Vitoria-Gasteiz, 20 June 2006.
The Santa Maria Cathedral of Vitoria-Gasteiz has presented an extensive
exhibition in the Miramar Palace, placing its exceptional restoration
model on display for locals and visitors alike, both of Gipuzkoa in
general and of Donostia in particular. Photographs, audiovisual
presentations, panel exhibits and publications tell the story of how
the highly emblematic Vitorian monument´s restoration has led
to its status as a worldwide pillar of cultural heritage.
Organised by the Santa Maria Cathedral Foundation, the “Santa Maria Cathedral of Vitoria-Gasteiz – Open for Restoration” exhibition will finally arrive in Donostia after the project´s various phases have been showcased in numerous cities all over the world: Rome, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Puerto Rico, Miami, Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Santiago de Compostela, Leon, etc.
This exhibition is a preview to awaken interest in the public. It is an invitation to all to witness the restoration of this impressive building firsthand. The project will be presented throughout 2006 in several different settings, such as the UNESCO in Paris, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and several American universities.
The Santa Maria Cathedral restoration signifies much more than just the simple architectural restoration of a 13th century Gothic church threatened by serious structural problems. Rather, it is a comprehensive project with the aim of returning the building to a state where it can resume its religious function. At the same time, these works will provide the church with new spaces where it will be able to cater to cultural, museum and tourism functions that would breathe new life into the city´s Historic Quarter.
This double objective is causing a wave of positive effects in many different areas, including culture, tourism, research, science and the economy, in addition to sparking an urban renewal in the town. This is all possible thanks to an innovative management model that combines utmost respect for the monument with its possibilities as a profitable and promotional social resource for the good of cultural heritage.
Furthermore, as part of the efforts being made to protect cultural heritage, this project is not an expense, but an investment. A multitude of resources are being generated as a result, improving urban planning, education, tourism, culture, the community and, thus, the economy. In the end, all the project contributions made by the Alava establishments and institutions will be recouped through taxes.
500,000 visitors in six years
One of the restoration´s special features that has aroused the most interest is the opportunity of visiting the works through the guided tours programme, “Open for Restoration”. Almost 500,000 visitors, of which 75,000 are from Gipuzkoa, have taken the impassioned journey into the past and delved into the incredible history of Vitoria-Gasteiz by way of the Catedral Vieja (Ancient Cathedral), as it is affectionately known by Vitoria locals. Architects, archaeologists, stonemasons, scaffolding and reinforcements are the protagonists on a postcard of an innovative cultural tourism project.
The Santa Maria Cathedral restoration has been recognised, once again, with the top distinction granted by the European Union to cultural heritage preservation and improvement projects. The 2002 Europa Nostra Prize is the most important honour the project has received to date. This prize recognises the meticulous research carried out through the project´s Master Plan and the approach adopted for its comprehensive restoration. The European Union particularly appreciates the fact that it is not merely an architectural renovation but a live process, dedicated to restoring the church´s cultural, tourism and symbolic value.
Also of particular note is the cultural stir that this restoration has generated, even inspiring some of the most nationally and internationally renowned writers to become the project´s most enthusiastic ambassadors. Novelists, such as Ken Folleto, author of “The Pillars of the Earth”, Paulo Coelho, Mario Vargas Llosa, Antonio Gala, Carmen Posadas, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Alfredo Bryce Echenique, José Saramago, Rosa Regás and Dominique Lapierre have fallen under the enchantment of this amazing Santa Maria restoration. In fact, Coelho mentions it in his latest novel titled “El Zahir”. As a result of the significant cultural and literary aspects of this project, the Santa Maria Cathedral Foundation was a special guest at the 2005 Madrid Book Fair.
Three exhibition areas
The exhibition on the restoration of the Catedral Vieja of Vitoria is comprised of three different areas. The first features the main aspects of the restoration project, displayed on ten large panels with photographs illustrating the project´s different facets: philosophy, history, the suffering areas of the church, archaeological excavations, restoration open to the public through guided tours, cultural programming, acknowledgements, etc.
The second area showcases a selection of thirty photographs by Vari Caramés and José Manuel Navia that have been exhibited in the cathedrals of Seville, Leon and the Cervantes Institutes in Rome and Lisbon. These two photographers were the first to participate in a project to photograph the Santa Maria Cathedral and its restoration process. At present, Xabi Otero, a prestigious photographer from Navarra is capturing this historical landmark on film.
The exhibition concludes in an audiovisual hall, where visitors can learn what the Santa Maria Cathedral restoration entails, from start to finish. The latest archaeological discoveries, both inside and surrounding the church are also on display, together with a reflection on what they signify in the historical past of Vitoria-Gasteiz. There will also be a project featuring the tower and the portico in this last hall and visitors will be able to peruse the extensive catalogue of publications.
In addition to the materials featuring the Catedral Vieja, visitors that come to the Miramar Palace will be able to learn about exceptional cultural tourism highlights that are flourishing in Vitoria-Gasteiz and Alava. These include sights such as the Valle Salado (Salt Valley) of Salinas de Añana, the open restoration of the Basilica of Armentia, the Iruña Veleia archaeological site, the museums of Alava (Fournier de Naipes, Artium, Bellas Artes, etc.), the new architecture related to oenological tourism in Rioja Alavesa, etc.