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A hidden warehouse in a neighbourhood of Donostia hoards thousands of jewels that have no place in the Aquarium.
The attics lead to ostracism pieces of incalculable historical value, which are forgotten in a slow and dark sentence. Remembering them gives them hope to be exposed and come back to life. The Aquarium of Donostia keeps a catalogue of more than 22,000 submerged pieces in a reserve fund. Under the appearance of a warehouse, mysterious galleries full of maritime treasures are opened, which, in many cases, have never been illuminated by the foci of the museum. Two guardians guard the keys of an oceanographic bunker. Alex Larrodé, coordinator of the museum area and his assistant Iñaki Chivite, they become the guides of the caves of the other Aquarium, in secret coordinates of the subsoil of San Sebastian.
A metal gate leads to the first cubicle that houses large volumes. Skeletons of cetaceans which highlights a beluga acquired in Denmark in 1890, the model of the ship ‘San Juan Nepomuceno ‘ that participated in the battle of Trafalgar under the command of Admiral Churruca, a wooden batel or openwork sculptures. A tailor’s box in which centuries and motives intermingle. The imaginary storage room that Herman Melville would describe for Captain Ahab, the persecutor of ‘Moby-Dick’. Alex works surrounded by so many historical pieces that “sometimes my memory restarts, I remember some object and I say ‘Hey, but we do have this.’ Elements that can be used for some exhibition. Knowing the value of what is saved, he cites the space as “the biggest problem in museums”. The antidote for this evil has propitiated “these warehouses, the reserve rooms. In these places there are works that are as good or even better than those that are exposed, “says Alex.
Escape from the ‘horror vacui’
The Latin expression that explains the ‘ fear of emptiness’ in works of art” was the common denominator of the old museography. When the Aquarium was inaugurated in 1928, the walls were full of objects. A saturation that reduced conceptual clarity. Nowadays, some pieces are used even if you have 200. Before it was overloaded, there was not a free place. Today we use an element to talk about a concept. The selections create more minimalist and functional museums, while the baroque moves to the more and more crowded warehouses.
The skeleton of a five-meter Beluga was saved in Denmark in 1890
“In total, we handled a catalogue of 22,247 pieces, ” says Larrodé. “Of these, 10,000 are shells, a global collection, donated by Ernesto Arrondo. We only have about 500 exposed. We could not teach them all ». The volume causes that the elections “do not always start from merely scientific criteria. In this case, the aesthetic plays a fundamental role. It is not the same to expose some shells than a whale, “says Alex. Faced with a growing number of objects and a lack of latent space, museums have sought other formulas to disseminate their heritage and favour future synergies, such as the online catalogues. In our case, the conditions are having good quality photos of the pieces, as well as a description in four languages. At the moment we have something more than 400 items listed.
Manuscripts and saín
There is a deep corridor. “In total, we have 1,000 square meters of surface. There are eleven themed rooms where we can control the temperature and humidity according to the needs. Stable conditions throughout the year that allow boats, skeletons or models “are not covered by dust or damaged by moisture.”
The second door reveals a library with a manuscript by Jerónimo de Aizpurua from the 18th century that talks about the construction system of Gaztañeta, the archive fund of the Oceanographic Society of Gipuzkoa since 1908, the Maritime Rescue or that of the Mutiozabal shipyards of Orio, Larrodé details. “There are 550 plans of all the ships built there. Some more handmade than others, pencil or ink. Documents of interest for when the Oriotarra factory is remodelled. The care of the library requires “a periodic cataloging”. Before leaving, Iñaki reviews the humidifier.
Alex activates the workshop lock. “It is the place to restore, process copies, investigate, photograph or catalogue them. Knives are for those who misbehave, “he jokes. His partner turns around with a smile. Iñaki has been with us for a year from ‘Pauso Berriak’ and his work is invaluable in managing the collections in the warehouse. On the table there is a photo of Alberto de Mónaco in restoration as well as a container full of saín, whale oil processed according to the recipe of the 16th century. The colour is very intense. Here we were chopping pieces of the whale and cooking. The smell was intense. Hard days. A few meters away, an improvised photographic studio where to immortalize the treasures.
Monsters in formaldehyde
On the way to the next point, we can see a ‘navy’ anchor and a large stuffed turtle next to some whale ribs. It is the entrance to the chamber of horrors, which collects dozens of specimens in formalin jars. Small marine monsters like monkfish or octopi, which adopt phantasmagorical forms. ‘Octopus bulgaris’ reads one of the labels, next to the name of Cuvier and the year (1797) in which the scientist gave him such a nomenclature. In tanks, there are larger animals, such as mako shark or a sturgeon in orange juice. «This sturgeon is not cataloged because we do not know its origin. It can date from 1932 or come from a capture of arrantzales from Donostia in 1974. The formaldehyde with the passage of time has been coloured. It does not affect you, but you have to do maintenance. ” At the exit, cannons become familiar. “Yes, they were the ones at the entrance to the Aquarium,” confirms Alex.
The Hall of Fame
The labyrinth reaches another access. A row of blue metallic structures uncovers a row, presided over by imposing paintings by Oquendo, Gaztañeta or Blas de Lezo, stars of the Basque sailors. «Some are replicas of the Naval Museum of Madrid, Points Alex. “They were part of an exhibition in 1913. Some of our funds come from it.” “In the seven,” Iñaki warns. “Opens”. Powered by a wheel, as if it were the gate of a medieval castle, two metallic roars precede the rattle of chains that widen another corridor. This time, they are ship models. The Mamelena emerges, one of the legendary ships of Donostia of the Mercader family. There was even a Mamelena VII points Alex. “Is that the doll we have to take?” Iñaki asks. “Yes, we will take the ‘ninot’ from Elcano to restore,” confirms Alex.
Weapons and gear
A few meters away from a row of swords invite a duel at dawn. Here you can feel a corsair. Alex draws a saber. Some do not have almost an edge. They fought with punches and punches. Others like this, “teaches a rusted edge eaten by rust,” would kill us for an infection, “jokes Larrode. “They are donations from families of counts or dukes, some of them in very good condition,” says Alex.
Whales harpoons happen to the swords. Pure medieval crafts «This is double-pointed, the classic. Then there are these, forged with a spring. When they threw it they went through the skin of the animal, it jumped the ring and there was no way to remove it. It was the most efficient way to be tied to the whales from the txalupa.
Needles to sew nets, old ‘malutas’ to fish tuna … an unbeatable list. There are more rooms. We have even a stuffed seal. It arrived in the 50s, in a codfish that adopted it as a pet. Here he did not survive by not being in his habitat. There was no conscience then, laments Larrodé. Facing the constant faces of astonishment around him, Alex asks with a smile: “Have not you been through the Aquarium for a long time?”
Source: El Diario Vasco