Sunday, 24 June 2012

A walk around San Sebastián

San Sebastián depends very largely on tourism and is one of the best known destinations in Spain, known to everyone but me, it seems. 

I was surprised to find it seems more often called Donostia than San Sebastián on signposts and in the town itself.  Donostia is the Basque name and means exactly the same.  "Dona" or "dono" means saint and "stia" is a shortened form of Sebastián.

Although its origins can be traced all the way back to the 11th century and possibly beyond when an abbey was on the site, it was the 12th/13th century when the the city really grew up.

It grew up around the hill called Monte Urgull which was a strategic point for many years.  The statue you can see at the top, Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, 12 metres high, was added in 1950.

The city was burnt down during the 15th century, rebuilt in stone but then completely destroyed again completely by Spanish allies (Britain and Portugal) after capturing it from French troops during the Peninsula War 1813.

As a result a lot of the architecture dates from the 19th century although the street layouts are much the same as they were.

Plaza de la Constitución, Constitution Square was built in 1817, an interesting place.

I was fascinated by the bicycle on the top floor balcony, but until then I hadn't noticed the numbers over each window.

It turns out that the square used to be used for bull-fighting and these were boxes for distinguished guests.  Judging by the bicycle, they are now apartments.  It would be a great place to watch the world go by.

I thought the bandstand stained glass could have done with a bit of a polish but I did like its style.

But it was the beach area and promenade that really stood out.

The large building used to be the casino but it was closed down when laws were passed to stop gambling and ever since it has been the town hall.  I'm sure someone will have something to say about that.

San Sebastián's fortunes turned to tourism when, in 1845, the Queen Isabel II was advised by doctors to take up sea bathing.  Later Queen Maria Cristina continued the custom so the royal court came to San Sebastián each summer.

The red brick building you can see above is the Palacio de Miramar, the Miramar Palace, built in 1893 for the Royal Family in the English style.  It doesn't look in the least bit like a palace to me, but each to his own.  It is now used to hold summer courses for the University of the Basque country.

This really is Basque country, neither Spanish nor French.  Many of the signs are in Basque which can be a little confusing if you don't even speak Spanish.  It's hard to know which dictionary to use.  The bars do sell tapas but they also sell pintxos (pinchos) which are snacks on large cocktail sticks.  They have Basque trains too.

Cute. :)

I did ride on the train like a very typical tourist.  The weather was hot and muggy and my feet had had enough. 

I have a folder full more of pictures but I've already posted too many.  Will it load, I wonder.
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. These are quite lovely, A! Thank you for posting them and a bit of the city's history as well. My daughter's group went to France this weekend - to Biarritz and on to a festival in St Jean de Luz. Fun to live vicariously through her emails and your photos.


    1. I'm sure your daughter has plenty of great photos to show you and I hope the sun shone on her more than it did for me. My memories of Biarritz are that it's very similar to San Sebastian. We stayed in St Jean de Luz, up a terribly steep hill. That was great when going out to eat in the evening but not so great returning. My memories are a little hazy - it was over 10 years ago, possibly 15.

  2. Basque's are very much not Spanish! Ask that nice Mr Franco!
    Lovely spot for a weekend, no wonder the royals went along.
    Good pics!

    1. The Basque country in France isn't quite so in your face, I don't think, though you do still get the dual signs. It's just not a problem for me there because I recognise which is which.
      As for it's being a spot for a weekend, mmm, maybe. Sacrilege, but I think it's overrated.

  3. I first discovered San Sebastian in 1968 when on a camping holiday in Spain. I thought I had found heaven - the weather, the beach, the sea, the food and the neighboring mountains were intoxicating to someone who had not been there before. Glad to see it's still as beautiful as it was then. Lapis


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin