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on 12 March 2017
Jumps about all over the place but great advice not to visit !
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on 6 January 2006
One is almost immediately captured by this book from the very opening paragraphs - there is wonderful description of the Alhambra from the perspective of tourist guidebooks which would lead a visitor through the many palaces, chambers, and courts, filling in detail about the history from both Muslim and Christian eras. Then author Robert Irwin lets the reader know the sad truth - almost all of what is presented on this virtual tour is almost all false. The Alhambra is, if nothing else, a greatly misunderstood place, perhaps an architectural embodiment of Emerson's dictum about greatness.
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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on 30 August 2004
Irwin shows the Alhambra not as a static historical monument but as a group of buildings which is full of historical and cultural change and anachronism. We are reminded that the Alhambra as we see it today is not the simple product of the Islamic rule which ended in 1492, but is the result of numerous acts of demolitions, extensions, rebuilding and (not always faithful) restorations by different hands. He presents the sense of historical and cultural dynamism or chaos well, depending on how you look at it. Whatever its history, the book does justice to the art and architecture of the place, and while being highly informative, it also skilfully captures its charms. Such a fresh approach seems quite appropriate for the theme of the `Wonders of the World' series of which this volume is a part. This is no banal `guide book'.
The latter half of the book deals with the widespread tendency for the Alhambra to be presented in literature and art in terms of what people wanted to see in it or what they thought it represented. Irwin gives an interesting account of the examples of often unhistorical legends, romanticism, nostalgia and Orientalism to which the Alhambra have given rise. But he remains judicious and does not take the moral high ground of judging them. Whatever you think of them, such products and influence of the Alhambra seem to be in accord with the fact that past rulers and restorers rebuilt it according to what they wanted/thought the place to be like. They all form part of what makes Alhambra today.
A section on further reading at the end is quite detailed. His practial advice on visiting the place is also useful and rounds off the book as a guide book. On a separate note, the book is beautifully designed, printed on quality paper in an elegant font; it guarantees a pleasurable read.
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on 1 March 2006
Without this book, my appreciation of The Alhambra when we visited in December would never have rewarded my senses as much as it did.
This book is not just another guide to the most visited monument in Spain. This one probes deeper into the history and culture that surrounds the amazing legend that is this Moorish delight. After the introduction I was hooked: the first few pages documented a ‘history’ of the Alhambra, lots of which I had already heard from TV documentaries and read in books or on the internet. And then the strike: all of what I had just read was based on myth and legend. Absolutely none of it could be proved!
In this book, Robert Irwin sets out to do what no other author on the same subject has done: to bring together every story, myth and legend, try it, test it, and if he can’t prove it or come up with a better explanation, leave it to be mystified over for the next 500 years. This is not about what we want to see the amazing palace complex as seen through our rose-tinted glasses; it’s what it really is. A town built by a bloody and threatened race, defended and finally conquered by the Catholic King Ferdinand and his Queen Isabella.
There are few pictures in the book and those that are there are black and white. But this book doesn’t need pictures, it’s descriptives are so good, so illustrated, that you find your eyes diverting from the text, closing while you imagine the splendour and wealth that used to live within those walls.
As I explored The Alhambra, every chapter, paragraph and sentence of this book came back to me, filling me with a sense of awe and understanding. Bare walls with chipped tiles became vibrantly coloured facades, covered with rich wall hangings. Cold, worn floors became luscious seating areas, with bold luxurious cushions strewn about. I was seeing the Alhambra as Robert Irwin wished for readers of his book - how it was when it was filled with life, and before its many reconstructions and facelifts that left it, yes, a monument to the past, but also an anomalous clash of many different centuries, rulers and architectural styles.
If you’re going to Granada and intend to visit the Alhambra, don’t forget to book your tickets in advance to avoid the long queues. You can do this on the internet, then just print out your e-mail confirmation and take it with you to the pre-booked ticket desk where it will be swapped for your tickets. You’ll still have to queue for a bit, but not nearly as long as if you hadn’t pre-booked.
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on 14 December 2011
This is an easy to read and well informed history of the Alhambra. When you visit the site your eyes are entirely taken up with absorbing the beauty of the buildings, the garden, the setting and because of the size of the site and the time allowed it is better to get the gist of the story before you go and just enjoy the place when you are there. We have just visited and it is wonderful - although the Court of the Lions is under renovation and apparently has been so for quite some time.
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on 16 April 2016
Very complicated. Not very good If you want to use It as a guide book. If You enjoy reading what is wrong with other books related to Alhambra, this is the book for you.
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on 8 April 2013
Useful book to read before a visit to the Alhambra and good size for taking with you on your visit!
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on 30 April 2011
this book was interesting if you wanted a lot of detailed history. I only wanted nice photos and a brief overview. Perhaps the Alhambra catalogue would have been a better choice. My partner enjoyed the book, but he loves a lot of detail.
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on 14 December 2014
to the poor westerners and the poor arab / muslims that are unaware of the history of islam in Europe in particular and in the world in general this is the book for you read it ...and if you are honest with yourself you would realised that you have been fed a whole pack of lies for the past 500 years
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on 10 October 2016
filled all expectations. Delivered very promptly
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