Cover: The Alhambra, from Harvard University PressCover: The Alhambra in PAPERBACK

The Alhambra

Product Details


$21.00 • £18.95 • €19.95

ISBN 9780674060333

Publication Date: 05/31/2011


224 pages

24 halftones, 3 line illustrations, endpaper map

Wonders of the World

North America only

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In his remarkably concise, original and readable study, The Alhambra, Irwin deploys impressive scholarship to skewer many of the myths that have grown up around the beautiful palace complex of Nasirid Granada: ‘legends, lies and honest mistakes are as much a part of the story of the Alhambra as is the factual record,’ he writes. ‘So are vandalism, inadequately researched and botched restoration work and distortions caused by the demands of the tourist trade.’ It is these myths and distortions that Irwin sets about dismantling, a task he clearly enjoys… Irwin shows that the Alhambra has meant many different things to many different people. If the Victorians liked to see it as a symbol of Oriental luxury and debauchery, then many modern Arabs have seen it as a symbol of defeat, ‘an icon of exile and loss.’—William Dalrymple, The Times Literary Supplement

A fascinating and very manageable guide. Irwin takes in the history of the Alhambra’s inhabitants, its cultural importance to Westerners and to a new generation of Islamic writers.—Mirand France, The Daily Telegraph

Irwin’s book is both a perfect introduction to the place and a first-rate account of its history.—Mark Cocker, The Guardian

In this rich, concise contribution to the literature, Robert Irwin uses his vast knowledge of medieval Islam to illumine both myth and reality, history and imagination, without disenchanting the romantic reader… Having been to the Alhambra many times, after reading this wonderful book I wished to go back—and see it for the first time.—Shusha Guppy, The Independent

[A] delicious, tart monograph.—Vera Rule, The Independent on Sunday

The only Muslim palace to survive in the West, the Alhambra, a beautiful collection of buildings and gardens set against the mountain backdrop of Granada, has been fixed in travelers’ imaginations since the 19th century works of American novelist Washington Irving made the site famous. Unfortunately, much of what we know and think about it remains more romanticized fiction than fact. Here, Irwin (a novelist and noted Islamicist) helps set the record straight. As he explains, the Alhambra has been highly—and often inaccurately—reconstructed over the centuries, changing and expanding with the shifting notion of how this collection of buildings had been originally used. No matter how beautiful, he asserts, today the Alhambra is a mere shadow of its former glory, when it dripped with beautiful tapestries and exquisite carpets. Irwin’s direct and witty style makes this slim volume a joy to read, and his chapter on the depiction of the Alhambra in Western literature is especially useful.—Olga B. Wise, Library Journal

The Alhambra is a succinct, witty, often acerbic compendium of facts, legends, and outright delusions about this Nasrid architectural masterpiece. [Irwin] also manages, with style and flair, to convey a surprisingly rich store of detail on medieval Andalusian culture and life… He is the ideal companion: amusing, learned, curious, often eloquent… The Alhambra contains much precious detail drawn from the Arabic sources, historical as well as literary.—Eric Ormsby, The New York Sun

[Irwin] brings the majestic ruins to life.Newsweek

Edward Said pointed out that in writing about the Arab world, authors always have an agenda. Perhaps Irwin has replaced a Romantic illusion about the Alhambra with one more attractive to the New Age. Irwin is, however, modest about the possibility of ever knowing what the Alhambra was for. And his agenda seems to be nothing more sinister than to get us to look once more and to marvel once again at something we only thought we knew.—Robin Banerji, The Prospect

This book captures and conveys the mysterious attractions of the Alhambra.—Doris Lessing, The Spectator

It is…greatly to Robert Irwin’s credit that he has written a book on the subject that is sensible, scholarly, astringent and witty. It is a fine addition to what promises to be an outstanding series on the world’s great monuments.—Martin Gayford, The Sunday Telegraph

[A] fascinating book.—Malise Ruthven, The Sunday Times

Robert Irwin has written a compact companion to the history, architectural features, and enduring attraction of the Alhambra. Although this book is in a small guidebook format, the text corrects many of the romantic myths about the Alhambra that most tourists encounter. This book is recommended as excellent reading for someone planning a visit to the Alhambra or for the armchair traveler… His thesis about the geometrical foundations of the design and the use of the Alhambra as ‘a palace to think in’ is persuasively argued.—Karen Gould

Irwin’s book is a learned but entertaining companion for any visitor.—Oleg Grabar

Robert Irwin writes beautifully and is dauntingly clever but the stunning thing about him is his originality.—Ruth Rendell

Awards & Accolades

  • A New York Sun Book of the Year, 2004

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