After Cadiz was awarded a monopoly on trade with the Americas in the 18th century, the city experienced an economic surge. Wealthy merchants all over Cadiz built towers on top of their palatial homes so that they could monitor their ships coming into port.

Of the 134 towers still standing today, the Torre Tavira is one of the best examples. Besides offering commanding views over Cadiz, it’s also possible to tour the city via a camera obscura. Visiting the Torre Tavira is one of the best things to do in Cadiz.

Opening Times icon indicating when the monument is open

October to April: 10am to 6pm
May to September: 10am to 8pm
Closed: December 25, January 1 & 6

Admission icon indicating price of monument

General admission: 7€
Senior citizens, students, disabled: 5.5€

Location icon indicating the monument address

Calle Marqués del Real Tesoro 10, 11001 Cádiz

Location icon indicating the monument website
Patricia Palacios, co-founder of España Guide
España Guide Co-Founder
Patricia is an engineer turned content creator who for over a decade has been helping travelers navigate her native Spain. In addition to her own website, her tips and recommendations have been featured on BBC Travel, CNN, El País & Lonely Planet, just to name a few.

What to See in the Tavira Tower

Exhibition room at the Torre Tavira in Cadiz – Spain
Exhibition room at the Torre Tavira


Room 1 of the Tavira Tower exhibits information about the history of the camera obscura and its evolution over the centuries. It also explains how it works and the location of other camera obscuras in Spain and the rest of the world.


This room covers Cadiz's golden age. It contains information about Cadiz's busy port and the lookout towers, their function and characteristics. There is also a panel on the Cortes de Cadiz of 1812 explaining the history of Spain's first Constitution, which was signed in Cadiz.

Camera Obscura Session at the Tavira Tower in Cadiz, Spain
Camera Obscura Session at the Tavira Tower


The Tavira Tower's upper room is where the camera obscura session takes place, which lasts about 15 - 20 minutes. During this time, the guide who operates the camera obscura shows and explains the monuments and the city's history while moving the camera.

The guided camera obscura session is a memorable and entertaining way to tour Cadiz. You will have the opportunity to observe scenes in real-time in the city's different corners without moving from the Tavira Tower.

San Sebastian castle seen from the Tavira Tower in Cadiz – Andalusia, Spain
San Sebastian castle seen from the Tavira Tower


Finally, after climbing 173 steps to reach the Tavira Tower's highest point, you will be rewarded with the best panoramic view of the entire city of Cadiz and its bay.

Here you will also find the tube with the optical system of the camera obscura.


Tavira Tower in Cadiz, Spain
Tavira Tower


In the early 18th century, Cadiz was awarded a trade monopoly by a Royal decree. Until then, all trade coming from the Americas went straight to Seville. But now, all ships docked first in Cadiz. This new monopoly caused an unprecedented economic boom that generated a new social class of well-to-do, cultured, and cosmopolitan merchants.

With their new wealth, the merchants of Cádiz began to build palace-like houses in keeping with their new social status. The most characteristic feature of these palace-houses was the watchtower, rising above the rooftops of the city. At the city's pinnacle, there were 164 of these towers. Today, 134 are left standing.

From the lookout towers, merchants could control the departure and arrival of their ships.

The Tavira Tower is part of the palace-house of the Marqueses de Recaño. The building was constructed around 1730 in baroque style. As was the tradition of the time, the first floor was dedicated to offices and warehouses.

The residence of the lord of the house was on the second floor, which was characterized by its high ceilings and luxurious furnishings. The second floor, more humble and modest, was occupied by the servants' quarters. And finally, on the roof was the watchtower, a symbol of the family's wealth.

In 1778, the tower of the palace-house of the Marqueses de Recaño was named the official watchtower of the port of Cadiz. For the simple reason that, with its 45 meters above sea level, it was the city's highest point. Since then, the tower has been named after its first watchman, frigate lieutenant Antonio Tavira.

Towers in Cadiz's skyline – Andalusia, Spain
Towers in Cadiz's skyline


The first references to the optical principles used by the camera obscura appear in testimonies of Chinese philosophers (5th century BC) and Aristotle (4th century BC).

However, it wasn’t until the 10th century that the Arab physicist and astronomer Alhazen used the principle of the camera obscura to study the reflection and refraction of light, the origin of the rainbow, and the use of lenses.

In the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci further developed the camera obscura to study the workings of vision and light. He also added a lens to the hole through which light enters to obtain sharper images.

In the 17th century, the English scientist Robert Hooke (considered one of the most important experimental scientists in history) built camera obscuras to demonstrate how human vision works. It was then that the camera obscura began to be used at upper-class parties as entertainment.

Cadiz Cathedral seen from the Tavira Tower (Torre Tavira) – Spain
Cathedral of Cadiz seen from the Tavira Tower

In 1685, the German monk and writer Johann Zahn designed the first camera small enough to be portable and practical for photography. However, it took almost 150 years before the technology to build it existed.

The technical improvements of the 18th century facilitated the construction of new models of the camera obscura. Their popularity grew and even European painters used them to create more realistic and accurate paintings.

In the 19th century, the camera obscura gave way to the invention of the photographic camera. In 1827, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, considered the inventor of photography, was the first to succeed in "fixing an image."

  • The country with the most camera obscuras in the world is the United Kingdom with 23.
  • In Spain there are 9 camera obscuras. Five of them are in Andalusia (Cadiz, Granada, Jaen, Jerez and Seville), two in Castilla y Leon (Astorga and Bejar), one in Mallorca (Alcudia) and one in Navarra (Tudela).
  • The camera obscura of the Torre Tavira is the oldest in Spain. It was installed in 1994.
  • The oldest camera obscura in Europe is located in Eger, Hungary. It was installed in 1776.

How does the camera obscura work?

Explanation of how the camera obscura works
Camera Obscura Parts

The camera obscura is an optical system that reflects on a screen the scenes taking place outside in real-time. It is a relatively simple system consisting of a white screen, a mirror, and two lenses.

The image from the camera obscura is projected in a completely dark room. The reflected image is displayed on a horizontal white screen.

The projected image is in color and reflects what is happening outside at that very moment. Changing the horizontal screen's height changes the focal length, making it possible to focus at different distances.

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