You could write several weighty university theses about Cádiz and still fall a mile short of nailing its essence. Old age accounts for much of the complexity. Cádiz is generally considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe. Now well into its fourth millennium, the ancient centre, surrounded almost entirely by water, is a romantic hodgepodge of sinuous streets where Atlantic waves crash against eroded sea walls, municipal beaches stretch for miles, and rambunctious taverns echo with the sounds of cawing gulls and frying fish.
But old as it is, Cádiz has also proved to be durable and, ultimately, influential. Spain's first liberal constitution was signed here in 1812, while the city's distinctive urban model went on to provide an identikit for fortified Spanish colonial cities in the Americas. Indeed, the port with its crenellated sea walls and chunky forts is heavily reminiscent of Havana in Cuba or San Juan in Puerto Rico.
Enamoured return visitors to Cádiz talk fondly of its seafood, surfing and cache of intriguing churches and museums that inflict little, if any, damage on your wallet. More importantly, they wax lyrically about the gaditanos, an upfront and gregarious populace whose Carnaval is an exercise in ironic humour and whose upbeat flamenco songs (known as alegrías) will bring warmth to your heart.