Rogério de Azevedo

Rogério de Azevedo

Salazar apparently belonged to the rare species of discreet dictators. Originally an academic specializing in economic issues, his analysis during the severe crisis affecting Portugal in the 1920s enabled him to quickly become Minister of Finance. The success of his already dictatorial spending control convinced the military to hand him over to the state. His obsession with balanced budgets might have made Salazar a leader with parsimony as his only agenda. Yet his catholic faith and patriotic feelings resulted in a conservative and nationalist policy. This also implied intervening in the territory, via facilities symbolizing its Estado Novo.

If the fragile Portuguese republic had initiated major works to modernize Lisbon, Salazar captured these previous efforts in the service of his regime. Despite resources much less substantial than those available to Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, the Portuguese despot also intended to put his mark on his capital.

Thus the French landscape architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier (1861-1930) – active in Morocco, Spain, Cuba and Argentina – had drawn up in 1927 projects to magnify the Edouard VII park. These proposals by a prestigious foreign specialist were modified in 1936 under Salazarist rule by Luis Cristino da Silva (1896-1976). This one retained the majesty of a large regular French garden but wanted to add monumental groups and a triumphal arch in the upper part. However, it was Francisco Keil do Amaral (1910-1975) who implemented a less pompous design from 1942. These two architects – trained locally, except da Silva who completed his studies at the Paris Beaux-Arts school – each represented Salazar’s supremacy. Keil do Amaral signed the rather modern pavilion of Portugal at the Paris exhibition in 1937. Cristino da Silva realized several of the most important buildings of the Praça do Areeiro, and contributed to the Portuguese Exhibition in Belém in 1940. This event, crucial for Salazarist propaganda, was supervised by Cottinelli Telmo (1897-1948) – author of the colossal Monument to the Discoveries, a tribute to Portuguese navigators.

Shortly before the exhibition, the dictator asked Raul Lino (1879-1976) for plans to complete the unfinished neoclassical palace of Ajuda, in order to make it a government site. Project not materialized, one of the facades of this vast palace still gaping in the void.

Although his image as a modest leader could not openly suffer contradiction, the need for a special State place of living arose. Like the tyrants of Italy and Spain, Salazar did not consider it necessary to build a personal palace (unlike Hitler, with the new chancellery), preferring – like Stalin in the Kremlin – to have a historic monument to serve as an occasional official residence. And this excluding the bloated residences bequeathed by a breathless monarchy. The location also needed to have strong national significance. The ideal place was found in the north of Portugal, in Guimarães. There, the remains of a medieval castle, conveniently linked to the Ducal House of Braganza in the 15th century, allowed a double political blow. On the one hand, the restoration fueled patriotic pride, while the potential personal use could be hidden behind a museum function.

The selected architect, Rogério de Azevedo (1898-1983), had mainly a polymorphic activity. Its beginnings continued the French Beaux-Arts genre (Faculty of Medicine, Porto, 1925), then its headquarters in the newspaper O Comércio do Porto in 1927 bore witness to the influence of the more expressionist Viennese Secession. The very innovative concrete garage that he built in 1932 for the daily paper on the adjoining site went even further in the international perspective – clearly inspired by the Dutch works of Willem Marinus Dudok (1884-1974). A very type of builder who assimilates other influences, mastering them in turn with a certain creative finesse, Azevedo therefore hardly corresponded to the cliché of the chauvinist architect obediently serving the Estado novo! Its affinities for European modernities apparently did not fit well with a restoration flattering national Lusitanism. However, his knowledge of innovations was coupled with undeniable historical scholarship. This complex personality suited Salazar, who found in him a complete technician capable of fulfilling the ambiguous expectations of a strategic project.

The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza was built at the start of the 15th century – beside a previous 12th century castle linked to the first Portuguese king, Afonso I. Its designer, known as Mestre Antom – French from Normandy? – gave it a fairly regular rectangular shape. This palace was probably never finished, following the palinodies of power and the death of its author. This stronghold was then used as a stone quarry, its ruins sheltering for a long time some military barracks. Despite its historical interest, its heritage valorization did not really take off until the twentieth century. Salazar visited it in 1933, already hesitating on what to do next.

For the mission entrusted to Azevedo in 1936 remained very ambiguous from the outset. On the one hand, he had to completely restore the monument to its supposed initial state. On the other hand, he had to arrange the entire first floor to serve as a reception and residence for the Head of State… This ambivalence undeniably weighed on the project, arousing sharp criticism from local scholars. The latter, unable to openly attack Salazar, targeted his architect. In front of the bronca, Azevedo replied with a tasty mixture of irony and confidence. Here are some revealing excerpts: “I, peaceful architect, respectful and graduate, adult and vaccinated” “am not a strong swashbuckler of bloody tournaments”, concluding that this spiritual duel “will give him the ineffable pleasure of being able to smash plates on the respectable face” of his adversaries archaeologists…

Indeed, his work went far beyond simple reconstruction. For lack of a preserved source, his decisions were carefully weighed. Of the main facade only the ground floor remained: he designed the machicolations on the model of those of the other towers, the same for the cross windows. The roofs were missing: he imagined ax-shaped roofs on the towers and on the wings four-sided roofs, inspired by medieval French examples. Likewise, its tall brick chimney stumps derive from 14th century models reproduced by Eugène Viollet-Le-Duc (1814-1879) in his Dictionary of French architecture from the 11th to the 16th century. However, Azevedo eliminated any ornamental detail, giving them a more abstract cylindrical shape.

Interpretation became even more important in internal spaces. As the interior galleries along the courtyard were probably never built, it had a good latitude of invention. Its pointed arches gave the whole a rather closter religious dignity, accentuated by the columns of the upper level. To lead directly to the chapel, Azevedo envisioned a monumental double staircase in the courtyard. This would have been with cut sides at its base, then straight in its upper part. Obviously, this device was derived from a drawing by Viollet-Le-Duc, restoring the initial appearance of the large medieval staircase of the Palais de la Cité in Paris. For the Portuguese castle, Azevedo also planned another arch with a gable, responding to the gable on top of the oratory. In the end, he did not interrupt the gallery and opted for a wooden arch in front of the sanctuary porch. The less cumbersome solution, juxtaposing stone and beams, adequate with the Nordic origin of the first architect!

If this might lead one to believe that the architect renounced his modernist evolution, the almost abstract stripping of the interiors then newly designed rather testifies to a break with the heavy historicist reconstructions of the previous century. In this palace, Azevedo favored raw materials, fireplaces with purist volumes, visible frames, wrought iron chandeliers between geometric purism and historical evocation. The truth of the materials is sought, always in a functionalist way. The place acquires there a unique strangeness, where everything seems historically credible, although reinvented under the sieve of modern thought.

Azevedo’s work in Guimarães continued in the twentieth century the logic between erudition and politics of the restorations of Pierrefonds in France and Haut-Koenigsbourg in Alsace under German annexation during the previous century. The first was rebuilt by Viollet-Le-Duc for Napoleon III; the second by Bodo Ebhardt (1865-1945) for Wilhelm II. Already the archaeological science of these ideal reconstructions was doubled with ambiguous interpretations of the past, even with dubious chauvinistic intentions in the Alsatian castle. To varying degrees, a number of medieval castles were then monopolized by totalitarianism to spread a certain national vision.

In Germany, Himmler had Hermann Bartels (1900-1989) remodel from 1935 the fairly well-preserved Wewelsburg so that the place could better serve his fantasies of ancestral Germanity. For this Nazi satrap, his SS had to feature a new racially pure chivalry, heir to the Teutonic Order… In Italy, Mussolini closely followed the restoration in 1937 by Vittorio Mesturino (1895-after 1960), a specialist in such historical interventions, of the Palace of the Knights in Rhodes. This ideologically strengthens the Italian presence on the island.

Thus the works in each of these medieval sites imposed a monumental image which accentuated idealized national features. In a Portugal which has since returned to modernity, the severe walls of the Ducal Palace of Braganza still leave the memory of Salazar alive. A hidden memory that the stones cannot completely obliterate.

 

 

Source Credit: This article originally appeared on Wall Street International by Fabien Bellat. Read the original article - https://wsimag.com/architecture-and-design/65103-rogerio-de-azevedo