Spain:The East in the West

“Spain is still the Orient; Spain is half African” Victor Hugo, The Orientals (1829)

lewis Alhambra-1

Unlike countries such as Italy, France, and later Germany and Greece, Spain never became a fashionable travel destination during the Grand Tour era. Some of the reasons traditionally alleged were the problems of accessibility, the dangerous and inappropriate roads, the irregular geography and the inhospitable inland towns.

Hence the fascinating land and its legendary history and mixture of cultures only really attracted the most intrepid travellers. One of them was the North American diplomat, historian and essayist Washington Irving, who was appointed ambassador in Spain in the 1820s. Irving admitted that, unlike Italy, Spain was for the greater part ‘a stern, melancholy country with rugged mountains and long sweeping plains destitute of trees and indescribably silent and lonesome, partaking of the savage and solitary character of Africa’.

Spain was for him a country to be discovered by the genuine traveller, a country ‘where the most miserable inn is as full of adventure as an enchanted castle’; ‘let others repine at the lack of turnpike-roads and sumptuous hotels, and all the elaborate comforts of a country cultivated into tameness and the common-place, but give me the rude mountain scramble, the roving, haphazard manners that give such a true game flavour to romantic Spain’. The images selected for the exhibition are taken from the contemporary work Lewis's Sketches and Drawings of the Alhambra made during a residence in Granada in the years 1833-4 by J.D. Harding 1835.