Old Cathedral of Cartagena
The old cathedral
In this post I am going to talk about a building that I always found fascinating, the old Cathedral of Cartagena. The first time I was there I was ten years old, it was on a school trip to the Roman theater in the city. I remember that before accessing the archaeological site, we surrounded the walls of the cathedral and I peeked into the keyhole of the main gate.
It was beautiful, the image looked like something out of a movie set, the ruins gave the feeling of eternity. It seemed that they had been waiting there for many years, like remains of another era and that they would continue to be there many years after us. Unfortunately they changed the front door a few years ago and you can no longer see anything.
Several years later, I started my Architecture career in the same city. That is why I was able to enter the building on an organized visit to it. And the interior surprised me, the remains convey a fascinating sense of eternity. As if entering an engraving of Piranesi.
It was one of those sensations that later made me prefer the criteria of Ruskin in relation to heritage. In short, the Cartagena cathedral is a dead building, but with a corpse so beautiful that it would be a crime to put stone on stone again.
The chapel of the image is the one that is best preserved, so much so that it is where they keep the remains of the most valuable monument in the open. Its baroque facade stands out, which contrasts with the sobriety of the rest of the temple.
Although the original building can be stylistically framed in the Levantine Gothic, the modifications were continuous. In the image we can see the original Gothic arches, the semicircular arches made in the 16th century and the Neo-Romanesque decorative elements from the 19th century restoration. This is usually called atoll-type buildings, since the monument is the result of a sum of elements with different styles.
This building began to be built in the 13th century, although most of what you see corresponds to a 19th century Neo-Romanesque restoration, carried out by the architect Víctor Beltrí. The temple remained in use until it caught fire in a bombardment during the Spanish Civil War.
In the plot where it is currently located, part of the stands of the Roman Theater was located. During the fourth century the decline of the city made an infrastructure such as the theater unnecessary, so a commercial neighborhood with a market and a basilica was built on its layout. This basilica is the origin of the Cathedral, its excavated remains being partially visible.
Of the pre-Romanesque remains, what stands out the most is a column from the original basilica of the V-VII century. Which we can see in the image.
These remains were unearthed during the restoration works of the cathedral by the architect Víctor Beltrí. In a very successful way they were mounted next to the wall of a chapel, helping to intuit the layout of the previous building. It is very likely that they punctuated a barrel vault of a secondary chapel, or that they formed part of the triumphal arch of the high altar. As was usual in the Hispanic architecture of that time.
The elements that make up the column are recycled material from the Roman theater, it is worth highlighting the white marble column base cut in half. The capital if it is of Byzantine invoice for what I have been able to investigate, although it is very possible that it was carved from a marble piece of the theater.
An interesting part is the trapezoidal piece above the capital, carved in red Mula travertine. Which suggests the possibility that the arch that marked this column was a horseshoe arch. This would enter in consonance with the Visigothic architecture, being possible that it was a local influence or that the column belonged to a reconstruction after the conquest of Carthage Saprtaria by the Visigoths.
Keep in mind that according to San Isidoro de Sevilla the city was destroyed to the ground after its conquest at the hands of the Visigoth king Suntila in 622.
"Today, of the city, destroyed by the Goths, there are hardly any ruins left." (Etymologies, San Isidoro of Seville)
Even so, the city had to be rebuilt, because in 675, Munulo, bishop of Cartagena, appears signing one of the acts of the Councils of Toledo. It is there where the possibility is conceived that the basilica was rebuilt with horseshoe arches as was common in Visigothic architecture of the 7th century.
In any case, the top drawing is a hypothesis, since it is not supported by archaeological evidence.