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The Catacumbas del Beaterio: a journey through the depths of Cádiz

Not all the interesting places in a city are in plain sight. A whole host of cities have been bored through with underground galleries in their depths. In the case of Cádiz, you’ll also have to descend a few metres below ground to discover one of the most peculiar sites, the Catacumbas del Beaterio catacombs, an ancient burial site for lay sisters, or beatas. Fancy heading down to the depths of Cádiz? Then join us.

A brief history of the Catacumbas del Beaterio

The city of Cádiz is not only brimming with monuments and archaeological sites, it also boasts a network of underground tunnels and caves created in different eras and for a very diverse range of purposes. One of the most common practices was to bury the deceased in excavated spaces, which is the case for the Catacumbas del Beaterio.

On Calle Valverde, previously known as Calle del Beaterio, they lie under the site of the seventeenth-century, former Beaterio de Cádiz, a residence for a Third Order of Franciscan nuns—known as beatas—founded by María José Isabel in 1633, the same year in which it was built. Little is known about the building, but around the same time a subterranean mausoleum was also built to give the nuns burial.

 

 

When the nuns had to abandon their home, in the wake of the Mendizábal Disentailment, the house was used as a dressmaking workshop to provide shelter to women excluded from society. Soon after, the whole storey collapsed, concealing the intact mausoleum. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century when new homes were built on the site that the catacombs were discovered and used as a cellar. Later on, during the Spanish Civil War, it is known that the catacombs served as an air raid shelter for local people.

Aside from these various uses over the centuries, what’s even more astonishing are the strange inscriptions on some of the walls. Everything seems to point towards the fact that they are Freemason symbols, supporting the theory that members of this fabled secret society used the catacombs as a hideout for their meetings.

In 1947, the site was devastated once again due to the explosion of some mines that were stored at the Hydrographic Institute, very close to the former Beaterio. These days, along with many other parts of the ground beneath the city, it has been subject to studies and research, with the proliferation of hundreds of legends.

The Catacumbas del Beaterio: underneath Cádiz

Interior of the catacombs

Thanks to the work of the speleologist Eugenio Belgrano, it is these days possible to visit the catacombs in small groups, accompanied by experts who talk you through its most fascinating symbols and spaces. The catacombs are accessed via a courtyard in a residential building and lie six metres below ground.

By means of five rooms you can travel four centuries back, to when the mausoleum was created as a crypt for the beatas. There you can observe the space reserved for coffins, in addition to learning about the rituals that took place in this space enveloped in mystery.

One of its biggest attractions are the engravings and drawings found on the walls, associated with masonic associations. It has been suggested that when the religious order abandoned the Beaterio, members of Cádiz’s masonic order found it to be a perfect refuge for their clandestine meetings. The images are unique and can only be seen in these underground galleries in Cádiz.

Owing to its different functions over the course of history, many objects were discovered during excavations, including war weapons. The Catacumbas del Beaterio still have many enigmas to be resolved, but the money made from ticket sales is earmarked for continued work in the field.

If travelling with children, visiting the catacombs is highly recommended, given the excitement that comes with descending into the depths of Tacita de Plata, as the city is known. You can even go that little bit further, as the catacombs also offer escape room sessions. Going on holiday with a group of friends? Well, for a dose of adrenaline and puzzles, it’s a no brainer. How many other opportunities will you get to experience such a setting? The added charm of being enclosed in a genuine seventeenth-century crypt makes the experience that extra bit more authentic and is a perfect way to discover and make the most of the city’s rich heritage.

A great deal of research indicates that there are kilometres and kilometres of hidden galleries below Cádiz. Thanks to the Catacumbas del Beaterio we therefore get to enjoy a small part, but much more lies ahead.

 

Information of interest

Entrance fee:

  • Children between 7 and 12 years old enjoy a discount, and children under 7 enter for free.

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