Travels in Spain before Covid: Cadiz Day 18

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December 18th 2020
Published: December 19th 2020
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November 6, 2019

Our transatlantic Royal Caribbean ship docked in Cadiz at 8AM giving us plenty of time for breakfast. Once again, to be on the safe side, we signed up for the ship tour, this time our last exploration of Spain: Cadiz and Jerez de la Frontera. Booking the ship’s tour gave us assurity that the ship would not sail without us! The ship was scheduled to depart at 6PM which gave us ample time to explore a bit on our own before heading back to dinner aboard ship.

Thankfully we left the ship well in advance of our 10AM tour, After a confusing and worrisome 10 minute walk from the ship’s dock, including asking many questions of anyone on the street, we finally found the location where we met our guide Jose to begin the 6 hour tour of this region. Jose guided us to his air-conditioned van and we were off driving north to Jerez de la Frontera. During the half hour drive Jose gave us a little history and background of this area.

Jerez comes from the Phoenician word for Ceres the goddess of agriculture, later changed to cerred in Roman, and finally the Muslims’ Sherrish. Our word sherry comes from this. We were told that this region is famous for its production of wheat sherry wine. From the bus I spotted the large Tio Pepe Bull sign along the way. Tio Pepe, the most famous sherry of the region, originated from a visit to the region by a man bringing a cask of his favorite beverage, different from what the locals had been drinking. The story spread as stories do and this beverage became “Uncle Joseph’s wine” that loosely translated to the Spanish ‘Tio Pepe’. It claims to be the driest, and most popular version of wheat sherry followed by Fino. The sweet Jerez wines often called cream or amoroso, have a strong base of the Phoenican Palomino grape with aromas of chocolate, spices or candied fruit, with a proportion of Pedro Ximenez making it the sweetest. Before being pressed, these grapes are exposed to sunlight until they become dried achieving the consistency of plump raisins, that results in a rich sweetness. (Later that afternoon I decided to try some sherry before I left this region so I stopped in Bar 1 De Labra in Cadiz to sample the sweet and dry drink. I blindly ordered what I’d hoped would be good but took one sip and thought it was awful. I was too embarrassed to just leave so I politely sucked down what I could, paid and left. I guess sherry is just not my drink.)

We began our walking tour of Jerez outside the imposing protective walls of the Alcazar, a Moorish fortress and palace. In 1931 the former Moorish palace and Alcazar of Jerez de la Frontera was turned into a cultural interest. It is located in a small park in Jerez. The palace/fortress was likely built in the 11th century, when Jerez was part of a small kingdom of the Taifa of Arcos de la Frontera. The fortress stone walls were massive dominating the now peaceful space.

Jose continued his history lesson reminding us that in 711 the Moors arrived, defeating the Visigoths and 800 years later, the Christians came and conquered Jerez. Jose pointed out an interesting cultural difference: Christians ate rabbits, Jews didn’t, Muslims washed five times a day, Christians only once a year. I’m not sure that was progress. After the conquest of the Americas and Granada, Jerez became one of the most prosperous cities in Andalusia through trade and its proximity of the ports of Seville and Cadiz.

Passing by the city walls, we walked to the Alameda, a space surrounded by trees, in this case, orange trees. As we walked along Orange Tree Boulevard, Jose told us that oranges are used as ornamental trees here. I wondered about the mess of fruit drop and was told they have people collecting the drops. Sour oranges have a unique, shiny large leaf with a small leaf behind and are not popular here but they are made into marmalade for export.

The city’s namesake cathedral, which used to be a mosque, is located in the Plaza de la Encarnacion. This 17th century gothic Cathedral of Jerez or Cathedral of San Salvador with its gothic gargoyles was once known as the Wine Cathedral and a special tax was levied for its production of wine. The ancient bell tower stands apart from the church and is the only thing left of the original church. The church was not open so we admired the architecture from outside. Pope Jean Paul II conferred this Church to a cathedral in 1980. Since the cathedral was not open to us we were told about its 16 chapels, and the priceless treasures inside. Another day.

We continued our walk passing by the Plaza de Arenal referring to the sand where horse races and bull fights took place. We were told the mounted horse monument here is of the first dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco Bahamonde, although I later read that in 2008 Spain removed all Franco statues from mainland Spain. It looks like they forgot one.

The dark brown 16th century Church of San Miguel is located in the Plaza Santos but nearby I was more charmed by the quiet exterior of the 15th century Church of San Dionisio. It was built in Gothic-Mudejar style but its clean lines appealed to me more. Its clock tower was installed in 1454 and was first used as a watchtower in 1484. Like most of Spain, there were a whole lot of churches.

Leaving Jerez Jose told us that this city is known for its flamenco, sherry, horses and motorcycles. In 2013, Jerez was the European Capital of Wine, in 2014, it was the world’s first Motorbike Capital. Something for everyone.

On our way back to Cadiz, I discovered that this region of southern Spain has an airiness to it due to the constant reflection of the unique light from the amazingly brilliant blue sea and light colored buildings. Because of this, Cadiz and the surrounding region of Spain has earned the moniker Costa de la Luz or The Coast of Light. With Cadiz surrounded by water at the end of an isthmus (the Bay of Cadiz and the Atlantic Ocean), gave the impression of being a beautiful sun kissed village. Interestingly, most buildings are constructed with solid blocks made from oyster stone to block out heat and humidity. Numerous decorated and colorful balconies overlook narrow streets bringing the unique culture and charm to the bustling city. I was captivated by the colorful tiles, in both Cadiz and Jerez, that dazzled in the bright sun and wondered, were they borrowed from neighboring Portugal?

The Old Town of Cadiz dates back more than 3,000 years and is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Europe. According to tradition, Cadiz was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC, but contemporary science dates it back to 800 BC when the Phoenician ships first reached the bay. The mythological Hercules is considered the founder of Cadiz. That Hercules sure got around. Cadiz is set on the tip of a peninsula that is almost entirely enclosed by the sea making this very attractive to the seagoing Phoenicians who made this a key site for their coastal factories. Due to this important location, Cadiz became “one of the most important trading posts in the sea routes of antiquity, leading the so-called ‘Circle of the Strait’ formed by cities from the south of the Iberian Peninsula and the north of Africa’ later called the Gadir Phoenician Route”. Gadir is a Phoenician name that appropriately means ‘place surrounded by water’. I later saw buttons for sale displayed in a shop window, one labeled Phoenician City Gadir, and another Gadir Gades, Qadis. As we walked by the Gadir Archaeological Site, Jose informed us that the people who live here are referred to as Gaditanos.

Cadiz proved to be a strategically good location during the punic wars between Carthage and Rome. During these wars the people of Cadiz were able to negotiate an agreement with Rome, freeing themselves from Carthaginian domination, however many dark years followed. In 1262 King Alfonso X the Wise conquered the Moors and repopulated Cadiz with Christians, converting the old Arab mosque into the first Christian cathedral celebrated on Saint Denis’s Day in 1264. In 1265 Cadiz became a city. In the 16th century Cadiz entered a period of renaissance, due in large part to its port becoming an important center for trade with the New World. Today Cadiz’s main income is from its shipyards and tourism. With over 300 sunny days and two favoring winds, a warm one from the south east and the cooling and refreshing Atlantic breezes, and yes, the sherry, there is much to enjoy.

La Caleta is a small cove in old Cadiz, and its beach was a well known Phoenician anchorage. Jose stopped the bus to give us time to see this historic Phoenician beach, but we soon learned that this historic beach was eclipsed by the James Bond “Die Another Day” movie and a well known scene where Halle Berry, in her bright orange bikini, slowly makes her way out of the sparkling blue water. Jose refers to this as the “beach of Halle Berry”. Jose was especially proud. From this beach we were able to see a portion of the 17th century rampart Walls that were built for protection for Cadiz, the oldest city in Western Europe.

Cadiz, we are told, is the cradle of flamenco music and while we were exploring the many plazas we encountered a flamenco dancer performing for a crowd. We stopped for a while to watch yet another flamenco performance in yet another city in southern Spain claiming to be the cradle of flamenco. I think we can safely say the southern region of Spain is the cradle of flamenco.

We continued our tour passing the massive Cathedral of Cadiz, locally known as the “New Cathedral” because the old cathedral was destroyed after a fire. It is officially known as the Cathedral de “Santa Cruz sober el mar”. This Baroque-style cathedral took 116 years to complete and due to its size I can easily see why! It underwent several major changes to the original design. Although we did not enter the church, we could admire its construction from the outside.

The Central Market is where locals buy their olives, vegetables, fish and meat, and Jose thought it was a place that would be grand for us to find lunch. When we walked through the market to identify the various shops, Jose helped us buy some olives but soon left. On our own we fumbled around because few people spoke English, so we muttered about doing the best we could. We soon found out it was very difficult to find a decent lunch (that we would like) or a nice place to sit. Unlike the fabulous markets in Seville and Barcelona, we found very little that was appealing and no tapas, but eventually we settled on an empanada Gallega de carne and callos a la Gaellga from El Rincon Gallego, a stall selling food in the market. I had hope to buy some olive oil here (the Phoenicians are credited with introducing olive oil to this region) but without some guidance we found Jose and left the market to continue on our tour.

After lunch Jose guided us through some brilliant sunlit plazas with their colorful buildings, flower strewn balconies and unique architecture. Parks were well positioned throughout our walk offering much needed shade and ornate stone benches, a place to sit and relax. But of course, I don’t relax much so I photographed the benches instead.

We stood in front of the Cadiz Town Hall for a photo op. Jose was especially proud of this building and the architecture. It sits surrounded by a lovely paved "park" that invites locals and visitors alike to enjoy the sun of Cadiz.

We were told that the 19th century Plaza San Antonio, with its lovely church, was considered to be Cadiz’s main square. The plaza, named after the hermit San Antonio is surrounded by impressive, colorful mansions built in the neoclassical architecture style. As we worked our way back towards the port and our ship, Jose stopped at the Memorial Monument to the 1812 Constitution by sculptor Aniceto Marinas affectionately known as ‘La Pepe’ in Plaza de Espana. Jose emphasized the statues of female figures and the sole woman on top holding the book of the 1812 Constitution as an important victory for Spain but also important gesture for women. This constitution was “one of the earliest constitutions in world history. It was established in 1812 by the Cortes of Cadiz, the first Spanish legislature that included delegates from the entire Spanish empire”. The monument sits in the grand new city square. I chose not to get far enough back to photograph the entire because I wanted to focus more on the details of this impressive memorial to get a better view of the women, a wonderful emphasis to peace that balanced the history of war and aggression.

As we sailed out of Cadiz under La Pepa Bridge, one of the highest in Europe, we realized we were leaving Spain and that made me sad. I made myself a promise to return to discover more wonders and of course eat more tapas!

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