El Puerto de Santa Maria has a population of 90,000 inhabitants and is situated at the mouth of the Guadalete River facing Cadiz, in the heart of the Bay of Cadiz in the South of Andalusia. Nearby cities such as Puerto Real, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Rota and Jerez are all easily reachable thanks to good connections by road.
With an extension of 15,900 hectares, several physical units exist within its territory: the historic city centre, the marshes area included within the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park, areas to the north and south, the countryside. In the west of the city you will find most of the beaches and the Marina of Puerto Sherry.
With 22 kilometres of coastline, our city offers a rich variety of fine sandy beaches with the crystalline water of the Atlantic Ocean, the climate characteristics are those of the Mediterranean weather with moderately cold winters and not very warm summers and an average temperature of 25 Celsius degrees and more than 300 sunny days and a total of 3.200 sunlight hours per year.
Owing to its ecological value, a large area of the municipality has been designated as Natural Park within the Natural Protected Spaces Network of Andalucía with marshes, large pine forests and dunes that allow visitors to come into direct contact with nature and gaze at the beauty of the local flora and fauna.
The first traces of the earliest settlements on the beach near Puerto Sherry are from the Lower Palaeolithic, but legend says that the city was founded 3200 years ago by Menesteo, an Athenian leader of the 10th century BC, after the Trojan war and was given the name Puerto de Menesteo.
In ancient times there was a Roman settlement near the city known as Portus Gaditanus and the Via Augusta passed through El Puerto de Santa María on the way to Rome. Later, in the year 711, Muslims fought and won a battle against the Visigoth Armies known as the Battle of the Guadalete. From that moment on the city was incorporated into the Muslim territory and its name was changed to Alcanatif, which means Port of the salt mines, Arch or Bridge.
The Moors held control of the city until 1260 when Alfonso X of Castile conquered the city and renamed it Santa María del Puerto in honour of the virgin.
Christopher Columbus was a guest of the rich families of El Puerto, who also helped him to prepare for the voyage which would lead him to the Discovery of the New World. It was here where the biggest of the three caravels the one named the Santa Maria was outfitted before the first trip to America.
Later El Puerto was the residence of several wealthy cargadores, merchants who operated Spain's trade with the New World and with the earnings they built luxury houses that led to the city being known as the City of the Hundred Palaces. Nowadays you can see the coats of arms of those families on facades throughout the city; some of which are used as private houses and others as public buildings.
In the 18th century the city played host to the summer residence of King Philip V and his court. In the early years of the 19th century, El Puerto the city became General Headquarters for the French Army during the War of Independence under the reign of José Bonaparte.
From that moment on changes in history - the successive religious and civil confiscations, the social and political changes, as well as the development of the sherry industry - caused the expansion of the local economy and urban area, marking the life and people of this city.
As well as the palatial houses, the city has an important number of monuments that are references to the varied civilisations that settled here, with an architecture of roman and muslim influences and details of the majority of art styles:
The biggest religious building of the city was built on high grounds around 1486 by the Dukes of Medinaceli, jurisdictional lords of the city and promoters of this work. The original design was in Gothic style as seen in the spectacular main façade named the Puerta del Perdón (Door of Forgiveness).
Beside the beauty and height of the three naves, the chapels and the high altar, the inside of the church is well known for several items including the choir stalls, the organs from the 17th century and an important number of paintings, sculptures and precious metal works. The church has recently received the category of Basilica from Pope Francisco.
Originally an old mosque that was erected with materials, probably coming from another older Roman building. The most important parts of the Arabian temple - both the wall of the "quibla" and "the mihrab" - are still conserved in the modern construction. In the middle of the 13th century the building was transformed into a Christian sanctuary and was bound by the erection of the castle as the defensive point of the whole district.
In the 20th century the Caballero family acquired ownership of the building and began work to recover the most important areas including the wine cellar of the castle. The cellar holds products Luis Caballero bodegas and the castle now hosts numerous important events and cultural activities.
The bullfighting tradition of El Puerto de Santa María is one of the strongest and most deeply rooted in Spain stretching back as far as the 18th century. The city held different wooden bullrings before the royal bullring was built in stone in 1880 with a shape of regular polygon of sixty sides and a diameter of ninety nine meters with room for twelve thousand spectators - one of the biggest in Spain.
Every period in the history of bullfighting, all the passionate rivalry that has established the classic Spanish dualism, has been celebrated in the bullring of El Puerto. The bullring also has a museum and is open for visits everyday.
Erected through a donation from the the Dukes of Medinaceli in the early 16th century to the Minim Friars of San Francisco, this building is noted for its church, the cloister and the chapter rooms that show Gothic and Renaissance elements.
Later on it was used as hospice, refuge and hospital for war wounded, and in the early years of the 20th century as a penitentiary. The Monastery has been declared a building of Cultural Interest and at present it is being restored and forms an unique element of the local urban landscape.
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