Published: April 11th 2012March 7th 2012
While looking up things to do in Cadiz, I came across a pamphlet in the tourist office entitled "Four walks through Cadiz". These were details of walks around different areas of Cadiz that are relevant to different parts of the city's history. Cadiz claims to be the oldest city in Europe, reportedly founded in 1100BC by the Phoenicians, and has played a central role throughout Spanish history. I knew that Cadiz had a lot to reveal.
So one free sunny morning, I took myself off with my map and camera on walk number one: through the medieval district and Puerta de Tierra.
Cadiz, as a city built out on a narrow peninsula, has always had a strong maritime history. One of the more famous, or infamous, events was the "singeing of the King of Spain's beard" by Sir Francis Drake, when the English navy destroyed much of the Spanish Armada in 1587. Christopher Columbus sailed from here on his second and fourth voyages to the New World. Cadiz entered its golden period in the eighteenth century when it became the main port for the Spanish-American trade in gold and silver. The city became incredibly wealthy, resulting in lavish buildings
and the growth of the liberal and free-thinking middle-classes.
The walk would take in many of the buildings built with this medieval wealth, as well as some of the oldest districts of the city. The first point of focus is the Plaza San Juan de Dios, overlooked by the city hall. Unfortunately this beautiful and open plaza was undergoing construction work to move some of the orange trees, so I skirted around the outskirts to enter Barrio El Populo, the heart of historical Cadiz. Old narrow cobblestoned streets were overlooked by tall, ancient houses, tables and chairs spilling out of bars onto the streets. I turned under another of the arches that were the entrance points to the medieval city, to enter the Cathedral Plaza.
The new Cathedral is an impressive sight from every angle. Built from sandstone, but finished with limestone, it took 110 years to finish resulting in an interesting mix of styles. The main facade always reminds me of Lord of the Rings and Elvish architecture. I paid my €5 entry fee to take a look inside. Nets were hung from the ceiling to catch any falling debris, and this combined with a powdery grey
light filtering in gave the Cathedral an enchanting and hauting atmosphere. The scale of the building is immense, the soaring elegant pillars looked like they would continue to sweep into infinity. I had another Lord of the Rings moment, feeling like I had walked into the mines of Moria. Unlike most Spanish churches, there was very little white and gold, the interior was a simple affair which let the architecture do the talking. Underneath the alter there was a crypt which contained a few tombs from 1853 to 2006. I also climbed the Cathredral tower for panoramic views over Cadiz. I absolutely love the Cathedral, it's my favourite building in Cadiz, and my favourite church anywhere!
Out around the rear of the Cathedral and facing the Atlantic coast, was a example of Phoenician ruins accessed through the Bishop's House. I decided to just have a free view through the perspex, as there is a new balcony built over them. Further up the coast is the remains of a Roman ampitheatre, only discovered in 1980, but again undergoing consruction work so I couldn't sneak a peek.
I walked back round to the Church of Santa Cruz, the Old Cathedral,
which was completely destroyed but rebuilt in 1596. It had the garish gold alterpiece that I typically associate with Spanish churches, as well as some eerie religious statues depicting various biblical scenes. The Cathedral museum was right beside it, containing a vast collection of paintings and ornate ecclestiacal ornaments. For me the most interesting part was the original blueprints for the New Cathedral.
I walked through the Blanco arch, part of the old city wall, and across the road into Barrio Santa Maria, the cradle of Flamenca in Cadiz. There were various wall plaques and statues to who I assume were famous artists associated with Flamenca. In the 15th and 16th centuries people started to settle to the southeast of the current Barrio del Populo, giving rise to the Barrio de Santa Maria. During the 17th and 19th centuries, the quarter was booming thanks to its proximity to the port and because many wealthy families called it their home. Unfortunately for me, I didn't get to see inside many of the recommended buildings due to construction (maintaining the integrity of the buildings) so I just strolled around taking in the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. It was definately more so
a residential area then the other parts of Cadiz. I passed by the La Merced Flamenco Art Municipal Centre, which hosts workshps and events, but was of course closed! Flamenco music is incredibly popular here and goes back to before the time of the Moors.
The route ended at the Puerta de Tierre city gate, part of the defensive walls that surrounded the city and the only terresterial entrance to the old town. Inside one side is a lithograph museum showing the printing process for advertisements way back when. Entry was free, but unfortunately absolutely everything was in Spanish so I didn't understand much!
And so ended my tour of medieval Cadiz, starting to understand this intriguing city a little better!!
There are more photos below