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When restoration goes wrong. Very wrong.

11 March 2016

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

As any fule kno, restoration work to historic structures must be performed with the utmost care. Put a foot wrong, and you will be forever condemned as a heritage heretic, a vandal, a murderer of history.

Shame no-one told the contractors tasked with stabilising the ruins of Matrera Castle, Cadiz. Two years ago, it became depressingly clear that the ruins of the 9th-century fortress were in desperate need of some kind of conservation work. Heavy rainfall had caused a wall to collapse, and if something wasn’t done soon, it looked likely the whole thing would collapse. Pleas were made and petitions were launched, claiming that ‘it will disappear fast if you don’t act on time.’

Finally the builders were called in. When the new-look structure was finally unveiled last month, it’s fair to say that locals were left speechless. What had for years stood as a picturesque medieval ruin now looked like it would be better suited to the Torremolinos skyline than any history of Moorish architecture.

Instead of restoring it, the contractors appear to have built it up into an entirely new structure. When TV channel La Sexta spoke to locals about it, they were quite rightly outraged: ‘they’ve used builders rather than restorers […] what they’ve done, as we say in these parts, is f***** it up.’ Unsurprisingly, comparisons to the miraculously bad Ecce Homo were quick in coming.

Keen to get a second opinion as to the scale of the balls up, Rakewell turned to Apollo architecture columnist Gavin Stamp: ‘[I] cannot think of anything anywhere near as bad in Britain,’ he said. Indeed, the only near comparable disaster that sprung to mind was Saddam Hussein’s reconstruction of Babylon. The Rake suspects that this will not be a comparison that Arcobeltia Construcciones, the firm behind the Matrera renovations, are likely to publish on their website any time soon.

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