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122km (76 miles) S of Seville, 625km (388 miles) SW of Madrid, 32km (20 miles) SW of Jerez de la Frontera

At the end of a peninsula, Cádiz separates the Bay of Cádiz from the Atlantic. It was here that Columbus set out on his second and fourth voyages.

Cádiz (pronounced "Cah-deeth") was founded, according to legend, by Hercules himself some 3,000 years ago. The seafaring Phoenicians settled here around 1100 B.C. and in 501 the conquering Carthaginians landed. They were followed by the Romans in 206 B.C. Cádiz was to see other conquerors, notably the Visigoths and the Muslims. The rule of the Moors came to an end in 1262 when King Alfonso X brought the port under the yoke of Spanish rule.

In 1587, Sir Francis Drake, whom Spaniards still refer to as a pirata, sailed into Cádiz and caused much damage in a raid. The attack of the British forces delayed the Armada. In 1596 Cádiz suffered its most devastating attack yet when combined Anglo and Dutch ships arrived at harbor to burn the city to the ground.

Cádiz bounced back and in the 1700s reached the zenith of its power and prestige -- enough so that it attracted Napoleon's greedy eye. French troops invaded and Cádiz became the capital of occupied Spain. In the 19th century, the loss of the American colonies, on which the prosperity of Cádiz depended, plunged the port into a long slumber, from which it only started to recover in the 1970s. Long a bastion of liberal thought and tolerance, Cádiz saw more bloodshed during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s when its townspeople fought -- but lost -- in their struggle against Franco's Fascists.

Today this modern, bustling Atlantic port is a melting pot of Americans, Africans, and Europeans who are docking or passing through. The old quarter teems with local characters, little dives, and seaport alleys. The narrow cobblestone streets, which open onto charming small plazas, evoke an old city in North Africa. Despite its vibrancy and diverse influences, however, Cádiz isn't of major interest for most visitors. What the visitor confronts today is an industrial hub of activity with one of the busiest ports in Spain, dominated by its shipbuilding and naval dockyards. Cádiz is also a big fishing center, and also a major departure point for ships sailing to the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession. It is regrettable that many foreigners have yet to discover the charm of Old Cádiz.

When visitors, mostly Spanish, do flock to Cádiz, it is for the summer beaches and for the famous Carnaval in February, one of the most extravagant in Europe. Music from mandolins, tambourines, guitars, and even whistles fills the air. Seemingly everybody in town parades through the streets in costumes. Singing, dancing, and riotous street behavior characterize the event, which lasts all night long, ending when revelers flood the cafes for freshly cooked churros (like doughnut sticks), which they dunk into steaming hot cups of chocolate. The Cádiz carnival usually takes place during the second week of February.