Poetry in Place: Mapping Cadiz

31 July 2016. Cadiz

I came here to find my way home.

I’ve just finished working on a place-based poetry/installation/performance project, which is online at ArcGIS.

After two years living abroad I wanted time to reflect on my journey and consider my memories and imaginings of Australia. Long before the official discovery of Australia, the possibility of a great southern land was hypothesised by navigators and even Aristotle (who also gave us the three-act story structure) who conceived of Terra Australis. During the age of discovery Spanish and Portuguese mariners set out seeking this unknown land, and a series of maps known as the Dieppe maps appear to suggest Australia’s coastlines. Adding further intrigue to the theory of Portuguese discovery is the legendary Mahogany Ship, a wreck discovered between Warrnambool and Port Fairy by some local sailors in the 1830s, which they considered to be made of foreign mahogany and very old. As years passed, people grew interested in the wreck and the possibility that it could present an earlier European discovery of Australia. By then the ship had disappeared. When I was a child, the Victorian Government offered a $250,000 reward for anyone finding the ship or clues to its location. No one claimed the reward. It’s possible the ship never existed at all; equally as possible it was several different shipwrecks, some known, being confused by the various eyewitnesses. Either way, the story has passed into folklore and has always fascinated me. What, aside from gold and glory, compelled these sailors into charting the unknown? What did they imagine in this great unknown continent – a continent just as mythical then as the legendary shipwreck is to us now?

In Cadiz, I set about mapping a foreign territory. Christopher Columbus set sail from this port for several of his trips to the New World and there are monumental trees in plazas in Cadiz that were grown from seeds he brought back with him. It is an ancient city—the oldest continuously inhabited city in Western Europe—first established by the Phoenicians, later taken over in turns by the Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors. It juts out into the Atlantic like an island, although technically, it is a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a narrow spit of land. The layout of the city has changed little in the last few hundred years. Being surrounded by water prevents expansion, but the city exists in layers. A Roman theatre was uncovered during renovations several years ago and beneath a city theatre is a significant archaeological excavation that reveals both Roman and Phoenician ruins. The Phoenicians too, built in layers, coating their streets in lime and clay, preserving each layer underneath. There is much yet to be uncovered in a city dense with history.

My project was one of creative cartography, contriving to get lost in the cobbled streets that twist and turn, to discover the city by accident and from all its different angles.

During my final days in Cadiz, the port was filled with tall ships. The Major of Cadiz, Jose Maria Gonzalez Santos, welcomed the international crews with words that resonated with me: “In Cadiz nobody feels foreign. In Cadiz everyone has their home. Make the most of your stay here – stroll, discover, investigate, talk to the people and don’t worry about losing yourself in the streets, they all lead to the Atlantic.”

The map below takes you through my project, process and the resulting poem in my attempt to capture a sense of the city.

Poetry in Place: Mapping Cadiz


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