The Regional Museum of Modern Art (MURAM) was set up in order to provide the region of Murcia with a centre in Cartagena dedicated to Modernismo and contemporary art. Opened on 29 April 2009, the museum is located in the centre of the old city, where it occupies an emblematic early-twentieth-century building: the Palacio de Aguirre. An adjacent house has been restored and adapted so as to increase the exhibition space; although its ground and first floors do not form part of the museum, they can also be visited.
Cartagena is the focal point of the region as far as Modernismo and eclectic architecture are concerned, and it is one of the Spanish cities with the largest number of such buildings. The industrialists and mine owners whose businesses began to flourish here in the last decades of the nineteenth century, coupled with the need to rebuild the city after the bombing during the Cantonal Revolution (1873), advanced the spread of this style, which resulted in a highly characteristic, ornate and uniform urban landscape. Earlier transformations of Cartagena had been entirely due to its role as a naval and military base, whereas this time the city experienced an urban renewal that was the consequence of social change and of the aesthetic innovations of the period that conferred on it its distinctive character.
In 1899, Camilo Aguirre, a wealthy mine-owner, commissioned the well known Catalan architect Víctor Beltrí i Roqueta to design the family mansion. It was completed in 1901. The exterior, with decorative motifs inspired by Modernismo, combines the styles then in vogue in Paris and Barcelona. With its delicate ornamentation and colours, the house expresses the grandeur of the new industrialist class in Cartagena. On the corner of the two façades rises an angular tower crowned with an elegant dome covered in blue glazed tiles.
The Modernista interior, one of the few open to the public in Cartagena, transports visitors back to the atmosphere of the period. An eclectic lobby with white marble floor and dado leads into the house, and the front door is a beautiful design in wood and copper by the Madrid firm of Amaré. The doors and windows giving on to the patio are fitted with high-quality glass acid engraved with elegant Modernista motifs, which are also present on the handrails. The main floor is reached by a marble imperial staircase in an eclectic style with bronze banisters. On this floor are the study, the Victorian dining-room, the Neo-Gothic chapel and the Neo-Rococo ballroom adorned with a painting by Cecilio Pla titled The Allegory of Spring.
At the end of the tour of the exhibition rooms, documentary films describe the history of the building and its inhabitants, situating us in the context of the period and encouraging us to visit the other historic buildings in Cartagena. A guided tour starts from the Palacio de Aguirre and takes in the city's various Modernista buildings; there are regular changes to the itinerary and in the themes covered. This tour enables visitors to learn not only about Modernista architecture in Cartagena but also about cultural and sociological aspects of the city that help set the period in its wider context.
In its short life, the Regional Museum of Modern Art has hosted a number of important temporary exhibitions such as "The Legacy of González Moreno", "Drawings by Párraga", The Modernista Adventure in the Collections of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya" and "The Rodin Era". The museum also offers workshops, courses and a variety of other educational activities aimed at encouraging the public to appreciate Modernismo and contemporary art.