Cadiz Old Town Tour
Cadiz is a beautiful old town and we decided to first explore it with a tour. We choose Pancho Tours, which does free tours in a number of cities in Spain (free meaning that you give the guide what you think the tour is worth). This was one of the better “free” tours, led by the quite competent Lucia. We started at the main plaza in front of the Ayuntamiento, Cadiz’s city hall. There we learned the myth and the reality of the city’s founding. The myth is that Hercules founded the city after completing one of his twelve labors—separating Europe from Africa by pulling them apart at Gibraltar.
In reality, it was founded by the Etruscans as a trading port in 1104 B.C., and is the oldest city in Europe. It was progressively ruled by the Romans, the Byzantines, the Visigoths, the Byzantines again, and the Muslims, before coming under Hapsburg rule. But, unlike virtually the rest of Spain, it (for reasons discussed below) never fell under to rule of France.
We then circled around a surviving segment of the old city wall to one of the three remaining gates that served as an entry on the road that led to Rome. Then up to a section of the wall that guarded the city from the sea that provided an overview of the old city’s cathedrals and coastal views of both the Old Town and New Town.
Then into the fun, scenic, ex-bordello El Popolo district where we explored the street and the museum from which we could see the in-process excavation of the oldest and second largest (about 20,000 people) Roman theater in Spain.
We paused in El Popolo’s main square to look at the Old Cathedral (since rebuilt a church) and the New Cathedral (converted from a mosque) but greatly expanded and with a façade that was built over more than 100 years (1722-1838) during which both architectural styles and the fortunes of Cadiz changed. As a result, part of it is ornate Baroque style and part Neo-Classical. Just as dramatically, the bottom third (when times were good) is in white marble, the middle thirds (when times were bad) in sandstone, and the top third (when times improved) again in white marble. (The large yellow dome atop the church, by the way, is intended to represent the sun).
When in the square, we also visited the elaborate façade of the house of an American trade merchant who build a facade that was much more impressive than the rest of the building to create an impression that demand for his products were so strong that people would pay higher prices. We also saw the first of number of vertically embedded cannon barrels (that Napoleon left after his unsuccessful attempt to take the city) that are now used to protect the corners of building from cars; and learned why the Old town streets are so narrow and winding (to protect residents from the often fierce winds that buffet the city).
Then into Topeta Square (more commonly known as Flower Market Square) to see the market, the Central Market (with sections for seafood, meat, produce and specialty foods) and a few of the 112 remaining towers that merchants used to use to look for the ships that were coming into port with goods they wanted to buy (which they could judge from the colors of the ship’s flags).
Then onto another square, the ominous Plaza de la Cruz Verde (Plaza of the Green Cross) where Inquisition victims were publically hanged, garroted and burned.
We then reached the Le Vigne neighborhood’s La Palma Street, a lively, table-filled street anytime, but also the center of Cadiz’s famous Carnival Celebration—a celebration not with elaborate costumes and floats like most other Carnival celebrations, but one where costumes are as wild and crazy as possible and where here is an annual competition for producing song lyrics that best satirize society.
The tour ended overlooking Old Town’s only beach (which is small, but very pretty) compared with New Town’s several large beaches. This beach, however, has a couple of particular distinctions. First, it is the beach off which the decisive Battle of Trafalgar was fought. This battle, which was instigated by a French-Spanish alliance that was planned to launch an attack on England. England, however, learned of the attack and send Lord Nelson (who was outnumbered and outgunned) to launch a preemptive strike that not only thwarted the attack, but also neutralized the once dominant Spanish Armada. The area has since (like closing the barn door after the horse escaped) been guarded by two forts; San Sebastian and Santa Catalina—both of which are now museums and cultural centers.
Then, after the tour, on our own walk, we went by Plaza d’Espagna, with its large, impressive, marble monument to the city
One day; one lunch and one dinner.
Lunch, which was very rushed by a desire to eat before an afternoon tour, provided few options. At our hotel’s recommendation, we ended up at:
La Taparria, which was not much of an introduction to the food of Cadiz. We had four dishes, only one of which was proved at all interesting. The less than inspiring dishes were potato salad with prawns, roasted octopus on potatoes with paprika, and tuna loin with chilled tomato sauce and caramelized onion. The more interesting dish was cod loin with leak sauce and walnuts.
Dinner provided more options. We, with the help of our hotel chose:
Balandro, and amazingly busy restaurant with a large seafood-intensive menu and a large wine list. Tom focused on type of fish which he never had before, such as a scorpion fish pate (very creamy and mild tasting) and fried sea anemone (a soft texture with an early taste). Joyce had a more traditional, but very good dish of baked rolled sea bass with shrimp, on a bed of eggplant with walnuts and pumpkin seeds. We had it with a bottle of Verdelho (Finca la Colina 2013 rom Rueda)—and all for an outrageously low price. Quite a treat!