The Restored Castle of Matrera



Restoring an ancient monument is a delicate business. Do you shore up an existing wall, or redo it completely in modern concrete? When the challenge to restore the crumbling Castle of Matrera fell upon the Spanish architect Carlos Quevedo Rojas, he chose the latter. But did he go too far?

Built in the 9th century, the Castle of Matrera, located on Mount Pajarete, in the city of Villamartín, was once part of a large fortress that was surrounded by walls more than 500 meters long. A thousand years of ravaging storms and countless wars between the Muslim and the Christian rulers had decimated practically everything but the defensive walls and a lone tower. Then five years ago, the tower suffered a partial collapse, requiring immediate intervention.


Before and after. Photo credit: Carquero Arquitectura/Architizer

In order to impart stability to the crumbling castle, Rojas decided to introduce a significant new structure, as a form of reinforcement, that outlined the fortress’s original volume. In doing so, he had totally altered the ruins. The restored castle is now a strikingly white modern design with remains of the original castle embedded within it.

The controversial restoration has drawn criticism and ire from the locals and media, as well as provoking a broad international discussion about heritage preservation from architects and preservationists the world over.

However, according to Carlos Quevedo Rojas, the restoration was in compliance with the Historical Heritage law 13/2007, which prohibits imitative reconstructions and requires the use of materials that are distinct from the originals.

Modern standards for restoring historic buildings discouraged efforts to make them look as they might have when first erected. “You have to distinguish and maintain the historical value and architectural integrity,” Rojas told NY Times. “You can’t make the structure have the same appearance as the original. You can’t falsify the appearance. It has to be clear which parts are new and which are old.”


Castle of Matrera, before the restoration. Photo credit: unknown

“I understand the criticism of local people used to seeing the tower look a certain way,” he said by phone, “but the principal objective was to prevent the collapse of the structure.”

“This intervention sought to achieve three basic objectives: to structurally consolidate the elements that were at risk; to differentiate the additions from the original structure (avoiding the mimetic reconstructions that our law prohibits) and to recover the volume, texture and tonality that the tower originally had. The essence of the project is not intended to be, therefore, an image of the future, but rather a reflection of its own past, its own origin.”

“I think the criticism comes from people without any knowledge of the criteria of modern restoration,” he said. “They wanted it to be restored to the same condition as it was before, but that’s not what happens.”

In Rojas defense, Architizer, an online community of architects, awarded his work on the Castle of Matrera the prestigious global Architizer A+ awards in the architecture and preservation category. Architizer hands out awards in a range of categories judged by a panel of more than 300 distinguished luminaries and experts.

“We are very happy,” Rojas said after receiving the award. “It’s an enormous recognition of five years of work and effort. The project and its development was done with much analysis, rigor and detail.”


Photo credit: Ignacio Palomo Duarte/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Carquero Arquitectura/Architizer


Photo credit: Carquero Arquitectura/Architizer


Photo credit: Carquero Arquitectura/Architizer


Photo credit: Carquero Arquitectura/Architizer

Sources: Architizer / The Guardian / ArchDaily / NY Times / Wikipedia

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  1. I think it looks terrible. Completely ruins the Character of the original.

  2. It's did he "go" too far.

  3. I'm not a fan of modern architecture but, as far as restoration go, he did a pretty good job. The white uniform structure blend well with rest. The only problem I see is the top part...don't know why there is a separate structure. Must be some reason...

  4. He ruined the ruins!!

  5. I would have visited the ruin, I'd never go out of my way to check out this horror.


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