Cádiz is generally considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe, founded in about 1100 BC. The ancient centre, surrounded almost entirely by water, is a romantic jumble of sinuous streets where Atlantic waves crash against eroded sea walls.
The beautiful yellow-domed cathedral of Cadiz is an impressively proportioned baroque-neoclassical construction, best appreciated from seafront Campo del Sur – especially in the evening sun. Though commissioned in 1716, the project wasn’t finished until 1838.
The Museo de Cádiz is the province’s top museum. Stars of the ground-floor archaeology section are two Phoenician marble sarcophagi carved in human likeness, along with lots of headless Roman statues.
On the seaward edge of the Barrio del Pópulo is located the Roman theatre of Cadiz, which dates from the late 1st century BC and, originally, had space for 10,000 spectators.
Red pillar boxes, fish-and-chip shops and creaky 1970s seaside hotels: Gibraltar – as British writer Laurie Lee once commented – is a piece of Portsmouth sliced off and towed 500 miles south. ‘The Rock’ overstates its Britishness, a bonus for pub-grub and afternoon-tea lovers, but a confusing double-take for modern Brits who thought the days of Lord Nelson memorabilia were long gone. Poised strategically at the jaws of Europe and Africa, Gibraltar, with its Palladian architecture and camera-hogging Barbary macaques, makes an ‘interesting’ break from the white towns of bordering Cádiz province.
Built astride a huge gash in the mountains carved out by the Río Guadalevín, Ronda is a brawny town with a dramatic history littered with outlaws, bandits, guerrilla warriors and rebels. Its spectacular location atop El Tajo gorge and its status as the largest of Andalucía’s white towns have made it hugely popular with tourists – particularly notable when you consider its relatively modest size. The ashes of Orson Welles are buried in the town.
In existence for more than 200 years, this is one of Spain’s oldest bullrings and the site of some of the most important events in bullfighting history. A visit is a way of learning about this deep-rooted Spanish tradition without actually attending a bullfight.
Several landscaped terraces give access to La Mina, an Islamic stairway of nearly two hundred steps cut into the rock all the way down to the river at the bottom of the gorge. These steps enabled Ronda to maintain water supplies when it was under attack. It was also the point where Christian troops forced entry in 1485.
Baños Árabes: Backing onto Ronda’s river, these 13th-century Arab baths are among the best-preserved in all of Andalucía, with horseshoe arches, columns and clearly designated divisions between the hot and cold thermal areas. An excellent 10-minute video (in Spanish and English) helps you visualise the baths in their heyday. Enjoy the pleasant walk down here from the centre of town.
Straddling the dramatic gorge of the Río Guadalevín (Deep River) is Ronda’s most recognisable sight, the towering Puente Nuevo, so named not because it’s particularly new (building started in 1759) but because it’s newer than the Puente Viejo.
Known as the crossroads of Andalucía, Antequera sees plenty of travellers pass through but few lingering visitors. But those who choose not to stop are missing out. The town’s foundations are substantial: two Bronze Age burial mounds guard its northern approach and Moorish fables haunt its grand Alcazaba. The undoubted highlight here, though, is the opulent Spanish-baroque style that gives the town its character and that the civic authorities have worked hard to restore and maintain. There’s also an astonishing number of churches – more than 30, many with wonderfully ornate interiors. It’s little wonder that Antequera is often referred to as the ‘Florence of Andalucía’.
Antequera’s two earth-covered burial mounds – the Dolmen de Menga and the Dolmen de Viera – were built out of megalithic stones by Bronze Age people around 2500 BC. When they were rediscovered in 1903, they were found to be harbouring the remains of several hundred bodies. Considered to be some of the finest Neolithic monuments in Europe, they were named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2016.
Prehistoric people of the Bronze Age transported dozens of huge slabs from the nearby hills to construct these burial chambers. The stone frames were covered with mounds of earth. The engineering implications for the time are astonishing. Menga, the larger, is 25m long, 4m high and composed of 32 slabs, the largest of which weighs 180 tonnes..
Dolmen del Romeral: This megalithic burial site was constructed around 1800 BC and features much use of small stones for its walls.
Abridged text from Lonely Planet Andalucía.