A restorer cleans a baroque panel in the crypt. Salvador Salas
Restoration breathes life back into 17th-century baroque crypt

Restoration breathes life back into 17th-century baroque crypt

Work on the treasure beneath La Victoria basilica in Malaga is due to finish in December after four years closed to the public

Jesús Hinojosa


Friday, 27 October 2023, 15:04

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It took four years of studies, reports and red tape on the part of the local and regional authorities before the diocese of Malaga could restore the crypt under the city's Victoria basilica. This gem of Spanish baroque funerary architecture had to be closed when water damage caused one of its walls to crumble.

Since August, a team from specialist firm Tarma have been working to restore this unique space to the splendour with which it was constructed at the end of the 17th century. Then it was to be the final resting place of the count and countess of Buenavista, patrons of the building works that the basilica underwent at that time and were completed at the beginning of the 18th century.

It has taken years of investigation to confirm the theory set out from day one by surveyors for the diocese: the problem was a leak from some toilets in Doctor Pascual Hospital (currently closed) that are located above the burial niches. The diocese has pressed for these toilets to be removed so there is no repeat of the damage, but this issue depends on the ownership of the hospital or on the regional health ministry, as there are plans to reopen this health facility in the next few months.

Trusting that there will be no more leaks, restorers are already at work with completion scheduled for December. On the floor of the crypt all the pieces of funerary decoration that had to be removed from the wall are laid out and tagged. The leak has also required repairs to the walls of the oratory (what was the sacristy until the 1960s) above the crypt, where the image of Santa María de la Victoria, patron saint of Malaga, is worshipped.

Remove, repair and replace

"The first thing we did was chip away all the cement and let the area dry for a year," explained Beatriz Martín from Tarma Restauración. The second stage of the restoration, costing around 65,000 euros, began with the application of a new coating to the affected wall using hydraulic lime mortar (a fast-setting, breathable, flexible and natural material). Onto this surface they will put back all the plaster pieces of skeletons, skulls and baroque foliage. This work will be carried out using traditional methods and a gypsum-based glue. Glass rods will also be used to anchor the heavier pieces to the walls. Those pieces badly broken by the collapse caused by the leak will be rebuilt in plaster using moulds.

Detail of some of the funerary decorations. S. Salas

In this way, the damaged area will return to how it looked before the water leak, except that now the marble plaques in front of two burial niches in use since the 1930s will be left visible. Pablo Pastor, technical architect for the diocese who is overseeing the work, explained that old photographs proved that these two burial sites had these plaques on view bearing the names of those buried therein, one of them being the marchioness of Casablanca.

Repairs to the crypt also include new, softer lighting that is more in keeping with the architecture, as well as a general clean of the existing decoration on the other crypt walls. Some areas are painted in a black pigment that is in poor condition and this will be replaced with a resin-based black graphite.

The tombs of the count and countess of Buenavista, whose coat of arms appears on the front of the crypt's altar, have not been damaged by the leak but they will also be cleaned. On the sides of these burial chambers appear the names of the count and countess of Villalcazar de Sirga, who came after the Buenavista line. Their name is also on the palatial house that is currently home to Malaga's chamber of commerce. The remains of these noble families have also been laid to rest in this place since the early part of the 19th century.

In a few weeks this unique room, measuring almost 8.5 metres on each side and 3.3 metres high, and packed with art and history, will recoup its artistic value. Then it can reopen its doors to visitors and those who want to discover one of the few examples of a 'camarín-torre' (the exquisitely carved dome) that exists and which is one of the main treasures of the city's architectural heritage.

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