This is one of Murcia’s best known “modern” buildings. It is located on the right hand side of Calle de La Trapería as you walk up it from the Cathedral. According to one authority, it was first established in 1847, though its building took place in phases as more of the surrounding property was acquired.
It, and buildings like it, are important indicators of social history in Murcia, in that they show the emergence of a growing middle class in the city, as the bad years of the early 19th Century were left behind.
The building is of what is known as ‘eclectic’ style. In other words, it has a variety of forms of decoration – Roman, baroque, modern etc. To some extent, it is a mixture of architectural styles from the second half of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries. It was declared to be a building of national historic and artistic significance in 1983.
When we first visited Murcia City, we merely looked into the entrance area of the Casino, noting its flamboyant appearance and promising ourselves that we would certainly look inside it at a future date. Unfortunately, we had to wait a long time! After a period of decay suffered by the Casino during the second half of the 20th Century, extensive restoration works had to be carried out and these lasted from 2006 to its grand reopening in November 2009. However, the wait was well worthwhile. The restoration covered structural work, foundations, floors, hangings and ceilings, as well as all decoration such as the historic furniture, lights and works of art. Indeed, following the refurbishment, the Casino has been granted the title of “Royal” by King Juan Carlos I and so is now known as the “Real Casino de Murcia”. Despite being a private club, the ground floor is open to visitors (there is a modest entrance charge) and it is widely used for cultural events.
The façade of the Casino was constructed quite late in 1902, and is the work of the noted Murcian architect Pedro Cerdán Martínez. On each side of the main entrance are large picture windows with the rooms behind popularly known as “peceras”, or “fish bowls”! The “peceras” have been restored to reflect their appearance in 1902.
Inside is a revelation! After a coloured glass door, you find yourself in the Arab Patio, the luxurious decoration of which is said to contain 35,000 pieces of gold leaf. It was inspired by the royal chambers of the Alhambra in Granada and of the Alcazar in Seville. There is an Arab inscription attesting to the greatness of God which is repeated all around the perimeter.
From the Arab Patio and running the length of the Casino, is the Central Gallery which is covered by a glass “boveda”. It is also known as the Long Patio (or “Patio Largo”) and, remarkably, is in origin an internal street which separated specific buildings later brought together to form the present floor plan of the Casino. Today, there are rooms on both sides of the Central Gallery at a slightly higher level.
As you walk down the Central Gallery, to the left is a quite remarkable room known as the “Biblioteca Inglesa”, or English Library. One look will confirm the library credentials, but why “English”? In fact, the library dates from 1913 and was completed by Waring and Gillow, the English company renown for its furniture manufacture. Particularly striking is the upper gallery of wood, with cast iron supporting brackets (or corbels) in the shape of migratory flamingos to represent the travelling spirit of the 19th Century. However, the room’s library credentias are undoubted and it is said to have over 20,000 volumes from the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries.
The Ballroom, however, is to our minds, the Casino’s ‘pièce de resistance’. It was constructed between 1870 and 1875 in a French neo-Baroque style. The ceiling paintings, where the four central figures represent music, painting, sculpture and architecture, are magnificent. Perhaps most remarkable of all, however, are the five chandeliers of gilded bronze and glass which illuminate the room. These were, in fact, made for the Imperial Palace of Maximilian I of Mexico in Trieste. However, when he came to an unfortunate end, being deposed and shot in 1867, the lights remained in Paris and were bought by the Casino. They were the first electric lights to illuminate a room in Murcia City. There is much else to marvel at in this room – the mirrors, the gilded mouldings and the original inlaid wooden flooring dating from 1877. Indeed, this is the only floor in the Casino which has not been replaced.
However, if the ballroom is the most magnificent place in the Casino, there is much else besides which is worth spending some time looking at. There are notable paintings in the Arms’ Room and a room known as the “Congresillo”. A ceiling painting in the Ladies’ Room has the figure of a lady falling from the sky in flames. Walk around the room and see how she seems to follow you! If you are feeling like indulging in some well-earned refreshment, the Casino has a restaurant which looks well worth trying, although we have yet to do so.
The Romea Theatre
The Romea Theatre is not far from the Casino, fronting on to the Plaza de Julián Romea. It is said that there are two buildings which are especially emblematic of Murcia City, with virtually all Murcians having been in at least one of them. Not surprisingly, the Cathedral is one, but the Romea Theatre is the other.
Like the Casino, the Romea Theatre is another relatively modern building which was actually opened in October 1862 by Queen Isabel II when it was known as the “Teatro de Los Infantes”, in homage to the Queen’s children. Its style has been described as being neoclassical, but with modern touches. The “Teatro de Los Infantes” name lasted only a few years and, in 1868 it changed to “El Teatro de la Soberanía Popular” (People’s Theatre). However, within the next decade it became known as the “Teatro de Romea” in honour of a distinguished Murcian actor, Julián Romea
The Romea Theatre itself has a strange history. It was built on land which had belonged to the nearby convent of Santo Domingo. The story has grown up that the protests of one of the brothers/priests were overridden even when he prophesied that the theatre, if built, would burn down three times while full of people. It was, indeed, destroyed twice by fire – in 1877 and 1899. This is a fascinating tale, and on one guided tour around the city, we were told by our very knowledgeable guide, that, because of the prophecy and the two fires, subsequently, it had been decreed that no more than 1196 of the theatre’s 1197 seats should ever be filled. Is the story of the priest’s prophecy/curse true? Who knows?
On 10 November 2007, a major programme of restoration began, with the Romea Theatre reopening in March 2012. The theatre entrances have been renewed, air conditioning and a new lift have been installed and the interior comprehensively restored, or at least, this is according to reports we have seen of the finished work. We have made a note to go to see this remarkable building – and not just from the outside as in recent visits – as soon as we can. Perhaps you will too.
Part taken from “Exploring Murcia – Murcia City”, by Clive and Rosie Palmer, which is available, from www.lulu.com, or contact email@example.com. Clive and Rosie Palmer have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. Copies of some of the books may be available from the Best Wishes shop in the Camposol Urbanización and that on “Exploring Murcia – Days Out” also from the Costa Cálida Chronicle Office on Camposol.