by Robert Bovington
One of the books that all lovers of Spain and its culture should have on their bookshelves is ‘Tales of the Alhambra’. The American romantic writer Washington Irving wrote it following an extended stay in Granada.
Whilst in Spain, working for the American Legation, he had spent a brief time in Sevilla before setting out for Granada with a Russian travelling companion in April 1829. On arriving in this beautiful city, he immediately fell under its spell. He had the extraordinary good fortune to spend several months living in the Alhambra. The book is one of the classic travel books. It is a groundbreaking account of his time there including folklore and local gossip about the handsome princes and learned Moors who had lived in the palace during the years of the Moorish Kings’ residencies.
Washington Irving had already achieved success as a writer – he had written ‘The History of Christopher Columbus’ and ‘Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada’ before his visit to the Alhambra as well as a number of other works that included biographies and essays. However, he is perhaps best known for his short stories. His most famous being ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Rip Van Winkle’.
In 1806, he had qualified as a lawyer but writing was his first love and, following his early successes in this field, he was assured of earning a living as an author – so much so that he was the first American author to achieve International fame. Another title attributed to him was ‘first American man of letters’.