Route of the Constitution of 1812

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Constitución Cádiz 1812.jpg
Monumento Constitución Cádiz 1812.jpg
Real Teatro de las Cortes de San Fernando.JPG
Oratorio San Felipe Neri
Constitución de Las Cortes Generales en San Fernando
Iglesia Mayor de San Fernando 2.JPG
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Cadiz "the golden door of a free nation" (The Times)

 The first Spanish constitution was written and proclaimed in this city.  It is popularly known as "La Pepa" as it was enacted on 19 March, the Saint's Day of St. Joseph and Pepa is the nickname for Josephine in Spanish. This constitutional text became the model for the successive independence processes of the countries of Central and South America. It is one of the most progressive constitutions of the history of Spain and, despite its utopianism and the short time it was in force - applied between 1812-14, 1820-23 and 1836 -, it became the symbol of Spanish Liberalism.

At the peak of the Peninsular War against the French, the Cortes (Parliament) were held in San Fernando and Cadiz due to the  upheavals in Spain after Napoleon had invaded the country and to the power vacuum, caused by Ferdinand VII's departure from the country. In 1810, this Extraordinary General Parliament, whose sessions were held until 1813, first met in the  Isla de León,  nowadays known as   San Fernando, in the Las Cortes theatre, as there was an outbreak of yellow fever in Cadiz.  The Parliament then moved to the Oratory of San Felipe Neri in Cádiz in 1811

Around two hundred men met in Cadiz and their legal reforms would convert Spain into the second revolutionary country of Europe. The innovative 1812 Spanish Constitution, the most advanced of its time, underpinned the Constitutionalism and the Liberal regime in Spain. Even back at that time, it became the standard for the European and Latin American liberal revolutions.

Our route, which will take you two or three days to see all the important sights of Cadiz and San Fernando, takes in the sites, monuments, squares, streets, etc... of these liberal cities, that played a key role in one of the most important moments of the modern history of Spain and Central and South America

Travel back to 1810-1812, experience the spirit of Cadiz and  La Isla, relive the liberties of a decisive Constitution for Europe and the Americas. Discover the city that will pull out all the stops to celebrate democracy and constitutionalism in 2012.

We hope you will enjoy this pleasant stroll through the history and culture of those two cities.  If you have any extra time, there is much more to discover beyond this route, as there are many cultural, leisure and recreational activities to be enjoyed here.




This route through Cadiz, the oldest city in Western Europe, can be done in one day, but we suggest you take two.  Stroll along, discover this city step by step, wander along its streets, soak in its history, its culture, but above all the friendliness of its people.

Start the day with a hearty breakfast of churros with a cup of hot chocolate or coffee in one of the bars around the Market or the square known as Plaza de San Francisco. After you have finished your leisurely breakfast, set off on foot as in Cadiz, "La Tacita de Plata" or "Silver Cup" as it is known, everything is within easy reach.

There are several options:

You can visit Cadiz of La Pepa by yourself; but you should first go drop into the La Pepa 2012 Interpretation Centre in calle Ancha, and wander through this multimedia information that showcases the great documentary and historical heritage linked to the Constitution. Don't forget to pick up the small yet detailed guide book for the route.

You can also get information on the Constitution Route at the city's Tourist Office on Paseo de Canalejas.

This route follows the one taken by the civic processions that proclaimed the Constitution at different places of the city on 19 March 1812.

The visit begins in the Plaza de España , the square that is now one of the iconic spots of the city, where you can see the Monument to the Cortes that was erected to commemorate the first Centenary of the Constitution. It is worth taking time to carefully study it from all the sides. The Provincial Council Building, which was the former Customs Building, overlooks the square. The procession set off from there to proclaim La Pepa around the city and it was there were the constitutional text was read out in public for the first time.

The whole square is surrounded by historical buildings from the 18th century, such as the merchants' houses with their watchtowers from where they would look out for the ships brining their goods from overseas. Particularly noteworthy is the House of the Five Towers and on its right, the one of the Four Towers, both from the 18th century. And you then come to one of the defensive constructions, the San Carlos walls, that Cadiz needed throughout its history to prevent the city from being sacked and invaded. The route then crosses the San Carlos neighbourhood, dating back to the same century, and runs through the Alameda Apodaca that overlooks the bay and one of the most beautiful promenade of Cadiz.  It dates back to 1617 and was the favourite place of the local residents to spend their free time. The baroque church of our Lady of El Carmen is at the end of the Alameda and was where the "Te Deum" was said as an act of thanksgiving for the completion of the constitutional text.

You then make your way to plaza del Mentidero, the square that was one of the safest spots of the city during the siege as French batteries could not reach it with their bombardments. And the constitution was read there for a second time. And it is an ideal spot to stop at one of its sidewalk cafes and have a drink or something to eat before carrying on your way.

And you then come to plaza de San Antonio, the square that is the heart of city and where the constitution was read for the third time, and it used to also be called the plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square). It was the civil and religious centre of the 19th century and still boasts fine examples of the civil architecture of that era: the Aramburu house, Cadiz Casino, and the building that used to be the Apolo Coffeehouse. In 1812 Cadiz, life revolved around the coffeehouses as they were the venue of meetings and social activities to disseminate what was happening in Cortes, and the Apolo was the place par excellence for the political and literary gatherings.

And at last you come to San Felipe Neri Oratory, which played a key role in the process to produce the 1812 Constitution.  The Magna Carta was drafted and signed there and it was the venue for the debates of the doceañistas members of parliaments as the men involved in the process were known. The adjacent building houses the Cadiz Cortes Museum, which helps to put the history of La Pepa into context. The main feature is large model of the city in 1777 made out of fine hardwoods, and the artistic stained glass on the main staircase which allegorically recreates the Oath of Loyalty to the Constitution. Even though these two buildings are currently being refurbished, they will be opened to the public very shortly.

Calle Ancha was the aristocratic centre of the city and the well-known figures from the worlds of politics, literature, the army and high society would be seen strolling along the street that was the place to be seen. The route ends in the square known as the plaza de San Francisco and the monastery where some of the 1812 members of parliament stayed.

This was a bustling commercial area with coffeehouses, inns and eating houses, where many of the classics of Cadiz's cuisine were first thought up, including, of course, the popular French omelette, which came out of these kitchens, or so it is claimed. As there was a shortage of some food during the siege, including potatoes, the potato or Spanish omelette could not be made, and the only way to make one was just using eggs.  It was called a "French" omelette to distinguish it from the Spanish one.

And when it is time for lunch, you can either opt for tapas or sit down at one of the restaurants in the Cadiz Gourmet Guide.


Surrounded by the Bay of Cadiz Natural Park and just 8 km from the city of Cadiz, Isla de León, as San Fernando used to be known, is set in an interesting landscape of salt marshes, salt pans and dunes. It was on 24 September 1810 when the most important events in the history of San Fernando took place, when the Spanish Extraordinary and General Cortes (Parliament) were held at the peak of the Napoleonic invasion.

In the Real Villa de la Isla de León, the only stronghold, along with Cadiz, not taken by the French army, the Cortes met from 24 September 1810 until 20 February 1811, when the Parliament was moved to Cadiz.

In recognition of its bravery during the Napoleonic invasion, the Parliament granted the town the title of City and the name of San Fernando, in honour of Ferdinand VII.  The Central Supreme Board of Governance of Spain and the Indies, which had taken refuge in the Isla de León, decided to set up a Regency Council, which would be granted full authority and power by the Supreme Board.  It was set up in the Convent of the Teaching of Mary, which became the seat of the Government of the Nation.

And this is the start of the "parliamentary" visit to San Fernando. The convent is in the calle Real, the heart of the city. Along the route, you will come across numerous and beautiful examples of the architecture of the 18th century.  You will come across baroque and neo-classic, religious, military, public and domestic constructions.

In the City Hall of the Royal City of Isla de León, a neo-classical and eclectic building, the members of parliament of the Extraordinary and General Cortes or Parliament met for the first time on the morning of 24 September 1810. On 24 September 1810, at half past nine in the morning, the members of parliament headed by the Regency Council went to the Parish Church of San Pedro y San Pablo (Main Church) and a Mass was said.

The members of parliament then went on foot to the most suitable place to hold the Parliamentary sessions, the La Isla Comedy Theatre, which had been refurbished so the stage and the stalls had been arranged in a semi-circle and the circle acted as the seating. Some of the most revolutionary measures adopted by the Parliament were agreed in this theatre, including the principle of National Sovereignty, the division of Powers and the immunity of the Members of Parliament when carrying out their duties and as representatives of the nation. 

Until 20 February 1811, the Parliament remained at its seat at the so-called Comedy Theatre of the Real Isla de León. Its name would subsequently be changed to Teatro de Las Cortes or Parliament Theatre.

 Given its great military tradition, the town was of strategic importance for the Spanish Navy that was the driving force behind buildings that are currently proof of its importance: the  Carraca arsenal, the Navy Observatory, the leading scientific centre and which establishes the official time in Spain, the pavilion of famous Marines, San Carlos hospital.

The visit ends at the new Parliamentary Interpretation Centre, fitted out with cutting-edge technologies for the visitors to learn, interpret and discover the impact of a series of events that would lead to the birth of the Parliament, the base of modern democracies.

Further information

In Cadiz

If you decide to spend one day on the route, here are some suggestions to spend the second day discovering other spots of this city:

In the morning

Visit the Food Market, a unique experience for your eyes and for all your senses, where you should just wander around and people watch, and marvel at the huge variety of fish and seafood from the Bay.

Visit the old town on foot: make your way towards the Cathedral after the market, take time to visit the museum of the Cathedral, or go up Poniente Tower to look out over the city from above. A real must next to the Cathedral is the archaeological site of the Bishop's House which provides an overview of so many civilisations and cultures that passed through the capital. In the same neighbourhood, the Medieval district of El Pópulo, the oldest of the city, the Church of Santa Cruz or the Old Cathedral, built in the Baroque style and the Roman Theatre, the second largest in Spain are worth visiting. The theatre is also being refurbished.

Visit the Tavira Tower, the typical watchtower of the colonial era that were a feature of the homes of the merchants and shippers to the Indies. They are currently around 100 watchtowers throughout the city, including the House of the Five Towers, the House of the Four Towers and the Bella Escondida.

The Tavira Tower can be visited and has a Camera Obscura where the visitor can watch what is happening in the city in real time. As you make your way through the historical centre, you will see many 18th and 10th century mansions: Casa de las Cadenas (House of the Chains), the Admiral's House, the Mora Palace, the mansion of the Aramburu family, etc.

The Cadiz Museum, in Plaza de Mina, is also interesting.  Apart from its artistic works, it boasts one of the best collections of Phoenician art with two unique anthropoid sarcophagus in the world, Roman art,... along with paintings by Zurbarán.

In the afternoon:

Stroll through the streets and squares where you can see some of the convents linked to the New World, such as the one of Santo Domingo, of San Francisco, etc..

Visit the Santa Cueva Oratory where you see the frescos painted by Goya. In this oratory, Joseph Haydn, the Baroque composer, was inspired to compose a commission for Good Friday, "The Oratory of the 7 Last Words of Christ .

Stroll along the walled complex next to sea around the old town.  The route will take you through charming parks such as the Alameda, the Parque Genovés, and past defensive bastions until you reach La Caleta, a small beach right in the seafaring and popular neighbourhood, and the cradle of the Cadiz Carnival. It is also home to two magnificent castles, Santa Catalina and San Sebastián (16th and 17th centuries), and an ancient spa from the early 19th century, which is now an Underwater Archaeological Centre.

In San Fernando

Apart from the places described in the introduction to this route, some other recommendations to visit or enjoy are:

San Romulado, a fortified Arab convent or ribat that is thought to date back to the end of the medieval era.

A promenade runs along the Sancti-Petri channel and starts close to the Zuazo Bridge, near to the castle, which was a natural defensive structure to repel the attacks of the French army.

The Botanic Garden, which is a beautiful setting that should not be missed.

The old Sancti-Petri village, on the beach of the same name, to enjoy delicious fish and seafood, walk along the shore, or take a boat trip to the island with the Sancti Petri Castle, the ancient temple dedicated to the god  Melkart (Roman Hercules)

Visit a salt pan to discover salt has been extracted for thousands of year and there is also the opportunity to witness a "despesque", the art of catching fish by netting those that have been naturally trapped in the estuaries by the high tide  

A must for lovers of Flamenco is the Camarón Route in this city, where you can visit those places that were part of the life of this renowned singer.

We hope you will enjoy this pleasant stroll through the history and culture of those two cities.  If you have any extra time, there is much more to discover beyond this route, as there are many cultural, leisure and recreational activities to be enjoyed here.


Cadiz Tourist Office

Parliamentary Interpretation Centre Guided visits for pre-booked groups

Las Cortes Theatre


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