Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Casa Marqués de Arizón: Cargadores a Indias

The names of many foreigners who settled in Spain became hispanicised as the locals often found them hard to pronounce. This applied to the Harrison family which fled to Spain to escape the Penal Laws which made life extremely difficult, indeed dangerous, for Catholics in their native Ireland. They arrived in the late XVII century at Blanes, a port town a little up the coast from Barcelona. Here they were soon involved with trade between Cataluña, Sanlúcar and the Americas, exporting among other goods, spirits and nuts from the former and wine and olive oil from the latter. They also became involved in shipbuilding and owned a small fleet of ships which would make their fortune.

In 1709 a branch of the family led by Felix Harrison bought a house in Sanlúcar between calle Divina Pastora and calle Banda Playa which was then on the riverbank at the Puerto de la Balsa where there was easy access to ships. The spectacular two storey house had a tower from which shipping could be observed, a beautiful central colonnaded patio, a well, an oratory and a delightful arched warehouse. It was extended between 1721 and 1730, and the many ancillary buildings contained stables, a cooperage and basement storage for oil, grain and of course, wine.

The family became one of the most important trading businesses of the day and they were even able to put ships and warehousing at the disposition of King Felipe V. This would pay off handsomely later on. They also owned much land and Jacinto Salvador de Arizón was given the title Marqués de Casa Arizón in 1739, one of 75 Cargadores a Indias to be ennobled. It was he who paid for the urbanisation of the Plaza de la Ribera, now the Plaza del Cabildo, among many other projects.

There are one or two macabre stories about the house. One member of the family is said to have watched helplessly as a ship laden with silver sank at the mouth of the Guadalquivir and threw himself from the tower. His ghost is occasionally seen at the spot where he died. Another story concerns Diego de Arizón, who in 1736 murdered his wife, Margarita Serguera, and the butler, Juan Peix for having an affair. He was condemned to death and awaiting his fate in prison in Cádiz, but King Felipe V commuted the sentence in exchange for 60,000 pesos which he duly spent on his royal palace in Madrid.  Don Diego later repented bequeathing his fortune to various religious institutions. The body of poor Doña Margarita is thought to have been walled up somewhere in the house, and her ghost, known as the white lady, is said to wander the house and the tower at full moon.

As time went by fortunes changed and the house fell into disrepair and almost ruin with speculative builders hovering, despite it being officially declared as being of Cultural Interest. It would have been tragic to lose this important building which is the biggest and best example of the historic business of the cargadores a Indias. It was finally converted into a 4 star hotel, the Palacio Arizón, and at least some of its stunning features can be enjoyed. It is well worth having a look, especially as the Sánchez Ayala Bodegas are opposite.

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