But this enchanting city is also known for the 126 watchtowers that punctuate the skyline of the casco viejo. These make Cadiz one of the most architecturally fascinating cities on the Iberian peninsula.
The city's unique access to the sea and strategic location just west of the Strait of Gibraltar hold the key to why these watchtowers have become a symbol of Cadiz.
Cadiz, City of Commerce
Cadiz is Western Europe's oldest town, with thousands of years of history. By the 17th century, the city was overflowing with successful merchants. Traders traveling to and from the West Indies moved in and out of this important Spanish port on a daily basis.
King Felipe V relocated the Consulate of the West Indies to Cadiz in 1717, giving the city a monopoly on this trade through 1765. Prosperity grew as a result, and the city in that era glittered with tall buildings and newly paved streets.
Each merchant needed a way to clearly see his ships whenever they entered the harbor. So over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, dozens of merchants erected watchtowers on the roofs of their often-lavish homes. They also included distinctive flags on the tops of their towers so they could be recognized from far away.
By 1777, the city of Cadiz had 160 watchtowers. Today, 126 remain.
The extreme heat of the summer months made the roof patios, or azoteas, of Cadiz's buildings a popular place to relax, play games, and fly kites. The towers were not only places from which to clearly view the harbor, they were also sites for family recreation and symbols of the wealth of those who built them.
Types of Watchtowers in Cadiz
The architectural style of the towers in Cadiz are typical of Andalusia. But like so much Andalusian art, they also have origins in North Africa.
Among the various types of towers visible around the city, four distinctive types emerge, beautifully illustrated by the Torre Tavila museum, which we'll talk about in a minute:
The most common type of watchtower is the torre de garita (sentry box tower), which often has a miniature cupola emerging from the top. You can ascend to this by means of a spiral staircase, and look out through small peepholes in the walls.
Here's an example of a torre de garita:
Torres de sillón, appropriately named "armchair towers," have an open patio at the front with the weight of the highest part at the center of the building. If this tower is combined with a small cupola or other elements, it might be called a torre mixta, or mixed-style tower.
Torres de terraza, or terrace towers, lack the small cupola of the torres de garita. The Torra Tavira, perhaps the most iconic viewpoint in Cadiz. Speaking of which, it's high time we talk about how you can see and experience these towers on your trip to Cadiz.
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Where & How to See Towers in Cadiz
Most of the watchtowers in Cadiz are located in the oldest part of the city, in the northeastern area of the peninsula's tip, where the Old City resides.
Here's a map, courtesy of Torre Tavira, that offers an excellent look at where the towers are:
The problem is, it's not always easy to see these towers from the street, especially given how narrow many of the streets can be.
So if you want to learn more about these towers — and/or simply check out the most stunning views that this city has to offer — you can't miss the Torre Tavira.
This museum offers an in-depth history of trade in Cadiz and a chance to ascend to the highest point in the city. The tower's terrace stands at 45 meters above sea level.
You can also check out the museum's camera obscura, which projects a 360-degree, live-action view of the city in a darkened room.
The museum is open every day of the year except for December 25 and January 1 and 6. Between October and April, you can visit it between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. From May to September, opening hours are between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Tickets are 6€, with reduced prices for seniors over 65, large families and groups, disabled individuals, and students.
Try to drop in ahead of the time you wish to visit, as the tower can be busy and the number of people allowed to enter at any one time is limited. You may need to schedule a time to come back later. Learn more about visiting the Torre Tavira here.
Even if you only have one day, the Torre Tavira is well worth your while. It offers a wonderful overview of the history of the city — and stunning views of the city itself.
For other essential places to visit in Cadiz, check out this map: