Places of interest in Conil

The Torre de Guzmán tower, built around the year 1300, was the nucleus around which the new town of Conil developed in the 14th and 15th centuries, with its major buildings rising in nearby streets and squares such as the Plaza Mayor: the parochial church of Santa Catalina, the local council building, or Cabildo, the grammar school and the principal offices of the officials and governors of the Ducal seat. In those times the castle (as was) had a belltower whose bell was rung to gather inhabitants for the ‘Cabildo Publico’,    the public court, with the ‘campana tañida’, a particular carillon that would announce there was town business to be discussed. This plaza, also know as the plaza of Santa Catalina, was the site of all the public debates in Conil life until the middle of the 19th centruy, when the authority was moved to offices in the Plazuela (little square), also called the plaza of the Constitution and then the Plaza de España, nerve centre of Conil itself.

The Convento de Nuestra Señora de las Virtudes (Our Lady of the Virtues), built in the 16th century, with one nave on a Latin cross plan and side chapels. The roof is vaulted ove perpendicular arches with a superstructure held by large flying buttresses. The cross is covered with a sectioned hemispherical vault and at its centre, dominating the main altar, is a carving of the ducal shield of the House of Medina Sidonia. The whole of the vault is carved in quarried stone with concave polygon features and heraldic bosses typical of the Renaissance. The main entrance is a Roman arch flanked by two pairs of Doric columns, with friezes and geometric designs of the Doric school, which frame the doorway and support the body of the church. The tower has two parts, the upper capped by a pyramidic shape clad in tiles. In the lower part of the tower we see a vaulted niche with a limestone statue of Santa Catalina. The sacristy is covered by a quarried stone vault which has carved in its centre the motto of the Order of Saint Francis: ‘Charitas’, charity.

The Baluarte, or walled battlement, has at its corners and turns buttresses and lookouts used as defensive positions for guards and artillery. One of these, which also names a local street, can be seen magnificently restored at 26 calle Extramuros. The greater church of Santa Catalina, closed for services and in a lamentable state of disrepair dominates the square and gardens of the same name. Since the 15th century, when the first church was built on this site, many works and renovations have altered the church. In 1886, parish priest Francisco de Paula Fernández-Caro began the works on the church we see today. The works took six years and involved the complete renovation of the earlier building, from the floors up. The plans and works were overseen by Juan Bautista Olivares of neighbouring Chiclana, municipal architect of Cádiz at that time, and he donated his time and work to the church as a gift. Before the works were finished, he left for Buenos Aires due to health problems. The works were completed under father Caro and chief surveyor Cayetano Cano, also from Chiclana.

The result was a building of respectable dimensions, although in a little-defined architectural style that mixed neoGothic with neoMudéjar, fruit of the eclectic mood of the epoch, and a prelude to the coming era of modernism. The new building soon began to display faults, due largely to problems with the land it was built on, and the spiralling cost of repairs led to it being closed as a church in 1930. It still awaits restoration today, where its ruined state is more the result of its abandonment than any problems dating from its original construction. More literally ‘fire towers’, these formed a medieval defence system using fire to signal from castle to fort and the mounted guards on their daily patrols of the coast. Now abandoned, in their day they watched the coast in a chain running from Ayamonte on the Portuguese border to Gibraltar.

On the border between Conil and Chiclana is the Torre del Puerco, pig tower, with a cylindrical structure 8m high and with two vaulted ceilings.

Along the coast towards Conil and on the cape of the same name, la Torre de Roche, with a square base and built in the second half of the 16th century, was until a short time ago reasonably well preserved. Converted to a navigation lighthouse, its adaptation has led to a change in its appearance that has lost its original form and intent.

The next tower on this coastline, now disappeared, was called the Torre Blanca, on a site now known as Puntalejo.

Now in Conil, at the start of the route to Cádiz, on the clifftop, Torre Atalaya (Arabic for watchtower), has also disappeared and its actual site is now occupied by a white masonry post used as a navigation bearing by fishermen and during the annual tuna harvest. It follows the Torre de Guzmán mentioned earlier and, finally, in the middle of the town, the Torre de Castilnovo is of major importance and, like the Guzmán tower, had a double function: as a defensive outpost and to assist the tuna harvest that carries its name. Forming a part of a walled area, the small fortress of the Alcaide, Arabic for captain, an officer with a role and a vote in the council of Conil. The fortress was destroyed by a tsunami on 1 November 1755.

These towers, using a system of smoke and fire signals, served to both alert the neighbouring population of danger but also to remind them of the need to stay alert. With the passage of time they fell into disuse and became mute witness to a past filled with apprehension of the sea.


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