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Tales of the Alhambra

The Alhambra in winter from the Plaza San Nicolas, courtesy Maggie Gallup

The Alhambra in winter from the Plaza San Nicolas, courtesy Maggie Gallup Kopp

Recently, I took a holiday in Spain. One of the stops in my travels was Granada, home of the Alhambra, a palace and fortress complex built by southern Spain’s Moorish rulers during the middle ages. The palaces and gardens are considered the finest examples of Islamic architecture in Europe.

As I toured the Alhambra, I was reminded of the many artists, architects, and writers who have been inspired by the gardens, buildings, and decoration, from artist M.C. Escher to composer Manuel de Falla. Special Collections owns two very important books inspired by the Alhambra: Washington Irving’s story collection, Tales of the Alhambra, and Jules Goury and Owen Jones’s nineteenth-century architectural study of the palace complex.

Irving’s book, The Alhambra: a series of tales and sketches of the Moors and Spaniards, better known as Tales of the Alhambra (Call number: Rare Book Collection PS 2056 .A1 1832), was actually written in part at the palace. Visitors to the Alhambra today can see a plaque marking the room where Irving stayed in 1829 — and will also find numerous copies of his book in a variety of languages in gift shops all over Granada.

British architect and decorative artist Owen Jones’s Plans, elevations, sections, & details of the Alhambra (Call number: Vault Collection Folio 725.17 G744p 1842) reproduced drawings done in 1834 by Jules Goury and by Jones himself in 1834 and 1837. His two-volume book is nearly 2 feet tall and contains over 100 plates. The color plates are some of the earliest and most valuable examples of chromolithography, a nineteenth-century color printing process. Jones’s book is also an important record of the Alhambra’s appearance in the nineteenth century, since an extensive photographic study of the buildings and grounds would not be made for several decades after his book appeared.

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