Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Cadiz - city of light, colour and watchtowers

With population of only 120 000 Cadiz feels instantly welcoming and homey. But frustrating, too. In the first 2 days I always seem to be at the wrong place though my hotel is located right next to City Hall Square Plaza Ayuntamiento, located between the new and Old Cadiz. 

Then I remember the troubles I experienced in Tunis (and, in all honesty, in every single city I've ever visited), which I explained away with theory (than in my own head genuinely made sense) that midgets had been up all night (again), relocating all the streets...

Yep, my legendary sense of direction's got the best of me (again) - I've been holding the map upside down. 

Cadiz is built in the shape of a hand. Its narrow arm, on both sides surrounded by the sea, houses the new Cadiz. The old Cadiz, with barrios, her ancient neighbourhoods, spreads around the hand, located on the shores of Atlantic.

Those different coloured lines painted on the cobble stones mark diferent sightseeing routes making their way through the old city. Convenient. Though I, of course,  only learnt that after I'd finally managed to find myself on the map...

And sights there are to see - Cadiz is, after all, the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and the whole Southern Europe. The names comes from the Arabic name for the city, Qadis, which was derived from the Latin name for a fortress. But all this can be traced back to the Phoenicians, that famous sea-faring nations. 

They were the ones who founded the city 1100 BC and the city was of great significance to them. The only Phoenician sarcophagi ever discovered in Spain, were discovered here. Apart from a couple of others found in Sicily, they are the only to ever surface in Europe at large. 

The male coffin was addicentally discovered in 1887. The archaeologist who found it remained, until his death, convinced there had to be a female one somewhere out there, too (cherchez la femme!) and sure enough - almost a hundred years later one was found.  You'll never guess where, though: underneath the house that archaeologist had lived in that now had been torn down.

Both of these sarcophagi are now located in Cadizin archaeological museum (another interesting detail about the museum is, that the admission is free for all EU citizens).

After the Phoenicians the city served as Roman naval base, followed by a Visigoth Period. From 711 onwards the city was ruled by Moorish conquerors until King Alfonso X The Wise reconquered the city in Reconquista of 1262.

Much like elsewhere in Andalusia, the legacy of the Arab conquerors lives on in the local architecture so don't forget to peer into the courtyards and hallways, covered in these amazing azulejos, ornamental Andalusian tiles. 

The centuries after Reconquista saw Cadiz blossom. Christopher Columbus set sail here for his second and fourth journey to the New World and following those trips Cadiz only grew more important. It became an important port for trade which also had its downside: it subsequently became a major target for attacks by the English.

In 1587 certain Francis Drake invaded the port for three days, capturing six ships, destroying further 31 and delaying the Spanish Armada's departure by a whole year.

Casa de Contratación, House of Trade that oversaw the trade between Spain and Americ,a was initially located in Seville, but was later relocated to the logistically more ideal Cadiz. In the 18th century the city was responsible for a whopping 75 percent of the  trade between the two countries. 

The importance of sea-faring and trade is visible in city's architecture, too: Cadiz is also known as the city of watchtowers. 

(I doubt that's why Jehovah's Witnesses were out in full force with their Watchtowers, however, but they were - all over the city.)

Back in 18th century there were 160 watchtowers in the city, out of those 126 are still standing. The merchants and nobility were busy building incredible town houses out of which each one housed towers where the watch men would keep an eye on the approaching ships. 

A typical example is this Casa del Almirante, built in 1690. This four-storey delight, dripping with red and white marble, stands in the Old City close to the City Hall Square and completely captured my heart. Even more so after I learnt it's actually for sale. 

What a fine place this would make for that little commune of ours, don't you think?

What has proven to be problematic with these buildings is their protected status. This means that all the restoration is regulated by strict rules which make the process one very costly and time-consuming enterprise. This usually scares off even the most persistant of boutique hotel entrepreneurs.

One tower that is open for the public, too is Torre Tavira, which offers beautiful panoramic views over the entire Cadiz.

Should you need a cooling breeze, head over to popular Park Genovés, famous for its tree sculptures. Columbus himself is told to have brought back some of the old, exotic trees found in Cadiz still today. 

Elsewhere in Spain the people of Cadiz are known as gaditanos; a name derived from city's ancient name. They're famous for their fun-loving nature and zest for life. Part of this is definitely down to the annual Carnival - the one in Cadiz has a reputation as the wildest one in the whole of Spain. 

Gaditanos are always said to be ready to party, enjoy good food and wine and their friends' company late into the night.

(No wonder I felt so at home, then!)

I've also heard Cadiz being called the Havanna of Europe. No wonder - Cadiz is such a celebration of light and colour. 

That joie de vivre really bubbles in the air. And it is catchy. 

I'd go back tomorrow if I could. How about you guys? Familiar with the charm of Cadiz yourselves? What were your favourites?





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