Paderne castle to be illuminated

news: Paderne castle to be illuminated

PADERNE CASTLE is to be floodlit. In a press conference held at the castle recently, lighting designer, José Livramento, revealed detailed plans for the illumination of the monument, one of the Algarve’s most prized archaeological assets and one of the seven castles represented on the Portuguese national flag.

High on the hillside, close to the IP1 Lisbon intersection and clearly visible from Algarve’s main artery, the A22 motorway, the monument, according to a spokesman for Albufeira Câmara, “bids travellers a welcome to the Algarve” and hints at the region’s rich historical past. The lights will be switched on next month.

Paderne archaeology update

Also present at the conference were representatives of IPPAR, the Portuguese Institute of Archaeological and Architectural Heritage, who took the opportunity to offer an update on the works of restoration currently underway at the medieval Islamic fortification.

Large sections of collapsed battlement walls are currently being replaced, using original building techniques, and excavations have been proceeding apace over the past few years, led by veteran archaeologist and one of Portugal’s leading experts on Islamic fortification, Dra. Helena Catarino of Coimbra University.

Part of an intensive Muslim programme of military construction, Paderne Castle was built during the late 12th or early 13th century while the Algarve was under the dominion of the Almohads, a radical Islamic dynasty with its power base in North Africa. Like their predecessors, the Almoravids (also from North Africa), the Almohads were pledged to protecting Peninsular Islam from the advance of the northern Christian armies, who were ploughing their way steadily southward. Surviving fortifications at Faro, Loulé, Silves and other locations show clear evidence of this period of intensive building. But it was not just the major Islamic cities that were to benefit from the scheme. The Almohads were keen to prevent Muslim depopulation of the countryside, caused by the persistent Christian tactic of raiding, pillaging and destroying Muslim lands, while avoiding outright confrontation with Muslim forces. To this end, smaller fortresses, known as “alcabars”, were constructed at strategic points in order to provide refuges for countryfolk in times of danger.

Paderne Castle is one such structure, however, the archaeological works of the past few years have revealed that the castle was also much more than this.

Since 2002, archaeologists have been bringing to light evidence of dwellings and streets within the castle compound – there are even the remains of a sophisticated sewerage system and vestiges of a network of cisterns and channels for the collection and supply of drinking water. Paderne Castle was, in fact, a fortified village and predates the foundation of today’s town of Paderne, possibly by as much as two centuries.

In addition to protecting the locals, the castle served the all important function of guarding not only the watercourse of the Algibre (Ribeira da Quarteira), which reaches the sea at Quarteira, but also the all important road connecting the Arade valley to the major Muslim cities of the Sotavento, such as Loulé, Faro and Tavira. According to medieval Christian sources, the territory defended by the castle stretched from Albufeira on the coast as far as the mountains to the north.

“From a purely scientific point of view,” explained Dra. Catarino, “Paderne Castle is extremely valuable. It was completely abandoned in the 16th century and, consequently, everything has stayed largely in place, to the contrary of what has happened at similar fortifications, for example at Faro, Tavira, Silves or Loulé, where urban development has led to the destruction of so much.

In common with other contemporary Almohad structures, Paderne Castle is built from blocks of taipa, a compressed mixture of earth and chalk, which resembles concrete when dry. Earlier Islamic fortresses were made from stone blocks. A typically North African method, taipa construction allowed for greater speed of building while retaining the requisite strength. Once the taipa walls were finished, they were painted over in a matrix of white lines to resemble mortar – a trick to fool the enemy into thinking they were facing an impregnable fortress of great stone blocks.

The surviving walls have suffered much over the centuries from the gradual filling up of the compound with earth and the consequent water seepage into the battlements. Ironically, much of the earth has come from the crumbling taipa walls themselves. Now, thanks to extensive research into the taipa technique carried out by IPPAR, large sections of the walls are being repaired under the supervision of chief architect for the restoration, Manuel Lopes, using not only the original methods, but also the original material – the earth removed during the archaeological excavations.

Captured briefly by D. Sancho I with the aid of a heterogeneous band of Crusaders in 1189, Paderne castle was recaptured by the army of Almohad Caliph, Yakub Al-Mansur in 1191 and remained under Islamic control for a further 57 years. Finally, in 1248, Paderne fell to the renowned military commander, D. Pai Perres Correia, Grand Master of the Military Order of St James of the Sword. All the castle’s inhabitants were massacred.

Shortly afterwards, a chapel was built in the compound, the shell of which still stands. Whether it was built on the site of a former mosque, as was the custom of the Christian re-conquest of Iberia, only future investigation will show. Pictures: Richard Unger