Spain Guide

Cádiz History

Legend has it that Cádiz was founded as a result of the mythical 12 labours of Hercules which included separating Europe from Africa. The first settlers came here after their oracle advised them to construct a city overlooking the Atlantic between the Pillars of Hercules. What we know as historical fact is that this is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe. The Phoenicians established a trading post here in 1,100 BC and called the town Gadir (meaning enclosure), a name which later transmuted to Gades under the Romans.

Hannibal lived in the city and Julius Caesar first held office here and planned his great empire. But the city fell into decline in the Middle Ages and under the domination of the Moors who captured it in the 8th century.

Cadiz was seized back from the Arab invaders by Alfonso X in 1262 but it was to wait another two centuries for its golden age, brought about by the "discovery" of the New World. Columbus started two of his voyages from here and sealed the city's glittering future as the home base of the Spanish fleet and major trading centre for the Americas. The city's merchants competed fiercely with those of Seville for prime position as the leading port serving the newly discovered territories. When the river to Seville silted up, Cadiz gained total monopoly over the New World trade and became the wealthiest port in Western Europe

The city's greatest glory days were in the late 18th century when huge wealth poured in from the Americas including gold and silver which was used to construct many of the fine buildings which still stand today (including the gold domed cathedral).

But whilst the city's economy flourished, Cádiz faced repeated attacks from both the British and French. It became a fortified town and no less than 160 watch towers were constructed in the 18th century to guard against sea borne invaders.

The Napoleonic armies imposed a French government on Spain during the bloody six year War of Independence at the beginning of the 19th century, leading to the establishment of the famous Cortes of Cádiz seen by many as an interim parliament until Ferdinand VII could return to the throne. Cádiz was the capital of occupied Spain between 1810 and 1813; in 1812 the Cortes proclaimed its famous constitution espousing a limited monarchy governing through ministers regulated by parliamentary control. The constitution of the Cortes of Cádiz embodied many of the liberal principles which lay at the heart of the French revolution.

The loss of the Spanish colonies dealt a devastating blow to the prosperity of the city. The Spanish American War of 1898 signalled the end of Spain's remaining overseas empire and Cadiz never recovered its former glory.

In the Spanish Civil War of 1936 39, Cádiz fell to the Nationalists almost immediately and served as an important port of entry for reinforcements from Spanish Morocco. In 1947 the city suffered great damage from the explosion of a naval arms store.