Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Water-locked ancient stronghold

Water. No matter what direction you walk, you quickly encounter it. It’s visually stunning and soothing, with ever-changing colors depending on the weather, time of day and whether you are on the east or the west side.

Geographically termed a peninsula between the Atlantic and its bay, Cadiz seems more an island. The thin band connecting it to the Spanish mainland is narrow to the point it feels but a fragile manmade thread that could easily be severed by an Atlantic storm.

This isolated location made it an ideal stronghold for early Phoenician explorers from Tyre to establish a stronghold on the Atlantic in 1104 B.C.  Gadir, as it was called then, is considered Europe’s most ancient city still standing. The city is associated with the slaying of the three-headed monster Geryon by Hercules in Greek mythology.

Cadiz has been ruled by Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines and the Moors. Christopher Columbus set sail from the port during his second and fourth voyages to the New World. When sandbars made navigation of the Guadalquivir River to Seville no longer possible, Cadiz flourished as the center for trade with the Americas. The fleet based in Cadiz invited frequent attacks and pillaging by Spain’s enemies through the centuries.

Today, the population of Cadiz numbers about 100,000. With much of the peninsula occupied by its industrial port, the actual residential area covers less than two square miles. There is no land for the city to expand in size, and, because of the city’s historical importance, buildings in the historic center are restricted in height. Unemployment is fairly high, which means the port still welcomes the arrival of cruise ships disgorging huge numbers of people for several hours at a time. Those temporary invaders were easy to avoid, however, as they failed to explore more than a quarter of the city.

The city is laid-back, and its narrow, mainly pedestrian streets, are pleasant to wander. Boardwalks skirt the water on all sides.

The island-like setting attracted the attention of 007. In 2002, Cadiz starred as Havana in the James Bond film, Die Another Day. I share this for one of the above views shown in the background of the film, not the non-subtle sexual interaction between Halle Berry and Pierce Brosnan.

 

Instead of being catty about the film, I will switch to the topic actual cats. The most surprising inhabitants encountered is a large feral cat colony perched on rugged boulders on the Atlantic side. Tender-hearted residents provide the felines with boxes and crudely constructed shelters, and fishermen toss them scraps from their catch.

Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Jueves Santo processions stretch toward dawn

As Saint John (I think?) headed down the street, we were returning to our apartment about 7:30 last night. During our meandering hour or two walk we encountered this float bearing the evangelist, Mary the wife of Cleopus, Mary Magdalene, the Virgin Mary and Jesus with the cross a multitude of times.

Their swaying journey on the golden paso was not close to over for the night. Perhaps they were still Cathedral-bound because costaleros in purple t-shirts slipped into the procession to replace the team underneath porting the heavy load within the next block. The back of this float has a small emblem of Hercules on it, which seems appropriate when you watch a team hoist it back up after lowering it.

The Mister spotted the putto with a nail-puller, perhaps indicative of the historical trade engaged in by some members of the velvet capirote-ed cofradia sponsoring the procession. (I have noticed the role of hard-working putti in the church often is overlooked. Yes, sometimes they appear fluttering around in fluffy clouds, but more often petite putti spend eternity supporting enormous statues, altars, organs, columns and even soaring domes.)

I am unsure how many processions were weaving their way around our neighborhood last night, but they do march for hours. Floats pass through the Cathedral, but do not encamp overnight. They must make the return trip to their home churches and squeeze back through the doors.

Our street might not quite be a paso-possible width, but processions were crossing at both ends less than a block away in addition to a square a block away. This crossroads location meant the procession-watchers on foot would come down our little rarely trafficked street in large, chattering groups before and after each passing.

They awakened me in time to hear the brass bands and thudding drums about 12:30 and 2:30. The 4:30 crowd sounded much smaller. At 6:30 this morning it seemed a second more refreshed and sedate shift of faithful followers was filtering out to view the final float trying to reach home before dawn.

How will they all recover in time to participate in Viernes Santo?

Postcard from Saluzzo, Italy: Drawn to the devil underfoot once again

As we traveled through Italy this past summer, I increasingly became drawn to the devil in the details. This one from an anonymous painting (see image below) of “The Saints” dating from 1516 is among my favorites. The cute little fellow is being crushed somewhat nonchalantly by Saint Catherine of Siena.

“The Saints” hangs in the Museo Civico Casa Cavassa. Construction of the palace was begun in the 14th century. The medieval building came into the possession of Galeazzo Cavassa in 1450 after he became the general vicar of the Marquis of Saluzzo.

His son Francesco transformed the family headquarters into a “modern” center of Renaissance art and culture. Unfortunately, Francesco fell out of favor with a new Marquis, was imprisoned and was subjected to a violent end. The art collection Francesco had assembled was plundered; although the palace remained in the family’s hands until a 1775 sale to the Marquis Emanuele Tapparelli d’Azeglio.

The Marquis Tapparelli was determined to restore Casa Cavassa to its Renaissance appearance, commissioning appropriate furnishings and beginning to fill it with art. Following his death in 1890, the restored structure was turned over to the municipality as a museum.