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What to visit in Medina Sidonia, Cadiz

In this blog you will find the history of Medina Sidonia and a list of places to visit in Medina Sidonia in Cadiz province. I will be giving ideas about what activities to do near Medina Sidonia as well at the end of the blog if you are staying for a few days.

For some other related topics, if you want to follow a quick route through the nearby Vejer de la Frontera please click here. If instead, you are looking into what self-guided hiking routes you can do around Vejer de la Frontera, click here. If you prefer a guided tour then keep reading to see the tours below.

Medina Sidonia is 3,000 years old. It was awarded with the prize for the Beautification of the Andalusian towns, and declared a Historic-Artistic Site and Asset of Cultural Interest in 2001.

I have to say thank you to the tourism office of Medina Sidonia for the photos. If you want to get a map and more information you can find their website here.

oficina turismo Medina Sidonia

 

History of Medina Sidonia in Cadiz province

The history of Medina Sidonia has always been important since prehistoric times, in the highest point near the castle. It is one of the places in Cadiz with most archaeological monuments in Cadiz province.

The use of Medina Sidonia to control the surrounding crops and farms since prehistoric times is what made it so historically important.  Nearby there are also many prehistoric paintings in Los Alcornocales natural park that shows the importance of this region since then. Around this time this area was called Asido. There is not much information about this time, maybe because of the lack of research and the construction of different civilizations on top.

Some historians think that the name Asido was given by Phoenicians and that Medina Sidonia was an important settlement used by Phoenicians. However, many do not see enough evidence of it. It is true that there were coins from Medina Sidonia that had legends from the Phoenicians, but this could have been from trading with them and nothing else.

Roman history in Medina Sidonia

There is not much information from the republican or punic times. The time when Medina Sidonia (Asido or Caesarina) became more famous could have been around 1A.C. There are many Roman ruins from this time and that is why we know the importance of the area. The excavations have found many Roman houses, roads, cloacas, and more. We will talk about them in the itinerary section in this blog.

Later, when the Roman empire became Christian, Asido Caesarina and Gades (now known as Cadiz) became the main episcopal see, and therefore at the head of the new Christian period. Even though there are not many remains of that time we can find rural early Christian basilicas in this area.

Byzantine history

During its Byzantine times Medina Sidonia becomes a fortress. There were some Byzantine sculptures, but sadly not much is documented of this time.

Visigoth history

The king of the Visigoths Leovigildo takes over this Byzantine fortress. There is evidence of Visigoth sculptures from this time. However not much remains from this era, and what we can find is in the historic center and in the Hermitage of the Holy Martyrs. The necropolis, located in the Mesas de Algar, is from the Visigoth time.

Moorish times

The subsequent Islamization not only maintained the preferential position of the city, but made it the head of the territory, the cora, of Medina Asidona. This time period is when the city acquired the epithet that it retains today.

The top area of the city was abandoned for almost a millenium but the outskirts became very important. There are many farmhouses around from this time, showing the farming importance of the “andalusí”. An example of the importance of this area, later in the 11th-12th century, is the building on top of the town, the defensive outpost where we can still see the walls and gates (such as the gate of pastora). They also built a mosque nearby, which the Christians  later destroyed to build the Santa María church.

Christian history

The Christian occupation of Medina Sidonia occurred in the time of Ferdinand III in 1249. However it fell back under Muslim control until 1267, when it was definitively taken by Alfonso X. The result of these events was the usual process of land distribution between the conquerors and new settlers, preserving a Book of the Repartition of the town dated 1348 and processes of agrarian colonization. It helped both the continuity of Islamic farmhouses and the creation of new farmhouses linked to agriculture.

From the beginning of the Christian period, Medina Sidonia was the seat of renowned military orders such as the Order of Santiago and the Order of Santa Maria of Spain.

The town served and hosted the Dukes of Medina Sidonia from 1440. King Enrique IV gave D. Juan de Guzmán, third Count of Niebla and first Duke of Medina Sidonia, the title of City in 1472. During much of the Modern Age the population was again the political head of the region, integrated into the Duque of Medina Sidonia, which continued until the Cortes of Cádiz.

From this period, remains of constructions from the duques survive. This includes several sections of the Christian walls, in which three of the four original gates are preserved: the aforementioned Arco de la Pastora, El Arco de Belén and the Puerta del Sol.

From the following centuries we have received public buildings, as well as a rich religious architecture, which is reflected in the Church of Santa María La Mayor La Coronada.

Contemporary history of Medina Sidonia

The most outstanding events during the Contemporary Era in the town were: its occupation by Napoleonic troops between 1810 and 1812 and the establishment of its headquarters in the so-called Villa Vieja, in the Cerro del Castillo; the construction in 1837 of two public buildings in the Barrio de Santiago, the slaughterhouse and the meatball, the creation of the new cemetery, the supply market and the Theater.

Itinerary and what to visit in Medina Sidonia, Cadiz province

If you park the car near the castle you can first start by visiting the castle of Medina Sidonia.

Castle of Medina Sidonia

The archaeological works carried out in this area indicate the existence of three fortifications temporarily superimposed: Remains of the Roman military castellum, Remains of the Arab fortress and Remains of the medieval castle. In some areas you can even see them one wall after the other.

You will also find some areas where the french army of Napoleon fortified the castle in the 19th century.

castle with views of Los Alcornocales natural park

Bronze times

Many elements from the bronze age were found here such as china or objects carved from rocks. These objects show that the main use of this area was for protection purposes and to control the surrounding areas. This is very similar to how it was in the centuries after.

Roman times

Asido Caesarina reached its peak in the 1st century with an extension as large as that of the current historical complex. The city had paved streets, a sewer network, and water sources for the population. From the very moment of the arrival of the Romans, or shortly after, it is believed that the construction of what has been identified as a military castellum (206B.c.) began. Next to this they also built a temple to the imperial family.

This Roman Castellum continued in use for several centuries, although it must be assumed that with a more symbolic than function as a military construction, becoming a reflection of the power of Rome in the territory around the 1A.C. At least this is what the technicians have been able to figure out after studying the area, which was the only reference of these characteristics in Spain until recently.

Arab, Almoravid times

In the 11th century the Almoravids built another castle on top. You can still see parts that were built in this time.

If you leave this castle and head towards the church of Santa María you will see several stone circles. At the end of 3A.C. a great part of the Roman town on top was abandoned and empty for almost 1000 years. On top of the Roman ruins, during the medieval times they built on top and later on they abandoned it.

Christian medieval times

In the 15th century the first Duke of Medina Sidonia rebuilt the castle. He wanted to improve the defence and make it the best example of the Medina Sidonia family legacy. In many cases they just added more walls on the already-constructed Arab walls. There is also a church that was built here and later it was moved to the town.

Puerta del sol

You will pass by the convent of Jesus, María and José from the 19th century to get to this gate.

This gate is one of the three access doors to the walled city. The gate has this name because it faces the east, where the sun rises every morning. The walls and doors of this gate have been restored in several eras.

Santa María church in Medina Sidonia Cadiz

The church is an Andalusian Gothic-Plateresque building. It is from the first half of the 16th century, built partly on the old mosque. The oldest façade is that of the castle or choir that is today in disuse due to a fire. However, it was very important in the medieval times. It was the door through which the Dukes of Medina Sidonia entered to take possession of the city. The Castle Gate opened in formal functions such as the inauguration of the Dukes and visits of the Bishop. Some children accidentally burnt this gate in the summer of 1981. Within the gate you can find two Roman funeral cippi from the imperial period.

The gate of the cloister is Plateresque style and in the center is the virgin of alabaster, the oldest image of the temple. It was a gift from Alfonso X the Wise.

The Main Altarpiece is one of the most important in Cadiz and has a Plateresque style. The choir, built with cedar and mahogany masonry, is from 1732 and is Baroque style. Juan de Gática created it with oil paintings of merit.

I definitely recommend to climb to the top of the bell tower. The views are worth it!

iglesia santa maria la mayor altarpiece church

Iglesia Santa Maria la Mayor views church and old Roman city

In the image above you can also see the Medieval ruins from the old city from 16th century that was abandoned.

Arco de Belen

Also called Puerta de Belén, this is another of the access gates leading to the heart of the medieval town. Next to it you can find some canvases of the old wall, tower and Stables of the Duke.

The gate was also known as the Arch of the Gypsies in the eighteenth century.
The current name comes from the altar placed in its inner upper part, which shelters an image of Mary Most Holy of Bethlehem that was in the choir of the Augustinians of the Convent of San Cristóbal in 1860.

gate arco belen (baja calidad) Medina Sidonia

Caballerizas del duque of Medina Sidonia

These stables date from the sixteenth century. They consist of a single nave with stone walls, covered with half a brick barrel, a single door and several windows.

The stables have been given different uses since the sixteenth century. They have been the headquarters of the Royal Garrison, for smuggling surveillance and more. After being restored, they are used currently as an assembly and exhibition hall.

Puerta Pastora

This Arab door is of the purest Muslim style, with a horseshoe arch and a large staircase. It dates from the 10th century.

It is one of the access doors to the walled area and the most representative of Medina Sidonia. Its construction dates from the caliphal period, around the tenth century. It has two pointed horseshoe arches, one of which rests on reused columns that belonged to the temple of Hercules.

The oldest name is Puerta de la Salada, taken from the nearby fountain of the same name. The name of Arco de la Pastora is due to an image in the niche preserved on one of the internal sides of the arch

Archaeological museum

This museum is great to see a little bit of everything that we have been talking about. Moreover, in this museum you will see the Roman sewer system. The entrance also includes a visit to a preserved section of Roman road below a private building nearby.

This museum is outside of the medieval walls.

Roman road in Medina Sidonia

The true dimension of urbanization in Roman times is seen on this unique stretch of road, which was discovered in 1997. Part of it runs four meters below Alamo Street. The Roman road is under a different building but the arqueological museum of Medina Sidonia has to open it for you.

Built with large stone slabs, it consists of two sidewalks, and a road that is five meters wide, capable of allowing the passage of two vehicles at once. Along the central line of the street, below the paving, is a sewer almost a meter high, which channeled rainwater and waste from buildings and fountains in the city.

They have also found a couple of game boards engraved on the slabs of one of the sidewalks, which were enjoyed by both children and Roman adults.

Roman road Medina Sidonia Cadiz

Roman sewage system in Medina Sidonia Cadiz

In 1967 two sections of passable sewers were discovered, part of the sewerage of the old city, which can be seen in the gallery. They give an idea of the importance of the city during Roman times from the quality of the construction.
Here Romans poured the sewage and rain water, which entered through the sides and ceilings in the vaults.

Arqueological museum (cloaca máxima) Medina Sidonia Cadiz Roman sewage

Arab oven in arqueological museum

On top of the Roman ruins, at the end of the Arab times the Almohads decided to set up a pottery industrial area on top. After excavating the area, they have found two partially conserved ovens here. You can find the Arab oven and the Roman houses in the arqueological museum.

Arqueological musem with Roman sewage, roman house and moorish oven in Cadiz province Medina Sidonia

After visiting the museum you have finished your walking tour in the incredible white town of Medina Sidonia. I hope this guide was useful and to finish the tour around Medina Sidonia I would recommend going to have a tea or a coffee in the restaurant “La Vista de Medina”. The views from here are gorgeous and a great place to rest after so much walking in Medina Sidonia.

Private tours near Medina Sidonia Cadiz

My name is Carlos and I have a tour agency based in Vejer de la Frontera, Explore la Tierra. I focus on doing private culinary tours and hiking tours within Cadiz province. Please, read below what type of activities I do near the white town of Medina Sidonia in Cadiz province. I am certain you may want to join some of them!

Food and culinary Tours

Cadiz province is home of one of the most known international wines, the famous sherry wine. I do private sherry and Andalusian wine tastings throughout Cadiz province. Join our culinary and cultural tours where we go and visit the famous white towns of Cadiz. You will learn about the traditional bluefin tuna fishing method, almadraba, or visit a local olive press, almazara. I look forward to showing you the incredibly diverse gastronomy and traditions that the province has to offer.

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Hiking tours in the natural parks of Cadiz

In these private guided hiking tours in Cadiz province I offer incredible hikes in La Breña, El Estrecho and Los Alcornocales natural parks. You will learn about local traditions and about the culinary, medicinal and gastronomical use of the Mediterranean plants. I worked in the environmental and conservation fields in Canada, UK and Spain for over 5 years and know many of the species in the area.

Cadiz province is one of the most biodiverse provinces in mainland Spain. Habitats range from dense forest reminiscent of cloud forest to Mediterranean forest, dune systems, and more. Moreover, enjoy the majestic views of Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. Cadiz has the highest % of protected habitat in Andalusia, while its climate and sunlight hours are similar to Canary Islands. I look forward to showing you this incredibly diverse province in the most southern point of mainland Spain. 

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Contact us

There are many activities and tours to take if your are coming to Medina Sidonia in Cadiz province. If you want to join me in any of these tours, please do not hesitate to visit my website and contact me at info@explorelatierra.com.

To learn more about sherry, culture and Andalusia travel guides, please click the big blue button to read other blog posts. If you have any ideas and suggestions, please do not hesitate to write us an email at info@explorelatierra.com. Please read our privacy policy before you get in touch with us. We will take your new recommendations into consideration.

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