21. Juni 2019
Palácio Belmonte is a stunning sculpture, a 2138 years synthesis of Portuguese history. In 1994 it became the house of a Landscape Collector
The broader philosophy of Frederic and Maria Coustols, also encompasses the ideas that the restoration process should use Portuguese traditional materials and building techniques. So how does living together and respecting one another and the environment translate into practice?
The answer to this, is that the entire site has been turned into a “multi-use complex” which includes a Guest Palace, apartments for 22 tenants of modest means, and a Cultural Club c/art gallery open to the public. Nothing is fenced off or walled up. The thoroughfare, which passes literally through the “Patio” of the Palacio, has been restored and open to the local community, the public and tourists, allowing a fluid interaction of facility users from all walks of life, to freely intermingle as they go about their daily business. Trees and plants will soon be planted, to attract birds and provide shade to the passers-by.
Walking around the palace reveals just how much time, energy and thought has gone into restoring this complex. All of the main reception rooms and the 12 suites opened to the guests of the Palacio, contain 59 rare panels painted under the direction of Masters Manuel dos Santos in 1725 and Valentim de Almeida. 3.800 original blue glazed tiles “Azulejos”, were removed, carefully restored and then put back.
An original Roman tower has been discovered behind a walled room and vaulted brick ceilings built by Muslims in the 8th century, have been uncovered and restored, using a type of Portuguese lime mortar which, until Frédéric Coustols came on the scene, had almost been forgotten. Now, thanks to his research in this traditional art, contractors working on other historical restoration projects in Portugal are employing these methods. The vitruve mortar is manufactured in two plants in Portugal under the name “Cal Fradical”. This was originally developed for its unique consistency which perfectly suited Lisbon’s damp and mild climate.
The “cal” doesn’t crack but breathes and saves energy by absorbing differences in temperature and humidity. As for the tiles, a team of experts carefully researched the restoration project for two years, before work began.
“We devoted the first two years of the project to researching and understanding the different phases of construction on the site and the various developmental phases of the palace, from 138 years BC to the present day. We thought about volumes, air circulation, materials used, the wind, rain, heat, cold and light on the structure. We thought about noise and “of course” colors. From an architectural point of view, we used the natural labyrinth of the palace as the structure for a form of integrated sculpture,”.
The team, which was guided by architects Pedro Quirino da Fonseca and Filipe Lopes, then the head of Lisbon’s “Departamento de Reabilitação”and Architect Miguel Angelo da Silva reused original construction materials wherever possible; wood, iron, roman tiles and fashioned stones from the period, in combination with modern-day insulation and water proofing techniques.
Winding up a narrow medieval staircase, the kind you find in castles, one finds oneself entering the cosy and intimate private apartments.
All the 12 suites have breathtaking views out over the Alfama and River Tagus and 6 of them terraces.
Any modern fixtures and fittings have been cleverly hidden or blended to render them unnoticeable. Some of the wardrobes are covered in original hand-painted 17th century panels.
Window recesses contain original stone seats covered in cushions. The bathrooms are the epitome of simple luxury, made in beautiful Portuguese (of course) polished marbles. All of the original tiled floors have been removed and newly produced in the traditional way from red Setúbal clay, which have been sun baked until 60% of the water had dried out. Beneath these, lies an under floor, low-temperature water heating system, which works on the principle that heat rises naturally. The ancient wooden floor in the “Piano Nobile” was carefully numbered and removed, in order to be restored, waxed and then carefully repositioned. The restoration team researched and tested the most suitable colors to be used and discovered the real pigments used in the 15th century.
Some of the ceilings and roofs have been rebuilt three times, because of the complexity of mixing the modern insulation materials necessary to insure the best ventilation and water proofing systems, with the traditional concave shapes of those roofs inspired from the long journeys in Asia.
Coustols says “in many of the rooms, where restoration revealed the original Roman walls, sections have been left exposed behind glass panels. In others, we found vaults or parts of Muslim walls that were restored carefully and consolidated with “leite de cal”, produced by adding water to “cal viva”.
There is no electrical powered air conditioning system, rather a natural ventilation system employing a system of air conduits and conical shaped ventilation shafts, which have been cut into the outside walls, inside the two sagaoes (very small narrow paths dividing the Belmonte).”
The ceilings “a caisson” that had disappeared were redesigned to help the natural flow of air and modern sails were installed to reduce the heat during the summer period. New windows with double glazing were hand made by local carpenters …” three chimneys were built to bring back a more intimate feeling.
Images: Palacio Belmonte (1), Marc Vaz (3), Maria Coustols (2), Sivan Askayo (2), Ariel Huber (2), Jacob Termanten(1), Jeroen Musch ( 1)
Text: Chris Graeme from the Book PALÁCIO BELMONTE
Pátio de Dom Fradique 14, 1100-624 Lisboa, Portugal