Infantry Barracks

Infantry Barracks

Díli, Díli, Timor

Military Architecture

Located on Dili’s Avenida Marginal, the Infantry Barracks is the Timorese capital’s oldest building. Erected on the ruins of a late 18th century fortress, its construction began in 1871, five years after the previous barracks was destroyed by the fire that devastated a large part of the city. It was built on the initiative of the governor José Correia Marques (1834-1839), but the work was only finished at the end of the century. Described by visitors as one of the few buildings of note in the city, the barracks ceased to be used as a military infrastructure in the 1930s due to its reduced size and it became the premises of the Dili District Administration and the police services, including those of the indigenous sepoy [cipaio] contingent. It was used again for military purposes during the Second World War when the Japanese set up their general headquar- ters there, a circumstance that saved it from the des- truction that the rest of the city suffered. Due to its antiquity and historical significance, the barracks was chosen to house a museum in the 1970s, but the project was postponed because of political contingencies until 1999, the year in which the Timorese expressed their wish for independence through a referendum. Destroyed in September of that year by pro- Indonesian integrationist forces, the building was recovered on the joint initiative of UNESCO, the United Nations Provisional Administration (UNTAET), the World Bank and the Portuguese government. The Uma Fukun Cultural Centre was installed there and endowed with a library, video and didactic libraries and an auditorium. The building has an extremely interesting spatial structure and is maybe unique in devices of a military nature. It is not closed on four sides, as the north side facing the sea is open, providing a subtle balance between the single-storey buildings and the open parade ground and the sea side with a strong, dynamic presence. The open side facing the sea with the island of Atauro in the background, thus cancelling out any solid, confined character of a military fortification, was only made possible because of a coral reef that gave the area natural protection, without any effort on the part of man, by making it impossible for enemy forces to land in the past as ships required water much deeper water than the existing conditions. The architectonic structure of the complex is defined by three bodies forming a U, with the eastern and western wings being perpendicular to the sea and the base of the U parallel to the shore, thus affirming its urban situation and classic composition by being parallel to the thoroughfare. It occupies the equivalent of the Rua Direita in other strongholds built by the Portuguese on the coast in other places. It is a single-storey building with a high ceiling. The two lateral wings have gable roofs that cover their whole length and have upright projections overlooking the street and the parade ground. They have cornices and mouldings, nineteenth-century style casement windows opening on to the parade ground and sash windows facing the street in order to guarantee more intimacy and protection. The upper facings are pentagonal, with a triangular pediment and parallelepiped pinnacles on the cornerstones, topped by small pine cones in the form of a conical trunk. In the central section, also with a gable roof that emphasises the representative nature of the side facing the city, the volumes of the tops of the side bodies also stand out. The bays are also very large so as to make them more in proportion with the full-length windows. An overhang is borne on four columns signalling the main entrance and the symmetrical axis of the compo- sition, while a small curved pediment was placed on the architrave of the central column. We can see in this building a balanced composition characteristic of 18th century Portuguese architecture.

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