An historical town on the Bay of Cádiz - El Puerto de Santa Maria
One of our favourite day trips at the moment is to sail on a catamaran across the Bay of Cádiz to El Puerto de Santa Maria. As we leave the dock, we often look back and see Cádiz City with its skyline of ancient watch-towers and the dome and towers of the Cathedral poking out above the city buildings and then we count the few boats that are docked in the port. One of the most prominent of these boats is, the Azzam the world's longest (180m) and most expensive ($600 million) super yacht, commissioned by the President of the United Arab Emirates and launched in 2013. The Azzam arrived in Cadiz in August 2020 and it is still here! I imagine the fees they pay for the mooring are a boost to the port authority who has lost so much of the cruise ship business over the last year.
When we approach El Puerto de Santa Maria, the view is equally impressive - you see beautiful white sand beaches and bays with what appears to be forests of trees behind the beaches on the right and the not so attractive forest of high-rise apartment buildings behind the beaches to the left. Then the boat turns into the Gudalete River and passes a marina which has a mix of abandoned row-boats and elegant sailing boats moored along the left bank. Just beyond the marina is the pier where our boat docks and which just happens to be within easy walking distance of the old town centre.
El Puerto de Santa Maria
With a population of nearly 90,000, El Puerto de Santa Maria has a small and compact historical centre with narrow, cobbled streets, a splendid Islamic-Gothic castle and a 15th century minor Basilica. There are also many historical houses, known locally as palaces, in fact the town has been dubbed the “City of the 100 Palaces.” These palaces were built by merchants who settled in the area during the golden period of trade with Americas in the 15th and 16th fifteenth centuries.
El Puerto de Santa Maria is also home to many wine and sherry bodegas, including Osborne Sherry, with its famous bull logo, a highly recognisable symbol of Spain - enormous cutouts of which we have seen dotted throughout the countryside as we have driven along the roads in Andalucia.
But arguably El Puerto’s most outstanding claim to fame is that it is where Christopher Columbus stayed while he plotted his route to the New World.
A castle and……….
Each time we visit El Puerto our first stop is at a little cafe alongside the walls of San Marcos Castle where we enjoy a cafe con leche under the pomegranate and orange trees while we sit back and relax and soak up the beauty and the history of the town.
San Marcos Castle is quite an impressive citadel especially when you see its crenelated walls, towers and fluttering flags set against the stunning blue Andalusian sky. It was built as a fortress in 1260 on the banks of the Guadalete River where it controlled the Bay of Cádiz. It was actually constructed on top of a tenth century Islamic mosque and during its construction a wall was raised just in front of the mosque’s mihrab, concealing it for 800 years. It was only when the wall was removed during a restoration project in the late 20th century that the mihrab was discovered and it can now be viewed by the public during a guided tour of the castle. These days, as well as being open for public tours the castle is the venue for various events including weddings!
The Spanish claim that Christopher Columbus (known as Cristóbal Colón in Spanish) stayed in the Castle of San Marcos for two years under the protection of the Duke of Medinaceli prior to his first voyage to the New World. And it was during that time that he and his cartographer and navigator, Juan de la Cosa, designed and established their westward route to the Indies.
For more on Christopher Columbus see here - it shows how he came to be considered a hero in American and why he is now considered a villain.
In the upper central square of the city away from the river is the largish Plaza de Espana, one side of which is dominated by the central church of the city the Iglesia Mayor Prioral - a Basilica minor which was a Priory church in the 13th century before being extended to its current size in the 15th century. It was built in the Gothic architectural style, but after an earthquake in the 17th century, parts of it were rebuilt in the Baroque style. The main doorway is particularly impressive and I loved the contrast of that doorway with the austere cross on the wall adjacent to it.
The bullfighting stadium is called Plaza de Toros de El Puerto. Although almost every city in Andalucia has a bullring, the one in El Puerto de Santa Maria is the largest bullring in southern Spain and the third largest in the country after the arenas in Madrid and Valencia. I’m not sure if we will ever see the inside of a bullring stadium as I'm conflicted between being repulsed with the concept of bullfighting and watching the spectacle, and wanting to see how the Spaniards behave at a bullfight. But with the current Covid restrictions of social distancing all bullfights are off and so that decision has been made for me ... for now...
…...and a farewell lunch at a Bodega
In Spain a bodega is a wineshop or a warehouse for storing maturing wines.
Our most recent trip was with Olivia when she visited in October and we stopped for lunch at the Toro Tapas restaurant, part of the Osborne sherry bodega.
Osborne, is El Puerto’s best-known sherry winery. It was set up by an Englishman, Thomas Osborne Mann, in 1772, and it remains one of Spain’s oldest companies run continuously by the same family. The gorgeous whitewashed Osborne bodega offers tours with tastings which we fully intend to participate in the next time we are there.
The inside of the restaurant was quite stunning but given the sun was shining we opted to eat outside on the terrace in the pleasant autumn warmth . Starting with delicious local olives, we then dined on a selection of tapas including local Sierra de Cadiz cheeses with nuts, Grazelema honey and the most delicious Eggplant chips with salmorejo, a purée made from tomatoes, bread, oil and garlic. Normally, the tomatoes are skinned and then puréed with the other ingredients - all of the above washed down with the house vino of course!
Around the town...
An 18th century market where fish were auctioned. A historical heritage listed building that is a rectangular with a façade of six semicircular arches on columns and a central escrow arch. In this centre there is a fish carved in the oyster rock and the heraldic shield of the city. now home to several bars and restaurants.
Grand houses (‘palaces’) were built in the 17th century by the wealthy shipping merchants that traded with the American colonies. Generally the houses had a ground floor patio with a fountain, a mezzanine floor for offices, the first floor for the owner's family and the top floor for the staff with access to the roof where there is often a watchtower or lookout tower for the merchant to be able to see when his boats arrived. Many of these houses have been renovated and are now hotels. One that we did view was the Aranibar Palace which is currently being used as the headquarters of the Department of Tourism and Promotion of the City. As well as the exterior, we were able to see the beautiful porticoed patio with classic marble columns. The patio (courtyard) was and is still important as it provides ventilation and lighting for the whole house
Interesting street art
I loved the contrast of the green shutters on the white building