I have a theory that each country has a center of gravity – a certain corner, perhaps not always the most visited, where many iconic themes of the national culture were either born or took root. For Spain, this is Cádiz.
Not only is Cádiz the most ancient surviving city in western Europe but it is one of the birthplaces of flamenco music, modern bullfighting, Spanish democracy and the main launch pad for the Spanish conquests of the New World. In fact, take away this small port city, jutting out into the Atlantic on what is virtually an island, and much of what we think of as “Spanish” would disappear. So, to know Spain, a trip here is essential.
Cádiz is a place to wander and get lost in, which is quite easy because the streets are so narrow and winding. That said, it’s almost completely surrounded by water, so if ever you do get stuck, simply keep going straight (or as straight as you can) until you reach the sea and take your bearings from there (This is something we should have followed when trying to find Cadiz train station on our way home!).
The cathedral is a good place to start and is supposedly where Hercules himself is buried. The square in front is one of the city’s major gathering points. If you come at Easter, colorful processions of worshippers with tall, conical hats pass through carrying devotional icons. From here you can go in any direction you choose in search of some of the quiet, pretty squares that seem to appear from nowhere as you meander down the alleyways. Try to look for the Plaza Candelaria, with its cool gardens and the Plaza de San Antonio, home of the Baroque church.
Cádiz is not only rustic in its architecture and history but also in its resistance to modernization. It was a great relief not to find too many consumer type shops. There were only two streets with stores selling higher end apparels like the Spanish brands Zara and Blanco.
To say the least, there is an intimate family feel to Cadiz. Once, we were sitting in a piazza a family with members from three generations came along pushing a wheel chair in which an elderly man was seated. Someone shouted, “Hey, Pedro is here!” Suddenly there was uproar in the piazza. Other older men came rushing out of restaurants and stores to greet Pedro and enquire after his well-being. Soon the wheel chair was completely surrounded by Pedro’s friends while Pedro introduced his grandchildren.
No account of Cádiz can be complete without the mention of the wonderful food that we ate there. The tapas provides an opportunity to sample a wide variety of Spanish cuisine. And if you are a seafood lover, Cadiz will be paradise for you; all varieties of seafood are as fresh as they get and cooked to perfection (I have heard!) If you are a vegetarian like me, there can be a myriad of options depending on where you go, from patatas bravas to tortilla.
In Cádiz, the sky is blue as is the sea; the air is clean and fragrant thanks to the multitude of trees and flowers that line the roads, and there is a refreshing absence of consumerism. Life treads gently and calmly here. This place is an old world that has seen all the vicissitudes of history and where nothing really changes. It is this aspect that seems to imbue the city dwellers and visitors with a deep sense of inner peace.
Student Journalist, Creative Writer, Poet, Traveller, Eco Warrior