Cadiz: Walking Through History

So a while back we posted about our adventure to Jerez (right here) and all the delicious sherry/jerez we drank (right here), and we mentioned that we took a day trip to Cadiz.

Cadiz had been our original destination (with a day trip to Jerez), but we switched it around after we started looking at the prices for hotels and restaurants. It turns out that Cadiz is a major destination in Southern Spain, so it’s packed with people. It’s also a tiny island, and there is not a lot of space to accommodate all the visitors. By basing ourselves in Jerez we were able to get an entire apartment to ourselves for the price of a shared hostel room in Cadiz.

To be fair, it really is pretty.

Even though our visit was only a day trip, we had more than enough time to see everything. The second we stepped off of the train we could see sea-walls and forts, and from then on we couldn’t turn a corner without being met by another great site.


There used to be a big ol’ river and now there’s no river! (Silt deposits created more land). Also Cadiz lost some landmass and was straightened up with shipping routes and ports. So the train ride itself was a little journey through history, since we were traveling over what once used to be the ocean.

We continued the journey though history by heading straight to the Yacimiento Arqueologico Gadir – an archaeology museum chronicling the Phoenician city that used to be here.

Phoenicians turn up a lot in Spanish history, but we’ve never really explained who they were despite mentioning them here, here, here, and here. So if you’re curious, here is a little bit about who they were: Basically they were a group of super sailors who lived in more or less the same area where Syria is today. “Phoenician” is what the Greeks called them, and it either meant “Red Man” (because they were constantly at sea and therefore always sunburned) or “Purple Dye Man” (because they mostly traded purple dye). Also the concept of a phonetic alphabet comes from them (Phoenician=Phonetic). They were some of the first people do make a language that used symbols to represent sounds instead of ideas. They sailed around the Mediterranean and built cities wherever they saw fit, until eventually they landed in Cadiz.

Cadiz’s history is like every other city in Andalucia: (Crash Course in History, ready, go)

  1. There were some local peoples who were doing okay for themselves.
    1. They were nomadic
    2. They stopped all that and built cities
    3. They figured out metal working
  2. The Phoenicians show up on boats and colonize everything because they have boats and trading technology and the few others have. They build cities and temples and worship all kinds of hybrid Egyptian/Greek gods. Their culture transfers to some of the locals, and they become known as Iberians.
  3. The Celts show up, but mostly in the north.
  4. Celts, and Iberians mingle and make Celtiberians (sounds like a dog breed)
  5. The Romans are done with not-owning-everything so they fight the Punic Wars and win and now all of Spain (basically) is Roman. They put a bunch of nice aqueducts everywhere and build theaters and statues and garum factories. This lasts about 600 years until…
  6. The Germans (Visgoths) show up and take over. Other than convince the locals to be Christian they don’t accomplish much during their 200 year reign.
  7. The Moors show up and take over, they’ll hold power over the area for 1000 years.
  8.  The next 1000 years are a freaking mess of Muslim-Christian-Muslim-Christian powerplays and fighting for a really long time.
  9. The Christians win and Spain is Christian now. Send Christopher Columbus out to explore
  10. Spain is super rich now.
  11. Spain is super poor now.
  12. StuffedEyes moves to Spain.

Of all the cities in Andalusia that we have visited, Tarifa, Almunecar, Cadiz, Almeria, Gibraltar, Martos, Jaen, it’s always interesting to see how similar the histories are. It’s almost uncanny. But Cadiz is unique because it is probably the first place where the Phoenicians landed. They called it Gadir. (Their other big city was Sexi, aka Almunecar). But this actually makes Cadiz the oldest continuously-occupied city in all of Europe.

So we went to see the old Phonecian city which is under the theater/city hall of Cadiz. We watched a movie about a dead man (whose skeleton was literally in a clear display ground right next to us). The movie was about how he died (in a fire/broken leg) when the city caught on fire for a moment.

Then the display screen went up and there was the city:

It was a pretty cool thing. They had preserved horse footprints in their road (yes they had roads), as well as a skeleton of a cat that died in the fire still laying in the ancient street.

I mentioned they liked Greek/Egyptian things and this was evident when we saw some Phoenician sarcophagi made to resemble Egyptian sarcophagi. These are very rare finds apparently, so it was cool that we got to see two.


So given the history, and southern-ness, next up should be the Romans. Cadiz had one of the best Roman theaters we’ve ever been to. The hallway/auditorium was completely accessible and you could walk about half the length of the ancient hallway. This lead to upper areas where ancient Romans would sit according to their societal status.

In the pictures you can see the above-ground and surviving parts of the theater (dark gray). The photo below it is confusing but this was a glass window on the floor that showed where the seating area stopped and the stage would’ve started. This was a little over 10 feet below the museum’s natural floor. So 10 feet below where we were standing is where the stage once was, then the seats would’ve gone up like a huge semi-circular staircase. Behind these “stairs” there would’ve been an enclosed area (with all the columns) for women to stand and watch.

What it would’ve looked like (above)

What it looks like now.

Throughout the ages people built right on top of the ancient theater.

There were also a ton of Roman funeral stones in the museum. Every museum in Spain has at least 10, but in the Cadiz museum we saw our first Roman infant funeral stone.


The actual inscription (translated from Latin to Spanish to English) reads “Here lies the child Liberalis, 5 years old, loved by his family.” Then it ends with the common Roman funeral phrase “May the earth rest lightly on you”. Then there is an interesting fact about Roman life written under the Latin translation that basically says “This five year old boy still did not have his three names (the three names that were given to Roman children by their parents when they turned 8 years old). Because he was still 5, he was familiarly called Liberalis.

After the Romans, the Germans (Visigoths) came. The Visigoths inherited/stole all of Rome’s western land, and did very little with it. They ruled for a measly 200 years, and were then driven out by the Islamic Moors.

They expanded on what the Romans left behind, building a big ol’ castle:


And if you’ve been keeping track, that means that the Islamic city was built on top of the Roman city, which had been built on top of the Phoenician city.

Then the Christian king Alfonso X took the city for good, and after the reconquista it became a major point of departure for conquistadors heading to the New World. Christopher Columbus set out from Cadiz at the start of his 2nd and 4th voyages, and later the main treasure fleet of Spain was based out of Cadiz, since it was so well protected. Columbus supposedly brought back two trees with him from his adventures. These two trees are still growing, and have become symbols of the city.


After Columbus, gold and silver came flooding into Spain, most of it via Cadiz. All this New World money helped Cadiz become the beautiful city it is. The cathedral of Cadiz was built entirely with money brought in from the New World, and is called the “Cathedral of the Americas” because of it. It usually makes most of the “Top Ten Churches in Spain” lists that are floating around the internet.


For the next few centuries the fortifications were expanded and modernized to protect against pirates, the British, and eventually the Grand Army of Napoleon. The French (under Napoleon) laid siege to the city in 1812 with 70,000 men. They were unable to capture the city, due to the fact that it was an island fortress and the only way to get close to it was to march through miles and miles of wetland. The siege lasted an incredible 2 and a half years. But the survival of the city ensured the survival of the Spanish government.

These are some of the fortifications that greeted us right outside of the train station. At one point they circled the entire island.

Since Cadiz is a major city jam packed on a tiny little island it’s impossible not to stumble on something historical even by accident. And as amazing as the historical elements of this city were, we never even mentioned the multitude of beaches that are some of the most beautiful (if packed) in any major Spanish city.


Did we like Cadiz, you bet!

Did we need more than a day to explore it? Not really, but looking at that beach picture almost makes me wish we had an entire day just to swim there.

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