Wandering the Streets of Cadiz, Europe’s Oldest City

” . . .Cadiz, sweet Cadiz ! is the most delightful town I ever beheld, . . . ” ~ Lord Byron.

The Spanish city of Cadiz is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians, making it arguably the oldest city in Europe, although it was apparently completely destroyed in a raid in 1596. What is now known as the Casco Antigua (or old city), demarcated by the original city walls, is a hive of winding cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways.

Having parked our car in a basement parking lot in the modern part of town, Gareth and I set out exploring the old city on foot. Passing through the Puerta de Tierra (the main entrance through the walls), we followed a group of pedestrians until we stumbled upon Plaza San Juan de Dios, which opens up to the port and seems to form the hub of the city centre. Locals sitting chatting on benches in the square smiled indulgently as they watched the two out-of-season tourists take pictures of the square, the beautiful neo-classical town hall and the city streets from every possible angle.

Although we only realised this later, the streets of Cadiz (pronounced Ka-DEEZ) are painted with coloured lines indicating the three routes you can follow to see the sights that might interest you. Most of these points of interest also have information boards explaining the site’s history. Of all the cities we visited in Spain, Cadiz was definitely the most informative for the independent traveller.

Wandering down the Barrio del Pόpulo led to the Catedral Nueva. Since it was Sunday, entrance was free, but unfortunately for us a service was about to start and we didn’t want to intrude, so we continued exploring the side streets. We came out onto the main road situated between the ocean and the city, which is built on a narrow peninsula surrounded by the sea on three sides. We walked along this road, taking in the beautiful views until the pangs of hunger convinced us to venture into the alleys again in search of lunch.

As it happened, the only restaurant that we could find with an English menu turned out to be one of those really fancy places where the price is disproportionate to the size of the meal. We ended up shamefacedly ordering dessert and coffee only, trying our best to look whimsical and fully-fed when the surly waitress took our order. I must admit, it was the best chocolate mousse I’d ever had!

We stepped out of the restaurant to find that the grey skies had finally relented and a soft drizzle was making the cobblestone streets treacherously slippery. Luckily, by the time we had found our way back to the central plaza, a red Hop-On-Hop-Off bus was sitting waiting for us and we got onto it, relieved to get in out of the cold, since neither of us had dressed for rain that day. Although we found the tickets expensive at €11 per person, the bus tour was very interesting, and stops at the harbour, the beach and parts of the modern town were made more memorable by learning some of the history of these places.

We got off the bus at a stop which we thought could be close to where we had left the car. Unfortunately, the main street is very unremarkable and we ended up spending about an hour or so traipsing along in the rain trying to find our bearings and the elusive parking lot. We did eventually find the car and headed back home, shivering and cold, and not quite in agreement with Lord Byron. Cadiz was interesting, but slightly disappointing as well. I would advise visiting it on a day when the shops and museums are open and the weather more agreeable to make the most of a day spent in Europe’s oldest city.

For more posts in the Spain 2010 series, click here.

Have you visited Europe’s oldest city before? What were your highlights for Cadiz?

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