Archaeologists investigate stucco from the millenary Palácio das Varandas do Castelo de Silves

In the Palácio das Varandas, there are no longer 'warriors fierce as lions', not even 'women with opulent hips and […]

fragment of painted stucco from Silves CastleIn Palácio das Varandas, the « fierce warriors as lions » no longer live, not even the « women with opulent hips and delicate cut » sung by Al-Mutamid (1068-1091) in his « Evocation of Silves ». But even today, inside the Castle of Silves, there are traces of this palace and the riches that it contained, which made it almost legendary.

Uncovering more fragments of the history of the Palácio das Varandas was the task of the researchers for two weeks, between the 23rd of August and the 2nd of September, in an excavation campaign under the responsibility of archaeologists Rosa and Mário Varela Gomes, from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities (FCSH) of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. the works had the support of the Municipality of Silves.

The main task of the team, which also included six students and an archeology assistant (the doctoral student Joana Gonçalves), was mainly to remove, with a thousand and one care, the fragments of painted plaster.

The plasters will then be restored and graphically reconstituted for further study and musealization.

These plasters once adorned the walls of the building, but later, with their ruin, they ended up being buried for centuries. "These are stuccoes from the Almoada de Al-Mutamid Palace [XNUMXth century], which were partly reused after the Taifas, with the Almoravid communities, because they were painted on top to cover up the decoration," he explained to Sul Informação archeologist Rosa Varela Gomes.

The problem, explained the researcher, is that, as time goes by and the excavations progress, "the still buried plasters are becoming soaked with rainwater". Since structures are so fragile, made with plaster and lime mortar, their worst enemy is precisely water.

To remove them, you must first remove the soil that covers them very carefully, sometimes using a brush and a small spatula. Afterwards, the restoration technicians who collaborated in the work, Pedro Gago, from the Council of Albufeira, and Isabel Maria Nunes and Fátima Silva, from the Council of Silves, placed a gauze that they brushed with over the plaster, which had fallen with the painted part downwards. glue, wait for it to dry and then lift the fragment, without breaking it, whole.

It is a task that must be repeated over and over again, as many pieces of plaster are uncovered by the also patient work of future archaeologists.

Restoration technicians lifting stucco fragments
Restoration technicians lifting stucco fragments

In a section on the red terrain, you can see «the two levels of stucco», underlines Rosa Varela Gomes. In other words, there is still a lot of work to be done there.

Later, these fragments will all be put together, in a patient puzzle work, in order to try to reconstitute the plasters in their ancestral magnificence. To facilitate this restoration task, the removed plasters are numbered using a grid.

After having already analyzed its composition in previous campaigns and with plasters removed from other areas of the Palácio das Varandas – plaster and mortar with a lot of lime – now it will be time to «do the analysis of the pigments», revealed the archaeologist. It will be a task that will be under the responsibility of Professor Luis Filipe Ferreira, from Instituto Superior Técnico, and which may provide the researcher with more clues about the stucco that once covered the palace of Al-Mutamid, the poet-king.

But the stuccoes still under the earth, centuries after the Palácio das Varandas had been torn down, certainly during the wars that ravaged the Castle of Silves, were not all removed during these short two weeks of work.

“This campaign was mainly used to try to assess the quantity and state of conservation of stuccoes. The work of collecting and consolidating it takes a long time», admits Rosa Varela Gomes. So, “we may have to do another digging campaign at Easter. We have to take advantage of the school holidays for these works».

Reconstruction of the Almoada Palace or the Varandas
Reconstruction of the Almoada Palace or the Varandas

Beside the area that was the target of this short excavation campaign this summer, there is already a vast area of ​​the Almoada Palace, or the Varandas, uncovered over nearly two decades of archaeological work, always coordinated by the couple Rosa and Mário Varela Gomes .

The remains of this palace should still exist in the 30s and 40s of the XNUMXth century, when works were carried out to unblock the walls, ending up destroying these vestiges of the palatal structures, which would only see the light of day again decades later.

Thanks to the research work carried out in recent years, it is known that the Almoada Palace (which has already given rise to a book and an exhibition in Lisbon) was a rectangular building, with attached storage spaces, the whole of which covered an area of about 320 square meters.

The remains, today largely preserved in the Municipal Museum of Archeology of Silves, allow us to reconstitute the living space, with large rooms, alcoves, private baths, patios and gardens, one of which has a portico and an upper gallery. The floor coverings (marble and tiles), the walls and arches and the finely worked stuccoes testify to the palatial character that the original building would have had.

Rosa Varela Gomes hopes that the work on the land, to uncover these painted plasters, sometimes with polychrome (black, red and turquoise) and worked with geometric decoration, can continue in future campaigns. “There is still a lot to discover and investigate”, guarantees the archaeologist.