Musealization of the Archeological Site, Praça Nova of São Jorge Castle

The hill occupied by São Jorge’s Castle is the site of the first known settlement — dating to the Iron Age — of the place that became Lisbon, strategic vantage point overlooking the estuary of the Tagus and its inland territory. The ‘Praça Nova’ occupies a promontory enclosed by defense walls to the North and the West, and by the Santa Cruz Church, to the South, with a visual domain above the East walls over the city and the estuary. An archaeological excavation of this site, begun in 1996, uncovered remnants of its successive periods of inhabitation — Iron Age settlement, Mediaeval Muslim occupation and Fifteenth Century Palace —, the most significant artifacts removed and exhibited at the Castle’s Museum, leaving the site open to an intervention of protection and musealization.This intervention addressed the themes of protection, revelation and readability of the palimpsest such an excavation represents, with a pragmatical approach aimed at clarifying the palindromic quality of interpretation that the exposed structures suggested. Firstly the site was delimited with a precise incision, comparable to that of a surgical intervention. A membrane of corten steel was inserted to contain the higher perimetrical surface, allowing access and a panoramic view of the site, slowly evolving over time as living material. The same precision of cut was used in the inserted elements that allow wandering trough the site — the limestone steps and seating— setting them apart from the excavated walls.

Stepping down to the site’s first material level and last period of occupation — the remnant pavement of the Fifteenth Century Palace of the Bishop of Lisbon — a cantilevered structure protects the mosaics, its underside covered in black mirror reflecting the vertical perspective of the pavements that the level of their placement denies.
Further down the site and its timeline, the canopy for the protection of the Eleventh Century Muslim domestic structures and frescoes presented an opportunity to reproduce, through conjectural interpretation, its spacial experience as a series of independent rooms around a patio that introduced light and ventilation into an otherwise exteriorly isolated dwelling.

Abstract and scenographic, the white walls that stage such spatiality, float above the visible foundations of the walls, touching ground on six points where the primeval limits are absent, while its translucent covering of polycarbonate and wood filters the sunlight. Underlying the site, the evidence of the Iron Age settlement is exposed and protected trough a self-contained volume extending from the perimetrical walls to embrace the depth necessary to its revelation. Massive and dramatic, it is pierced with horizontal slits that invite the curiosity for the observation of its interior, leading the visitor around the excavated pit to the point where the view is unobstructed and the physical and time distance of the exhibited structures is made obvious.
The palimpsest of the site History is thus decoded and the possibility of its palindromic times-pace reading made clear: not only trough information at the disposal of the visitor, but significantly trough the experience construed by its material protection and musealization.