Monday, 9 February 2015

La Casa de las Cadenas

A beautiful old mansion in El Puerto de Santa María is to be at least partly re-built. The Casa Vizarrón, known locally as the “Casa de las Cadenas”, was built by Juan de Vizarrón Araníbar, a Knight of the Order of Alcántara in the late XVII century. He was a merchant supplying goods which naturally included Sherry to the new empire in South America, and used the house both as a home and base for his business activities with warehousing at the back.

 Such merchants were known as Cargadores de Indias” and their houses were splendidly appointed demonstrating the fortunes they were earning. Between 1723 and 1733, at the time when King Felipe V and Isabel Farnesio held court in Sevilla, they stayed at this house when in El Puerto, and in gratitude appointed Juan Antonio Vizarrón Eguiarreta Archbishop of México and later Viceroy of Nueva España. That the King stayed here is commemorated by iron chains (cadenas) in the patio which demonstrate a link to royalty, hence the nickname of the house.

The (once) impressive balconied entrance on Plaza del Polvorista (foto:lavozdigital)

The imposing façade of Las Cadenas is on the Plaza del Polvorista while the side is on Calle Cadenas which leads to the waterfront. There is lovely internal patio with a balcony supported by white marble columns between which are suspended the famous chains.

Unfortunately, and like many such “casas palacios”, it fell into disuse and then disrepair. Despite a protection order prohibiting the building’s modification issued by the Junta de Andalucía, the same as that which covers the entire historic town centre, the Jerez city architect saw fit, in exchange for €800,000, to allow demolition of the old warehouses for the creation of housing by a speculative builder in 2004.

The patio with the chains in better days (foto:wikipedia)

The police mounted  “Operation Tequila” to root out licences given illegally for building works on forbidden sites, and now a court has sentenced the five men involved; the builder and his son; the city architect, the councillor for urban matters and the mayor at the time to 18 months jail, fines and lengthy prohibition from holding public office. The city architect is still under investigation, and the builders must re-build at least what they demolished.

This result is to be applauded. The level of corruption to do with licensing illegal building has been monumental, and many a mayor and town councillor in Spain is or was in jail. There was a joke about it: “Which town has the most mayors?” “Alhaurín (Málaga), because that’s where the jail is.” The Junta is absolutely right, these people are not only destroying historic patrimony but also hurting the valuable tourist industry.


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