Built mostly in the mid- to late fourteenth century atop a hill overlooking Granada, Spain, the Alhambra stands as a stunning example of Moorish architecture, the only Muslim palace to have survived since the Middle Ages. Its inordinate artistic detailing and disorderly layout--"underpinned," Irwin suggests, "by a geometry that [has] mystical resonance"--attract thousands of tourists every day. But the Alhambra has a complicated and often unclear history; it has served as a jail for debtors, invalid soldiers, and gypsies, and in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was "a monument to murder, slavery, poverty, and fear." In addition, as the site of the Moors' last stand before being driven from Spain by the Christian Reconquista in 1492, it has come to symbolize, for many Arabs and Muslims, everything they have lost in recent centuries. An able writer and noted Arabist, Irwin has clearly done his homework--though the academic-leaning material lacks a certain passion and purpose--and his detailed prose is complemented by a striking array of photos and illustrations. Andy Boynton
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Robert Irwin writes beautifully and is dauntingly clever but the stunning thing about him is his originality.
Irwin's book is a learned but entertaining companion for any visitor.
[Irwin] brings the majestic ruins to life. (Newsweek)
This book captures and conveys the mysterious attractions of the Alhambra.
--Doris Lessing (The Spectator 2004-01-17)
[A] fascinating book.
--Malise Ruthven (Sunday Times 2004-01-04)
Irwin's book is both a perfect introduction to the place and a first-rate account of its history.
--Mark Cocker (The Guardian 2004-01-10)
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 2004-01-22)
[A] delicious, tart monograph.
--Vera Rule (The Independent on Sunday 2004-01-11)
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 2004-02-13)
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 (Daily Telegraph 2004-01-17)
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 (Sunday Telegraph 2004-02-01)
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 2004-07-15)
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 (Times Literary Supplement 2004-07-16)
The Alhambra is a succinct, witty, often acerbic compendium of facts, legends, and outright delusions about this Nasrid architectural masterpiece. He 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 (New York Sun 2004-09-13)
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.