Built in the late 14th century, and located on Zafra Street in the Albaycin quarters of Granada, the Zafra House is a typical example of a small Nasrid palace. The Nasrids were the Muslim rulers of Granada starting with Muhammad I in 1231. This Sultanate survived to be the last of the Islamic states of Spain, to fall eventually in 1492 after years of glory. The house is situated in the Albaycin (Ribad al-Bayyazin) area of Granada adjacent to the Alhambra. The area's Islamic past is recognisable in its warren of narrow whitewashed streets. Numerous houses and lanes are still little changed and in the vicinity of the Zafra house can be found other interesting medieval buildings such as the Bath of Nogal (Hamman al-Yauza) and the Nasrid House in the Lavadero de Santa Ines Street.
Not much is known about the history of the house pertaining to its Islamic epoch except for its period of construction and that it was used as the main living quarters of an important family. It later became the property of Don Hernando de Zafra, secretary to the Catholic Kings and of his wife who drew up a will in 1507 expressing their wish that a convent for nuns should be founded. In 1527, Don Fernando Zafra, son of Don Hernando, officially handed over the house to the convent. The original form of the house was kept unaltered throughout the years except for minor changes such as the closing of the original entrance and opening of a new one giving access to the adjacent monastic complex. In 1931 the entire convent was declared a historical and artistic monument by the government.
By 1946, the general state of the house had deteriorated and the Municipality of Granada decided to purchase the house in order to save it from ruin and destruction. Following the acquisition of the house the Municipality undertook a series of consolidation and restoration works in 1963, 1966 and 1982. .All these interventions had aimed, to consolidate the structure and to restore it to the original form of the building. Unfortunately, not all the efforts were conducive to the best of results and in certain cases further interventions were needed to correct the errors made.
The plan of the house develops around a rectangular patio on a surface of 383 square meters. There are two porticos at the narrow sides of the patio, each one with two marble columns and cubical capitals bearing three arches decorated with the traditional lime work of the epoch. Above the arches there are two galleries. The first one has decorative elements of great interest of which portions have been removed and exhibited at the museum in the Alhambra. The second gallery has a spectacular view towards the Alhambra. In the middle of the patio, at ground level, there is a rectangular pool with two marble urns, one of which has been removed and displayed also at the Alhambra museum. On some of the ceilings of the galleries and in the internal chambers, portions of Nasrid paintings and inscriptions are still preserved. On the rear facade of the building overlooking the Porteria de la Concepcion de Zafra Street there are examples of ornamental stucco work of considerable historic and artistic interest.
The state of conservation of the building in 1987 was in general structurally satisfactory, mainly due to the works of consolidation undertaken after 1963. However. there were signs of deterioration that could have had serious consequences if preventive action was not to be taken. Furthermore, it was not possible to envisage any use for the building because of the state in which it was, and in particular due to the problems caused by humidity, lack of proper carpentry, and absence of mechanical and electrical equipment. The house had suffered from the previous restoration works, some of which were far from beneficial to the building. Some alterations made in earlier epoches beginning from the Islamic period were difficult to understand and made it hard to trace the original layout of the house. In addition to these problems of archaeological nature, there were problems concerning the structural and physical deterioration of the building.
Structurally, there were symptoms of danger only on the North portico of the patio in which both columns were not truly vertical and one of them had sunk nearly 20 cm. An intervention to free these columns of the weight they were supporting became necessary. Together with the structural interventions, two more important items needed attention: the roofs and the problems caused by humidity infiltrating the walls from the ground. (This problem was worsened as a consequence of previous restoration work during which the wrong approach of covering the walls with cement was carried out).
The latest restoration undertaken by the Municipality of Granada with the participation of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture was executed with the use of the most advanced technological methods available. The objective of this intervention was not confined to the restoration of the house but also included the conversion of the building in order to meet the requirements of the new use assigned to it. The programme of the Centre for Historical Studies of Granada and its Kingdom needed a space for a library with reading rooms, a secretariat with offices and a meeting room accommodated on the first floor, leaving the ground floor free for public functions such as exhibitions and conferences. The current restoration completed in early 1991, after some two years of work, was careful not to alter the fabric of the building or change its character whilst allowing for the inclusion of modern services and facilities. Zafra house has been restored not only as an important historic landmark but as a living and functioning institution.
Antonio Almagro Gorbea was in charge of the restoration work on the Zafra House on behalf of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.
Source: Aga Khan Trust for Culture