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British Travellers and the Discovery of the Alhambra, 1750-1830

23 October @ 7:30 pm 9:00 pm

A lecture to be given by Professor Rosemary Sweet, FSA, FRHistS. Professor of Urban History, University of Leicester

The ‘discovery’ of the Alhambra in Granada, and by extension the architecture and history of Islamic Spain, is usually ascribed to the Romantic writers and artists of the 1820s and 1830s. Anglophone scholars rarely look at preceding decades, focusing instead on the lure of Italy, on the assumption that Spain had little to offer the traveller or man of taste. However, as this paper will show, British knowledge of Al-Andalus and its remains was of much longer standing. In the 1760s and 1770s, peace with Spain encouraged growing familiarity with the country reflected in published and unpublished journals of tours to Spain, in which Al Andalus and its ‘Moorish’ antiquities featured prominently, creating an enthusiasm that continued through subsequent decades despite the advent of war.  This was not a question of British ‘discovery’ however, as their encounters with the Alhambra drew on Spanish scholarship at the court of Carlos III, which culminated in the Antigüedades árabes de España (1787, 1804).  Counter-intuitively, the advent of war in the Iberian Peninsula increased the number of civilian travellers to Spain, including the topographer and antiquary William Gell FSA (1808-10) whose illustrated journal, held by the British School at Rome, demonstrates the possible depth of engagement with Islamic interiors, Arabic inscriptions and Spanish histories by this period. At home and in translation, British writers such as Gell acted as vectors for the spread of Andalusian culture throughout Europe.

According to her website ( For most of her career, Professor Sweet has been a historian of eighteenth-century British urban and cultural history but recently she has begun to move into the nineteenth century. After studying History at Oxford where she was awarded my D Phil and held a junior research fellowship, she joined the Department of Economic and Social History at Leicester in 1998 and she has been there ever since, based in the Centre for Urban History where she is currently Director. From 2018-19 she was seconded to the AHRC as Director of Partnerships and Engagement. She is on the organizing committee of the Pre-Modern Towns Group and the Urban History Group and am a member of the International Commission for the History of Towns and a trustee of the Historic Towns Trust. Since 2002, She has been co-editor of the Urban History journal published by Cambridge University Press. Aside from urban history, she is also the academic director of the Bibliography of British and Irish History and is currently chair of the Faculty of Archaeology, Humanities and Letters for the British School at Rome and a member of Council for the Society of Antiquaries.

This event is open to both members and non-members to attend in person. The event will also be streamed using Zoom.

Members: Members will receive an email about a week before the event providing them with the information required to listen to the lecture using Zoom.

Non-members: Non-members may attend either on Zoom or in-person on payment of £5 (student non-members £3) by booking through EventBrite:



New Walk Museum, 53 New Walk
Leicester, LE1 7EA
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