Alamo curators were standing in the sacristy, or vestry, of the famed mission-turned-fortress, trying to decide where to put new exhibit cases, when a splotch of color seemed to jump off the beige wall.
Like archaeologists stumbling upon a fossil, the curators couldn't wait to dig for more. They summoned specialists to peel away layers of whitewash on the limestone walls. Soon, red flowers and pomegranates appeared atop one arched wall. A band of burnt orange shapes - diamonds, tear drops, an "E" on its back - surfaced.
Now, after seven weeks of work to expose the markings and stabilize the walls to prevent crumbling, the room is open to the public, providing yet another glimpse into the past for the 2.5 million people who visit the Alamo each year.
"This wasn't just the scene of a battle - it has a much larger role," says Alamo director Brad Breuer, who was among the group that made the discovery. The frescoes, likely painted in the mid-1700s, contribute not only to the immense historical value of the Alamo but to its mystique.
Construction began in 1724 on the Alamo, originally called Mission San Antonio de Valero, the site of the famous 1836 battle lost by a small band of Texans to overpowering Mexican forces.
"We knew that each of the mission churches had decorations both on the outside and the inside," says Rosalind Rock, a historian for the National Park Service. "What's exciting about the Alamo is it is showing something that we did not know: that the room was richly decorated, that the room was spectacular."
Researchers say the friars who established the Alamo must have trained Indians to paint the decorations or had Mexican craftsmen train them.
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