So we have been discovering more and more of the immediate area – and today and at last the town museum was open! It is run by volunteers and opens erratically, despite the notes on the door setting out very precise days and times according to the seasons. We had already discovered a fair bit about the town but much more became clear in the museo.
First however the museum itself is tiny since it occupies all that is occupiable in the base of El Torre Guzman. This remnant of a more elaborate fortification dates from around 16-something but was preceeded by more building by of the aforementioned Guzman – El Bueno in fact. His is a name which redounds – great to refurbish an old word – all around Cadiz Province. Very little moved without a Guzman on the case. Indeed it is likely that he or one of his tribe is responsible largely and single-handedly, as it were, for a very repetitive set of physical features on the faces passing by. Anyway much of Tarifa, Cadiz and Conil were built by him or his successors. To be honest it would not be a surprise to find that the custodian of the day was not a Guzman. No, I jest.
Anyway Conil is a town that grew up on the Tunny that used to swarm into the Med from the Atlantic every spring. These massive (well they were back then) pelagic fish (ocean going) were harvested by various means. Huge Seine nets were a favourite, with the fish coralled into the nets and then heaved ashore by muscle power. They would then be hacked to bits on the beach. It sound dreadful but frankly how else were they going to kill these 400 and 500 lb monsters?
We all get them as tuna on the plate but if you look at the pictures and sketches that is but half the story. The entire fish was butchered in different ways and bears different names. Today of course most of what we eat is not really Tunny at all. The blue fin tunny is a lot smaller and less tasty (and less bloody) but far more plentiful today. And the bonito makes up most of the rest, sometimes called by that name but often tinned and labelled tuna.
Anyway, today Conil does not thrive on the tunny, although they are still caught offshore by mostly by line. It thrives on tourists. And still catches plenty of fish top feed to tourists. But not from the river banks or the beach. Today the Puerto de Conil, about five kilometres south east beyond Cabo Roche is the home of a decent sized fleet of small inshore fishers. But clues to the past can be seen and confused by the tripper. A vast array of thousands of anchors in the car park of a restaurant at the port led me to think they were the remnants of all the fishing boats of the last couple of centuries. Wrong. Having been to the museum and seen a brilliant little diorama of the Seine netts we now know these anchors held the nets that caught the Tunny. Each corner of each zig-zagging net was held in place by a huge anchor. One net array used hundreds of them. And there they are – well a lot of them. Rusting gently in the sun.
Conil shares its “de la Frontera” suffix with many towns here, testament to the years of war and territorial exchanges that blighted the Iberian peninsular right up to modern times. The original tribes were the Iberians and Ligurians (fropm northern Italy) and Indo-Celts north. They were crushed or dominated by the first of a succession of invaders, the Phoneicians. Then the Greeks, then the Carthaginians (Phonecians) re-took the lands thus causing one or other of the Punic wars which gave Rome their turn. Then the Visgoths had a go, followed by the Moors, who were kicked out at huge cost to the culture and economy by the Catholics who then squabbled endlessly for centuiries before the French took over, to be kicked out by the Spanish backed by the English (knew we'd get in somewhere). Along the way the boundary with neighbouring Portugal wandered back and forth, hence the “de la FRA” on the sign posts.
Of course the only invaders now are the tourists of which we British, the Germans, the Dutch and a scattering others take a lot out, bring a lot in but we do at least stop short of demanding national domination. Well so far anyway. And except for Gibraltar.
The town was walled and well defended but little of that really remains, beyond the Guzman tower and a rather nice gate. It sits on a low hill beside a medium sized river and faces an astonishingt beach that stretches in endless sands and slight dunes or sandstone cliffs for about 20 kilometres from Cape Trafalgar almost to Cadiz. Where the river and its beaching for fishing boats once made Conil's fortune today it is the beach, and specifically the decent breezes that stir Atlantic surf and para-wings. In winter it is mildly busy; in summer we are told you need to arrive early to get parked, despite an enormous car park behind the town. We cannot however imagine the vast beach is ever actually crowded.
This week the town has been stirring. Much of it is closed in the winter but now the doors are opening, the decorators are at work and the new stock is being loaded. Our walk through the town this morning was fascinating as the signs of a Spring blossoming of economic activity became visible. And like a cuckoo in an English March we met our first Americans. From Illinois and anxious to perpetuate, in loud if jolly American, her desire to buy yet another hanging ornament for the annual Christmas tree which would again bear witness to another destination ticked off. I suggested gently that “hablas Ingles, por favor” might be more effective than “anyone speak English, hey” and that she might find Spain a little unproductive for her quest as they don't really do Christmas, even less said trees. Their big event is Los Reyes on January 6 and they are more gold, Frankincense and Myrrh than Santa on a strong. Like all Americans she took it all in good part. Mind you we should mock; we were looking for really nice El Torro fridge magnet! Failed, by the way.