Until today’s port visit, Cadiz was just a name I had encountered sometime in the past. I didn’t know anything at all about it. Now at the end of the day, I feel enriched by learning about this city, as well as having visited an historic village named Vejer de la Frontera. First some background…
Cadiz is located on Spain’s Atlantic coast south of Portugal, within sight of Morocco, and quite close to the rock of Gibraltar. Cadiz is located on the tip of a peninsula that shelters and guards the entrance to a large natural bay/harbor, the Bahia de Cadiz. Cadiz is proclaimed to be “the oldest city in the Occident.” Artifacts and historical records state that Cadiz was founded by Phoenicians from Tyre in 1200 BC, as the last outpost of the known world. During Spain’s colonial history, Cadiz was important as a secure port for ships re-supplying to sail to the New World as well as into the Mediterranean. Christopher Columbus’s second and fourth voyages to America set sail from Cadiz. Cadiz’s location caused it to become the port supplying the nearby important city of Seville.
After cruising on the Viking Star for two months, from Los Angeles around South America to islands of Cape Verde and Madeira off the coast of Africa, Cadiz marks our arrival in Europe. Cadiz demonstrates the best qualities of Southern Europe (in this case, referring to Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece). The general atmosphere is very relaxed. As we walked in our guided city tour, people were drinking expressos and having leisurely breakfasts at sidewalk cafes. No car blew its horn during the morning rush hour. In fact, cars waited patiently for our Viking tour group to slowly cross the street, led by a guide whose English was unfortunately almost impossible to understand. We didn’t encounter any bums or beggars. Everyone on the streets were well dressed, going to their work or other destinations in a relaxed and purposeful manner, not rushing or showing any stress at all. Admittedly, my observations were limited to one day. But having previously spend weeks in Southern Europe, this is the social environment (along with great weather) that entices Northern Europeans to travel in mass to Southern Europe on every holiday. Cadiz and its surrounding area is a very attractive vacation destination.
What did we see on a three-hour walking tour? A magnificent cathedral that took over a century to construct; a food market with gorgeous fruits, vegetables, and fish (we didn’t visit the meat market); a busker playing cello with a hip-hop backing track; numerous statues; historic buildings–some centuries old (Will anything we build today last for centuries?); Cadiz is an immaculately clean city. I think that the source of Cadiz’s excellence must be the result of a generally high level of civic pride. Civic pride means that no one would thoughtlessly drop their trash on the streets, including cigarette butts. (Many Spaniards smoke, which was somewhat disturbing since I’m used to the reduced level of smokers in the US.) The people of Cadiz celebrate their culture with festivals, concerts, and public art. I’m sure that there are many other cities in Southern Europe that share this public pride based on a sense of civic duty. I also observed this heightened civic pride particularly when I lived in Sweden. These are just some of the reasons I love visiting Europe.
Following the morning’s three-hour Cadiz walking tour, we took a bus tour to an historic village (of approximately twenty thousand people) located a half hour’s drive from Cadiz called Vejer de la Frontera. It is a perfectly preserved medieval village (similar to villages in Italy) that makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time a few centuries. This village is notable for the fact that all its buildings are white. Its history dates from the time of the Moorish occupation. Its Catholic church was converted from what was originally a mosque. The village is mostly free of cars, except for delivery vehicles. Once again, this pride in the historical roots of Vejer de la Frontera would not be possible without a consensus agreement among its residents to work together to maintain the village’s heritage. We were told that during the summer live jazz can be heard almost every night. Vejer de la Frontera has thus transformed itself into a famous tourist attraction offering a glimpse into Spain’s Moorish history.
Our tour bus took us along the coast as well as through a national park containing a type of pine trees that I had never seen before. This Southern Atlantic coast of Spain has many beautiful beaches. I observed three surfers wearing wet suits who were catching waves. The Atlantic Ocean is cold at this time of year. Another characteristic of Spain and Europe in general is the absence of billboards and other intrusive signs and advertising. This makes it easy to visualize what the cities and villages with their historic buildings must have looked like previously through their history. Europeans see constant historical reminders every day of their history in the form of castles, fortresses, cathedrals, and city walls that have been well preserved in so many European cities. Of course, some of the historical reminders are painful. They are reminders of past wars and religious conflicts. The various countries of Europe with their different languages are pressed together in a geographical space that is smaller than that of the United States. The history of Europe can be studied and understood as an unfortunate history of recurring wars, large and small, long-lasting and short. Reflecting on European history is especially disturbing when considering that despite the tranquility of Cadiz, that there is a war raging in Ukraine.