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La Viña

La Viña neighbourhood is the most popular area within Cádiz’s city walls (historic quarter). Around 8,000 people live there today, although recent years have seen a sustained decline in the population. Many of those who leave the neighbourhood do so in search of larger, more comfortable and more convenient houses in other parts of the city and the surrounding areas. The character and authenticity of many of the streets and little squares of this neighbourhood often mask the kind of substandard housing one would have expected to find in days gone by, not well into the twenty-first century.

This is nothing new in La Viña. In fact, this is where the working classes made their homes from the eighteenth century onwards, as the wealthy merchants were not interested in living here, preferring instead to build their houses (with watchtowers) around the harbour.

In Cádiz, this unpretentious, working-class neighbourhood has acquired reputation for exuberance. For a start, the residents of La Viña, with their satirical sense of humour and their ironic perspective on life, have been responsible for keeping the flame of Carnival burning down the centuries. Even during periods when the Franco régime tried to impose controls on the lyrics of the chirigotas [satirical folksongs] sung by the troupes and choirs. That shameful attempt at censorship, far from deterring the residents of La Viña, simply served to hone their ability to lampoon it. This explains why, nowadays, during the weeks of the Carnival season, the La Viña neighbourhood is transformed into an open-air theatre where the main stars of the show are imagination and biting satire.

But La Viña is not all about Carnival. This neighbourhood is also (with all due respect to Jerez de la Frontera) one of the epicentres of flamenco, which can be heard either at one of the official peñas [flamenco clubs] or sometimes performed spontaneously in many of the area’s bars. A good proportion of these establishments are concentrated around Calle Virgen de la Palma. In all other regards, this is an attractive street of white houses built from traditional oyster stone.

Or, in Calle de la Palma, the pleasant terraces are an ideal place to have lunch or dinner, and remain open for much of the year. In this street, which ends in a cul-de-sac formed by the church that bears its name, there is also a chapel embedded in the wall of one of the houses, which marks the point reached by the huge waves caused by the tsunami following what is known as the Lisbon earthquake (1755).

The spot with the liveliest atmosphere in the La Viña neighbourhood, especially during the hot summer months, is the beach at La Caleta. Framed by the castles of San Sebastián and Santa Catalina, it is partly occupied by a spa building dating from the 1920s.

But people don’t just come here to sunbathe and go for a dip in the ocean. Most of all, the neighbourhood’s residents come here to mix socially among themselves and with the many visitors who come here. One of the most familiar images of La Caleta is the bingo games set up during the evening with traditional tables and folding chairs. The amount of money involved is insignificant, but the competition is real—and can be great fun.

Near La Caleta, it is worth taking a look at the harmonious façade of the former Hospicio Provincial de Cádiz, an eighteenth-century building that is no longer in use. Close to it are two enormous fig trees, known as ‘Árbol del Mora’. They were planted in 1903, and their trunks measure no less than 10 metres in circumference!

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