The Russian prince who created the signature book in the Alhambra to end graffiti | Culture

The Russian prince who created the signature book in the Alhambra to end graffiti | Culture


Owen Jones and Richard Ford, two educated Englishmen of the 19th century. Architect the first, writer and traveler the second. Alonso Cano, sculptor and painter of the XVI. Enlightened men of their time who visited the Alhambra one day and, in today's eyes, took their side more gamberrete in the Nasrid fortress. They, like so many others then, marked their name and date of visit in sources, columns and other inappropriate places. And they did not do it in pencil, but in burin or similar. Owen even added a few lines about his professional training. More or less visible to the tourist, these signatures remain even today in The Alhambra. He was a Russian diplomat and prince, Dimitri Dolgoroukov, who in 1829 launched the first attempt to eradicate this custom with a gift to the institution, a book of signatures. If they signed there, he thought, they would not do it in the columns anymore.

One of the nineteenth century graffiti.
One of the nineteenth century graffiti.

Prince Dolgoroukov, or Dolgorouki, is a little-known man whom Washington Irving already mentions in the third line of the Tales of the Alhambra. The American diplomat and writer also says that "in the spring of 1829, the author of this book, whom curiosity had brought to Spain, made a trip from Seville to Granada in the company of a friend member of the Russian embassy in Madrid" . Russian and North American get Antonia, governor in the Alhambra and "owner of the palace" according to Irving, allow them to spend several days in the apartments of the governor. There they live "as sovereigns," Irving relates, until the Russian is called to Madrid and "had to abdicate."

It is in that room when the Russian prince perceives the many graffiti that populate the Alhambra. Something, on the other hand, nothing weird then. Barbara Jimenez Serrano, head of the archives and library of the Alhambra and the Generalife, recalls that leaving the name and date in the visited sites is not a custom today. "We have found graffiti from the Nasrid period, from the period in which the Alhambra was being built, probably the workers were made. And from then on, of all times. "

Alarmed by these marks, Dolgoroukov donated to the institution the first of the 12 signature books that Bárbara Jiménez keeps in the archive. It is a thick volume of 700 pages, lined in green skin, with the text "Donated to the Alhambra by Prince Dolgorouki" engraved on its cover. The Russian diplomat wrote the first entry of the book on May 9, 1829, explaining the book's function: "Many travelers who wanted to perpetuate the memory of their visit to the Alhambra disfigured their walls by filling them with names and thoughts. In order to ensure a longer existence of the memory of travelers and at the same time preserve the building from greater threats, this book was offered by Prince Dolgoroukov. " And behind the prince, thousands of signatures – probably more than 10,000 – occupy the pages of a volume that was completed 43 years later, in 1872.

What is not explained today is where the Russian prince got the idea of ​​the signature book as an instrument of heritage protection

The pages of Dolgoroukov's book confirm what any visitor can see after walking through the Alhambra. From there one leaves with a higher poetic inspiration than one had when entering. Along with those who only sign, date and write their place of origin, there are many who prefer to leave their feelings in writing through a poetry, a commentary or a drawing. Even the professionals get excited, like José Zorrilla who on April 12, 1844 concluded his visit with a poem of 28 verses that, in addition, would later publish in 1855 with the title of First Impression of Granada.

An idea of ​​unknown origin

Among the thousands of signatures, some known as those of the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, Benjamin Disraeli, the Santander-born writer José María de Pereda or Washington Irving himself. There's even room for a joker. It is the case of that Englishman who in August 1843, on the same page as the lawyer M. del Olmo and the journalist Pedro Gómez Sancho, leave the best of his literature remembering the smell of myrtle and orange trees, signature as "Sir watercloset "(Mr. toilet, in English).

Fragment of one of the oldest inscriptions.
Fragment of one of the oldest inscriptions.

Mikhail Rossiyski, first counselor of the Russian embassy in Spain and a good connoisseur of Dolgoroukov, explains why the idea of ​​the signature book: "It was a Russian custom that the signature books. When a high dignitary celebrated a birthday, in the hall of the house he left a book where he could sign anyone who wanted to congratulate him. Maybe thinking about this, he invented something similar. " Dolgoroukov, on the other hand, arrived in Spain after spending several years in Rome where, according to Jesús Bermúdez, the chief curator of the Alhambra, the custom of placing signature books in some patrimonial spaces began.

Although Dolgoroukov left the Alhambra soon to continue his diplomatic duties, his friendship with Irving continued. Tomás Navarro, a journalist from Granada who has proposed to make Dolgoroukov known and plans a tribute in the coming months, explains that the American sent him the stories he was writing so that he could give his opinion. Years later, they met again in London as diplomats. They did not return to Granada but one for the stories, another for the book, both contributed to placing the Alhambra on the site it occupies today.

On the hunt for signatures

It is known that Francois-René de Chateaubriand visited the Alhambra. And it is also known that he left his name printed on some wall of the enclosure. But his signature has not yet been given. Jesús Bermúdez, chief curator of the Alhambra, explains that "the historiography of the Alhambra shows that Chateaubriand visited her and wrote her name on a wall. We've been looking for it for years but we have not found it yet. " And it seems that the search space is limited. In fact, says Bermúdez, in the patio of Lindaraja is what they call "Galería de Chateaubriand". That is the center of the search but, the Alhambra has secrets, it has not yet appeared in the Nasrid fortress.

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