andalucía, and as Washington Irving said in his Tales, as equal in power and status in the Muslim world as the Kaaba is in Mecca. Read Washington Irving’s glorious Tales of the Alhambra before you go.
Fly Edinburgh to Malaga (three hours), then get the bus to Granada (two hours). Granada should be on every person’s ‘must visit’ list.