Cadiz – Three thousand years of history

“Non plus ultra” (nothing further beyond) were the words written by Herodotus to describe what was there, on the other side of the Pillars of Hercules. It isn’t that he was wrong or that he wasn’t aware. He was perpetuating the mystery, protecting the ‘hidden treasure’, of what was ‘really’ beyond this point from others.
No-one has quite been able to determine whether this area – called Tartessus – was in fact the legendary Atlantis that Plato mentioned, but through these three thousand years of Cadiz history it has been target of many – and for different reasons of course.

This area was a gold mine for the first Phoenician merchants

… or to be more precise, a silver mine. Even its king Arganthonios was named after this precious metal. The Greeks followed and were also welcomed by the most ancient civilization known in the occidental world. The 9-year old Carthaginian boy Hannibal arrived in 235 BC with his father Amilkar Barka, the leader of the Carthaginians, joining the settlements already here, in readiness for the Punic Wars against the Romans. At the time, the Romans were challenging on every frontier, although when the Romans entered Gades (Cadiz), the local Gaditanians, signed a clever treaty with the Roman senate to preserve their freedom. Gades prospered, to the point that it became the second most inhabited city after imperial Rome. In 69 BC Julius Cesar – before becoming an emperor – visited the very same place where Hannibal swore eternal hatred against the Romans, the Temple of Heracles, and had a dream that he was going to rule the world.

Dark ages would arrive

… as the world’s eyes were redirected towards Constantinople and the oriental world, the Gaditanian economy and its population dramatically declined. Nevertheless this piece of land still produced finest products, such as wine and olive oil, but had nobody to trade with.

The Pre-Renaissance came with the Muslims

They took over almost the entire Iberian Peninsula and stayed from 711 to 1492, when the Catholic Kings defeated the last stronghold in Granada. They left Moorish architectural and cultural traces that can still be seen today.

Three of Christopher Columbus’s five trips to America departed from Cadiz

His discovery put Cadiz back on the world map. The economy again prospered, as all treasures from the New World entered through its port. This also made Cadiz a desirable target for enemies of Spain. Especially the British, who became Spain’s fiercest enemy when Mary I of England died and Elisabeth I turned to protestantism.

Sir Francis Drake tried with no luck to take Cadiz in 1587

… but the Count of Essex, eleven years after, managed to burn down the whole city!

A relentless barrage of attempted attacks against the city followed through the next two centuries, until the most dramatic clash, the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), where the Spanish-French navies led by Villeneuve fought against the British at Cape Trafalgar on the Atlantic gaditanian shores in the Gibraltar Straits. Admiral Horatio Nelson famously died in the battle, and was conserved in a barrel of Brandy as he was sent back to England.

Funnily enough, some years after, the British joined the Spanish against Napoleón it the Iberian Peninsula War. Cádiz was the only city except from Napoleóns power, and it became the site were the first Spanish Constitution was negotiated and signed, in order to preserve Spain’s independence.

Intellectuals, politicians, merchants…

People from all over the world, and of all kinds, have been  part of  this intense and interesting history, and have definitely  – and are still – expanding its cultural scope. As Lord Byron put it in a letter to his mother in 1809: ” . . .Cadiz, sweet Cadiz !  is the most delightful town I ever beheld, . . . ”     ” . . .and full of the finest women in Spain . . .”   

It’s today a city of two parts, the modern new town and the old Casco Antiguo, where the 3000 years of history is still evident. Because of its geography and location it has retained the Gaditanian identity, and it is not a place you come to by accident…


Copyright © Luzia 2013