Castillo Fajardo - Vélez-Blanco
Castillo de Fajardo better known as the castle of Vélez-Blanco sits upon a spur of mount Mahimon above the town of Vélez-Blanco. With magnificent views through the Blanco valley the castle appears on many post-cards, books and publications for the province of Almería. Considered one of the finest examples of Renaissance style in Spain, melding indigenous gothic and Hispano-Moresque structural precedents, such as segmental arches and flat timber ceilings with exposed beams, to the architectural canons and ornamental motifs of the Italian Renaissance. Its construction is usually attributed to the Italian Architects Francisco Floretín, Martín Milanés, Francisco Fernández and Michele Carlone whose presence is also documented during these times as having worked on the Palace of La Calahorra in Granada.
The castle was declared a National Monument (Bien de Interés Cultural) on 3rd June 1931 and the Junta de Andalucía have been working to bring the castle back to its patronage. In December 2004 the Junta De Andalucía made a sale of agreement with the current owner, Salvador Ferrandis Álvarez De Toledo, Marqués de Valverde, and having completed the necessary administrative procedures, the final contract of sale will take place on 30th September 2005. Three annual payments will be made in equal parts of 1 million euros in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
Jesús Romero, Director General of Bienes Cultares said ' Now we can say that the Castle of Vélez-Blanco is the property of the Junta de Andalucía, therefore it is the property of all andalucians, and naturally of all almerians and most importantly that of the residents of Vélez-Blanco'.
Once the final sale has taken place the Junta de Andalucía, together with the Council for Culture will put into motion the renovation of the interior of the castle. Alfonso Ruiz García, professor of Geography and History and co-ordinator of the Cabinet of Fine Art of the Junta de Andalucía, emphasises that the castle is ' one of the best examples of almerias heritage, together with the Alcazaba and the Cathedral. These three are the principle references of the heritage of the province of Almería, with their military, artistic, historic, scenic and touristic qualities'. The problem lies in the fact that many visitors remain impressed with the exterior but few venture inside due to the fact that the interior remains empty.
The castle was built between 1506 and 1515 on the orders of Don Pedro Fajardo y Charcón, first Marqués of Los Vélez and fifth Governor of the Kingdom of Murcia. Vélez Blanco was one of the towns he was given as reward for his assistance in suppressing Moorish rebellions in the lands of Andalucia. It was constructed on the site of a Moorish Fortress on mount Mahimón and occupies 2,300 square meters. The castle comprised two distinctly different parts; a rectangular structure of bricks and mortar, on the remains of the Moorish Fortress and the main palace 10 meters above floor level accessed via a drawbridge, still in place today.
The main body was built of masonry and ashlar, on an irregular hexagonal floor, which included the 'patio de honor' a small room measuring 16x13.5m, the jewel of the castle, separating the Torre de Homenaje (tower of tribute), the military quarters to the north and the main residential areas.
The 'Patio de Honor' was built with marble from the Marcael quarry with elegant arcaded galleries, elaborately carved marble capitals, window and doorframes. Crowning the patio was an epigraphic cornice adorned with gargoyles. The graceful carvings that embellished many of the window and door frames, fantastic tiered candelabra and animal grotesques, foliate scrolls, birds, vases and monsters are believed to be the work of itinerant Lombardo-Venetian sculptors, who brought their carving skills and pattern books from northern Italy to the small mountain village of Vélez Blanco. The patio carvings are among the earliest of this style in Spain and antedate any published designs, showing Pedro Fajardo to have been in the vanguard of artistic patronage in Spain.
The higher level consists of two open galleries one with views across the Vélez-Blanco valley and the other looking over the patio to the main body of the palace and the Torre de Homenaje.
The two main reception rooms, Salón del Triunfo and Salón de la Mitología were decorated with large relief friezes, unparalleled in their classical subject matter and exceptional vigor, richly carved with the themes of the 'Triumph of Julius Caesar' and the 'Labours of Hercules' and the coats of arms of Pedro Fajardo and his wife Doña Mencía de la Cueva.
The Fajardo family occupied the castle until the 17th Century when the line of succession came to an end. In the years that followed it was occupied at various intervals until it was finally abandoned following French invasion and decades of political and social upheaval in Spain.
In 1904 Parisian art dealer, J. Goldberg who transported it to Marseille and Paris, bought the renaissance patio, along with other pieces of artwork. Later, in 1913 George Blumenthal, President of the Metropolitan Museum in New York from 1934 until his death in 1941, bought the contents of the 'patio del honor' from J. Goldberg. Blumenthal transported it to America where he installed it as a furnished interior hall in the centre of the large house he was building in New York, on Park Avenue and 67th Street. He bequeathed the patio to the Metropolitan Museum, but it was not until 1945, when the house was torn down, that the patio's marble blocks were dismantled and transported to the Museum. In 1964, after extensive research into the patio's architectural and historical context, the structure was re-erected as part of a new wing built to house the Thomas J. Watson Library. In all some 2,000 marble elements adorn the Patio del Honor.
Following a three-year renovation programme, the Vélez-Blanco Patio returned to public view in 2002. The 2,750 square-foot, two-galleried structure had undergone extensive conservation work in order to bring the structure closer to its original appearance in the 16th century castle of Vélez-Blanco. To celebrate its return to public view the Metropolitan Museum held an exhibition of the 'Forgotten Friezes from the Castle of Vélez-Blanco', six large relief friezes were loaned from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Paris, where they were identified in 1992 as those from the castle of Vélez-Blanco. Each of the pinewood reliefs is approximately 20 feet in length and 550 pounds in weight.
The Junta de Andalucía are currently negotiating the acquisition of the friezes from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. With little hope of acquiring the Patio de Honor from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Junta de Andalucía together with the Culture Council plan to rebuild the Patio using marble from the quarry in Macael.
Sources: A Guide to the Province of Almería by Antonio Gil Albarracín.
Patrimonio Histórico Cultural en Los Vélez by Montserrat Ponce Sánchez
Web-sites: Diputacion de Almería, Andalucia24horas, El Pais, Indalia. Metmuseum:Mertopolitan Museum of Art New York.
Newspapers: La Voz de Almería, El Pais.