The Alhambra of 19th century US travel writer Washington Irving

Washington Irving, US travel writer and dignitary of the early 19th century spent time living at the Alhambra Palace in Granada – where I am now – for a period, as the invited guest of the mayor of Granada of the time. 

He had ridden from Sevilla to Granada, Spain on a donkey, along with his travelling companion, meeting locals and staying at auberges along the way, avoiding the bandits roaming the mountains of Andalucia, as best he could.

He wrote his wonderful book, Tales of the Alhambra, which I read in 2015 when I was first here. 

The Alhambra Palace is now a top tourist destination and Granada is on the ‘must see’ route for all those who love Spain. But Washington Irving is forgotten, although not by me. 

I walked up the hill this morning some way towards Sacromonte, past Albaicin and observed the grand hill on which sits the Alhambra in the dull grey light of a cloudy Granada day. I was deep in thought about Washington Irving and what he said about his time at the Alhambra in the early 1800s. 

He said the Alhambra – a former Moorish royal palace – was during his time there a sort of ‘squat’, a sort of run-down urban village full of paupers and people living on the edge who had taken over its crumbling towers. He lived in one of those towers and tried to write, while flirting with and seducing -verbally at least – the local gypsy girls and bored Moorish-descended housewives who were craving a bit of excitement. Tales of the Alhambra is well worth a read.

In the early 1800s, Granada was a working class, hot, sweaty vibrant rural Spanish town, corrupt, fiery, dazzling, poor and rich at the same time, living in the shadow of its former Moorish excellence. The Moors of North Africa who ruled from the 9th century to the 15th century, had created a heaven of artistic, engineering and social excellence within the city of Granada and the entire Iberian Peninsula, but once they were evicted by the Spaniards in the 1490s, Spain’s rural towns descended into Catholic-run chaos.

The age of darkness had arrived, and continued for the next three-hundred-odd years. In the mid-1800s, Washington Irving found beauty in the people of Spain, in the life, in the character and disposition of local Spanish people of the time. The Spaniards fiery disposition, strong and creative, won out and Irving had the time of his life ‘not’ writing, while writing. This is what I am doing, ‘not’ writing, while writing. 

Granada is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, steeped in a long history of battles, royal treachery and sizzling sexual encounters. I am here for three weeks and like Washington Irving, I am writing…..


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