Carnival in Cádiz has its roots in pagan rituals characterized by indulgence and liberation: the festivals in honor of Bacchus (the god of wine), Saturnalia (dedicated to the god Saturn), and Lupercalia (in honor of the god Pan) in Rome; the Dionysia (in honor of Dionysus) of Greece; the festivals for the ox Apis in Egypt; and other celebrations that took place in Sumer over 5,000 years ago.
These festivals spread from Rome to the rest of Europe and were brought to America in the 15th century by Spanish and Portuguese ships. By that time, Carnival was associated primarily with Catholicism, as it had become a time when morality and propriety were relaxed before the penitence and sacrifice of Lent.
Carnival in Cádiz faced all the obstacles that have historically confronted this festival, which has been intermittently banned and permitted in Spain over the centuries, depending on the severity or tolerance of the ruling government at the time.
However, even through dark times, the people of Cádiz have always kept the festival alive. Carnival in Cádiz evolved due to the contributions that merchants from Genoa brought from Italy in the 15th century. They saw in Cádiz a place from which they could expand trade with northern and central Africa. The masks, streamers, and confetti used in Carnival today are elements adopted from the Italian Carnival celebration.
The earliest written references to Carnival in Cádiz, which is now known around the world, date from the late 16th century. By that time the festival was already very popular, although due to the difficulties it has faced it has been celebrated at different times of year. Since 1977, it has been held in February on varying dates according to the religious calendar that marks the beginning of Lent, coinciding with the first Carnival after the restoration of democracy in Spain. Since then participation and media interest in the event have increased, and it has been the object of national and international news coverage.