THE RESTORATION OF THE ORATORY OF
EL PARTAL AND THE HOUSE OF
ASTASIO DE BRACAMONTE
LA RESTAURACIÓN DEL ORATORIO DEL PARTAL Y
LA CASA DE ASTASIO DE BRACAMONTE
ELENA CORREA GÓMEZ
RAMÓN FRANCISCO RUBIO DOMENE
PROFESSOR AT THE FACULTY OF MEDICINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF GRANADA
HEAD OF THE RESTORATION WORKSHOP FOR PLASTERWORK AND TILING OF
THE PATRONATO DE LA ALHAMBRA Y GENERALIFE
elena.correa@juntadeandalucia.es
ramonf.rubio@juntadeandalucia.es
AbstrAct: the Oratorio del Partal in the Alhambra is a rectangular building built during the reing of
Yusuf I (1333-1354), and it was attached to a previous building, the Casa de Astasio de Bracamonte. The
Oratorio was restored mainly twice. The first time in 1846, the restorers followed criteria of recovery of
the Muslim environment, from a picturesque-romantic point of view. In 1930, the architect Leopoldo Torres
Balbás tried to recover the original character of the building, although keeping some additions from the
19th century. During the last restoration, the problems of conservation of roofs and decorative elements
have been solved. With the help of current technology, it has been possible to obtain construction data of
the wooden ornamental structure, and characterization of the polychrome on wood and plaster of the Ora-
torio and the mural painting of the Casa de Astasio de Bracamonte.
Keywords: Alhambra, oratory, restoration, roof, wooden ceiling, characterization, polychromy decoration,
wall painting, faux-brick decoration
resumen: el Oratorio del Partal en la Alhambra es un edificio de planta rectangular construido durante el
reinado de Yusuf I (1333-1354) y adosado a una construcción anterior, la Casa de Astasio de Bracamonte. El
Oratorio fue restaurado principalmente en dos ocasiones, en 1846 cuando se intervino con un criterio de
recuperación del «ambiente» musulmán desde un punto de vista pintoresco-romántico, y la segunda que
fue llevada a cabo por el arquitecto D. Leopoldo Torres Balbás en 1930, quien trató de recuperar el carác-
ter original del edificio aunque manteniendo algunos de los añadidos decimonónicos. Durante la última
restauración se han abordado los problemas de conservación de cubiertas y elementos decorativos. Con la
ayuda y la aportación de la ciencia y la tecnología actual se han podido aportar nuevos datos constructivos
sobre su armadura apeinazada, e identificar y caracterizar la policromía sobre la madera y yeserías del Ora-
torio y de la pintura mural exterior de la Casa de Astasio de Bracamonte.
PAlAbrAs clAves: Alhambra, oratorio, restauración, cubierta, armadura apeinazada, yesería, caracteriza-
ción, policromía, pintura mural, ladrillo fingido
cómo citAr / how to cite: CORREA GÓMEZ, E., RUBIO DOMENE, R.F., La restauración del oratorio del
partal y la casa de Astasio de Bracamonte, Cuaderno de la Alhambra. 2020, 49, págs. 287-305. ISN 0590-1987
CUADERNOS DE LA ALHAMBRA I núm. 49 I 2020 I págs. 287-305
Recibido: 16 septiembre 2020 | Revisado: 30 septiembre 2020 | Aceptado: 15 octubre 2020 | Publicado: 24 diciembre 2020
ISSN: 0590 - 1987 I eISSN: 2695-379X I Depósito legal: GR 70-1965
The Palace of El Portico or El Partal, located
around the Tower of Las Damas, is the best-con-
served part of the oldest palace of the Alhambra
and, based on the decorative elements used,
its construction is attributed to Muhhammad
III (1302-1309). The area of El Partal is today a
garden area with buildings and architectural re-
mains distributed in narrow banks. A number
of auxiliary constructions were built around the
palace, associated with its purpose and known
as the Arab Houses and the House of Astasio de
Bracamonte. On the northern wall, Sultan Yusuf
I (1333-1354) built a small palatine chapel, the
Oratory of El Partal. This small rectangular buil-
ding, with its a hipped roof, has its main façade
facing the palace. Facing its access is the mihrab,
whose qibla was attached to a previous building,
the house of Astasio de Bracamonte, inhabited
since 1492 by the squire of the Count of Tendilla,
warden of the Christian Alhambra, and turned
into a dwelling in the 16th century.
The Oratory was built with brick rigging on its ex-
terior walls covered, at least in part, by decorative
plasterwork. Inside, the wooden ceiling of the en-
trance, the wooden structure of the main area and
part of the original plasterwork have been conser-
ved. Both the wooden eaves and the ceramic ma-
terial used in the plinth and interior flooring have
disappeared and no original remains have been do-
cumented in this last intervention. We do not know
if the interior of the House of Astasio had any kind
of decoration as it has not lasted; however, the exte-
rior walls are of a similar rigging to the one used in
the Oratory and were covered by a plaster with wall
paint that imitated brick, as shown by the nume-
rous remains documented during the restoration of
the façades. The wall to which the new construction
of the Oratory was attached keeps the remains of
the wall decoration in perfect condition. The prac-
tice of partially or totally covering brick buildings
with fake brick paint was very common in Nasrid
architecture.
IL.1. Pablo Saenz and Brother. Exterior view of the Oratory (1920). Hectographic print in
b/w, 250x210mm. APAG. Colección de Fotografías. F-13455.
1. Brief material history and criteria for
intervention
As occurs with the other spaces of the Alhambra,
since it was built the Oratory has undergone nume-
rous repairs and adaptations to the needs of the day
and many of such adaptations are void of documen-
tary reference. Both the Oratory and the house of
Astasio were privately owned and used as a home
until the 19th century. The material past of the Ora-
tory has been linked primarily to two interventions,
testimonies of the history of the restoration work in
the Alhambra: the first was carried out in 1846; and
the second was carried out by the architect Leopol-
do Torres Balbás in 1930.
In the 19th century, restoration changed from a tra-
de that corresponded to certain learned sectors to a
systematic, consolidated professional practice and
scientific discipline
1
. Nineteenth-century Europe
was marked by the thinking of Eugène E. Viollet-
le-Duc (1814-1879). His theoretical, methodological
approach appeared in the so-called «stylistic resto-
ration», whose criterion dominated the early years
of said century. Stylistic restoration gives maximum
value to the original style of the work of art, where
the original material lacks value in itself compared
to the ideal recovery of the building. This leads to
the elimination of add-ons or modifications, and the
non-distinction of new compared to old, giving rise
to what we know today as historical fakes. However,
from a methodological point of view, Viollet-le-Duc
was able to provide new bases in the intervention
procedure more in line with current criteria.
The first great documented intervention in the
Oratory took place in 1846. Its owner, Francisco de
Acebal y Arratia, promoted its restoration in accor-
dance with the trend of the time, i.e. by completely
and capriciously completing the decoration of the
building with ornaments taken from other places
2
.
Many of the interior decorations were renewed, al-
tering some of the former layout, and all of it was
smeared in vulgar colours, which destroyed the fi-
neness of the ornamentation
3
. The house of Astasio
de Bracamonte was also restored in an inappropria-
te way
4
. The architect Jose Contreras Osorio was
appointed as director of the works of the Royal Site
and Fortress of the Alhambra in 1840 and most of
his employees were relatives: his younger brother
the master builder Francisco Contreras Osorio;
his son Rafael Contreras Muñoz; two other sons
named Francisco and Jose Marcelo, who had been
trained at the school of drawing; and his son-in-law
the stucco restorer, Jose Medina
5
. The controversies
arising from their interventions, in which he acted
without concern for the urgent needs of consolida-
tion, devoting his efforts to complete reconstruc-
tions
6
, destroying old parts and ornaments in order
to rebuild them again, led them to stop receiving
funding in 1843 and the work on the Alhambra to
be put on hold until 1846 and the arrival of a new
architect, Salvador Amador. Between 1843 and 1844
José Contreras worked on the construction of the
Alcaicería de Granada in a neo-Nasrid style. Rafael
Contreras Muñoz was not appointed as ornamental
until 1847 and although he never obtained the title
of architect, he was responsible for defining the cri-
teria for intervention and directing the craftsmen
who restored the decoration, supported by the ar-
chitects who collaborated with him and took charge
of structural issues
7
. José Contreras, some of his
employees or other local «restorers» participated in
the intervention of the Oratory in 1846, which was
a private property at the time. In 1875 Rafael Con-
treras published in his book Estudio descriptivo de
los monumentos árabes de Granada, Sevilla y Córdoba
por los tres monumentos principales, la Alhambra, el
1. From now on, we will use the word maristanes, Anglicising the
Arabic māristānāt, plural of māristān.
2. GARCÍA BALLESTER,L. Galeno en la sociedad y en la ciencia de
su tiempo: (c. 130-c. 200 d. de C.). Madrid: Guadarrama, 1972.
3. LAÍN ENTRALGO, P. La medicina hipocrática. Madrid: Alianza,
D.L, 1987.
4. ULLMANN, M. Die MedizinimIslam. Leide: E.A.J. Brill, 1970,
p. 301.
5. LAÍN ENTRALGO, P. La relación médico-enfermo. Madrid: Re-
vista de Occidente, 1964.
6- IBN AL–JATIB. Libro del cuidado de la salud según las estaciones
del año or Libro de higiene. Ed. and trad. María Concepción Váz-
quez de Benito, Salamanca: Salamanca University, 1984.
7. ABŪ MARWĀN ´ABD AL-MALIK IBN ZUHR. Kitāb al-taysīrfī
l-mudāwātwa-l-tadbīrEd. M. al-Jurī. Damascus: Dār al-Fikr, 1983.
8. GARCÍA GRANADOS, J.A.; GIRÓN IRUESTE, F.; SALVATIERRA
CUENCA, V. El Maristán de Granada. Un hospital Islámico. Grana-
da: Imprenta Alhambra, 1989. p. 100.
9. GUY DE CHAULIAC. Thecyrurgie of Guy de Chauliac. Edited by
Margaret S. Ogden. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.
10. See, for example, IBN HABIB (m. 238/853) Mujtasarfī l-tibb
(Compendium of Medicine) Introduction, critical edition and
translation by C. Álvarez de Morales, F. Girón Irueste. Madrid:
Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. Instituto de
Cooperación con el Mundo Árabe, 1992.
Alcázar y la Gran Mezquita, apuntes arqueológicos,
which contained the following reference to the Ora-
tory:
«...mosque of beautiful decoration, but
which has had the misfortune of being pain-
ted so vulgarly... The ornamentation that has
been placed on the outside is also false, but
in place of these pitiful repairs, the reader
can enjoy the well composed nature of this
enclosure and its elegant ceiling of ribbons
and joints. The house, also improperly resto-
red, that is attached to it...»
From this statement it seems logical to think that
Rafael Contreras did not intervene on this occasion.
In the restoration of the Alhambra during these
years, the decorative character of Nasrid art was es-
sentially emphasised, greatly influenced by the ro-
mantic spirit and following the misunderstood pro-
posals of stylistic restoration. The beginning of the
monumental restoration in the Alhambra focused
on immense medieval heritage that was unknown
in terms of building technique and how the mate-
rials used actually worked.
In the 19th century, the roofs were repaired, a plas-
ter frieze of arches was introduced under the eaves
and the type of eaves was modified using horizon-
tal corbels, numerous plaster plates were replaced,
emptied along with the original plaster elements,
and both the add-ons and original elements were
painted with bright colours without distinction.
Tiling was added to the interior plinth and the
flooring was restored with white-glazed ceramic
elements.
In the middle of the 19th century, John Ruskin's
non-interventionist doctrine appeared in England
as a counterpoint to stylistic restoration and pro-
posed the strict conservation of the current state
of the monument that was incompatible with res-
toration work, highlighting the value of the ruin
and maintaining the authenticity of the historical
object. Between 1880 and 1890 restoration crite-
ria evolved towards «historical restoration», which
avoids the idealistic reconstructions of stylistic
restoration and prefers methods supported by re-
search and historical documentation. The monu-
ment is not restored as it should have been, but
as it was, and allows the original materials to be
replaced by more durable ones as long as the new
ones maintain the same formal characteristics as
the originals
8
.
In 1897
9
the Oratory was acquired by the State
along with other small properties nearby. In later
years a heavy balustrade was removed from the wall
at the entrance to the oratory and the walls were
cleaned of modern cladding. When the land around
it was cleared, a rough brick staircase appeared,
along with the rest of the flooring made of the same
material
10
(Ils. 1 - 3).
The thinking of Camilo Boito (1836-1914) defines
a position between stylistic restoration and Rus-
kin's non-intervention. He prefers restoration that
is essential and indispensable for the conserva-
tion of the monument and rejects forgery and the
non-distinction of add-ons, highlighting the value
of the monument as a historical document, which
must be subjected to a historical and archaeological
study and a detailed documentation of the interven-
tion. In general terms, Boito advocates a work of
art made up of add-ons from different periods, and
distinguishes three different restoration methods
according to the chronology of the monument. For
medieval monuments, he considers pictorial resto-
ration to be more appropriate, in which the pictu-
resque character of the work prevails, and he legiti-
mises add-ons to defend the image of the work and
recover the figurative unity.
In the first third of the 20th century, Spain was
polarised between the restoration school and the
conservative school. The scientific method star-