A square from the past
David Gaggero (Promoint)
DE MAIO FRANCESCO
Malabo, capital of Equatorial Guinea, is situated on the Island of Bioko, in the Gulf of Guinea, not far from the coast of Nigeria.
Named Malabo only in 1973, the city was originally founded in 1827 and given the name of Port Clarence by the British, who had rented the island from Spain.
On regaining possession of the island in 1843, the Spanish changed the city’s name from Port Clarence to Santa Isabel. They were to remain in power until Guinea gained independence in 1966.
Traces of the long period of Spanish dominion remain today above all in various architectures and urban areas in the capital.
The most significant example is that of Independence Square, the most important square in Malabo, a space that was created in the early twentieth century and recently underwent redevelopment work.
The redevelopment project involved alternating green areas, created with typical local vegetation, and paved areas which display an interesting play of colours based on the combination of terracotta and Apricena stone. A new fountain made of Carrara marble was placed at the centre of the square, while a series of benches and pergolas which had severely deteriorated over the years were renovated and rebuilt around the edge.
To carry out their project of recreating the original benches and tiled columns as the key elements of this urban space, the designers had to find a company that would be capable of producing handmade tiles identical in appearance to the original Spanish tiles brought to Malabo in colonial times.
The company chosen was Ceramica di Vietri Francesco De Maio, a company specialising in the production of «riggiole» (a Neapolitan dialect term for «tiles») with a totally artisan production process and artistically handmade decorations. Only by doing this was it possible to reproduce precisely the designs of the original tiles.
The artistic panels specially produced for the ten benches in the square were obtained using size 13×13 cm double-fired tiles. The top sections of the benches consist of panels of 36 tiles featuring the original designs of the old tiles with traditional local decorations. Each panel is unique and consists of a blue fruit strip, a large central design and two smaller lateral designs. The lower section of each bench was produced using 21 tiles with 14 different central decorations, also produced to original designs and featuring pears, small green grapes, pomegranates, blueberries, mandarins, apricots, plums, white grapes, black grapes, bananas, pineapples and three different kinds of birds.
The 32 columns in the square were also covered with double-fired tiles of size 20×20 cm and 5×20 cm listelli. The tiles were based on the original designs with twenty different central decorations (those mentioned above plus antelope, turtle, fish, ox, elephant and white flower), while the listelli exhibit a wave-shaped decoration, reproduced from the original design.