La Casa de las Cuatro Torres, built between 1736 and 1745, and cataloged as Bien de Interés Cultural (BIC) is perhaps the best example of the Houses of Chargers of the Indies to which we have already referred. It is a building of neoclassical Cadiz style, a heterodox style, own and particular of Cádiz, where sobriety, symmetry and decorative elements are complemented by the occasional use of late baroque decoration, so prevalent in Andalusia.
The house is finished off with the peculiar viewpoints of Cadiz in its four corners and is characterized by the decoration in painted almagra and the incorporation of architectural elements markedly Cadiz: vaults, domes, skylights, merlot, cistern … As in the date of construction of the building the urban ordinances prohibited that the houses had more than one lookout tower the owner had built four independent houses within the same building.
Its position close to the port and to the customs (current Diputación building) was enviable to close deals or collect merchandise. The majesty of its towers contrasts with the sobriety of its facades. While the sumptuous towers indicated the social position and wealth of the owner the austere interior gave full functionality and seriousness to the space as a place of business. It really seems that Fragela builds the House of the Four Towers as the headquarters of his company, going ahead with it in several centuries to the commercial customs of today.
It was a house to live in, in which many rooms were rented for a long time to people who waited in the city for their ships to leave America (a “hotel” use that is now recovered after the restoration), but it was also a house to work, close commercial agreements or store supplies.
All the buildings in its surroundings are full of influences from both sides of the Atlantic. It is an architecture fruit of an extraordinary cosmopolitan atmosphere. Because of the uniqueness, size of the building, historical prominence of the building and its owner, state of conservation and diversity of elements preserved, Casa de las Cuatro Torres is a unique and genuine monument of the cultural heritage of Andalusia and a landmark of the city of Cádiz .
The spectacular view that is seen from its towers, especially from the hotel, which has only oculos (small windows) in the dome of the garita, suggests that it has been a privileged watchtower from which the evolution of history has been contemplated and the intense relationship of this city with the sea.
From the 60’s of the last century the house begins to suffer the abandonment of its owners, and although it was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in April 1976, it is abandoned and reaches an unfortunate state of deterioration, which only ends in the year 2015 when the project of integral restoration is launched, the result of which you are seeing.
In this restoration process the original structure of the house has been taken into account, in which hardly any intervention has taken place. All the new divisions of the spaces have been executed in plaster partition walls, so that they can be easily recognized.
Except for counted units all the doors of the toilets and all the skylights that are in them, as well as the counter of the reception, the bar of the cafeteria and other many details have been manufacturing by carpenters craftsmen in the own work, using windows, doors and woods that were already the house. All the woods have been treated with linseed oil and natural waxes, the same materials that were used for this in the eighteenth century.
The entrance hall and patio floors are made of Italian marble from the Carrara quarries. They are originals of the XVIII century and have also recovered from the work itself.
The mortars on the walls are artisans, from the Sierra de Morón, in the neighboring province of Seville, where limestone quarries are famous. These mortars have been applied manually following the same application techniques that were originally used. They are not painted. Its color is that of the aggregates that have been used to make it.
In almost all the rooms there is a wall that has not been covered so that the visitor can know and appreciate the beauty of the natural materials with which it was built in Cádiz in the 18th century: oyster stone – a marine fossil stone formed by a conglomerate of sand and shells that can be appreciated with the naked eye-, mud brick, lime mortar … These walls have been treated with consolidating silicates to protect them.
A lot of wood was also used, which sometimes came from ships that sank or scrapped in the bay.
In the lounge on the ground floor has also been seen the oyster stone arch of precious invoice that for years was walled with partitions until it was discovered in the restoration.
All rooms are named after illustrious sailors of the 18th century who were born or spent a significant part of their careers in Cádiz. All of them left a deep legacy in the city and in the history of Spain that is explained in each room. In all of them there are also decorative elements alluding to the character.
The labeling of the rooms is also handmade. It has been made in ceramics by a local craftsman using the design of the tiles that indicate since the 18th century the names of the streets of the city.
Only the apartment “Juan Sebastián Elcano”, on the ground floor, does not correspond to an eighteenth-century seaman, because as is well known Elcano was the first seaman who, in 1522, completed the first circumnavigation of the planet.
The reason for dedicating a room is justified in that the space occupied by that apartment, next to the current room and the other apartment on the ground floor, were occupied for much of the last century by the offices in Cádiz of the “Spanish Construction Society” Naval “, magnificent shipyard that is born of the successive transformations of other older ones that there were in the city, as it was the case of” Echevarrieta and Larrinaga “, that in 1927 built in Cádiz the current school ship of the Spanish Navy.
This sailboat, that was baptized precisely with the name of “Juan Sebastián Elcano”, is today one of the oldest in the world and the one that more miles takes navigated (more than one million six hundred thousand), and has become a symbol of the city of Cádiz, of which he acts as ambassador for all the seas of the world.
From 1717 to 1765 Cádiz enjoyed the monopoly of commercial relations between Europe and America. During this period the “Casa de Contratación” was in Cádiz, which was the body that, since the discovery of America, regulated all trade with that continent. Any merchandise that went to or came from America had to go through Cádiz.
It is at this time, known as the “golden age of Cadiz commerce”, when numerous “Chargers of the Indies” were established in the city, a name that was received by businessmen who traded with America.
Thanks to the economic boom of these years, Cádiz becomes one of the largest cities in Spain – the fifth behind Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville – and also one of the richest in Europe.
Throughout the 18th century the population of Cádiz went from 40,000 to 80,000 inhabitants, without counting the floating population, which would add another 20,000 people, many of whom lived on board the ships that remained anchored in the Bay.
The city had during those years an almost exclusive dedication to trade, and the mercantile environment was noted in all aspects of social life. In Cádiz there were three theaters and more than thirty cafés, which were meeting places and literary gatherings. All this was influenced by the cosmopolitan atmosphere given by the large presence of foreigners, in particular Italians and French, who accounted for almost ten percent of the population and who brought, first, a taste for architecture and opera , and the second the diffusion of books and illustrated ideas. In addition to these there were also large colonies of Irish, English, Portuguese, and Dutch in the city.
With the transfer to Cádiz of the Casa de Contratación, the city was impregnated with an American spirit that was noticed in the speech, the way of dressing, the folcklore, the food or the botany. The city was an extension of America in Europe … its gardens were adorned with ombúes, dragos, ficus or jacarandas …
The houses of Chargers of the Indies, with their high towers from which the movement of boats in the Bay was watched, proliferated in the city, closely linked to the “Casa de la Contratación” or House of Contracting. For this reason, this type of construction is only found in the Andalusian Atlantic places near its two historical sites, being very different from the Sevillian Cadiz.
One of these Chargers of the Indies, perhaps the most famous, was the Syrian Juan Clat Secanichi, known as “Fragela”, born in Damascus in 1656. He was the son of Lut Fie Clat and Agustina Sacachini. He arrived in Cádiz in the year 1683, with 27 years.
By his family ancestors he was closely linked to the Italians and Greeks settled in the East and was initially devoted to the trade of fabrics.
He soon became interested in extra-Mediterranean business and since 1709 he was a resident of Cádiz, where he had a merchandise trade in Calle Flamencos and where he had come to live attracted by the great commercial exchanges that took place from the city between the American Spain and the European In 1725, aged 69, he obtained a letter of Spanish nature which allowed him to trade with the New Continent. He lived in the city until his death on March 23, 1756, with more than 100 years.
Fragela accumulated one of the greatest fortunes of his time and participated in businesses scattered around the globe. From his marriage to Margarita Nuñez Chacón he had no children, so much of his fortune was spent on improving the living conditions of the most disadvantaged.
As a prosperous businessman he quickly earned a prestigious place in the city, which he favored with large sums of money for charitable purposes. He even paid for his own funds the total of the works of the House of Widows and Orphans, known today as “Casa Fragela”, which is located in the square of the same name, opposite the Falla Theater and next to the Faculty of Medicine .
In his will he indicated his partners and executors Pablo Capitanichi and Rodolfo Bosichi, that they would allocate an important amount to the maintenance of the services of that shelter and orphanage that covered their expenses until well after his death.
In the Museo de las Cortes, located on Calle Santa Inés, next to the San Felipe Neri Oratory, where the first Spanish constitution was promulgated, a portrait of Fragela is preserved. In this museum is worth visiting the splendid model of the city of 12 x 7 meters, made in mahogany and ivory by order of Carlos III between 1777 and 1779, which is already the Casa de las Cuatro Torres.