I find it fascinating that through remnants of past civilizations, archaeologists, sociologists, and historians can piece together, interpret, and explain how our ancient ancestors lived and impacted present civilization. Today we record so much about our history and what’s happening in our lives. But in many cases in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea we still seek to reveal the mysteries of great ancient civilizations.
Throughout my explorations in Europe it has been easy to see that the Romans have been there! And I have only scratched the surface with my stories about Pula in Croatia, Tuln in Austria, Ljubljana in Slovenia, Cluj-Napoca in Romania, Cordoba in Spain, and in Malta.
I was delighted that I found not only remnants of Roman society from the 1st century BC in Cadiz but also excellent artifacts left by ancient Phoenicians beginning in the 6th and 7th centuries BC. This story is about my memories of the Phoenician settlement of “Gadir,” the Roman town of “Gades,” the Moor city “Qādis” (Arabic from which the name Cadiz is derived) and “Old Town” Cadiz.
One of my primary motivations to go to Cadiz was to explore ancient remains and history there. I was aware of the port and how trade throughout the area had been strategically important, especially when importation of gold, silver, sugar, and tobacco from the Americas made merchants rich beyond belief.
What I didn’t appreciate was that the Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors (among others) also valued the importance of Gadir / Gades / Qādis as the port considered to be the western-most for trade from other parts of Europe and northern Africa. And the port and shipping is what attracted the Phoenicians (who dominated shipping in the Mediterranean Sea) to settle here.
With trade positions located from Tyre and Sidon in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and Gadir in the west, Phoenician fleets were in a very strong position for movement of goods through the Mediterranean area. Throughout the Mediterranean they shipped precious metals, wine, lumber, and olive oil.
The strategic value of shipping and trade was not lost on others and ultimately Gadir fell to the Carthaginians and eventually the Phoenicians became a “vanished civilization.” In the 3rd century BC what was once Gadir became the basis for Roman-control… Gades was born.
Through a beautiful glass walkway above the Gadir Archaeological Site, a place for study, one can see Phoenician house foundations, depictions of where walls stood, kitchens, and streets from Gadir as well as the intertwined Roman remnants from the later period where salt was produced in Gades. Nearby is a Roman-era theatre which is one of the largest outside of Rome.
While the archaeological sites are important, to understand this time period a visit to the Museum of Cadiz focuses on beautiful artifacts (many pictured above) over the past 3000 years. The exhibitions are world-class and bring much more clarity to understanding the living standards for the various societies in this tiny area.
During the nearly 500 year period when the Moors controlled much of present-day Spain, there remained a focus on trade in the city then called Qādis. In 1262 the Moors were expelled (as the Spanish would say) and Cadiz over the next few centuries became an important launch point for the “Age of Exploration.” Columbus sailed twice from Cadiz.
Cadiz became the epicenter for the Spanish naval fleet and merchant ships. Geographic distance measurement was recorded relative to the “Cadiz Meridian” which ran directly aligned with the main entrance through the city wall.
All was not calm and there were numerous naval embargos and conflicts with others. Pirates continually attacked and in 1596 the English all but completely leveled Cadiz.
Cadiz flourished beginning in 1717 when the trade monopoly “La Casa de Contratacion” (The House of Trade) set up shop. This time period saw incredible riches coming to this Spanish port and “Old Town” was constructed as we see it today. Homes were large and beautiful and merchants built lookouts on top of them so their observers could view their vessels returning to and leaving from port.
“Old Town” Cadiz is today an interesting place to visit. Three thousand years of history are literally under one’s feet. Old Town contains many beautiful monuments and architecture, narrow streets, wonderful places to eat, and it is all within easy walking distances.
Ancient people lived here. Their actions provided a foundation upon which a significant impact was made not only in the Mediterranean area but also throughout Europe and the Americas. The people of Cadiz have made a significant contribution to shaping the world.