Musealization of the Archaeological Area of Praça Nova do Castelo by João Luís Jorge Carrilho da Graça Architects located in London, England | The Hardt
The hill now occupied by the Castle of St. George is the first site of human occupation – dating from the Iron Age – that would transfigure in place the strategic elevation over the Tagus estuary and its interior territory that gave birth to the city of Lisbon. In the walled area, the Praça Nova do Castelo occupies an intramural promontory, delimited by defensive structures to the north and west, and by the Santa Cruz Church to the south, a promontory with a visual domain that extends over the walls to the East, from the city at your feet to the horizon of the estuary. An extensive archaeological excavation of this site, begun in 1986, exhibited traces of its successive occupation periods – settlement of the Iron Age, medieval Muslim dwellings and a 15th century palace – with the most relevant artifacts being removed and exhibited at the Castle Museum, the excavation being open to the intervention of protection and musealization.
This intervention addressed the themes of the protection, revelation, and reading of the palimpsest that any archaeological excavation represents, with a pragmatic intention to clarify the palindromic character that the exposed structures suggest in their spatial distribution. Thus, the first action was the clear delimitation of the archaeological site with a precise incision, comparable to the surgical incision in a living body. A corten steel membrane was inserted to contain the raised perimeter topography, allowing either access or a panoramic view of the site, evolving the materiality of this incision slowly and inexorably as a living tissue. The same precision of cut characterizes the elements inscribed in the site that allow the comfortable drift of the visitor – steps, skates, and benches, marmoreal and perennial – distinguishing them from the rough texture of exposed walls and foundations.
Descending to the excavated surface, to its simultaneous first spatial level and last level of occupation – the vestiges of a pavement of the Palace of the Bishops of Lisbon -, a console structure protects the mosaics, structure whose obverse is a black mirrored surface that returns to the visitor the vertical perspective on the pavement, this perspective that the elevated location of the pavement does not allow it to be direct. Moving forward on the site and in its timeline, the necessary cover for the protection of the eleventh-century Muslim domestic structures and the frescoes on which they subsist was taken as an opportunity to reproduce, through a conjectural interpretation, their spatial experience as a sequence of independent spaces organized around courtyards that introduced light and ventilation to dwellings otherwise enclosed outside. Declared abstract and scenographic, the white walls that enact the domestic spatiality of the two excavated dwellings float on the visible wall sections, anchoring themselves on the ground at the mere six points where these sections permit, while their translucent polycarbonate and slats of wood, filters the sunlight.
Underlying the entire archaeological site, the vestiges of the occupation of the Iron Age are exposed and protected by a compact volume that, in a spiraling movement, detaches itself from the bordering corten steel walls to embrace the well needed for its revelation. Massive and dramatic, this volume is punctually fenestrated by horizontal features that invite the curiosity of the observation of its interior, leading the visitor around the excavation pit to the point the view is unobstructed and both the physical and temporal distances of the exposed structures are made evident. The palimpsest of the site’s history is thus decoded and the possibility of its clarified temporal and spatial palindromic reading not only through the reading of the written information accompanying the visit, but above all, and significantly, through the experience built by the materialization of its protection and musealization.
© FG + SG – Fernando Guerra, Sergio Guerra
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