Cadiz: It is a typically Andalusian city with a Moorish atmosphere. We were delighted to find a pleasant walkable city with a maze of narrow streets and white buildings. A must see is the 18th-century Baroque cathedral.
It is also one of the world’s oldest cities, one of the easiest to explore, and one of the hardest to forget. The view from the ship as it approaches the port is picturesque, with palm-fringed roads and snowy buildings, an unexpectedly delightful surprise
The city seems to rise as if it were an island at the end of a long neck of sand: its nickname was "dish of silver," referring to its beach and its many white buildings. The startling whiteness alongside the cathedral’s golden dome and old city walls are an artist’s dream. Do take a boat excursion, if only to see Cadiz from the water.
We started out from the ship following a broad red line. According to excursion staff, it is the official walking route of Cadiz. Well, we did follow it, but it ended at the port gates. This sleepy town was just awakening - we always seem to reach ports before the shops open, but that is a plus because it is quiet and it is easier to get our bearings.
So giving up the red line route, we began our own tour. The closest plaza to the port is Plaza Espana. It is here that you will find the monument to Cortez and a carved relief monument depicting the signing of Spain’s first constitution. The beautiful square was almost deserted, which gave us time to admire the pastel buildings surrounding the area. A few older men were hunched together in groups, filling the air with the strong smell of tobacco, and a few bicycle riders peddled along at an easy pace.
A short stroll through the incredibly narrow streets brought us to another appealing square, the Plaza Mina, lined with charming colonial-style buildings. The Fine Arts and Archeological Museum is located here. According to our information from the ship, this museum is the best in Cadiz, with excellent collections of Phoenician artifacts and several galleries of paintings and sculpture by Spanish artists. (Open Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30-2pm. There is a 3€ admission.)
The early morning sun was hot, and we were grateful for the soft breeze that wafted down the labyrinth of alleys. Cadiz has the reputation of being a very windy city, but we experienced nothing stronger than a gentle coolant. Passing by interesting stores that displayed exquisite leather (good prices), we wound our way past Moorish houses and small bars and cafés redolent with the aromas of coffee and fresh rolls.
Plaza San Antonio, yet another delightful square, is dominated by the striking twin turreted church of San Antonio, its facade the color of pale pink candy floss. The cobbled square is noted too for houses that feature lookout towers. These towers were common in old Cadiz; ships owners added them to observe their ships in port. Inside the church we joined in the service. I loved the cadence of the Spanish mass and adding my prayers to that of the community. The morning service was well attended, as seems to be the case in Europe. The congregation was a mixture of ages: elegantly dressed women and men perhaps going off to the office, old women clad head to toe in black and laden with rosaries, and young moms with squirming children.
Hunger pangs were starting, so we headed to Cathedral Square. On the way, we stopped to admire the historical church of San Filipe Neri. Its Baroque facade is covered in plaques from around the world. It was in this church that Spain’s first democratic constitution was signed in 1912. Opening hours are 08:30 - 10am and 7:30- 10:00pm. Admission is 3€. Unfortunately, it was closed. The Historical Museum is close by this square and is a must-see for its scale model of old Cadiz.
We called in at the beautiful and grand post office to mail postcards. The office is located on the corner of Topete Square (also known as Plaza de Flores)
Kiosks of flowers give the square its name, and a lovely fountain graces the center. There are cafés and shops, and the market is just around the corner.
My feet and stomach were, by this time, protesting loudly, so we stopped at one of the cafés for a snack and much needed cuppa. While we ate, we sat in the lovely square and people-watched. There is an Internet place on the left-hand side of the street facing the fountain (fast speed, 2€ per hour).
Cathedral Square is more of a rectangle than a square. We came upon it through narrow streets and under an intriguing archway. It is difficult to get a good photo of the cathedral because of the narrow streets; you can’t get back far enough to take a decent shot, so I had to buy a postcard.
The present cathedral was built to replace the old one. Construction began in 1728 and wasn’t completed until 1838. Consequently, architectural styles are a mixture of neoclassical and Baroque. Green nets covered part of the facade, no doubt to protect people from falling plaster.
Inside are several chapels and gorgeous statues. Also worth seeing are the ornately carved pews of ebony, mahogany, and cedar woods. The crypts are a surprise. You descend steep stone stairways to find at the bottom a central vault, whose ceiling is astonishing. It is constructed of slate-colored oyster stone that was brought up from the seabed. Side niches hold the coffins of bishops and that of the famous Spanish composer Manuele de Falla. Crypt and Museum entry fee is 3€. We paid an extra 1.50€ to climb the adjacent bell tower. It was a steep 10-minute climb; if you have knee troubles, skip it. Thick ropes along the left wall acted as handrails, but they are useless when descending. Thick honey-colored walls and beautiful hexagon windows set in intermittent niches illuminated the narrow passages in a warm caramel glow.
The climb was worth the stunning view over Cadiz, but I kept an eye on my watch, as we were directly beneath the huge cast-iron bells.
As we meandered our way back to the ship, we walked along the waterfront and saw the fishermen hunched over their rods, their hands the color of baked earth. We left with lovely memories of this small but charming city.