The most visited monument in Spain / The exciting history of the Alhambra in Granada

The Alhambra fortress in Granada is now the most visited monument in all of Spain.

alhambra palace

Yet 200 years ago it was little more than an insignificant ruin. Then the American writer Washington Irving visited the monument and, with his books, triggered what was possibly the very first major tourism boom in the world.

If you visit the world-famous Moorish fortress Alhambra in the Spanish city of Granada, you will most likely notice the name Washington Irving. A quick search reveals that this is an American writer. Both a commemorative plaque and a statue are dedicated to him here. But why? The answer: It was Irving who transformed the Alhambra from an insignificant ruin into the most visited attraction in Spain today. But first things first.

When was the Alhambra in Granada built?

The Alhambra was built in 889 on the ruins of a Roman fortification. Then, in the mid-13th century, the Emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahamar rehabilitated the fortress, which was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by order of Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada. In the following centuries, the palace was expanded again and again, but also often destroyed. So also at the beginning of the 19th century.

A little later, in the spring of 1828, Washington Irving traveled to Granada with a friend from the Russian embassy in Seville. According to the Alhambra Info site, Irving has been in Spain as an employee of the US Embassy since 1826, and he visited Europe on study trips between 1804 and 1806. When he arrives in Granada he has already made a name for himself as a journalist and author. But not even he himself suspects that his journey to the old Moorish royal city would change his life forever. And so did the fate of the Alhambra.

The world’s first tourism boom

Because Irving’s book is a worldwide success. To date, it has been published millions of times and translated into countless languages. According to the Alhambra Patronato site, Irving’s depictions of the Alhambra create in the minds of his readers the image of a monument emblematic of old, romantic Spain. The fortress thus becomes a “dreamlike and mysterious place that offers visitors the opportunity to evoke the past from the experiences of the present.”

Thanks to his book, Irving becomes the first American writer of world fame. From 1842 to 1845 he returned to Spain as US ambassador. A revised version of his masterpiece was published in 1851 under the title “Legends of the Alhambra”.

How many visitors does the Alhambra in Granada have each year?

As a result, more and more people want to see Irving’s Alhambra with their own eyes. Today it is the most visited monument in Spain, according to the official website of the city of Granada. And a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.

Every year, several million people now visit the “red fortress”, as the name Alhambra means. Washington Irving also has some credit for the fact that it is so well preserved today, nearly 800 years after construction began. Because in his book he not only told the story of the place, but also warned of the importance of preserving it as a cultural heritage. In 2009, therefore, the Irving statue was inaugurated on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the author’s death. On its base is the inscription “Hijo de la Alhambra”. Son of the Alhambra.

Granada still commemorates in many ways the man who, like no other, helped to make the city one of the biggest tourist magnets in Spain. Among other things, there is the “Hotel Áurea Washington Irving”. And the path that the author then traveled from Seville to Granada is now an official hiking route of around 250 kilometers. And so the circle closes in a beautiful way. First Washington Irving immortalized the Alhambra – and then their stories immortalized him.

How much does it cost to enter the Alhambra in Granada?

Visitors have a choice of a day tour, a tour of the gardens, or an evening tour. The day visit costs 14 euros in the normal price, the gardens can be seen for 7 euros in the normal price and the evening visit costs 8 euros. Here is a list of discounts.

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