"The peculiar charm of this old dreamy palace is its power of calling up vague reveries and picturings of the past,..."
In 1829, Irving, already a professional writer, traveled to Spain, and in particular to Granada, where he had arranged to live in the Alhambra. Though he had originally intended to stay longer, he was only there six months before he was drafted into taking on the secretary role at the American embassy in London. But he gathered enough material in those six months to write this book.
It's structured as a travel or guide book, and it begins with his crossing the lonely mountains north of Granada and worrying about bandits. He arrives in Granada, establishes himself in the Alhambra, and hires Mateo as his guide/valet. He looks around the Alhambra and describes its various features, famous towers and halls, and here it functions particularly like a guide book.
But the truly fun part is the embedded tales, unsurprising from the man who brought us Rip van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving knew Spanish and ten years later he was the U.S. Ambassador to Spain, and he presents these tales as picked up in conversation, quite often from Mateo. They're Romantic--Irving was influenced by Sir Walter Scott--but have an ironic humor to them that lightens the romanticizing. There's the tale of the three Moorish princesses in the Tower of Princesses, or the Two Discreet Statues that indicate (to those who know) where (one of the) buried Moorish treasures are. My favorite story was the longest, the story of Ahmed the Perfect, or the Pilgrim of Love. Ahmed is a Moorish prince, and the prophecies say he will live long and happily in a happy realm if only his father can keep him from thinking about love until after his teen years are done. Well, we know how that will go, don't we? (Or do we?)
Anyway, quite a fun book and a better read than I thought it was going to be. My edition is printed in Spain, in Granada in fact, and has an introduction by R. Villa-Real, though I bought it in Chicago. Mr. Royal House is almost too appropriate as the author of an introduction to a book on the Alhambra. It also comes with colored engravings from the 19th century of the Alhambra that are an amusing accompaniment.