Antonio Santos del Valle 

The Archaeological Site of Gadir as a tourist resource in the city of Cadiz

Antonio Santos del Valle

The Archaeological Site of Gadir as a tourist resource in the city of Cadiz

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to visit the Archaeological Site of Gadir with my friend and professor, Oscar Rueda García, who has been a diplomat, vice minister of tourism, researcher and architect of the current situation of the development of Colombian tourism and for some years in Latin America, and who is currently developing his career in the Development Bank - CAF.

It was a revealing experience to delve into the depths of this historic site, where one of the first Phoenician settlements in the Iberian Peninsula was established millennia ago. Discovering the vestiges of such an ancient city beneath our own modern streets awakened in me a deep sense of connection with the millenary roots of my city.

Accompanied magnificently by the site manager, Ángeles Navarro, we explored the archaeological remains dating back to the 9th century BC, contemplating the layout of streets, dwellings and workspaces that reveal advanced urban planning for their time. The finds of pottery, tools and everyday objects transported us back to a time when Gadir was not only a thriving trade center, but also a cultural meeting point between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The guided tour not only enriched our understanding of ancient history, but also highlighted the importance of preserving and promoting this invaluable heritage for future generations.

The experience at the Gadir Archaeological Site leads us to reflect on the undeveloped potential of this unique tourism resource in Europe. Considering its historical significance and its ability to educate and inspire visitors of all ages and backgrounds, it is crucial that initiatives are implemented to increase its accessibility and visibility both nationally and internationally. With infrastructure improvements, active promotion and innovative educational programs, Gadir can not only capture the attention of more tourists, but also strengthen the cultural identity of Cadiz as a premier historical destination on the global tourism scene.

On the southwest coast of Spain, in the historic city of Cadiz, centuries of history and culture are intertwined, dating back to the Phoenician foundation around 1100 BC. This enclave, known in antiquity as Gadir, not only marked the beginning of an important center of trade and culture in the Iberian Peninsula, but today offers a unique archaeological treasure in Europe: the Archaeological Site of Gadir. This site, discovered in 2006 and located beneath the modern streets of the city, reveals the traces of an ancient civilization that continues to fascinate experts and visitors alike.

The Gadir Archaeological Site stands out not only for its antiquity, dating back to the 9th century BC, but also for the wealth of Phoenician artifacts discovered in its excavations. This window to the past offers an invaluable opportunity to understand the daily life and urban structures of ancient Gadir, evidencing advanced planning for its time. Despite its historical and cultural importance, the number of visitors to the site is considerably lower compared to general tourism in Cádiz, which raises questions about its promotion and accessibility.

In the context of modern tourism, Cadiz has established itself as a preferred destination in Andalusia, attracting millions of visitors annually. However, the proportion of tourists exploring the archaeological site of Gadir is significantly low, representing only a fraction of the total. 

This disparity underscores the need for more effective promotion and infrastructure improvement strategies to increase the influx of visitors to this priceless historical heritage. 

While Cadiz continues to capture the attention of tourists from around the world for its beaches, gastronomy and nightlife, the archaeological site of Gadir represents a fundamental cultural resource that deserves to be more widely recognized and visited. With a renewed focus on its promotion and infrastructural development, this archaeological site has the potential not only to enrich the city's tourist experience, but also to highlight its crucial role as a bridge between the Phoenician past and Cadiz's cosmopolitan present.

Do you want to know who the Phoenicians were?

The Phoenicians, originating from a narrow coastal strip in the Levantine Mediterranean, were known for their skill in navigation and trade. In the 10th century BC, under the leadership of King Hiram I of Tyre, the Phoenicians began a significant commercial expansion, establishing a network of colonies and maritime routes that stretched across the Mediterranean and parts of the Atlantic. They sought mainly precious metals and raw materials, which led them to explore and settle in distant territories.

Their arrival in Cadiz, which they called Gadir, marked the beginning of an era of unprecedented cultural and commercial exchange in the Iberian Peninsula, as it was an island at the time, close to the coast, and which turned it into a strategic commercial enclave that facilitated defense and maritime trade.

The name "Gadir" means "walled enclosure" in Phoenician, reflecting the importance that the founders gave to the protection of their colony. This city quickly became a hub for trade in metals, such as silver and tin, which the Phoenicians obtained from mines in the interior of the Iberian Peninsula. In addition, Cadiz was a crucial starting point for the trade routes connecting the Mediterranean with the Atlantic.

Gadir not only functioned as a commercial center, but also sponsored the founding of other colonies on the coasts of the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa, creating what is known as the Strait Circle. These colonies maintained close trade relations and alliances with Gadir, forming a prosperous economic network in the region.

According to historical accounts, Gadir was founded along with other colonies such as Utica and Lixus, approximately 80 years after the Trojan War, around the 12th century B.C. However, the oldest archaeological remains of Gadir date from the 9th century B.C. The city was noted for its strategic port and its proximity to Tartessos, a region rich in precious metals such as silver, gold, iron, copper, tin and lead.

The Phoenician legacy in Cadiz is not limited to trade. They introduced advanced navigation techniques, new agricultural practices and the production of products such as salted fish, which is still an important industry in the region today. The Phoenician presence also influenced local culture, from architecture to religion, with the introduction of deities such as Melkart, later identified with Hercules in Roman mythology.

The importance of Gadir lies not only in its commercial function, but also in its role as a cultural bridge between East and West. The city facilitated the exchange of ideas, technologies and cultures through its trade routes. In addition, the Phoenicians introduced the alphabet that would influence modern European languages and developed advanced navigation and shipbuilding techniques that would be adopted by other Mediterranean cultures.

Archaeological Site of Gadir

The Archaeological Site of Gadir, located in Cadiz, is one of the most important treasures and according to researchers and tourism experts, it is one of the most underrated archaeological sites in Spain. This site, which dates back to Phoenician times, offers a unique window into the past and reveals the rich history of the civilization that once flourished in this region.

The Gadir site covers approximately 450 m² and is part of an area estimated at over 700 hectares, currently buried under the houses and streets of the city of Cadiz. Citizens strolling through this area are probably unaware that a few meters below their feet lies a unique and magical city, buried for centuries.

This site was discovered in 2006 during the construction of the current Puppet Theater. Archaeologists found remains of a Phoenician city from the 9th century BC, making it one of the oldest known settlements in Western Europe. The importance of Gadir lies in its antiquity and the fact that it provides tangible evidence of the Phoenician presence in the Iberian Peninsula.

Gadir offers an exceptional collection of Phoenician artifacts, including pottery, tools and everyday objects that provide information about the daily life of its inhabitants.

Excavations have revealed an urban fabric with streets, dwellings and work areas that show advanced planning for their time.

Today, the Gadir Archaeological Site is open to the public and has facilities that allow visitors to appreciate the archaeological remains in their original context. Guided tours and interactive exhibits have been implemented to enrich the educational experience.

The tourist development of the city and its relationship with the site of Gadir.

In the year 2023, Cadiz received a total of 1.5 million tourists, consolidating itself as one of the preferred destinations in Andalusia, and according to official data from the Tourism Delegation of the city of Cadiz, during the year 2023 the total number of visitors attended at the information points was 284,364 tourists. It should be noted that these data correspond to the attention provided at the information points, which are open to the public throughout the year and staffed by qualified personnel.

With respect to international tourists, there are 15 main nationalities represented at the information points: United Kingdom (40,929), Germany (23,591), United States (17,287), France (16,847), Italy (10,270), Canada (3,596), Latin America (3,515), etc.

Despite the significant influx of tourists in Cadiz, the archaeological site of Gadir receives considerably fewer visitors. In 2023, the site was visited by a total of 27,336 people, broken down into: Cadiz (2,925), Province of Cadiz (5,173), Andalusia (4,562), Rest of Spain (7,527), Europe (4,717) and Rest of the world (2,432). Comparing the data, it is observed that only 9.6% of the international tourists attended at the information points visited the site of Gadir. 

Making a comparison between the general data of tourists visiting the city and those already in the city, the archaeological site of Gadir, despite its historical importance, receives a very small portion of the tourists arriving in the city. Through better promotion and infrastructure improvements, this archaeological treasure could attract a greater number of visitors, further enriching the tourist experience of Cadiz and underlining its value as a city with an unparalleled historical heritage, and differentiating it from the important tourist cities that Cadiz has around it.

This disparity in the figures can be attributed to several factors:

In this sense, we consider that the municipal managers should take measures to increase the number of visitors to the Gadir site, such as:

In this sense, we dare to expose some recommendations to enhance the Cultural Tourism of the city and specifically, maximize the tourism potential of the Archaeological Site of Gadir with the following strategies:

To maximize the potential of the Gadir Archaeological Site as a tourism resource, it is crucial that local authorities and heritage managers implement concrete measures. This includes more intensive national and international promotional campaigns to increase the visibility of the site, highlighting its historical and cultural significance. In addition, improvements should be made to the site's infrastructure to ensure a comfortable and safe experience for visitors, expanding facilities and improving accessibility from the main tourist points in Cadiz. 

At the same time, the creation of more robust educational and cultural programs can attract a diverse audience, from students to history buffs, thus enriching the city's tourism landscape and strengthening its identity as a destination with an exceptionally rich and distinctive heritage.

Author:  Antonio Santos del Valle

(*) Thanks to Oscar Rueda for his ideas and advice for this article, which does not wish to polemicize and

whose only objective is to strengthen the important tourist resource that the Archaeological Site of Gadir represents. 

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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