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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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Building “Moorish Wonders”: Alhambrism in Tsarist Russia (Katrin Kaufmann)


Building “Moorish Wonders”: Alhambrism in Tsarist Russia

Katrin Kaufmann

The fascination for Islamic art and culture in Tsarist Russia led to an impressive amount of orientalist production in architecture and interior design. The Alhambra in Granada or, more precisely, the décor of its medieval Nasrid palaces frequently served as archetype for these designs. Based on a few striking examples in St. Petersburg, this contribution will provide a brief overview of Alhambrism in Russian architecture. Likewise, it will discuss factors that contributed to the popularity of the Alhambresque style in the Russian imperial capital.

Architectural orientalism in Tsarist Russia was generated by European influences and direct contact with the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-­Turkish wars. The building traditions of Islamic cultures had provoked interest since the eighteenth century, when Ottoman architecture was first adopted (i.e., Turquerie)1. We might assume the Russian Empire’s expansion into Central Asia would have been a factor in nineteenth-­century architectural production, but surprisingly, the latest fashions alluded mostly to Hispano-­Islamic architecture. A bathroom in the Winter Palace, built in 1838, clearly featured structural elements and ornaments borrowed from the medieval Islamic architecture of Andalusia. The so-­called Moorish style (mavritanskii stil’) found its way into contemporary interior design in St. Petersburg.

The new phenomenon was preceded by an enthusiasm for Spain and its culture, which had been growing in Europe since the Romantic period. Travelers explored the southwestern European country and reevaluated it as...

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