Spain is full of history, and the greatest heritage is often found in its buildings. When travelling around the country, you can visit some of these historical marvels, and if you are lucky and have the opportunity, can spend the night in one of them and really be immersed in the magic of the past.
Andalucía has innumerable historic hotels, many of which would not have seen the light of day if not for someone choosing to spend their energy and funds protecting these timeless national treasures.
La Casa de las Cuatro Torres in Cádiz is one of these – and it is not only unique in this coastal city, but possibly in the entire world.
The house with the 4 towers
La Casa de las Cuatro Torres is considered to be one of the best-preserved examples of Cádiz’ emblematic 1730’s sea merchant houses. They were called Casas de Cargadores de Indias, although they also traded with America, Africa, and Asia. The builder of this particular house, å Syrian businessman called Juan Clat Fragela, came to Spain in 1683 to expand his family’s fabric empire. Since only one tower was allowed per house, Fragela constructed four separate houses within the same building, and so was permitted one tower in each corner. There are still 129 such towers in Cádiz, but the majority are from a later date, when the watchtowers had lost their practical purpose and had instead become a status symbol and an icon of gaditano architecture. Fragela’s neoclassic building is therefore not only unique because of the number of towers, but for its ornate decorations, and because the house has the only tower in town with oculus windows in the cupola.
Fragela’s house was also strategically unique, as it was located near the Department of Commerce, the harbour, and the customs office. It additionally had a perfect view of the entire Bay of Cádiz, where all merchant vessels that sailed to and from Spain passed by. Apart from being his trading office, his showroom and his family home, the forward-thinking merchant also rented rooms in the upper floors to travelling salesmen. In this way he was able to run a sort of hotel establishment, a tradition which has been re-established now, almost 250 years later.
A protecting artist’s hand
The centuries left their traces, so although the whole building was categorized as a Place of Cultural Interest in 1976, it was in such poor condition that only a miracle could save it. The rescue came in the form of Teresa Ramos Grosso. After a long career working as an artist and curator in Madrid, Teresa was the perfect candidate to give this dilapidated building back its dignity.
“The house has become a life-project to me. I bought it for sentimental reasons. When I was a child, my family on my mother’s side owned this part of the building. The house changed owners on several occasions, but the new landlords just left it to deteriorate. When my husband and I got the opportunity to purchase it in 2005, I simply couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. La Casa de las Cuatro Torres is unique amongst the sea merchant houses, and I dare claim that it is the most beautiful and distinctive in the region”.
It took 11 years before they could open the hotel. First there were 4 years of bureaucratic challenges, with every decision having to be approved by the provincial cultural advisory board, the heritage division, the town council, the tourist department and even the fire department. Then the real job started – 7 years of in-depth restoration, with Teresa being responsible for every little décor detail. “The biggest joy of finishing the work, was that my mother got to experience the completed project” she admits.
To find a building from 1736 with original doors, windows and towers was a true artist’s dream. Under centuries of layers of paint and stucco, they found genuine historical treasures. The original Carrera marble floor in the current lobby and stairways, and the solid mahogany doors, were in fact materials used as ballast for the cargo ships. Since the vessels by law had to come by the merchant houses in Cádiz before and after trade missions, the ballast of marble and timber that came with the boats was used in the construction of the merchant houses.
Lourdes Zozaya, who has worked in the hotel since it opened in 2017 speaks about the renovation: “As far as possible we utilized original materials and respected the traditional construction methods. The walls are made from what is called mortero de cal (lime mortar) and have the natural sandstone colour. All doors and windows are original. Every hand-forged nail was pulled out before the massive doors were immersed in a special bath to remove the old paint. Afterwards, we treated the wood with natural beeswax and linseed oil, which were the materials they used originally, in addition to being the most natural and respectful for the old timber”.
Before and after
Today the hotel is located in one of the four houses that together comprised the original Casa de los Cuatro Torres. The other parts of the edifice are still (for now…) left to irresponsible owners and the forces of nature. For this reason, one can clearly see how the building was before and after renovation – which is likely very similar to how it was in its heyday. The municipality of Cádiz is thrilled by the restoration, which caused such a stir and curiosity that people lined up to come in to see the tower and the view when the hotel doors were finally opened.
“Our guests come from all around the world. The North Americans totally freak out when they see the place, because there is no other such hotel in Cádiz – from the particular époque and of the same standard” explains Lourdes.
“Cádiz is less explored by tourists than for instance Seville, Granada, and Málaga, and our hotel is like a precious, small jewel which is still relatively hidden in the travelling world”
View to the Bay of Cádiz
The tower house is no Hilton. “Even if our guest comforts are to a five-star standard, we only have two stars because we don’t have a restaurant, pool, spa, or gym. But we have a personal contact with the guests and an intimacy which larger hotel chains cannot offer”.
The boutique hotel’s 20 room all have names of mariners or navigators. In some rooms one might notice the burn marks on the wood where wax candles lit the rooms before the advent of electricity. Or one can admire the original stone walls with hidden niches and closed-off arches. La Casa certainly does not lack patina, and even the slightly crooked stairways give the hotel that extra unique charm.
The highlight of the stay is however, climbing up (or taking the elevator) to see the watch towers from the roof terrace where the hotel organizes seasonal celebrations for their guests, with an enchanting view of the entire Bahia de Cádiz. It is easy to imagine how the tower lookout sat here, peering out at the horizon for incoming ships.
“For me, the towers represent the identity of Cádiz. They were a place for both work and leisure, and these two functions continue to be the connection we have to the past – as they stand in this privileged position surrounded by the ocean. What more can one wish for?” says Teresa, the passionate owner of the hotel.
Find out more about this unique place that has been ‘discovered’ by Spanish Vogue and Condé Nast Traveller here: casadelascuatrotorres.com. And then it is time to plan your next trip to Cádiz!