An architect’s restoration of a 9th-century Moorish castle in southern Spain has drawn outcry from locals and historians, with many drawing comparisons between the registered national monument’s new look and the infamous case of Beast Jesus. Once with walls built entirely out of old stones — some nearly three meters-thick — the now privately owned Castillo de Matrera in the small town of Villamartín features smooth concrete additions, with Spanish architect Carlos Quevedo Rojas choosing to transform the once-crumbling structure into a peculiar hybrid of ancient fortress and blocky modern monument. One local interviewed by Spanish news channel La Sexta called the result “a barbarity,” as translated by the New York Times; another noted that he didn’t “like what they’ve done at all … it looks like they’ve used builders instead of restorers.”
Spanish cultural preservation organization Hispania Nostra also weighed in, describing the results in an online post as “truly lamentable, surprising both locals and foreigners — and not in a nice way.” The heritage watch group had placed the ancient building on its Red List in 2014, following regional floods that had caused large parts of it to collapse. Quevedo has defended his neo-Brutalist creation, calling it a “consolidation of the parts of the castle that were still standing, which were at risk of collapsing.
“The project has really been carried out in a very thorough and reflective way, reflecting the castle’s original structure,” he told the BBC. “The idea behind the project is that it is a consolidation rather than a restoration … there were some parts — for instance, the upper part of the building — which were at risk of being pushed over. Particularly because the tower is in an area quite exposed to the wind, and any horizontal force could have knocked it over. The inner structure of the building, however, was preserved, including a fresco.”
Quevedo also notes that Spanish law “forbids identical reconstruction. This means that for the purpose of authenticity, you cannot use the same material when you restore a building. You have to distinguish which is the original element and which is the added element.”
The 2007 Andalusian Historical Heritage law does actually specify that efforts to reconstruct historical monuments should not replace their structures with materials that were not confirmed to have been part of the original buildings. Quevedo told BBC he chose to use white concrete because the stone of the tower was originally covered by mortar made with white chalk.
Perhaps navigating Spain’s preservation laws has contributed to previous botched restorations, which seem to be a recurring problem in Spain, as the Guardian’s Sam Jones points out. In the 1990s, a Roman theater in Sagunto received a similar makeover, with its stone seats hidden behind white limestone and the introduction of a fancy stage. After years of debate, the Spanish supreme court finally ruled in 2009 that the restorations would remain. More recently, the architect in charge of restoring the home of Madrid’s patron saint instead demolished the historic building, saying he needed to rebuild it from scratch.
Andalusia’s regional government has responded to the controversy surrounding Quevedo’s restoration, noting that “it is fully adapted to regulations.” So it seems, at least for now, that the Matrera castle won’t face the same fate as Sagunto’s theater, even though public anger may not subside. It’s a little tough to ask its original architect, the Christian leader of anti-Ummayad forces Omar Ben Hafsun, what he thinks of this melding of the old and the new, but feel free to sound out below in a good old-fashioned poll.