So what is la Constitución, or "La Pepa" as commonly referred to, all about?
It is known as "La Pepa" because it was published on St Joseph's Day, 19 March 1812. Pepa is the feminine form (la constitución is a feminine noun) of Pepe, a nickname for José.
Early in the 19th century the Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, was keen to spread his Napoleonic Code across the rest of Europe. The code, based on the Enlightenment principles of the French Revolution, replaced old feudal laws with a clearly written legal system, forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs go to the most qualified.
Spain had been ruled for centuries by monarchs with absolute power, and Napoleon's proposals were welcomed by liberals and republicans. When French troops first invaded Spain they were greeted warmly by the population. But when Napoleon forced the abdication of the Spanish kings in 1808 and installed his brother José on the throne, there was a backlash from supporters of the monarchy, starting what the British call the Peninsular Wars and the Spanish call the Guerra de Independencia. Britain, which was keen to quash any Napoleonic leanings in its own territories, joined forces with them to fight against the French.
|Monument to La Pepa in Plaza de España, Cádiz|
|Cádiz - well placed to withstand a siege|
But the Constitution was not as liberal and democratic as its iconic status suggests. "Equality for all" excluded women, as well as blacks and indigenous populations in the colonies. Catholicism was declared the only permitted religion of the country, and the clergy were awarded many privileges. This was considered necessary to gain the support of the Church in the struggle against the French.
However the Constitution expressly prohibited the use of torture. This didn't go down well with the Spanish Inquisition, which was abolished a year later.
Other Constitutions have come and gone, notably that of the Second Republic (1931), which established universal suffrage and major socio-economic reforms, only to be swept away under the Franco dictatorship. The current one, which came into effect in 1978 following Spain's return to democracy, was painfully stitched together by a panel of seven men chosen to represent the wide and deeply divided political spectrum which still remained in the country. Successive governments have promised - and failed - to reform it.
Meanwhile, Cádiz is waiting for you. Come and join the party!
Cádiz street guide to La Pepa
Galeón La Pepa
This splendid replica of a Spanish galleon will be moored at various ports around Spain during the year. On board is a small museum and visitor centre for all things Pepa-related.