Cádiz, Andalucía is Spain’s oldest city and allegedly the oldest city in western Europe. So many people have laughed, loved and fought in this place – which lies at Spain’s end and stares across the sea at Africa – I hardly know where to begin. I arrived beneath a brilliant sunshine to passionate stomping, swirling and fiery contortions, accompanied by the sweet sounds of flamenco guitar. Just another day in Cádiz, no doubt. Not just another day for me.
I won’t try and do this historically complex city justice here, as my visit to Cádiz was fleeting and mostly confined to the town’s old quarter. Instead, I’ll talk about the things I saw and heard, my Cádiz, which I hope will give you a few ideas.
Leaving the flamenco show (which you can watch at the end of this post), I wandered down a maze of streets – brushing past tourists, beggars and locals – before arriving at Cádiz Cathedral, the centrepiece of town. This golden dome-topped building glistened in the sunshine, above a market replete with trinkets, clothes, cheese, bottles of wine, caramel drapes adorned with bulls, dried salted ham and the faces of Africa that plied their trade in the shade.
Further into the maze I arrived at Plaza Topete, which I loved as my last name is Tope. It’s also a pretty place with flowers, plants, old buildings, excellent food and lots of beggars. A plate of soft, lightly floured dogfish arrived with a glass of wine. I sipped, savoured and sat on the corner contently enjoying the colourful madness on this tip of Spain. If you’re into markets, food, Spain and the sea, put Cádiz at the top of your list.
A (very) short history
Cádiz, Andalucía was founded as Gadir by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC before it eventually fell to the Romans in 206 BC to become a flourishing naval base known as Gades. Waning over time, the city was taken by the Moors in 711, who renamed the place Qadis.
In 1262, Alphonso X of Castile ousted the Moors and the place became Cádiz. Later, during the 15th-century, Christopher Columbus launched his second and fourth voyages from Cádiz before it became the home port of the Spanish treasure fleet.
Back into the maze, past fishing nets, flower pots and narrow lanes flanked by old buildings. A moped whizzed past, then around the corner we passed beneath a fisherman’s exhibit, where rods with fake fish dangled from balconies. My son ran beneath this scene, creating a moment that I thought was very much Cádiz – charming and dreamy, old and mysterious.
Water trickled from a plaza fountain, somewhere deep in the network of Cádiz. My boy and another laughed, then sent chairs scraping across the plaza before kicking a ball, which made a dull thud off an old tree and an even older pavement. Glasses clinked beneath the light rustle of leaves. Minutes later, we were by the sea listening to the murmur of a 100 voices on one of Cádiz’s most popular beaches, Playa La Caleta.
Playa La Caleta sits between two castles, Castillo de Santa Catalina and Castillo de San Sebastián. In between these were umbrellas that looked like large ashen Mexican hats, while families played in the murky water where Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans once bathed. I am certainly spoiled when it comes to beaches in Australia and this wasn’t one of my finest experiences. Allegedly there’s a much nicer beach out of town. However Bond fans might like to know that Die Another Day was filmed here.
I explored one of the castles at the end of the beach, Castillo de Santa Catalina, which I found only mildly interesting. After leaving the seaside and exploring the waterfall, cave and gardens of Park Genoves (worth a visit), my family and I headed back into Cádiz’s labyrinth to Mercado Central de Abastos (Central Market).
This place is a Cádiz highlight, brimming with fresh market seafood during the day and colourful eateries at night. I missed the morning markets, instead I enjoyed some evening tapas and tasty varieties of beer. Forgetting to take a photo, I enjoyed my final few hours of daylight here before racing back to Cádiz station for the last train to Jerez de la Frontera.
Cádiz, Andalucía deserves some time, however if you’re a little rushed like I was, here’s a few highlights you shouldn’t miss:
- Mercado Central de Abastos
- Plaza Topete – have some lunch and soak up the vibe
- Cádiz Cathedral
- Explore the maze of Cádiz’s old lanes
- Try some seafood
You can reach Cádiz from Seville by car, bus or train, which takes about two hours. The closest airport is Jerez de la Frontera (25km north of the city), which also has a train station that connects with Cádiz.
Enjoy my video of a flamenco street performance in Cádiz taken on an iPhone 4s.