Secrets of the Alhambra in Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra

Destination: Granada Spain

Book: Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving

Reflecting pool in the Alhambra
Reflecting pool in the Alhambra


Moonlight illuminates tile walls and stone lions that are more than 600 years old. The light peoples the walls of the Alhambra with romantic ghosts.  Washington Irving knew the evocative power of moonlight. In his book , Tales of the Alhambra, which describes time that he spent in the wonderful building that dominates Granada Spain, he weaves stories that take place in daylight shadows and others that slink through the dark.  “…clothing naked realities with the illusions of the memory and the imagination,” as he puts it.

Thanks to Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra, when we went to a bank that sells tickets to the Alhambra, Ken and I bought tickets for both the daytime tour and the evening tour.  We lined up at the appointed time for the daytime tour and wandered on cobblestone streets to graceful stone archways, past flower-bordered paths and into the endless intricacy of Moorish rooms covered in jewel-toned tiles.

In one courtyard, we came across a wedding party. The bride, a slightly-past-sell-date dark haired lady stuffed into her white gown, led the mustachioed groom toward a fountain for wedding pictures. On the rim of a reflecting pond, a pair of lovers did what lovers do, oblivious of the throngs of sightseers.  The Spanish sun glanced brightly off the fountains and turned the flowers into neon.

When we went back to the Alhambra in the evening, low lights along the paths led us into a world of shadow, where shape, not color, became the star attraction.  We saw subtle details of ceilings and arches that daylight’s bright colors distracted us from noticing.  But we also saw the possibilities. We knew suddenly why Moorish Spain held such allure for a story teller like Irving and for the Romantics of the nineteenth century.

Have you ever read a travel book by a literary figure of a bygone era that struck you as completely in tune with your travels today?  What older books do you have in your library? Please join the conversation and tell us about your books.

Stay tuned, I will soon be talking about all the myriad ways we receive our words today. (See a list of my articles on Spain, Best Books on Spain )

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

3 thoughts on “Secrets of the Alhambra in Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra

  1. What a beautiful piece of writing – I feel compelled to leave a comment as I am as we speak relishing Washington Irving’s book having become bewitched by this extraordinary wonder of the modern world. Thanks so much for a delicious read.

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