At least two thousand hands clapped in unison; in the distinctive Flamenco, Andaluz style that anyone who has been to a show or concert here in Andalucia will be more than familiar with. The rhythmic thumping was a friendly communication of excitement and impatience. We were awaiting our star. Shortly we were rewarded for our wait and the lyrical singing of Merche and the energetic sound of her band soon began to rock the 19th century Gran Teatro Falla, in Cadiz capital. The artist with international success was in her home town of Cadiz for a concert and her fans were ecstatic.
Cadiz capital was one of the first cities I explored when I moved to Spain. Three years on and things have certainly changed, yet there is plenty more to do, to truly develop this area for cultural, architectural and environmental tourism. A last minute online purchase of tickets had brought us to the town for the Sunday night concert and the excuse to stay over and enjoy a day off in one of my favorite regions of Andalucia.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, Cadiz province, with its windier weather (and until recently, poor infrastructure) had been ignored for many decades by the developers and tourist sectors. This has been its saving grace, with many parts of the stunning Costa de Luz left undeveloped, with broad beaches running into dunes and pines. The growth of Gibraltar and Jerez airports and the new network of motorways have now made access to this south west corner of Spain much easier.
The towns can seem a little raw, compared to those elsewhere in Andalucia – these close knit communities have suffered the challenges and competition of the global economy, and have yet to develop sufficient income from high value tourism – it remains one of the poorest areas in Europe.
Cadiz capital was once a world class commercial port and ship building sectors have had a few hard knocks and the place looks a little tired. Approaching the city you cross the bay to join the peninsula, driving through the new town – little more than a broad thoroughfare running down the middle with clusters of monolithic style concrete tower blocks either side, denying a view of the golden beaches that are just metres away. Within minutes though you approach the ancient city walls of the original port and once you pass through the arches you are within another world. This is old town, an extraordinary labyrinth of narrow streets bordered with tall merchants houses and buildings reflecting the city’s illustrious past.
Worldwide trade & industry and an infamous strength of spirit made this city great. It was the entry point of wealth and trade from Spain’s colonies in the Americas.
Also the first Spanish constitution was written here in 1812, when the establishment was taking refuge here in the war against France.
Walking the old town in the 21st century it has a strong Latino feel. In fact at times I felt like I was in Cuba – in some kind of time warp, surrounded by the faded glory of a former golden era. Colonial building with ornate balconies and windows are everywhere, constant reminders of the city’s international trade.
Depending on your perspective or vantage point the city can change its style. From above, the flat roofed homes, with peeling paint and decaying woodwork, sport TV aerials, satellite dishes and washing lines, giving a Moroccan feel. Then at other moments it appears you are on a street on the Canary Islands. This is a city that is the product of its trading past, with peoples, cultures and styles from many distant shores.
There can’t be anywhere better to view old town than at the Torre Tavira, where Spain’s first camera obscura affords a crystal clear, enhanced 360 view of the city, including the towns fascinating towers that rise above the homes below. Once used to monitor shipping traffic, these sometimes ornate turrets are slowly being restored – most are not invisible from the shady narrow streets.
On this sunny March day, the temperatures were perfect for walking the town and some of its small squares and of course the charming Parque Genovés where we caught sight of the local colony of Monk Parakeets.
It’s rewarding to see the local town council is investing in renovation projects and I saw a cleaner old town compared to three years ago. The place, though, is still sleeping. Service and hospitality standards don’t match those of other regional capitals in Spain – it seems a port that has forgotten that its fortunes can still be made my taking an international perspective. This is still a place where just enough is good enough. I am frustrated to see a culturally rich place like Cadiz old town delivering an indiffernet service and potential poor impression to visitors that could help with a sustainable future; a future where visitors come to enjoy the architectural legacy of the city and its fine beaches. Having said that, this is still a city where two people can have breakfast for 4 euros!
With the torrential rain over and the warmth of the Andalucian sun reminding us spring is on its way, we drove home via the coast, stopping for lunch in Conil, a coastal town north of Tarifa. Its beaches are amongst the best on the Costa de la Luz and the venta Fontanilla on Fontanilla beach is one of the best in Andalucia. The seafood is amazing. We marked our day off work, by taking a quick dip in the chilly Atlantic waters followed by a snooze in the sun. Mondays are aren’t so bad.
Cadiz – from the gloriously kitch cinematic shorts,
“Andalucia es de cine” – now available on DVD
in English and Spanish.