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Cádiz - Light fantastic

Venice without the canals. Havana, but with more charm. Yep, both similes are absolutely spot on, but there’s more… English novelist and Hispanophile, Laurie Lee, described Cádiz as “A scribble of white on a sheet of blue glass, lying curved on the bay like a scimitar and sparkling with African light.” While for the Phoenicians who founded it in around 1100 BC – and named it Gadir – it was ‘The City of Light’…

Situated on the Costa de la Luz or the Coast of Light, comprising the provinces of Cádiz and Huelva, the city of Cádiz – the slenderest of isthmuses jutting out into the blue sea – is virtually an island in all but name. Like the rest of Andalucía, it basks in sunshine pretty much all year round. But it’s the sheer luminous intensity of its extraordinary light that defines the city. Everywhere you look, sunlight reflects off whitewashed walls and the sparkling ocean, dapples through trees, gleams on the cathedral’s golden cupula and dances on fountains.

Cadiz - Light fantastic

And then there are the several spectacular city beaches to chill out on, including Playa La Victoria and Playa La Cortadura, while few in the world can be more dramatic than Playa de la Caleta. Flanked at one end by the San Sebastián fort, and at the other by the Santa Catalina castle, if it looks strangely familiar, well that’s because it is!  Due to Cádiz’s uncanny resemblance to Havana, it was on this very beach that the ‘Cuban’ scenes in blockbusting Bond movie Die Another Day – starring Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry – were filmed on location in 2002, with bikini-clad Berry famously emerging from the sea in a scene reminiscent of Ursula Andress in the 007 film, Dr. No, produced 40 years earlier.

If the city’s La Caleta beach looks strangely familiar, well that’s because it is!

If, on the other hand, you prefer your beaches to be out of town, then head for the pristine and almost totally untamed dunes of Zahara de los Atunes, El Palmar, Bolonia, Caños de Meca… or Tarifa – renowned for its world-class kitesurfing and windsurfing.

Less than a 2-hour drive west from Marbella, as the city comes into view, Cádiz puts you in mind of a cruise ship of mammoth proportions at anchor just off the shore. With the sea lapping it on three sides – and this is the bracing Atlantic rather than the languid Mediterranean remember – a salty tang pervades the air and the blue sea is ever present, glimpsed at the end of narrow streets, while the promenade all but encircles the town.

Cadiz - Light fantastic

The oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain, and the most ancient in Western Europe, Cádiz was founded more than 3,000 years ago by Phoenicians attracted to its strategic location at the entrance to the Mediterranean. It subsequently became a base of operations for Hannibal’s conquest of southern Iberia, before passing into the hands of the Romans in 206 BC, the Visigoths in 410, and the Moors in 711 and was finally conquered by Spanish monarch Alfonso X, the King of Castile, León and Galicia in 1262.

It was from Cádiz that Christopher Columbus set sail on his second and fourth voyages of discovery, and since the city later became the home port of the Spanish treasure fleet, it somewhat inevitably became a major target for Spain’s enemies. In 1587, Sir Francis Drake ‘singed the King of Spain’s beard’ with a raid on the port, delaying the Spanish Armada by a year, and other naval attacks and blockades followed sporadically over the next 100-odd years. And then of course, in 1805, the Battle of Trafalgar took place just south of Cádiz. The most decisive British naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars, it was here that Admiral Lord Nelson was mortally wounded on the deck of his flagship HMS Victory, becoming one of Britain’s greatest war heroes in the process.

But 17th and 18th century Cádiz flourished. Three-quarters of Spain’s booming trade was with the Americas, and that meant it passed through the port of Cádiz. It became one of Spain’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan of cities. Consequently, the majority of Cadiz’s historic villas and townhouses – whose façades are painted in pastel pink, duck-egg blue and pistachio green, with glazed balconies sporting elegant wrought-iron balustrades – date from this affluent period which lasted until Spain’s loss of its colonies in the 19th century.

Cadiz - Light fantastic

At the height of its golden age, more than 160 merchants’ residences were topped with towers or turrets – often complete with telescopes – so their owners could gaze out to sea to watch the arrival of their ships laden with silver and gold from the New World. Some of them still remain, and the tallest, Torre Tavira, is a unique vantage point, with a camera obscura projecting live, panoramic images of the city onto a screen. It’s a good place to head to first to get your bearings, because with 3,000 years of chequered history under its belt, there are plenty of absorbing monuments and ancient landmarks you’ll want to explore.

One of its most famous is the cathedral. The original, dating from 1260, was burnt to the ground by Englishman, Lord Essex, who raided Cádiz in 1596, making off with most of the city’s stocks of famous sherry to boot. Since reconstruction took from 1722 until 1853 to complete, it’s a mixture of baroque, rococo and neoclassical architecture. World-famous 20th century composer Manuel de Falla – who was born in the city and whose red-bricked Moorish revival-style theatre bears his name – is buried in the cathedral’s crypt which, incidentally, is said to have extraordinary acoustics.

You would probably imagine that The Spanish Constitution of 1812 was signed in Madrid. But the event which transformed Spain into a solid democracy, was the foundation for most Iberian-American States following their independence, and which also influenced the texts of several other European constitutions was enacted right here in Cádiz, at the celebrated Oratorio San Felipe Neri. So it’s none other than the liberal-minded Gaditanos who were responsible for establishing Spain’s popular sovereignty, the separation of powers, the freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

The cathedral dating from 1260, is a mixture of baroque, rococo and neoclassical architecture.

One of the city’s finest baroque churches, with a breathtaking dome, an unusual oval-shaped interior and an Inmaculada by Murillo on its altarpiece, the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri is a must-see. As is the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, whose resplendent Upper Chapel features stunning paintings by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya.

The finest museum in the province, the Museo de Cádiz’s archaeology section includes two Phoenician marble sarcophagi, various headless Roman statues, plus Emperor Trajan – complete with head – from the ancient ruins of nearby Baelo Claudia. The fine arts collection, meanwhile, features 18 exquisite canvases of saints, angels and monks by Francisco de Zurbarán, as well as the painting that cost Murillo his life – he died in 1682 after falling from the scaffolding while creating the beautifully composed altarpiece which originally decorated the city’s Convento de Capuchinas.

Cadiz - Light fantastic

Other impressive sights include the Monument to the Constitution, the palatial Admiral’s House, the imposing Church of Santiago dating from 1635, the various city gates – Las Puertas de Tierra, El Arco de los Blancos and El Arco de la Rosa – and the Roman Theatre. Built during the the 1st Century BC, it’s the second largest in the world, surpassed only by that of Pompeii, but temporarily closed for renovation.

Cádiz has a laid-back and relaxing atmosphere and plenty of leafy squares, parks and narrow cobbled streets to explore, as well of course as those fabulous beaches. The freshly-landed fish and seafood – washed down with a chilled glass of fino or two – is simply irresistible, and by night, in the city that claims to be the birthplace of the fiery and passionate dance, a visit to one of the town’s several flamenco clubs is a must. World-famous flamenco artistes Camarón de la Isla, Paco de Lucía, Niña Pastori and Sara Baras were all born in Cadíz. 

And then of course there’s Carnival… Only outranked in size by Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, the Cádiz Carnival dates way back to the XVI century when the festivities were imported from Venice – famous for its masked balls and parades originating in the XIII century – with whom the city had established important trade connections.

Declared of International Tourist Interest, the Cádiz Carnival takes place each year in February or March, scarcely pausing for breath for ten riotous, spectacular, colourful and truly unforgettable days and nights.

But then whatever time of year you visit, Cádiz is guaranteed to light up your life!

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 97 - 2013

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