What the Muslims left behind was one of the most sumptuous cities in Europe, crowned by the Alhambra, which Steven Nightingale rightly praises as ‘the finest Moorish palace in the world.’ The greatest monuments of Islam are not to be found in the Muslim world. They are in Spain, and the grandest of all rises above this city in which Nightingale has made his home. Granada is exalted with passion, elegance and historical rigour in this delightful account.
It was love at first sight for Nightingale, when in 2002 he wandered into Granada in quest for a place to live. The story unfolds as a personal narrative, as Nightingale marvels at the outpouring of local hospitality, negotiates the tribulations of house repairs and contemplates his daughter’s assimilation into Andalusian life. His personal adaption forms the backdrop to the history of Granada through the centuries.
The voyage sheds light on the many scholars, mathematicians and enlightened rulers who epitomised the city’s unique character. Consider Caliph Abd Rahman III, who in the tenth century was a patron of the arts and sciences, a military genius and a product of the criss-cross of cultures that engendered so rich a legacy: a Muslim who governed with the help of Christians and Jews.
Nightingale takes us through darker periods too: the civil war and the execution of poet Federico García Lorca tell a less joyful story.
However, these episodes notwithstanding, ‘If anyone wants to be rocked by currents of beauty and infamy, Granada is the place.’
GRANADA: The Light of Andalucía by Steven Nightingale; Nicholas Brealey Publishing; £12.99 (paperback)
This review was published in the August 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine