Spain Travel – Cadiz

From Seville to Cadiz is about ninety-six miles by the railroad, and more by the river. There is no reason why one should go by river when he can go by rail, for the scenery is of the tamest sort; treeless plains with hedges of prickly pear, their great lobes edged with clusters of spikes and pretty yellow flowers, an occasional glimpse of the river, which gnaws its way through the prairie, and fields of wheat, which gave place as we approached Jerez to vineyards, are its only characteristics. At Jerez, the vineyards occupy all the land that is not covered by houses and manufactories of wine. Here sherry wine is made in great quantities, and there are immense “bodegas,” or wine-cellars, some of them holding fourteen thousand butts of wine.

Some of it is good wine, and I presume there are honest manufacturers of wine as well as of other things. A gentleman living at Jerez and engaged in the wine business, with whom I afterwards travelled to Paris, presented me with a few bottles of sherry on the journey, which connoisseurs afterwards pronounced excellent. But Mr. Finck in his “Spain and Morocco,” a fresh and charming volume, says that the condition of the wine trade is deplorable, owing to adulteration. A few years since “some firms began to import German alcohol, and to manufacture a vile, cheap compound, which has injured the popularity of the wine and limited the sale of genuine sherry, which cannot be sold at any such price.” The extent to which this adulteration has been carried on may be inferred from the fact that twelve million dollars’ worth of German alcohol (made of potatoes and beets) is imported into Spain annually, and of this stuff Jerez got nearly a million dollars’ worth in a single year. Going on from Xeres, for so its name used to be spelt, the train travels between piles of casks, which extend for miles along the track; and after passing San Fernando, a gay-looking town, with fantastic lattices and white houses, the salt pits, from which it gains its prosperity, begin to appear on each side of the road. The marshes are full of canals, which convey salt water to shallow rectangular ponds. In these, the salt crystals are formed by evaporation, and then heaped in a central mound. Thousands of these glistening mounds, in the centre of square ponds, appear as far as the eye can reach. It takes from a week to ten or twelve days to evaporate a pond, according to the wind. When a ” levanter ” blows from the African coast, its drying power is very great, and so the more disagreeable the wind, the better is business at San Fernando. There is another interesting industry here. Among these marshes, says Forel, “there breed innumerable small crabs, cangrej os, whose foreclaws are delicious. . . . These are torn off from the living animal, who is then turned adrift that the claws may grow on again.” We had them for luncheon at the Hotel de Paris at Cadiz, and found them more delicate than lobster, though not unlike that favorite crustacean.

Cadiz, whether viewed from land or sea, is a study in white. When I first saw it, on my voyage from Tangier, it looked like a white island, a coral structure growing out of the ocean, dazzling and beautiful against the turquoise blue of the Spanish sky. As we drew nearer, white towers and domes could be distinguished, and then the houses, all in white, with shadowed lines between, which were the narrow streets of the city. Seen from the land, Cadiz appears equally like an island, for it lies at the extremity of a long peninsula, and it is only joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. It is as luminous and brilliant when the traveller comes down the Guadalquivir in a steamboat, or by rail across the long flats, as when it is approached by sea. In both cases, the white city against the blue of sea or shy produces the same effect. De Amicis, with wit, says, “To give an idea of Cadiz, one could not do better than write the word ‘white’ with a white pencil on blue paper, and make a note on the margin, ` Impressions of Cadiz.’ ” Nor does Cadiz belie its external appearance when you enter in. Though it is one of the oldest towns in Spain, having been founded three hundred and forty-seven years before Rome, and eleven hundred years before Christ, it is as clean as if the contractor had handed it over in good order yesterday. So well built, well paved, well lighted, and withal so tidy is it, that the natives call it “a silver dish,” and Caballero likens it to an ivory model set in emeralds. This is hyperbole, but it is no exaggeration for me to say that it was the cleanest city that I saw in Spain, and that the women are as neat and tasteful in their dress, and as pretty, as one would expect to find them in such an exceptional town.

Cadiz is strongly fortified, and surrounded by walls. The streets are long, straight, and narrow, and the tall white houses have balconies at all the windows, many of which are enclosed with glass. In the squares are trees and shrubs, and in one, la Plaza de Mina, there are fountains and seats; and a military band plays several times a week, while the people promenade and gossip under the palm-trees and in shady nooks by the fountain. The sea-wall, arranged in broad terraces, is a charming evening walk when the full moon falls with silver light upon the dancing waves and is reflected from the glistening walls of the town.There is an old cathedral, but it has been abandoned for the new one begun in 1720 and finished in this century. Its dome and towers show finely from the sea. Within, it abounds in precious marbles and jasper; it has a high altar of white marble, and a silleria del coro, once in Seville, and said to be the finest in Spain. We drove to the suppressed convent of San Francisco, along the seawall, to see some pictures of Murillo, the best of which is a “Marriage of St. Catherine,” the last of his paintings. He fell from the scaffold when the work was nearly done, and died from his injuries not long after, in Seville. Cadiz has seen great changes. Under the Romans, it was a great emporium. It held the monopoly of salt fish, and distributed most of the tin of England and the amber of the Baltic. Wealth and luxury made it all that Venice became to mediaeval Europe, or that Paris is to the world today. Its lordly knights and merchant princes, the worshippers of Venus and Terpsichore, have been celebrated by Martial and Juvenal. Then came the Goths, who destroyed it, and then the Moors, who were in turn driven out by the Spaniard, Don Alonso Sabio, “the learned.” He rebuilt and repeopled Cadiz, and with the discovery of America its prosperity returned. Its next disaster was due to the English, who in 1587, under Drake, destroyed its ships and dockyards, and in 1596, under Lord Essex, cruelly sacked the city, the booty being reckoned at thirteen ships of war and forty enormous galleons loaded with American gold and other treasure. Lord Essex burned the city and treated the inhabitants with all the horrors of war. Even from this ruin it recovered, and in the latter part of the eighteenth century its wealth and commerce were greater than those of London, according to Adam Smith. But the war of 1793, the independence of Spanish colonies, French invasion, and civil strife have reduced this mistress of the world to a quiet old dame, who is content to keep her house clean and neat, and live a humdrum and uneventful life.