The Alhambra (Anglais) Broché – 30 juin 2011
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The Alhambra, a grand structure on the outskirts of Granada in southern Spain, is in fact a series of palaces, perhaps more akin to the Forbidden City in China than any European or Islamic palatial counterpart. It is also the only medieval Islamic palace to survive - tradition was among Islamic rulers was to abandon the palace of the old ruler in favour of building a new one, and often the old palaces were razed for building materials - if not by the new ruler, then by the population around the old palaces, now no longer guarded. It is somewhat ironic that it may be because the Alhambra came to be part of Christendom that it, as a classic Islamic building, came to survive at all.
Irwin gives a revised tour of the facility following the virtual tour of false information - in this he describes the different palaces, the functions of different buildings and courtyards, and the influence the Alhambra has had both in artistic imagination as well as political and military significance.
There are bits of fancy here - the Sala de los Mocarabes, a room whose name comes from the stalactite decorations on the ceiling, is in fact a room without stalactite decorations (those having been burned centuries ago, but the name endures). Names and symbols throughout the buildings incorporate both Islamic and Christianised names, with a not insignificant Jewish influence as well in many respects. The Alhambra was built and preserved over a period of social tolerance and cultural flowering, but allowed to fall fallow during Spain's slow decline as a world power.
People such as Washington Irving, Benjamin Disraeli, the Duke of Wellington, the vicomte de Chateaubriand, Victor Hugo and other notables of later mainstream Anglo-American and European culture drew inspiration from and were fascinated with the Alhambra. Indeed, some artists of some periods began to have a distaste for the kinds of Arabesque and medieval influences derivative of the Alhambra, for it has become far too commonplace in their opinion. More modern figures such as Jorge Luis Borges have also drawn inspiration from the site.
Robert Irwin's book is a treat to read, giving a sense of the place from an aesthetic, philosohpical, architectural, and historical sense. His tracing of the influences expanding from this almost mythical and mystical place is fascinating.
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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!
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.
Lo único negativo que puedo decir es que el prólogo es demasiado largo, así que recomiendo que se lo brinquen y vayan directamente al libro, las descripciones del lugar como lo encontró Irving en su época son magníficas y los cuentos llevan al lector a un mundo como el de las mil y una noches.
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