Cadiz – the oldest settlement in Europe

Monday 17 April

A walk to the Seville station mid-morning for the 11.09 to Cadiz. We noticed that kids were going to school – no Easter Monday holiday when the country takes the pre-Easter Holy Week (Semana Santa) off for multiple daily processions!  We met Jill and Dave on the station – they were off on a train to Malaga at the same time where they are to spend a couple of days before flying back to London. Only a 2 hour trip to Cadiz, and a 10 minute walk to our accommodation. Our first back packer place ever. It is called Casa Caracol. We are very impressed with the set up. It is clean, well appointed, a shared sitting room and a shared kitchen and dining room, with breakfast provided. No wonder it gets such accolades in Lonely Planet. Of course everyone is 50 to 60 years younger than us. But they are all very friendly and the staff are incredibly helpful. They had suggestions for places to visit and for food and we have tried them very successfully.

Having said all that, the first night they gave us a room on the ground floor, with a window to the street. They warned us it would be noisy, and my goodness, it was. We were very tired and in bed before 10.30 and the rest of Cadiz didn’t stop till well after midnight. Anyway, they had asked us if we would like a room higher up the next night – and so while we were out this morning they moved us up and now we sit there having a rest – also no longer sharing a bathroom. It is 2 floors up so getting our cases down will be interesting – but they are very likely to help.

Back to yesterday. We were off pretty soon after our arrival. First explored the cathedral, another incredibly ornate over-the-top place. Cadiz is small so it seems incredible that they ever needed a cathedral like this.  Two things in particular struck us about this Cathedral.  We saw for the first time a statue of Jesus crucified – but when he was a small child!  The audio did provide something of an explanation, but we can’t imagine what kind of theology the sculptor might have had in mind as he produced this work.  Secondly, when up the bell tower, we saw clear evidence of the earlier existence of at least part of the church as a mosque.

Cadiz now has a population of 125,000 – it may well have been a lot bigger in the past. It is meant to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe – 200 years older than Rome. It was founded about 800BC when Phoenician traders arrived and started to mine silver and other metals. (Hence the feature image of this blog.) Then it boomed when Rome began to trade with it (for olive oil, wine and wheat) and again after Columbus’ trips to the Americas. He actually sailed from Cadiz on his 2nd and 4th voyages. In the 18th century Cadiz had 75% of Spain’s trade with the Americas and played an important role when the Spanish colonies were being set up. Cadiz was where Spain’s first liberal constitution was signed in 1812. However, the loss of the colonies in the 19th centuries plunged Cadiz into decline –and it is only just recovering. It was spruced up for the 200th anniversary in 2012 of the signing of the constitution, but there are many parts of the city still needing a facelift.

The ancient city is almost surrounded by water. In fact there is a gate which shows where the water used to come into the city. The water being the Atlantic. From what we hear the beaches are one of the things which get the young ones here. We saw people swimming yesterday.

It is fun exploring Cadiz as it has lots of very different areas, with their own atmosphere. It is pretty small so we feel we have seen a lot in our short time. Yesterday, after the cathedral we mainly walked and discovered Roman remains, and lots of little churches. We ended up at the ancient market area where we had a Sangria, in an area where the population were out for their evening walk. We went from there to a beautiful restaurant recommended by our hosts. We had 4 different sorts of tapas, all incredibly imaginative. Started with tuna tartare, followed by artichokes and another sort of fish, then octopus on spinach, and the last was grilled salmon. All with beautiful sauces.  As you will guess, we were feeling we had missed on our usual heavy home diet of fish. The food is terrific and not really expensive.

Tuesday 18

After the Paso.

Today we started off to go the Museum of Cadiz. Took us a while as there were so many places to pop into on the way including the old cathedral, and other little corners. At the old cathedral there was a team of volunteers working to dismantle the floats (pasos) from Easter. An amazing process, including wrapping intricate pieces in gladwrap. They must have used meters of the stuff.

The museum was very good. It has an archeological part with a very good coverage of what has been dug up over the years from way back in Phoenician times. Most recently, just in the 80s they found a second enormous Phoenician sarcophagus, and both of these – for a male and a female – are now in the museum.

As well there is a very good collection of Spanish art including around 20 by Francisco Zubaran (an early 17th century painter who we got to like in Seville), and some Murillo paintings which we really liked. These included a painting of the altar piece which he was working on in the Capuchin church in Cadiz when he fell from the scaffolding and died. Another painter created a beautiful canvas depicting Murillo lying in front of the Alter piece with the monks caring for him. It was very moving.

By then it was after 2.00 so we had some lunch and back to the hostel for a bit of a rest.

We had heard there was to be some flamenco on at 10.00, so we went off to that. No one turned up till around 11, then the place got crowded, and the music started. It did not involve dance, just a guitarist and a female flamenco singer. Although we could not understand a word, it was fantastic, and like the dance last week, just so passionate. We sat with 3 young Canadian women from the back packers hostel. When they started the second bracket of numbers, the 2 musicians called 2 fellows they knew from the audience. They were both incredibly skilled at flamenco clapping along with the other 2 performers, and made a terrific contribution.



We left to go home after midnight after the second bracket as we had an early bus to catch and needed to be up by 7am.  Passed a delightful piece of street sculpture to remind us of where we had just been.  We didn’t see the girls again so don’t know if they continued their performance with another bracket. It was terrific – we will definitely see what we can find in Córdoba. We had a marvellous sleep, although not long enough in our new room.  We loved Cadiz and found it a place you could reasonably get to know in the 36 hours we had.