On our way to Cádiz, Dani couldn’t stop singing in the car the famous song of Niña Pastori about Cai. “Niña caí se bebe el sol… Que hay en la brisa marinera… Y que remienda tu corazón… Con la sonrisa más morena…”
Also I had all these blurred images in my mind from old travel pictures, that gave me some kind of idea about how this city could be. But nothing more, I was peacefully waiting to arrive and letting the city excite me.
A bridge over the ocean gave way to a city bathed in the August sun. A modern looking city on a blue background. Nothing special until it begins to stain white and the buildings of the 20th century get overcome by those of the 19th. Cádiz is a legacy of that Spain that wanted to be fleetingly advanced in its time but was not, weighed down by its own inertias.
We arrived in the morning hours and gave ourselves not even a full day to discover Cádiz. By the evening we wanted to be in Jerez already, as per our original plan. Knowing that Cádiz is a popular holiday destination by itself, where people are coming for weeks, we obviously underestimated the related necessary time to explore its beauty.
Cádiz for me is the memory of that contradiction. The city, always important due to its geostrategic situation, was the Gadir of the Phoenicians, a competitor of Tartessos, which it sank when it became the owner of the commercial monopoly in the Mediterranean sea by the hand of the Hannibal’s Carthaginians. Defeated by the Romans, Cádizobtained from the hand of Julius Caesar the title of Cúcutas Federata of the Roman Senate and aqueducts and other infrastructures were built. Then Visigoths came and immediately afterwards the Arabs till the Christians conquered it. That new period elevated it as one of the most important ports in the country, first monopoly to trade to Africa in the 16th century and then to America in the 17th, taking away from Seville such privilege due to the problems of navigation on the Guadalquivir river and giving rise in Cádiz to a bourgeois society, of a very commercial nature, therefore liberal and revolutionary in this sense. The traces of such a cultural substrate can still be read today.
After walking around a bit in the city center, based on Dani’s recommendation, we wanted to visit the famous Torre Tavira and its spectacular views on the city. Cádiz is known worldwide for its watchtowers. They are witness to the trade and prosperity which the city experienced in the 18th century. At this time, the Tavira Tower was the official watchtower of Cádiz due to the fact that it is situated in the centre of town, and was also the highest point in the town at 45 meters above the sea level.
“Don Antonio Tavira was the first watchman of the tower and used his telescope to see the ships full with goods coming from America. Today the Camera Obscura enables us to observe Cádiz and its development in the 21th century.”
We were lucky, got tickets quickly, but due to the limited numbers of potential visitors, we needed to wait a bit, until we could discover the Cámara Obscura. If you have never heard of it before, let me give you some technical background.
“The Camera Obscura projects an image on a white concave horizontal screen, like on a table, which is situated in the centre of completely darkened, black painted room. The projected images are coloured and luminescent and they reflect everything that happens at this very moment outside the tower (moving images in real time). Thanks to the large focal distance of the lenses the result is a magnificent optical effect which means that even objects which are far away seem to be near. To focus the different distances the screen moves up and down, which allows the screen to focus, just like in a camera. The images in the Camera Obscura can be moved forwards and backwards to visualize the different parts of the landscape. Above one can see the horizon at a certain distance, and below, examine details.”
I think this visit is a must have to enjoy the best views of Cádiz.
Cádiz is homogeneous in its old part, the streets are a delight of singular windows and balconies in ancient royal buildings, predominating the architecture of the 19th century as a result of gaps filling from those bombs that fell for two years in a row in one of the sieges that has most marked the Spanish history. Invaded by Napoleonic troops, Spain had transferred the government to San Fernando, in the Cádiz bay, with easy access to the last of the country’s cities.
That government, refuged in such a geographical extreme, defended by troops of the battered army reinforced by English and Portuguese, represented what remained of the Spanish sovereignty, surrounded by French troops in that bay that tripled them in number. The English curiously sensitized to the Spanish cause tried to help Cádiz from Gibraltar. The Frenchmen posted in Chiclana de la Frontera, Puerto Real and El Puerto de Santa María controlled the bay of a besieged Cádiz for two long years. Attempts to take the city by force were constantly unsuccessful, so they dedicated themselves to bombarding the city with huge artillery pieces that ranged distances of up to three kilometres, an unprecedented fact at the time, but causing only acceptable damage to the city defences due to the distance itself from where they were shooting and the difficulties of the bay’s winds to do that.
Cádiz survived the siege but it was very clear that Spanish aristocracy and specially the monarchy had not been able to lead the country to a successful way. They didn’t just attempt to defend it either when was necessary during a foreign invasion. As a result, the 1812 constitution was born there, the most liberal known that time, popularly called La Pepa. This constitution made an official regime change where liberal bourgeoisie took power over. But that was only a sun mirage, a tricky reflection on La Caleta beach, which did not last long and ended with the restoration of Fernando VII, desired by a population with deep traditional roots that had little to do with that Cádiz that despite many internal contradictions endured as a Spanish symbol under the French bombs.
After a late lunch we decided to spend the crazy hot afternoon hours on La Caleta beach.
The beach is located between the castles of San Sebastián and Santa Catalina, and this is the most popular beach of the city. There are restaurants, beach bars, flamenco clubs and even a decadent spa in the surrounding area. It is a metropolitan beach that many people, including locals love to visit. The fine golden sand covers a huge area. The most relevant feature is its beautiful urban surroundings.
We could see that basically everyone from the city was on the beach in the afternoon hours, while all the streets were empty. No wonder, the only possible place to survive these hours during summer is on the beach…
“Niña caí se bebe el sol…” 🌞