House Colon



By the middle of the 19th century, Huelva was living the greatest heyday of its history – the population had remarkably increased and both industry and economics had a special boost. At that time, it was decided to build a luxurious hotel to accommodate managers from the different companies working in the mines. The developers were Scottish industrialist Hugh Matheson, German industrialist Henry Dötsch, and German businessman Wilhelm Sundheim with the support of the Rio Tinto Company Ltd. itself. The construction started in 1881.


Spanish architect José Pérez Santamaría built the Grand Hotel Colón with his helper Andrés Mora’s collaboration between 1881 and 1883 at Sundheim’s request. The opening act took place on the 26 June 1883. In 1892, the commemorative acts for the Fourth Centenary of the Discovery of America were held in the hotel. The same year, the “Temporada del Centenario” (“Season of the Centenary”) was celebrated between the 3 August and the 12 October – the hotel accommodated Spanish personalities, such as President of Government Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, and representatives from the Latin American nations invited to the event. In 1896, the Rio Tinto Company moved its quarters and the accommodation of its staff to the hotel. From that moment on, the building started being known by the name of “Casa Colón” (“Columbus House”). The building, acquired at the end of the 20th century by the city hall of Huelva, today is used as auditorium, exhibition room, and especially for the renowned Festival de Cine Iberoamericano de Huelva (“Festival of Latin-American Films”).

Architectonic Characteristics

The nineteenth-century ground plan of the building consists of a strong protruding pedestal, corresponding to the basement, with windows with four-leaved, louvered blinds, and a higher floor where windows become balconies of forged steel with the anagram of the Rio Tinto Company Ltd. on it. The ensemble has a mixture of different styles, with some elements of British inspiration, others from Latin American architecture, and some others which remind visitors of the beginning of Art Nouveau. The hotel was made up by 4 big buildings with a quadrangular space in the middle for a garden. In 1881, Santamaría started the construction of the hotel from four pavilions (only three remain today) of different styles separated by gardens.

The Casa Grande (“Great House”) is the H-shaped, main building of the hotel. It has a semi-basement, a first floor, a main floor, and a small tower provided with an attic and an oriel window over the east wing. The whole building has marble floors, rendered walls, and wooden doors and windows of British design. We should specially remark the fireplaces of the building – especially those of the first floor, such as the room known as the “Salón de Chimeneas” (“Fireplace Hall”), whose decoration with green and manganese pottery and pilasters with human silhouettes in relief is outstanding.

The Pabellones de Poniente y Levante (“West and East Pavilions”) are two buildings with rectangular floor plan separated by the central garden of the hotel. You may access to both of them by climbing up some marble stairways. Both buildings have double rooms, suites, and toilets for general use out of the rooms.

The Pabellón Norte (“North Pavilion”), today missing, had a quadrangular floor plan with a glassy body in front of a main hall. The building had reading rooms, a billiard room, a kitchen, and some areas for the staff.

The neatly tended gardens had been specially adapted so that guests could play games and sports there and provided with a belvedere provided with electric light – guest rooms had gas light. The gardens had been designed by a German gardener from the Königlich Preußische Lehranstalt für Obst- und Weinbau in Geisenheim. Many species unknown in Andalusia were planted in this garden of French influences – palm trees, dragon trees, tangerine trees, casuarina trees, crape myrtles, yuccas, and ivies. All of them came from territories of British influence. However, there were also samples from the local flora. The gardens were also decorated with the Fuente de los Tritones (“Fountain of the Newts”).

One Evening in the Grand Hotel Colón

Huelva, Tuesday 26 June 1883, 8.00 pm.

We attend the banquet of the opening act of the Grand Hotel Colón in Huelva City. The evening is warm for such a momentous event in our city. Today, future comes to Huelva in the form of a modern building, the result of the technological advances of our society.

200 people have come to the hotel, which will surely become an ideal scene for future banquets and receptions. The hotel manager, Mr. Adriow, former owner of the Hotel de Bergès, is proud to show us the telephone exchange and the modern electric lights of the Great Hall and the garden. To complete these complex facilities, a wide network provides the sectors of the hotel with both fresh and salt water.

The furniture, according to the magnificence of the place, is made of ancient oak wood from the Bembé Co., Mainz, reed wood from Hamburg and wicker from England and Germany. The 300-piece crockery comes from the Royal Porcelain Manufacturer of Meissen. The ovens – from the Bandot House, Paris – complete the range of the great technical additions.

The hotel rooms have enamelled pottery fireplaces decorated with circular medallions with plant motifs. These fireplaces have had a great tradition in the alpine zones of Germany or Switzerland since the 13th century – the freezing weather undoubtedly favours the usage of this heating system in the humid winters of Huelva City. Nurnberg and Cologne were the main producers of pottery fireplaces. However, these chimneys were hardly used in Spain due to the milder climate of the country – Spaniards prefer braziers.

You may see the assembly of one of these pottery chimneys, conserved by the City Hall of Huelva and assembled for the first time for this exhibition, in the reproduction which you are seeing. This reproduction comes from the factory of Nurnberg under Mr. Johann Hausleiter’s managing.