Monday, May 5, 2008

Architecture of Cartagena

Cartagena has a wonderful mixture of architecture - Punic and Roman remains, old military installations and Modernist buildings. Restoration projects are imaginative. Those invoved are remarkably good at preserving old facades and blending them in with newer buildings. I shall be including a huge array of photographs in this site. I intend to start with the moderner buildings and work back. It will take some time. Fresh photos will be added from time to time.


Calle Mayor is a good place to start looking at the architecture. The old town hall is an impressive building. It is the work of Tomás Rico. If you take the tour there are some unusual details inside - iron pillars that look like stone, etc. The cupola is covered in zinc which is also the case with some other palacial buildings of the period, e.g. the house of Tio Lobo in Portmán.

The Palacio de Riquelme also by Tomás Rico, has been restored and extended with a modern building. It is now the Roman Theatre Museum. Behind this house you can see the outline of the old cathedral ruin on the edge of the Roman Theatre.

Some of the most exciting modern buildings were the work of architect, Victor Beltri (1862 - 1935). In spite of being born in Tortosa, Tarragona and being educated in Catalunya he did most of his best work in Cartagena and nearby. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth the city was extremely prosperous thanks to a boom in mining. Some of the millionaire families involved in the industry comissioned palaces from him. These splendid buildings are now almost all owned by different banks.

There are several buildings attributed to Beltri in Calle Mayor. It´s impossible to show these well in photographs though as the street is not wide enough to allow the photographer to get the whole building at once. When you walk down Calle Mayor look upwards as many of the better architectural details are above shop level. Many houses have been altered for the worse by adding shopfronts also.

Below is Casa Cervantes which is now owned by the CAM bank

Here is the Old Casino close by:

Here is a detail of its lower storey:

And here´s a detail from Casa Llagostera built in 1913 by Beltri. It´s currently covered in scaffolding and netting so not too much can be seen of its decorative tile pictures of clasical gods..

Further up Calle Mayor at the corner of Calle Jara there´s the huge Gran Hotel. This is now no longer a hotel but is a commercial centre that includes Banco La Caixa and others.

Here is a detail of it at street level:

At the end of Calle Mayor where the road divides into two there´s another pretty Beltri building. This dates from 1906. Unfortunately the lower storey is now divided into a restaurant called La Tartana and a branch of the Phone House. You can see from the upper parts how pretty this house must have been when intact.

Close by there´s the Palacio Pedreño. It is by the architect Carlos Mancha. It was built for an industrialist but is now owned by Caja Murcia. I went to a concert by Cecilia Berganza there last year. Many rooms in the palace are used for exhibitions or concerts. There are beautiful ceilings in some of these.

Away from Calle Mayor in Plaza San Francisco there are two more Beltri buildings.
It´s impossible to see let alone photograph much of this beautiful building thanks to the huge banyan trees in the square. Casa Maestre was built for one of the great mining families in 1905. Here´s a picture from an old site of how it looked before the huge trees filled up the square.

At Christmas these trees are used to huge effect as the Belen is constructed round their roots.

Plaza San Francisco used to be a market square. On the corner of it there is the Palacio de Aguirre. This Beltri building was going to become a gallery of modern art but it has now been decided to build a new one by the old amphitheatre.

Here is a detail from the upper parts of the building:

Plaza San Francisco also contains two Art Nouveau kiosks. These kiosks and ornate street lamps are a feature of the older parts of the city.

A short walk away there´s the impressive Enfe station designed by the engineer Rafael Peyroncely in 1907.

Near Teatro Circo there´s another Beltri building - Casa del Niño. It is a large building on a corner. It is still partly used and is being restored. It´s currently used for a variety of evening classes and training the town´s musical bands.

Opposite Casa del Niño there´s an old school now used as the Naval Museum. This was not designed by Beltri.

On the outskirts of the suburb known as Dolores there´s an interesting house in the remians of a botanic garden. Don´t know if it´s by Beltri or not. There is also a much more ruinous one known as Villa Calamari or Palacete Versalles. I shall try and photograph it eventually but it´s hard to get close given the huge overgrown garden outside.

Beltri´s style became simpler throughout the years. One of his later works was the Club de Regatas on the seafront.

On Alfonso XIII there´s a large corner house now used as offices which was built as the Hotel de la Compañía del Ensanche by Tomás Rico, the architect of the town hall.

Recenter modern buildings:

The Fishmarket of Santa Lucia - apart from its everyday role it is used once a year for the opening concert of the Flamenco season.

The bus Station

Iberdrola near Corte Ingles

The Underwater Archeology College

Eighteenth Century

Amongst the civic, naval and military buildings there are a few gracious examples left from the eighteenth century like this one which is part of the Capitania General

The Parque de Artilleria which is now a Military Museum which occasionally hosts concerts

The Arsenal - closed to the general public except for occasional open days.

In Calle Jara there is the Palacio Molina. Once a private residence it is now used mainly for exhibitions.

Close to the old town hall there is the customs house.

And nearby a handsome group of old naval buildings known as the Marinería. These are currently being converted for use by the University

The university also owns other handsome buildings in the shape of the eighteenth century Naval Hospital. The old hospital is large enough to have housed thousands of sick patients. I have read that there were various plagues in the city in the eighteenth century - a sickly period. It´s a huge light airy building.


Cartagena also has an impressive array of batteries and other fortifications on the nearby hills.These could be anything from seventeenth century to twentieth. Most of these are no longer used. Indeed last year several were handed over to the equivalent of the Ministry of the Environment. Eventually these should be open to the public. The only fully-restored one dates back in part to the seventeenth century - the Fuerte de Navidad. It can be visited by taking the tourist boat or by driving round past the Navantia shipyard.

The fortifications of San Isidoro y Santa Florentina are not restored yet. They have been mentioned as a possible location for the future Oceanographical Institute.