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The fortified city of Cádiz: Castles, Bulwarks and Lookout Towers

Muralla Cádiz

The 18th century was a golden opportunity for Cádiz, as this seafaring city took over from Seville the monopoly of trade with the Indies and it became an epicentre for business and the transport of goods. Hard cash was the currency of the streets, like those coins spoken about in the famous "tanguillo" (popular Flamenco song) that has its origin precisely at this time. Social-economic life in the city flourished and it had to defend itself from those who wanted what was not theirs. As Cádiz was a city surrounded by the sea and vulnerable to attacks by pirates and corsairs, this is precisely when they developed the fortification system that has become a route that really should not be missed.

To discover the castles and bulwarks of Cádiz, you need to go around the heart of the city starting from Puerta Tierra where, as the local residents say colloquially, Cádiz-Cádiz (or the Real Cádiz) is born. The tour begins with the City Walls of San Carlos, an 18th-century gateway that has been quite well preserved in spite of the ravages and demolitions it has suffered. The walls are a privileged balcony overlooking the sea and the boulevard of Alameda Apodaca. Wrought iron, ceramics, balustrades and lamp posts that are a real work of art in themselves, intermingling in perfect harmony and facing the sea. This area is so beautiful that it should not be surprising that it is now one of the busiest parts of the city and a place which has been enormously attractive for centuries.

A short distance away there is the Bulwark of Candelaria, currently converted into a venue for exhibitions and concerts. It was built in 1672 to improve the protection of the western front of the city, between the fortifications of La Caleta and the Batería de San Felipe, which together with that of Santa Catalina, in the neighbouring town of Puerto de Santa María, defended the entrance to the Bay.

The next stop is at the Castle of Santa Catalina, a fortress that seems to disappear into the sea to defend the city at all costs. It is an early 17th-century fortress, located next to the famous Playa de la Caleta beach, which according to the residents of Cádiz is a place worth dying for. Right in the centre of the beach and facing the sea there is a truly unique building, the old Spa of La Palma which is currently the headquarters of the Andalusian Centre for Underwater Archaeology. Facing the Atlantic Ocean, on the opposite side of La Caleta, stands the Castle of San Sebastián. This is an old 17th-century fortress that took its name from a chapel (1457) that used to stand there and which was built by sailors from a Venetian ship. The ship had been given permission to stop there and cure the plague that had affected the crew.

The wealth and power gained by the city as a result of its monopoly with trade with the West Indies meant that its merchants were rich and at the time built tall towers inside their extraordinary mansion houses. These were not only a sign of social and economic distinction, the towers enabled them to control the arrival and departure of their ships from the port. And the captain of the ship could recognise the house belonging to the merchant and send him singles concerning the cargo.

Many of these towers are still there today, more than 130 of them in fact, and they make a picturesque profile in the city's skyline. Some of them have been converted into homes by their privileged owners, but others are now publicly accessible. There are vantage points where you can imagine what it was like to put all your hopes on the horizon, on the return of your ships, which would be loaded with riches from the other side of the known world.

Some of these lookout towers are really quite unusual. This is the case in the Calle José del Toro, where there is the only octagonal tower called "La Bella Escondida" because it cannot be seen from the street. The Torre Tavira is just as iconic. It is located in the centre of the city and is considered to be the official watchtower of the port of Cádiz as it is the highest in the city, 45 metres above sea level. While you are there you should not leave without climbing up to the "Camera Obscura" to watch how everything revolves around the city of Cádiz: the sky, the sea, the people...

The fortified city of Cádiz: Castles, Bulwarks and Lookout Towers