The Watchtowers of Cádiz are a series of defensive structures built during the 16th and 17th centuries in Cádiz, Spain. They were part of the city’s fortifications and were used to watch for incoming ships and to provide early warning of potential attacks by pirates or foreign powers. Some of the towers have been preserved and are now used for various purposes such as museums or tourist attractions.
Influenced by North African architecture but without doubt pure Andalucian, the watchtowers of Cádiz are one of the most characteristic elements of our city.
Whilst walking in the narrow streets, many of the ornate towers are hidden from view. But, from the sea, they create a picturesque and distinctive silhouette of the city that has become famous the world over.
Learn about the watchtowers of Cádiz at the Torre Tavira
There are some excellent guided tours in Cádiz but did you know that you can also buy your entry tickets for the Torre Tavira from Get Your Guide?
How many watch towers are there in Cádiz?
Most of the original 160 or so towers were built during the “golden years” of the 17th and 18th centuries when trade with the Americas and the Indies was at it’s peak.
This came about when in 1717, King Felipe V ordered the relocation of the ‘House of Commerce’ and the Consulate of the West Indies to Cádiz, giving Cadiz the monopoly on trade, and an infrastructure that greatly contributed to the wealth of the city).
Then, In the 18th century Cádiz turned into one of the most beautiful cities in Europe: well-designed, paved and clean with higher buildings than usual, crowned with towers, which served as vantage points. It was a rich city, a cosmopolitan centre of trade with many foreign inhabitants (Genoese, English, French, Dutch…)
The plush and extravagent houses of the shipping merchants were adorned with these towers that provided two functions. First, this was a sign of the merchants wealth but secondly (and perhaps most importantly) also gave a vantage point to watch and wait for the arrival of ships. (Not only yours but also those of your competition).
It is interesting to note that remaining towers number just over 100 and it wasn’t untill 1972 that the Cádiz town hall prohibited the construction of new towers! Many are also in a bad state of repair as the original private houses struggle with costs of maintaining these ornate structures. A good example of one that deserves more care is the Bella Escondida tower. The only lookout tower in Cádiz with an octagonal floor plan. It is located on top of the house at number 13 Calle José but as it’s name suggests, it can’t be seen from the street. “Escondida” in English means “hidden”.
On the street called Santa Inés you will find the fantastic museum (Museu de las Cortes) which has a model of Cádiz showing the city layout and the towers but if you really want to see as many as possible then you need to visit the Torre Tavira (Marqués del Real Tesoro, 10) which is the highest point in the city and also has two fantastic exhibition rooms detailing the cities history. here you will also find the “Camara obscura“.
The ghostly legend of the “Man of the Tower”
There is a little-known legend surrounding one of the towers in Cádiz which tells a beautiful yet tragic story. It goes like this:
In the heart of the city’s historic center rises a tower, where a man was in charge of controlling the port and the arrival of ships. He was known as the “Man of the Tower” and meticulously monitored everything that entered or left the port.
One day, he saw a beautiful young woman disembarking from one of those ships. She possessed an unparalleled beauty, and he instantly fell in love with her. She used to frequent the port of Cádiz, and he believed she must be the captain’s daughter or, much to his dismay, perhaps his wife?
As time went by, his desire to gaze upon the beautiful face of that woman grew stronger. His love for her continued to increase and, The “Man of the Tower” could be seen with a particular sparkle in his eyes, with renewed enthusiasm and excitement for life.
Every time he saw her on the deck, he thought that he had to meet her, had to find out who she was, whether she was the captain’s daughter or wife, and what her likes and dislikes were. So, he made a plan that he would get to know her on her next visit, but misfortune came to the lovestruck man, and the ship never returned to the port again.
Misfortune and tragedy
He decided to find out who she was, whether anyone knew about that ship or her. It became an almost obsessive quest for him. No one knew anything about her or what had happened. Remeber that in those times, the 16th century, a ship could suffer a shipwreck and not be confirmed untill many months later. His fears grew as time passed, and the hope in his heart began to fade away.
From the tower, he tirelessly scanned the horizon, trying to peer into the sea, day and night. It robbed him of sleep and sanity, and his obsession was consuming him.
One day, they found the “Man of the Tower” dead. It had been many days of anxiety, waiting, shattered dreams, and little rest. The not knowing anything about his beloved had killed him.
It is said that in that watchtower, one can still see a silhouette of a man. And, If one remains silent inside the tower, it is possible to hear his breathing and even sense the ghostly presence of the “Man of the Tower.”
Like any good ghost legend, the specific tower remains unknown!
I love these quotes (some quite a long time ago) from visitors to Cádiz
“Most of the travelers who came to Cádiz in the past did so by sea. This allowed them to enjoy the dramatic views of a luminous white urban area, dotted with a symphony of colors in the form of flags and pennants that, dancing in the wind over the tall masts that stood on the lookout towers. Here were the identifying signs and displays of power of the so-called “porters of the Indies”, owners of the extravagant houses in the golden years of Gades” – Clive Muir 2022
“In Cadiz almost every house has a tower where, in the cool of the afternoon, wealthy people gather to enjoy the view and fly kites, fun for which men, women and children feel equal passion”. – Alexander Slidell – One year in Spain. 1831
“The view that Cádiz offers from the sea is an impressive beauty. When you begin to glimpse from afar the high viewpoints and the high pinnacles of glazed ceramics, similar to China, that adorn the parapets of the roof terraces, these aerial structures, sometimes merging with the distant shine of the waves, produce the effect of a magical illusion. – Letters from Spain. 1822
“There is moonlight. How beautiful the towers under the moonlight!”. Eugene Delacroix. Cadiz 1832.
“Cádiz is a stone ship anchored in the middle of the ocean. People end up on a roof where there is a small viewpoint. In other times, the impatient merchant used to climb it to discover in the distance his ships that were returning from America. Today it is no longer hope that climbs the steps but nostalgia for a past lost forever”. – Antoine deLatour. The Bay of Cadiz. 1857
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