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The Power of Symbols

The Alhambra in a Global Perspective

Edited By Francine Giese and Ariane Varela Braga

This volume intends to foster a re-interpretation of the Nasrid architecture of the Alhambra in Granada and its post-Islamic appropriation and global diffusion. Taking into account the current debates on otherness, cultural exchange and artistic transfer, hybridization, stylistic renewal and national identity building, this collection of essays explores the significance of the Alhambra from the Nasrid period to the present time. Built as a military fortress and gradually enlarged to a multi-functional palace city, by the 19th century the Alhambra became a symbol of exoticism and reverie. As one of the most important legacies of the Islamic heritage of al-Andalus, its role as a mediator between East and West is more important than ever.

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Rafael Contreras and the Re-Shaping of the Alhambra in the 19th Century (Asun González Pérez)


Rafael Contreras and the Re-­Shaping of the Alhambra in the 19th Century

Asun González Pérez

Rafael Contreras (1824–1890) is one of the key figures for understanding the history of the Alhambra in the 19th century. This article focuses on his double role as the leading restorer of the Nasrid palace complex and the businessperson in charge of the most important private workshop for plaster casts and architectural models of the Alhambra. In this context, I will examine the role Contreras played in reshaping the Nasrid monument, and how his restoration influenced the notion of the Alhambra as an oriental building in the perception of the 19th century, which was deeply rooted in stereotypes.

The significance of his interventions was partly due to the time in which he lived. Since the beginning of the 19th century, important changes took place in the Alhambra, in particular during the 1830s, when Spain became the subject of a wave of travel books, drawings, engravings and paintings, a number of which featured the Alhambra1. These works were catalysts for the enthusiasm for the Nasrid Palace in Europe during this century, which were as much an influence to the substantial physical changes in the Alhambra as to its conception as the paradigmatic romantic building that attracted visitors from all over the world willing to experience an ‘oriental dream’.

Whereas the interest of Europeans in the Alhambra grew steadily, after having suffered several centuries of...

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