The Calle Mayor, which leads away from the Town Hall Square and the sea, is where many of those who made their fortunes as a result of mining in the Cartagena area during the second half of the 19th Century built their new houses.
Several of these are particularly striking and are described in many of the local guidebooks. A relatively short walk up the main street and those which go on from it to the Plaza de España, will pass several of these and it is well worthwhile having a look at their ornate designs so typical of that period.
Casa Cervantes at 13 Calle Mayor is visible from the square outside the Town Hall. It is an ornately decorated white marble building a little way up the road on the left hand side. Its façade, covering four floors, is highly ornate. Today, the bottom floor houses a bank. The next two floors have seven sets of double windows opening onto iron-railed balconies and at each end there are balconies which have been covered in by a window. The house name unsurprisingly comes from that of the first owner, one Cervantes Serafin Contreras, who made his fortune from mining. He commissioned the Barcelonan architect Victor Beltri with the building which was built between 1897 and 1900. The bronze reliefs on the front door are said to represent Mercury and Minerva, as representatives of trade and industry.
Separated from the Casa Cervantes by a bar, is 15 Calle Mayor, the Casino, the origins of which lie in the late 18th Century Palacio del Marques de Casatilly and was once the residence of the Captain General of the Royal Spanish Navy. Considerable work was done on the exterior in the last decade of the 19th Century and the present baroque fronted appearance is again the work of Victor Beltri as indicated by the bronze plaque on the pavement outside which refers to the Palacio Casatilly with the date 1897. The ground floor boasts an ornate main entrance to the building with large windows to either side. On the first floor, window-doors open on to iron railed balconies either side of the double height main entrance. The upper half of the building exterior is painted, with a semi-circular stone balustrade balcony above the entrance and two larger iron railed balconies in front of windows to either side. There is a smaller windowed floor above with metallic decoration between the windows, but no balconies. Unfortunately, as the notice by the Casino entrance makes clear, entry is restricted to members only. Inside, like most Casinos in Spanish cities, there are reading rooms, a library, meeting rooms and a ballroom. The staircase is said to be a notable feature together with a central square courtyard.
When you reach the Plaza San Sebastian walking up Calle Mayor, you will see to the right one of the most emblematic modernistic buildings in Cartagena; The Grand Hotel. The history of this building is interesting. It was designed in 1909 for Celestino Martinez, whose fortune had also come from the mining industry. Both the owner and architect died before the building was completed and the project was finished by Victor Beltri in 1916. However, while it had originally been conceived as a residence, it was decided by the original owner’s heirs, that the building should be turned into a hotel. The lower floors are said to be more classical in their design than the more modernistic upper floors, reflecting the two architects who worked on the project. The ‘hotel’ (today the Bank of Murcia is the most obvious occupant) has a total of seven floors with a zinc cupola crowning the main, rounded corner elevation. Iron railings, or stone balustrades, enclose the terraces outside the windows for the whole height of the building.
Just a short distance up the road which continues on from the Calle Mayor, 1 Puertas de Murcia is known as the Casa Pedreño. Today, the building houses a bank, Caja Murcia, and stands at the head of a small square. It extends over four floors with the two upper stories having balustraded balconies in front of long windows. There are carved figures/heads in the stonework on and beneath the terraces. This building was designed by the architect Carlos Mancha for a foundry owner, Andres Pedreño. According to one of the local guidebooks, this house was significant in marking the beginning of Cartagena’s expansion to the north after the so-called Cantonal Wars which began in mid-1873 when Cartagena rebelled against the First Spanish Republic Government. The house stands where gates in the city wall existed until the mid-18th Century. It is said that an impressive spiral staircase and ballroom have been preserved in the interior of the building.
As you continue to walk up Puertas de Murcia and into Calle Carmen, you will see many other ornate and highly decorated buildings on both sides, many with windows protruding over the street below. These include the Casa Dorda, no’s 55-57. This is a white painted and extensive building at the end of the street, with large ground floor picture windows and three further floors with the usual balustrade or iron railed balconies, where they have not been converted into enclosed areas. It was built for the Dorda brothers and involved the reconstruction of an earlier building. The building is in an area which was reclaimed from the sea in Roman times. A sign outside the building tells you that it was designed in 1908 by Victor Beltri and has inside, an important patio in a neo-Arab style. However, to see this feature you may have to wait and count on the generosity of a resident of the building’s apartments who is arriving or leaving the locked main entrance. If you can get inside, the highly decorated patio with a small water feature to one side is well worth a quick glance.
At the end of Calle Carmen, you arrive at the Plaza de España and cannot fail to notice the impressive building across it. This is the Casa Zapata, a strange looking stone built building; now a school. The building is surrounded by scalloped stone walls with ironwork filling the semi-circular depressions. Note the small cupola with its spike at the front of the building which, from the side, looks a little like a church. In fact, the building was again designed by Victor Beltri, in 1909, for a lawyer, Miguel Zapata, who intended it as a wedding present for his wife. The construction utilised blocks of stone from the city wall built under the orders of Charles III.
Part taken from ‘Exploring Murcia – Cartagena’ by Clive and Rosie Palmer who have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. Their book, ‘Exploring Murcia, Days Out’ is available to buy from the CHM/Costa Cálida Chronicle office on Camposol B, Best Wishes (who also stock other of their books), or phone Patti on 968 433 978. All their books can be viewed at and obtained from www.lulu.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.