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  • Writer's pictureBráulio Conceição

The problem of a museum village


It was in 2015 that during the development of my master's thesis, which had the urbanism of the Mértola village as its starting point, I felt the need to visit other Mediterranean towns and cities of Islamic origin located in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, to improve my understanding of the issues that could arise.

Walking through the labyrinthine streets of Mértola's old town for several hours, I noticed that I hadn't come across anyone yet, which aroused in me an essential question, also common to other towns like Monsaraz, for example. The problem centered on the question of several towns becoming museum villages, that is, why did these historic towns, culturally so stimulating and important, become “crystallized” in time? Why is it that over the years, the urbanism and architecture of these towns has stagnated, not evolved, thus failing to respond to the “comfort” needs of a more “modern” lifestyle? Having this question as a starting point, I decided to investigate this topic further.


It was during the urban development of Mértola village, that over time, the inhabitants progressively moved away from the historic center. Far from this center, the great avenue to which the new urbanizations are attached is the main generator of daily life these days. Over time, a large part of the population seeks objective and subjective living conditions in the new urbanizations that they cannot find in the historic centre.

When he introduces the theory of permanence and monuments, based on the work of Marcel Poète, Aldo Rossi helps to understand the problem raised here. For him, the permanence of a city can be considered pathological or catapulting, that is; either the inhabitants are linked to a series of urban facts that have isolated themselves from city life, or they manage to make use of these same facts in an attempt to understand and inhabit the city in its entirety. Rossi distinguishes between historical permanence, as a form of a past that we still experience, and permanence as a pathological element, as something isolated and aberrant.


To clarify this point of view, two monuments belonging to the territory of the south of the Iberian Peninsula are introduced, which currently remain in different ways in their city.

Right in the center of the city of Cordoba, the old mosque represents an adaptability and direct articulation with the city. It has a permanent character, not only because it allows the experience of other eras but also because the physical form of the past has taken on different functions over time, adapting to the heart rate of its city. The image shown above shows the landing "tied" to the exterior facade of the mosque. Architectural element that allows the appropriation of the mosque by the inhabitants of the city. This element remains from the Arab period to the present day.

On the other hand, at the Alhambra in Granada, its inhabitants experience the form of the past in a different way. The form is isolated from the city and constitutes an experience in such an essential way that it cannot be modified, despite being the pole of attraction and even a defining element of Granada, having exercised and still exercising a far-reaching role. As it is an essential part of the history of the development of this city, it is preserved in such a way that it only responds to tourist interests. It should be noted that, despite the city's oldest nucleus being located at the top, next to the Alhambra, the city descended from there a long time ago; and the Alhambra itself was a place reserved for the lords – and in a way, this is how isolated it remains.

What can be concluded in the evaluation of the two permanences is that the dynamic process of a city tends more towards evolution than conservation, and in its evolutionary process monuments play an essential role, having to be able to respond to the different social and urban dynamics generated by everyday life.

Outside the analysis of monumental architecture, another fact that presents itself in a mixed condition, in which the tourist aspect mixes with everyday reality are the urban fabric itself. In fact, this is what happens in Lisbon, in neighborhoods like Alfama and Mouraria. Castiços will be, having a sociability of their own: whose reality goes beyond the neighborhoods they generate, influencing others around them – see the case of the “patio”. From folklore to archaeology, from the pleasure of strolling to the discovery of the small monument (the small parish church, the wall), these elements give rise to an almost improbable permanence, but a permanence shared by both inhabitants and outsiders.


This is how we understand the permanence that should be present in the area of ​​the old town and the outskirts of Mértola. Despite being two different contexts, today there is a growing state of conservation of the old urban fabric, increasingly uninhabited, constituting itself as an isolated permanence from the daily life of the village. Fernando Távora already taught that history is valuable insofar as it can solve problems of the present, that is, insofar as it becomes a helper and not an obsession.


ROSSI, Aldo; A Arquitectura da Cidade, Edições 70, novembro 2016

TÁVORA, Fernando; Da Organização do Espaço, Editor FAUP - Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto, 1999

- written in 2015

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