Restoration of the Convent of the Capuchos
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Awarded the EU’s European Heritage Award / Europa Nostra Awards 2022, in the category of Conservation and Adaptive Reuse, the comprehensive project for the conservation, restoration and revitalisation of the Convent of the Capuchos encompassed the restoration of the building complex and the built and decorative elements of this monument, improvement of the visitor support facilities and the enhancement of the surrounding landscape.
The Convent of the Capuchos is a monument integrated in the Cultural Landscape of Sintra – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is situated within the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. This monastic complex, founded in 1560, is organically adapted to the topography of its hidden and inhospitable location, surrounded by the native forest of Sintra. It embodies the ideal of universal brotherhood advocated by the Franciscan friars who lived there for nearly 300 years, who loved nature as the ultimate expression of the Creator’s work.
Today, a visit to the Convent provides everything visitors need to create a close relationship with the site, without the requirements of its new functions overriding the monument’s universal and unique value.
All works carried out at the Convent of the Capuchos were fully funded by Parques de Sintra.
In addition to the goal of restoring and conserving the monumental complex, the multidisciplinary team set out the following premises as a structural basis for the project:
- a) Historical and technological research;
- b) Definition of methodologies and principles for the intervention;
- c) Management of the impact of the conservation and restoration intervention on the building – definition of criteria for minimal intervention and an improved reading of the group of buildings and their integration in the natural surroundings;
- d) Raising awareness and connecting the space to the surrounding communities;
- e) Improvement of visiting conditions and support for the full use and enjoyment of the space;
- f) Definition of the management strategy, from a heritage perspective, for the museological group in terms of presenting the collection and better understanding the monument.
As part of the comprehensive project for the Convent of the Capuchos, a charter of intervention principles was also developed, which served as a guide for all interventions. These principles were decisive for the consideration of multiple possible solutions, with all options being subject to extensive multidisciplinary discussion that allowed us to find solutions that strike a balance between the stability and safety of the structures and the ongoing need for the preservation of the historic and material identity of this heritage site.
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The group of buildings presented anomalies that held considerable weight in the heritage conservation, particularly those associated with signs of rot in the timber structures of the mixed masonry walls and the biological colonisation and parasitic vegetation that compromised the durability and functionality of the built elements.
A multidisciplinary team, including archaeologists, architects, landscape architects, conservator-restorers, engineers and art historians, among others, took on the task of ensuring the safeguarding of the building, based on a methodology adapted to the requirements of the heritage and accordingly sustained in good practices for the restoration and conservation of monuments, which included the following: 1) geting to know the building, 2) identifying the causes of degradation, 3) defining methodologies and priorities, 4) quantifying damage and allowing for a comprehensive reading of existing losses, 5) formulating a risk plan and 6) establishing sustainable management of the building from a heritage perspective, with actions that reduce and anticipate the impact of the agents of degradation and prevent the need for larger-scale interventions.
These indicators meet the needs established by UNESCO in its Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, in terms of conservation and monitoring of the built heritage.
Given the sensitivity of the monument and the technical complexity of the interventions required, these were phased, planned in detail and sustained. The programmed intervention plan consisted of the following:
1. Restoration of built elements in the convent grounds
2. Restoration of the buildings
3. Rehabilitation of the surrounding landscape
4. Restoration of the roofs and creation of internal infrastructures for the Convent of the Capuchos
The restoration of the Convent of the Capuchos was preceded by an in-depth historical study and extensive efforts in comprehension and inventorying, as well as intensive archaeological and topographical surveys, visual analysis of the materials used (masonry and coverings) and the quantification and mapping of the different elements, allowing for assessment of the elevated level of risk of loss of historical heritage (evaluated to amount to 52%).
Conservation and restoration of wall coverings in the Convent of the Capuchos
The intervention on the wall coverings of the Convent of the Capuchos included the restoration of plaster, tile coverings and other functional and decorative elements of the building. In this phase, interventions were carried out on the altar in the Church, as well as the window and door openings and other coverings in cork. This project took place alongside the restoration of the roofs of the monument, which dealt with the causes of degradation that affect the inside of the building, making viable the effective stabilisation of the wall-related elements both inside and outside.
The current colour of the convent stems from the identification of traces on the walls obtained through samples chemically processed in the laboratory, and visually, using in-wall probes in the various walls of the convent.
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Conservation and restoration of the integrated and moveable heritage
Prior to the conservation and restoration intervention carried out on the moveable heritage, a project was carried out studying the materials of the moveable pieces belonging to the Convent of the Capuchos, as well as dating and restoring pieces such as the terracotta sculptures in the Vestibule and the Hermitage of Ecce Homo and the Altar Web and the Cross in the Entrance Porch.