San Esteban Palace

Published by Basilio on

The San Esteban Palace is a historic building in the city of Murcia that is part, together with the church of the same name, of the monumental complex of San Esteban, a former Jesuit school-convent.

Historic context

Plan Murcia S.XII

The location of the current palace is located in what was prior to the Castilian conquest, the suburb of Arrixaca Nueva or Arrixaca Norte. The suburb was an extension of the city, with its own wall, built between the 11th and 12th centuries. Almunias was built inside the suburb, which originally was country houses, although over time they evolved into a series of palaces and patio houses for the recreation of wealthy citizens and elites.

After the excavations carried out in the old gardens. The importance of this area within the city was attested. Sewerage pipes dating back to the 12th century have been found, giving a vision of a leisure and rest area outside the bustling area of the medina. Under the current palace there was another one from that time. Of similar dimensions and importance, since it can be seen that the buildings of the site are articulated around the palace of San Esteban.

The crisis of the fourteenth century

During the fourteenth century there was a deep crisis that affected the city, due to plague epidemics and the context of insecurity that existed throughout the kingdom of Murcia, affected as it was by a triple border (with the crown of Aragon, with a Mediterranean crowded with corsairs and above all with Granada's Muslims).

It was at this time that the population of the city was reduced considerably, the suburbs were abandoned and the population concentrated in the medina. It was then that the palace site was abandoned and in ruins.
The history of the building begins in 1555, when one of the first Jesuit schools in Spain was founded in Murcia thanks to the financial aid and personal initiative of Don Esteban de Almeyda, bishop of the Diocese of Cartagena between 1546 and 1563. It is in its honor that the School received the name of San Esteban.
The site that was abandoned in the previous century was used. Probably the Islamic palace on which the building is based had already been totally in ruins. Since other palaces of the suburb, such as that of King Lobo (Ibn Mardanis) was converted into the Convent of Claras.

The Company of Jesus was installed in the new building, the works on the main body of the monastic complex were completed in 1557, while the church was completed in 1569.

After the expulsion of the Society of Jesus from Spain in 1767, the dependencies of the Convento-Colegio de San Esteban served as quarters for a company of Dragons of the Queen. Later, in 1777, the Casa de Misericordia was established in the building, and later the Provincial Madhouse.

In 1972, the demolition of the College building was considered given its dire state of ruin. In 1984 it was decided to turn it into the headquarters of the Presidency of the Region of Murcia and of the Autonomous Government Council. Since then it has been known as the Palace of San Esteban, the church being enabled as a temporary exhibition hall (the well-known Sala de San Esteban), and the old gardens of the Company became the current public garden of San Esteban.

Architectural Analysis

Low level

In the Ensemble of San Esteban several architectural elements can be distinguished. It is three blocks. Two of them square-plan buildings with a central courtyard, a cloister, and a church with a single nave. The patio blocks are the initial project of the palace.
Located to the south of it finds the first clausto, and the oldest. It was already finished in 1557, the only Renaissance courtyard preserved in the city of Murcia, whose style has local and Andalusian influences, it is developed with slender marble columns intersecting the capitals with semicircular arches, denoting a certain archaism considering that we are taking the Italian Renaissance. In the upper body we find carpal arches in the Granada or Jaen style.

The second courtyard, although conceived at the time of the first, was built later and responds to an almost baroque topology. This cloister is not porticoed, like the first, but is much more austere facades. So it follows that his role was service. It is the element that has undergone the most reforms given its spaciousness, always attending to the different uses that the property has had throughout its history.

Church Section

Church

The Church, used as a temporary exhibition hall, houses the Seminario de la Anunciatta, where Francisco Salzillo studied, of which currently only the doorway and part of the cloister in the well-known house of the Nine Floors, and the orchard where It would create a public garden conserving a fountain as the only historical reference.
The design of the trace is attributed to Jerónimo Quijano, author of the second body of the Cathedral tower and the Chapel of the Junterones, while the executor of the works seems to have been Juan Rodríguez, Quijano's successor.

The church was completed in 1569, it has a single nave with chapels between the buttresses, a square head and a choir at the foot, this type of plant will influence notably the churches built later in the region.
The cover of the temple is a triumphal arch, flanked by two pairs of columns on the same pedestal, crowning the arch we can see the sculpture of San Esteban and next to it those of San Ignacio de Loyola and San Francisco de Borja.
The special situation of the palace and its church, makes it a Renaissance complex with strong local influences both at a constructive and spatial level. Which refers us to the Islamic palatial architecture. In addition, its decorative austerity on the façade fits in with the purist style, coming close to the Herrerian style.

Structural analysis


Structurally we find two typologies, that of the palace, wooden slabs supported between the load-bearing walls of facades and patios. And the typology corresponding to the church, vaulted ribbed structure.
The structures of the palace work mainly under compression, this is something essential in masonry and vaulted structures, since at that time they only had wood to be able to build structures that supported traction. For this reason, only the wooden slabs and roof trusses are tensile structures, while the walls, pillars and vaults are compressed structures.

The palace walls are one meter thick. It is necessary as an oversize to avoid the collapse of the structure given the low quality of the materials.
Boxed masonry walls allow, on the one hand, to reduce costs, since totally brick or stone walls were excessively expensive. And on the other, to resist the seismic efforts that would crack an ordinary masonry structure, given its lack of cohesion by stitching ordinary masonry cloths with rows of brick. Giving the structure the flexibility of the brick. What has made the structure survive to this day. This system was first put on the walls of Constantinople to prevent earthquakes from knocking them down.
Given the characteristics of the area, there are no bays of more than ten meters that are covered with flat slabs by means of interlocking, because there are no such tall trees. That is why the palace structures add another bay if necessary to ensure the space of the loading beams.

Section with distributed loads

Distribution of loads in the structure

Distribution of loads in the sectioned structure in the middle of the nave and the cloister. The shortage of tensile stresses in the church structure can be contrasted. And the characteristic foundation for ditches and wells, which allows taking advantage of pre-existing constructions as foundations.
The case of the church does not allow the space to be covered by wooden beams. Furthermore, the character of the building and its post-palace construction allowed for more resources during its construction. Which translates into higher construction quality in the walls, which are made of regular stone masonry with a mortar core. And a vaulted covering that allows supporting a truss on it to cover the nave by means of a pitched roof.
The rib vaults allow an intermediate support point on the truss, thus avoiding the problem of its width.

Church structure

Therefore the structure of the church is a structure that works entirely in compression (discarding the roof truss). While the palace is a structure that works under compression and traction. Since wooden floors and roof trusses work in traction. While the facades, load-bearing walls and cloister work in compression.

Roof truss section

In the upper image we can see a sketch of a section of the roof of the upper cloister. The distribution of the loads in the structure is shown in blue. Which transmit the loads of the row and the torques, which support the roof to the uprights and knives that transmit all that effort to the braces, which are the piece that supports the most traction of all. These longitudinally transfer the effort towards the load-bearing walls and facades. Supporting reinforced areas of it with brick masonry.

In the case of the slabs the case is similar. The entire weight of the interior of the plants and the floor is transferred to the load beams. Which support tractions that longitudinally transfer the effort towards the load-bearing walls and facade. Embedding themselves in these by means of mechinals in said walls. Said mechinals are reinforced by brick masonry. To avoid that the weight of the beam crumbles the lime and ends up yielding the slab.
The entire weight of the roof rests on the braces, which are the ones that carry this weight to the walls. To prevent it from yielding, brace yourself with the pairs, braces and knives. Which prevent the truss from deforming.
The tops of the facades and load-bearing walls are reinforced with brick so that they do not give way.

Constructive Analysis


First we will talk about the palace itself. The load-bearing walls that support the roofs and the floors are made of boxed masonry. Reinforced by brick factory in the corners and in the gaps. Given the time, a certain analogy can be observed between the current palace and the excavated ruins of the 12th century. This is explained since they used the construction techniques of the area inherited from the Islamic period. These techniques allowed a quick and economic construction, since the ordinary masonry, using "lime and stone" required less work than the stone or brick factory. Concerted masonry, both stone and brick, is also used, although it was used to reinforce ordinary masonry in the corners, in holes and to carry out the so-called "boxed masonry". That it is not another thing that rows of brick factory framing the masonry. This prevents the structure from being too stiff and cracking.

First we will talk about the palace itself. The load-bearing walls that Case was the building of the church, which when built later and as an annex to the palace, used entirely the concerted stone masonry on its walls, these being three layers. Being the outer layers of stone factory (arranged masonry) and the core of mortar fillings. The church is covered by ribbed vaults.

Pre-existing structure


The palace is founded on a pre-existing structure. Given the plan configuration of the archaeological excavation of the garden. All the streets flow towards the current palace. So it follows that the building that underpins the current palace was a palace from the Islamic period.
Es obvio que se reutilizaron materiales de las estructuras preexistentes. Los restos sirvieron para fabricar las mamposterías ordinarias. Uniéndolos con cal, a esto se le denomina cal y canto.

In addition, the remaining foundations were used to directly support the starts of the structure. These are made of ashlar masonry to avoid their degradation by capillary water. It should be borne in mind that in the past the city was flooded when there was a higher river flood than usual.
In the lower image you can see the meeting of the palace floors with the facade wall. The wooden beams rest on brick-reinforced mechinals. On these beams are arranged mortar floors reinforced with canes, on which the pavement is placed.

Differentiated structures

The case of the church is different from the palace. Its later construction, with greater resources, allowed a higher quality in the materials and construction systems. Furthermore, its structure is much heavier than that of the palace and requires buttresses to prevent the vaults from opening. That is why they surely created a new foundation for a trench, instead of simply supporting the building on previous foundations. The church walls also use recycled materials from pre-existing remains. Although in this case they are relegated to fill, in the nuclei of the walls. While the exterior faces use concerted masonry, using high quality limestone masonry.

Cimentación iglesia

Material Analysis


The main building material for the palace is the remains of pre-existing buildings inserted irregularly and agglomerated with lime mortar. This is called ordinary masonry. As we saw before, this masonry is reinforced with rows of brick on the walls. And chairs in the corners. After plastering the walls with lime and sand mortar. The starts of the walls due to humidity problems, and to avoid humidity due to capillary action, are of higher quality, made of regular stone masonry. Using chairs. Thus, the walls are also tied at the base, avoiding cracks.
Stone is also used to reinforce lintels and door and window jambs.

While the brick, due to its elastic properties, is used as a stitching element on the façade, in finishes and mechinales.
In the church we find higher quality materials, highlighting the ashlar work, which although made of the same stone as in the palace, is carved with greater quality and regularity. Although we find that the buttresses are a later addition, since it uses a more irregular masonry, with brick finishes. This tells us that when the church was finished, the vaults began to open and the buttresses were placed. They support the lateral naves that already acted as buttresses on the ground floor and first floor. Supporting the new buttresses in the previous ones, which were hidden with the side chapels.

Materiality


Besides we find some anecdotal parts made of marble. Like the porticoed cloister, the central staircase or the columns of the two-lobed windows of the church. Made of white marble to focus attention on those points.
Except for the cloister, the other marble columns are recycled from other previous buildings. Something visible in the small differences between columns.
It should be noted that the interior of the palace is plastered with plaster, to coat the facing and give it a smooth and uniform appearance. The flooring is white and cream marble in the palace rooms.
In short, the palace is made of poor materials covered with higher quality materials. Inheritance of Islamic construction techniques and the needs of building a palace on a limited budget.

References


* Report: ARABIC MONUMENTAL ARCHEOLOGY (Caliphal, Almorávide and Almohade) buried under the current garden of San Esteban, which I consider to be a ZONE OF HIGH ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONCENTRATION; Javier García del Toro
*Patrimonio http://www.regmurcia.com/
* Murcia Regional Government Headquarters: http://cpresidencia.carm.es/