5.0 out of 5 starsIn Xanadu Once Did Kubla Khan....
2 October 2013 - Published on Amazon.com
"In Xanadu once did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure dome decree Where Alph, the sacred river ran Down caverns measureless to man...."
Coleridge did not, as far as I know, see the Alhambra, this amazing city on top of a cliff above the rivers in lovely Granada. And as it was in his time, writes historian Robert Irwin in "The Alhambra," a mighty imagination would have been needed to see a pleasure dome in the ruins. Yet it is Coleridge whose poem may sing to those wandering in the gardens of the now-restored palace. Irwin's fine, scholarly study of the Alhambra lacks such wings of imagination, yet gives much depth for readers fascinated by the Alhambra & the palace of the Nasrids.
The book is mostly about the palace, the complex of buildings which include the Lion Fountain, the Court of the Ambassadors, and interwoven, green treasures of water gardens. The Alhambra is itself much larger, a city only partly restored, covering the mountain top with fortresses,prisons, baths, chapels, residences, shops, two hotels, and the splendid garden called Generalife. To many however, "Alhambra" means the Nasrid Palace so the title is not misleading.
The book begins, as a good travel book should, with an excellent schematic laying out the palace from the entrance (today) at the First Court, through the Court of Machuca, the Court of the Myrtles, to the Gardens and Hall of the Kings, 22 major areas. The four chapters tell the architectural history of this palace, not only who built, who tore down, who replaced, who restored the place, almost wall by wall, but also the political & social history of each of the changes.
It is a story as intricate as the beautiful calligraphy and tilework adorning almost every inch of space, but often sadder and darker. Irwin's theme is clear:
" Though the Alhambra is easy to enjoy, it is difficult to understand. The more closely one studies the functions and iconography of its various parts and tries to establish how the place was inhabited, the more mysterious the buildings and their inhabitants seem. There are limits to what the historian and archeologist can retrieve."
Undaunted, Irwin plunges into history and archeology, vigorously whacking away at currently unproven but popular assertions, diving into the tile designs & what they tell us of construction sequences, and giving the detailed architectural geneology of each major space. The style is scholarly, the text rather a wall-of-words with here and there black & white photos & drawings, with enough information to nourish even a quite hungry reader. The book physically is small & light enough to carry.
Reader Alert: The gardens of the Alhambra, admittedly mostly reconstructred as to plantings, are part of its glory & were probably integral to the palace itself. They are mentioned only briefly, and little is said about the views from the many windows & arcades that are integral to the experience of this magnificent place. This would not be the best book for readers interested in the gardens internal or external to the Palace of the Nasrids.
Also, this is in no way Brys*n sees the Alhambra. Irwin has a thoughtful rather than a spritely pen. Washington Irving's classic book on the Alhambra would be a good companion here, even after more than a 100 years. Irwin's "The Alhambra" is a wonderful book on its own terms but it is not all things to all readers.
Recommended highly to read before, during, and particularly after immersion in the Alhambra itself or for those interested in the history & architectural treasures of the Moors in Spain.
PS Really really really if possible, as Irwin and most guidebooks emphasize, reserve tickets well in advance for the earliest entry to the Palace!
Irwin exhibits remarkable and exhaustive scholarship in this little book, attractively produced, which anyone truly interested in the Alhambra should read. Exposing the heterogeneous mythologies and imaginative, over-romanticised lore of the place, bemoaning various destructions, concealments, and ill-conceived makeovers of the famous site, he provides very interesting commentary on how the Alhambra in multifarious conceptions has ramified over time into a disparate literature (including historiography, novels, poetry, and moral essays), and into music, art, and architecture -- from P.T. Barnum's mansion "Iranistan" in Connecticut to the refined orientalising décor of a sewage-treatment works in England. This is not a guidebook in the conventional sense (although it is conveniently portable): there are rather few pictures, not all of the Alhambra itself, and none in color, but it is the ultimate companion to any guidebook to the Alhambra, unique and engrossing.
Visiting the Alhambra is a once in a lifetime, must do event. See it first from the plaza adjacent to the little church of St. Nicholas across the valley. And when you do finally go in to the Alhambra, bring this guide.
It's the sort of guide one might have had when visiting this place two hundred years ago--more Baedeker than Lonely Planet. It emphasizes the wonder of the place rather than entrance prices and opening times. Written in a narrative style that plays up the history of this magnificent palace, it is a joy to read both before and during one's visit. In fact, a careful reading of the book prior to visiting the Alhambra is bound to enhance the visit tremendously (as, after all, the Alhambra is so popular you'll be limited to a 15 to 30-minute window to make your entrance into the most stunning part of the complex, the Nasrid palace.) For that reason you'll want to know ahead of time what you'll be looking at, because once you're inside the rooms and courtyards go by in a blur--a gorgeous procession of delicate columns and sparkling fountains. If you're trying to read your guidebook for the first time in the midst of it all, you'll miss most of it. Once you are inside, you're much better off just using the book for a quick consultation as you enter each new room, gallery, or alcove.
Irwin's 'Alhambra' tells you what you really need to know about this place (one of Europe's most magnificent palaces) including the unfortunate fact that much of what you will see (or are seeing) has been recreated; the presumed use of each area of the palace is at best an educated guess (and at worst, a shot in the dark). Even some of the carved inscriptions are misleading (assuming you can read medieval Arabic). As Irwin notes: "...Contreras, who knew no Arabic, rearranged them [the inscriptions] in such a way that it is no longer possible to make sense of them" (p. 47, hardbound). Regardless, there is beauty in this truth, and this book has it in spades. Your standard tourist guidebook will not confront you with such sincerity (although you'll need it for the basics mentioned above: entrance prices, opening times, etc., as Irwin is not concerned with those).
The hardbound version of Irwin's 'The Alhambra' makes a great keepsake to remind you of your visit, and you can put it on your shelf next to the copy of Washington Irvings' 'Tales of the Alhambra' you picked up in the gift shop. Bottom line--if you are going to visit the Alhambra, do it right: bring this book, and read it ahead of time.
Con entrega de kindle y de antemano Las gracias por esta edicion y de la mano de Washington Irving es viajar a la hermosa ciudad de Granada y descansar en una posada granadina,disfrutando de una buena copa de vino viendo la caida del Sol
5.0 out of 5 starsWish I had read this before visiting the Alhambra
27 June 2018 - Published on Amazon.com
A lot of information, a lot of myths and stories clarified. Irwin does an excellent job of telling us exactly what we know, what we can suppose, and what we don’t know about how the Alhambra was originally designed and used. I learned so much after my trip — I wish I had read this before! I highly recommend this to anyone planning a visit to the Alhambra.