Trujillo lies about 170 miles west of Madrid in a rugged and barren area of Spain known as Extremadura. Despite its isolation, Trujillo and its surroundings became important during the age of Spanish New World exploration. The conquistadors Francisco Pizarro, Hernan Cortez, and Vasco Núñez de Balboa all came from here, and they brought wealth and political cachet to the region. In this dynamic atmosphere, a noble family, the Loaisas, constructed the Convento de la Coria in the 15th century. Over the next three centuries, the Loaisas collaborated with other aristocratic families of Trujillo to commission enlargements to the convent. The convent initially housed an order of local Franciscan nuns, but during times of war, the wives and daughters of Trujillo’s soldiers sought refuge here, thus giving birth to the site’s alternative name, the Convent of the Noble Ladies. In addition to its importance locally in the small town of Trujillo, the convent had strong associations with Spanish involvement in the Americas: Francisco Pizarro, an illegitimate son of an officer, was born in the Coria.
How We Helped
By the time conservation strategies were being devised, most of the roof and ceiling of the Convento de la Coria had disappeared. The upper portions of many of the walls had toppled and the inner rooms were strewn with rubble from collapsed archways, doorframes, and window recesses. Despite this exposure, a considerable amount of the buttressing and elements of a sophisticated ribbed vaulting system had survived. Because of Trujillo’s isolation, fragments of the stone borders from archways and windows in the chapel and carved capitals from the columns in the cloisters remained in situ where they fell. WMF (then known as the International Fund for Monuments) began conservation work at the Convento de la Coria in June 1981. In the first phase, the conservators re-roofed the entire building. Using original roofing materials allowed the newly restored Coria to blend in with the enduring medieval character of the city. A second area of conservation focused on the ironwork on the first and second floors of both wings of the convent. The third phase of the project was rebuilding the convent’s three staircases for improved accessibility. Finally, the project placed emphasis on cleaning up the remaining architectural elements of the church in areas where reconsolidation did not seem plausible.
Why It Matters
The Convento de la Coria, once an epicenter of community life and symbol of Spanish New World exploration, was largely destroyed when Trujillo was ransacked by French troops retreating after the Peninsular War (1808–1814). However, because of Trujillo’s isolation, large amounts of the collapsed material remained clustered together in their original locations. This provided a rare opportunity for conservators to reassemble the pieces with great precision and without the need for excessive modern additions. Thus, conservation work on the Coria could achieve great architectural and historical accuracy. WMF saw the opportunity to reassemble this monument before its fragments were permanently lost. In addition to the conservation, WMF’s partner, the Xavier de Salas Foundation, opened two exhibitions in the convent in 1987. One was a permanent exhibition on the Trujillo-born conquistador Francisco Pizarro; the other was a temporary exhibition on the cultures of Amazonia. For the first time since its destruction in the early 19th century, the building also took on a modern relevance for the local community and international students, as it now serves as a regional cultural center for meetings, research, and public events.