Main Births etc
San Sebastián
Donostia (Basque)
San Sebastián (Spanish)
Donostia / San Sebastián
San Sebastián at night from Urgull


Nickname(s): Sanse, Donosti, San Seb, La bella Easo[1]
Motto: «Por fidelidad, nobleza y lealtad ganadas
(Spanish for "By earnt fidelity, nobility and loyalty")

Basque Country
San Sebastián
Location of San Sebastián within the Basque Country

San Sebastián is located in Spain
San Sebastián
Location of San Sebastián within Spain
Coordinates: 43°19′17″N 1°59′8″W / 43.32139, -1.98556Coordinates: 43°19′17″N 1°59′8″W / 43.32139, -1.98556
Country  Spain
Autonomous community  Basque Country
Province Gipuzkoa
Neighbourhoods 21
Founded 1180
 • Mayor Juan Karlos Izagirre[2] (Bildu)
 • Land 60.89 km2 (23.51 sq mi)
Elevation 6 m (20 ft)
Population (2011)
 • Total 186,122
 • Density 3,010.48/km2 (7,797.1/sq mi)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 • Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Postal code 20001-20018
Area code(s) 34 (Spain) + 943 (Gipuzkoa)
Website City Council

San Sebastián (Spanish: [san seβasˈtjan]) or Donostia (Basque: [doˈnos̺tia])[3] is a city and municipality located in the north of Spain, in the Basque Country, on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and 20 km away from the French border. The city is the capital of Gipuzkoa, in the autonomous community of the Basque Country. The municipality’s population is 186,122 (2011), and its metropolitan area reaches 436,500 (2010).[4] Locals call themselves donostiarras, in Spanish,[5] and donostiarrak, in Basque.

The main economic activities are commerce and tourism, being one of the most famous tourist destinations in Spain.[6] Despite the city’s small size, international events such as the San Sebastián International Film Festival have given it an international dimension. San Sebastián, along with Wrocław, Poland, will be the European Capital of Culture in 2016.[7]

Etymology[edit | edit source]

In spite of the apparent difference, both the Basque form Donostia and the Spanish form San Sebastián share the same meaning of Saint Sebastian. The dona/dono/doni element in Basque place-names signifies "saint" and is derived from Latin domine; the second part of Donosti(a) contains a shortened form of the saint's name.[8]

Geography[edit | edit source]

Panoramic view of the Bay of La Concha (Bahía de la Concha/Kontxako Badia) at day
Panoramic view of the Bay of La Concha (Bahía de la Concha/Kontxako Badia) at day

The city is in the north of the Basque Country, on the southern coast of the Bay of Biscay. San Sebastián's picturesque coastline makes it a popular beach resort. Adding to the seaside environment, it benefits from hilly surroundings easily available, i.e., Urgull (at the heart of the city by the seashore), romantic Mount Ulia extending east to Pasaia, Mount Adarra rising proud far on the south and Igeldo, overlooking the bay from the west.

The city sits at the mouth of the River Urumea, Donostia having built to a large extent over wetlands of the river during the last couple of centuries. Actually, the city centre and the districts of Amara Berri and Riberas de Loiola lie on such terrain and the former bed of the river, diverted to its current canalized course on the first half of the 20th century.

Monuments of the city

Parts of the city[edit | edit source]

As a result of Donostia's sprawling in all directions, first into the flatlands shaped by the river Urumea and later up the hills, new districts arose after the walls of the city were demolished in 1863. The first expansion of the old town stretched out to the river's mouth, on the old quarter called Zurriola (a name later given by Council decision to the sand area and the street across the river).

The orthogonal layout nowadays making up the city centre (the Cortazar development) was built up to 1914 (first phase finished) much in tune with a Parisian Haussmannian style. The arcades of the Buen Pastor square were fashioned after the ones of the Rue de Rivoli, with the Maria Cristina Bridge being inspired by the Pont Alexandre III that spans the Seine. The Estación del Norte train station standing right across the bridge was inaugurated in 1864 just after the arrival of the railway to San Sebastián, with its metallic roof being designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Parte Vieja[edit | edit source]

The Parte Vieja (Old Part) is the traditional core area of the city, and was surrounded by walls up to 1863, when they were demolished so as to occupy the stretch of sand and land that connected the town to the mainland (a stretch of the walls still limits the Old Part on its exit to the port through the Portaletas gate). The Old Part is divided in two parishes relating to the Santa Maria and San Vicente churches, the inhabitants belonging to the former being dubbed traditionally joxemaritarrak, while those attached to the latter are referred to as koxkeroak. Historically, the koxkeroak up to the early 18th century were largely Gascon speaking inhabitants. Especially after the end of Franco's dictatorship, scores of bars sprang up all over the Old Part which are very popular with the youth and the tourists, although not as much with the local residents. Most current buildings trace back to the 19th century, erected thanks to the concerted effort and determination of the town dwellers after the 1813 destruction of the town.

There is a small fishing and recreation port, with two-floor picturesque houses lined under the front-wall of the mount Urgull. Yet these houses are relatively new, resulting from the demilitarization of the hill, sold to the city council by the Ministry of War in 1924.

Zurriola Bridge and mouth of the Urumea

Antiguo[edit | edit source]

This part stands at the west side of the city beyond the Miramar Palace. It is arguably the first population nucleus, even before the land at the foot of Urgull (Old Part) was settled. A monastery of San Sebastián el Antiguo ('the Old') is attested in documents at the time of the foundation (12th century). At the mid 19th century, industry developed (Cervezas El León, Suchard, Lizarriturry), the nucleus coming to be populated by workers. Industry has since been replaced by services and the tourist sector. The Matia kalea provides the main axis for the district.

Amara Zaharra[edit | edit source]

Or Old Amara, named after the farmhouse Amara. It has eventually merged with the city centre to a large extent, since former Amara lay on the marshes at the left of the River Urumea. The core of this district is the Easo Plaza, with the railway terminal of Euskotren closing the square at its south.

Amara Berri[edit | edit source]

This city expansion to the south came about as of the 1940s, after the works to canalize the river were achieved. Nowadays the name Amara usually applies to this sector, the newer district having overshadowed the original nucleus both in size and population. The district harbours the main road entrance to the city, with Donostia's central bus station being located between the roundabout and the river. Facilities of many state run agencies were established here and presently Amara's buildings house many business offices. The district revolves around the axis of Avenida Sancho el Sabio and Avenida de Madrid.

Gros[edit | edit source]

The district is built on the sandy terrain across the river. The Gros or Zurriola surf beach by the river's mouth bears witness to that type of soil. In the 19th century, shanties and workshops started to dot the area, Tomas Gros being one of its main proprietors as well as providing the name for this part of the city. The area held the former monumental bullring Chofre demolished in 1973, on a site currently occupied by a housing estate. The district shows a dynamic commercial activity, recently boosted by the presence of the Kursaal Congress Centre by the beach.

Aiete[edit | edit source]

One of the newest parts in the city, it was farmland until several decades ago. The Spanish dictator Francisco Franco spent the summer on its quaint Aiete Park, nowadays home to the Bakearen Etxea or Peace Memorial House.

Egia[edit | edit source]

Façade of the Constitution Square (Plaza) in San Sebastián

City hall of San Sebastián

San Sebastián's Cathedral

María Cristina Bridge

Miramar Palace

Egia, stemming from (H)Egia (Basque for either bank/shore or hill), is a popular district of Donostia on the right side of the Urumea beyond the train station. At the beginning of the 20th century a patch of land by the railway started to be used as a football pitch, eventually turning into the official stadium of the local team Real Sociedad before it was transferred in the 1990s to Anoeta, south of Amara Berri (nowadays the site harbours houses). The cigarette factory conjures up the former industrial past of the area, while the building has been made recently into a Contemporary Culture Centre. Right opposite to this building lies the Cristina Enea park, a public compound with a botanic vocation. Egia holds the city cemetery, Polloe, at the north-east fringes of the district, stretching out to South Intxaurrondo.

Intxaurrondo[edit | edit source]

This part (meaning 'walnut tree' in Basque) is a large district to the east of the city. The original nucleus lies between the railway and the Ategorrieta Avenue, where still today the farmhouse Intxaurrondo Zar, declared "National Monument", is situated since the mid-17th century. The railway cuts across the district, the southern side being the fruit of the heavy development undergone in the area during the immigration years of the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, further housing estates have been built up more recently souther beyond the N-1 E-5 E-80 E-70 ring road (South Intxaurrondo). The police force Guardia Civil runs controversial barracks there (works for new housing are underway).

Altza[edit | edit source]

Altza (Basque for alder tree) is the easternmost district of San Sebastián along with Bidebieta and Trintxerpe. It was but a quaint village comprising scattered farmhouses and a small nucleus a century ago (2,683 inhabitants in 1910), yet on the arrival of thousands of immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s a rapid and chaotic housing and building activity ensued, resulting in a maze of grey landscape of skyscrapers and 32,531 inhabitants crammed in them (data of 1970, some 50,000 in 1996). A scheme for the improvement of the area and the construction of a new housing estate (Auditz Akular) is under way as of the late 2000s.

Trintxerpe[edit | edit source]

This tip of San Sebastián's eastern sprawl lies actually on the bank of the Bay of Pasaia, next to the neighbourhood San Pedro from the latter. It was heavily populated in the 1950s and 1960s with immigrants pouring in mainly from Galicia, who crammed in grey tone functional buildings built with little regard to aesthetics.

Ibaeta[edit | edit source]

Ibaeta stands on the former location for various factories (e.g., Cervezas El Leon) of San Sebastián, with the buildings of the old industrial estate being demolished in the late 20th century. The levelling of this large flat area paved the ground for a carefully planned modern and elegant housing estate, featuring a new university campus for the public University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU) and institutions such as the Donostia International Physics Center or the Nanotechnology Center. A stream called Konporta flows down along the eastern side of the area, but it was canalized under the ground almost all along to its mouth on the bay pushed by urban building pressure.

Loiola[edit | edit source]

It lies by the Urumea at the south-east end of the city. It comprises a small patch of detached houses (Ciudad Jardín) and a core area of 6-odd floor buildings. The district has recently gone through a major makeover, with works finishing in 2008. The road axis coming from important industrial areas (Astigarraga-Hernani) crosses the district heading downtown. A military base (home to an uprising in 1936) stand across the river. Attempts by the city council to close it have been unsuccessful so far.

Riberas de Loiola[edit | edit source]

New modern district erected in the 2000s next to the city's inner bypass and south road entrance to Donostia. A pedestrian bridge spans the Urumea river onto the Cristina Enea Park.

Martutene[edit | edit source]

The district bordering to the south on the town of Astigarraga comes next to Loiola in the south direction. This part of the city features an industrial area, a football pitch for lower leagues, a disused vocational training building and enclosure as well as a prison, much in decay and due to be transferred soon to a new location, probably in the municipality's exclave of Zubieta, while this option is coming in for much opposition.

Igeldo[edit | edit source]

This rural quarter is almost a small town in its own right (many neighbours advocate for a municipality of its own), located at the mountain range of the same name towering over the west side of the Bay of La Concha (Kontxako Badia). At the nearest point of the bay lies a permanent fairground at the hillock Mendiotz, topped by a conspicuous mock military tower (actually built up at the beginning of the 20th century for tourism) which houses a hotel. There is a frequented camp-site on the area.

Zubieta[edit | edit source]

The exclave Zubieta (meaning 'place of bridges') was a picturesque old village up to recent years, with a bunch of houses, a unique handball pitch (on account of its single wall as opposed to the regular two) and a church. Yet it has undergone a great urban development, which has rendered the location a built-up area with paved streets and due equipment. Two contested projects are under way to build a solid-waste incinerator and a prison nearby. Historically, neighbours from Donostia held a meeting at a house in the former village in the wake of the 1813 burning, in order to decide the reconstruction of the town.

Climate[edit | edit source]

Climate data for San Sebastián
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 12.8
Daily mean °C (°F) 8.6
Average low °C (°F) 4.4
Precipitation mm (inches) 168
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 1 mm) 13 12 12 14 12 10 9 10 10 12 13 12 140
Mean monthly sunshine hours 91 104 139 148 174 185 202 194 167 136 100 82 1,722
Source: Agencia Estatal de Meteorología[9]

History[edit | edit source]

San Ignacio de Loiola Church

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Chorus

Victoria Eugenia Theatre at night

Kursaal Palace and Kursaal Bridge at night

Maria Cristina old hotel

Igeldo Lighthouse

Prehistory[edit | edit source]

The first evidence of human stationary presence in the current city is the settlement of Ametzagaña, between South Intxaurrondo and Astigarraga. The unearthed remains, such as carved stone used as knives to cut animal skin, date from 24,000 to 22,000 BC. The open-air findings of the Upper Paleolithic have revealed that the settlers were hunters and Homo Sapiens, besides pointing to a much colder climate at the time.[10]

Ancient Age[edit | edit source]

San Sebastián is thought to have been in the territory of the Varduli in Roman times. 10 km east of the current city lay the Basque Roman town of Oiasso (Irun), which was for long time wrongly identified with San Sebastián.

Middle Age[edit | edit source]

After a long period of silence in evidence, in 1014 the monastery of St. Sebastián with its apple orchards (for cider), located in the term of Hernani, is donated to the Abbey of Leire by Sancho III of Pamplona. By 1181, the city is chartered (given fuero) by king Sancho VI of Pamplona on the site of Izurum, having jurisdiction over all the territory between the rivers Oria and Bidasoa.

In 1200, the city was conquered by Castile, whose king Alfonso VIII, confirmed its charter (fuero), but the Kingdom of Navarre was deprived of its main direct access out to the sea. Perhaps as soon as 1204 (or earlier), the city nucleus at the foot of Urgull started to be populated with Gascon-speaking colonizers from Bayonne and beyond, who left an important imprint in the city's identity in the centuries to come.[11]

In 1265, the use of the city as a seaport is granted to Navarre as part of a wedding pact. The large quantity of Gascons inhabiting the town favoured the development of trade with other European ports and Gascony. The city steered clear of the destructive War of the Bands in Gipuzkoa, the only town in doing so in that territory. In fact, the town only joined Gipuzkoa in 1459 after the war came to an end.[11] Up to the 16th century, Donostia remained mostly out of wars, but by the beginning of the 15th century, a line of walls of simple construction is attested encircling the town. The last chapter of the town in the Middle Ages was brought about by a fire that devastated Donostia in 1489. After burning to the ground, the town began a new renaissance by building up mainly on stone instead of bare timber.

Modern Age[edit | edit source]

The advent of the Modern Age brought a period of instability and war for the city. After the fall of Navarre, new state boundaries started to be drawn that left Donostia at the forefront of the Spanish border with France. New chunky and more sophisticated walls were erected and the town got involved in the wars engaged between Spain and France on the aftermath of the disappearance of the independent Kingdom of Navarre in 1521. Actually, the town provided critical naval help to the Spanish king on the frontier disputes that took place in Hondarribia, which earned the town the titles "Muy Noble y Muy Leal", recorded on its coat of arms. Moreover, the town took sides with the new emperor Charles V by sending a party to the Battle of Noain and providing help to the emperor against the Revolt of the Comuneros.

After the conquest of the Iberian Navarre and the attachment of Donostia to Gipuzkoa, Gascons, who had played a leading role in the political and economic life of the town since its foundation, began to be excluded from influential public positions by means of a string of regional sentences upheld by royal decision (regional diets of Zestoa 1527, Hondarribia 1557, Bergara 1558, Tolosa 1604 and Deba 1662). Meanwhile, the climate of war and disease left the town in a poor condition that drove many fishermen and traders to take to the sea as corsairs as a way of getting a living, most of the times under the auspices of the king Philip II of Spain, who benefited from the disruption caused to and wealth obtained from the French and Dutch trade ships.

In 1656, the city was used as the royal headquarters during the marriage of the Infanta to Louis XIV at Saint-Jean-de-Luz nearby. After a relatively peaceful 17th century, the town was besieged and taken over by the troops of the French Duke of Berwick up to 1721. However, San Sebastián was not spared by shelling in the French assault and many urban structures were reconstructed, e.g. a new opening in the middle of the town, the Plaza Berria (that was to become the current Konstituzio Plaza).

In 1728, the "Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas was founded and boosted commerce with the Americas. Thanks to the profit the company generated, the town underwent some urban reforms and improvements and the new Santa Maria Church was erected by subscription. This period of wealth and development was to last up to the beginning of the 19th century.

In 1808, Napoleonic forces captured San Sebastián in the Peninsular War. In 1813, after a siege of various weeks, on 28 August, during the night, a landing party from a British Royal Navy squadron captured Santa Clara Island, in the bay. Three days later, on 31 August, British and Portuguese troops besieging San Sebastián assaulted the town. The relieving troops lost all self-control, ransacked and burnt the city to the ground. Only the street at the foot of the hill (now called 31 August Street) remained.

Contemporary History[edit | edit source]

Port of San Sebastián in 1890

After the destructive events, the reconstruction of the city was decided in the same spot with an only slightly altered layout, since a modern octagonal draft project by the architect P.M. Ugartemendia was turned down and eventually M. Gogorza's blueprint was approved, while supervised and implemented by the former. This area, the Old Part, oozes neoclassical, austere and systematic style in its architectural construction. The Constitution Square was built in 1817 and the town hall (current library) between 1828 and 1832. Housing works were carried out gradually during various decades until they were achieved.

The liberal and bourgeois San Sebastián became capital of Gipuzkoa (at the expense of Tolosa) until 1823, when absolutists assailed the town again (only 200 inhabitants remained in town when the assaulting troops broke in), but it was made capital city again in 1854. In 1833, British volunteers under Sir George de Lacy Evans defended the town against Carlist attack, and their fallen were buried at the "English Cemetery" on the hill Urgull.

Monuments of San Sebastián

At the beginning of the 19th century, the local government was still ruled on the principle of nobility, while the inhabitants of foreign origin or descent had always been ubiquitous in the town, especially the traders. Although San Sebastián benefited greatly from the charts system established in the Basque Country (foruak, with borders in the Ebro river and no duties for overseas goods), the town was at odds with the more traditional Gipuzkoa, even requesting the detachment from the province and the annexation to Navarre in 1841.

In 1863, the defensive walls of the town were demolished (their remains are visible in the underground car-park at the Boulevard) and an expansion of the town began in an attempt to escape the military function it had held before. Works were appointed to Jose Goicoa and Ramon Cortazar, who modeled the new city according to an orthogonal shape much in an neoclassical Parisian style, and the former designed elegant buildings, like the Miramar Palace, or the Concha Promenade. The city was chosen by the Spanish monarchy to spend the summer following the French example of the near Biarritz. Subsequently the Spanish nobility and the diplomatic corps opened residences in the summer capital. As the "wave baths" at La Concha conflicted with shipbuilding activity, shipyards relocated to Pasaia, a near bay formerly part of San Sebastián.

However, in 1875, war battered the town again and shelling over the city by Carlists caused acclaimed bertsolari and poet Bilintx to die in 1876. As of 1885, King Alfonso XII of Spain's widow Maria Cristina spent her summer in Donostia on a yearly basis (took accommodation at the Miramar Palace), bringing along her retinue. In 1887, the Casino was erected, which eventually turned into the current city hall. Cultural life thrived on this period, giving rise to various typical events in the city, such as the Caldereros or the Tamborrada, and journalistic and literary productions both in Spanish and Basque.

Donostia developed into a fully-fledged seaside resort, while some industry was developed in the district of Antiguo and outskirts of the city. Following the outbreak of World War I, San Sebastián became an attracting focus for renowned international figures of culture and politics, e.g. Mata Hari, Leon Trotsky, Maurice Ravel, Romanones, etc. Various rationalist architectural landmarks, typically white or light toned, were erected and dotted the urban landscape in the 20s and 30s (La Equitativa, Nautico, building Easo, etc.). In 1924-1926, works to canalize the Urumea river were carried out on the southern tip of the city. However, after the city's Belle Epoque in the European war time, repression under Primo de Rivera's dictatorship didn't favour the city. In 1924, gambling was prohibited by the authoritarian regime, causing the Grand Casino (inaugurated 1887) and the Kursaal (1921) to struggle to survive.

In 1930, Spanish republican forces signed up the Pact of San Sebastián leading to the Second Spanish Republic. Unrest and repression did not stop with the new political regime, and large-scale industrial action was taken several times by the growing anarchist, communist and socialist unions. The 1936 military coup was initially defeated by resistance led by the Basque Nationalists,[12] anarchists and communists, but later that year the province fell to Spanish Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War.[13] The occupation proved disastrous for the city dwellers: 380 were executed by the Spanish Nationalists, including the mayor, many children were evacuated to foreign countries and the city drained on an exodus estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants.

In the aftermath of war, the city was stricken by poverty, famine and repression, coupled with thriving smuggling. Many republican detainees were held at the Ondarreta prison in grim and humid conditions (building demolished in 1948) right at the beach with the same name. However, industry developed and paved the way for the urban expansion in the popular district Egia and eclectic styled Amara Berri, on the marshes and riverbed of the Urumea, at the end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s.

In 1943, the seeds of the Basque language schools were being sown by Elvira Zipitria, who started to give instruction in Basque at her own house in the Old Part. In 1947, the Grand Casino was turned into the City Hall. A decade later, in 1953, businessmen from the city organised the first San Sebastián International Film Festival to stimulate the economic life and national and international profile of the city.

The massive immigration from various parts of Spain, spurred by growing industrial production, greatly increased population, in turn bringing about a quick and chaotic urban development on the outskirts of the city (Altza, Intxaurrondo, Herrera, Bidebieta, etc.), but social, cultural and political contradictions and inequities followed, so sparking dissatisfaction. A general climate of protest and street demonstrations ensued, driven by Basque nationalists (especially armed separatist organisation ETA) and underground unions, triggering in 1968 the first state of emergency in Gipuzkoa. Several more were imposed by the Francoist authorities in the run-up to the dictator's death in 1975.

In the middle of the shaky economic situation and real estate speculation, the iconic buildings Kursaal and Chofre bullring in Gros were demolished in 1973. On the other hand, sculptor Eduardo Chillida's and architect Peña Ganchegui's landmark The Comb of the Winds was built at the bay's western tip (1975–1977). The 1970s to the mid-1980s were years of general urban and social decay marked by social and political unrest and violence. In 1979, the first democratic municipal elections were held, won by the Basque Nationalist Party), who held office along with splinter party Eusko Alkartasuna until 1991. The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party's Odon Elorza took over as mayor that year until 2011, when he was overthrown unexpectedly in elections by Juan Carlos Izagirre (Bildu).

As of the 1990s, a major makeover of the city centre was undertaken aimed at enhancing and revamping the neoclassical and modernist side of San Sebastián's architecture. Other milestone works include the reshape and enlargement of the Zurriola beach and promenade and the inauguration of the Kursaal Palace cubes (1999), or the new university campus and technological facilities in Ibaeta, the provision of a wide bike lane network, underground car-parks and significant public transport improvements. Districts of cutting-edge design have been erected, such as Ibaeta or Riberas de Loiola, while some important projects hang on the balance prompted by financial tensions.

Culture and events[edit | edit source]

San Sebastián International Film Festival, Red Carpet

San Sebastián shows a dynamic cultural scene, where grass-roots initiative based on different parts of the city and the concerted private and public synergy have paved the ground for a rich range of possibilities and events catering to the tastes of a wide and selected public alike. The city was selected as European Capital of Culture for 2016 (shared with Wrocław, Poland) with a basic motto, "Waves of people's energy", summarizing a clear message: people and movements of citizens are the real driving force behind transformations and changes in the world.

Events ranging from traditional city festivals to music, theatre or cinema take place all year round, while they specially thrive in summer. In the last week of July, San Sebastián's Jazz Festival (Jazzaldia), the longest, continuously running Jazz Festival in Europe is held. In different spots of the city gigs are staged, sometimes with free admission. The Musical Fortnight comes next extending for at least fifteen days well into August and featuring classical music concerts. In September, the San Sebastián International Film Festival comes to the spotlight, an event with more than 50 years revolving around the venues of Kursaal and the Victoria Eugenia Theatre.

Sticking to the cinematic language but lacking its echo, Street Zinema is an international audiovisual festival exploring contemporary art and urban cultures. Other rising and popular events include the Horror and Fantasy Festival in October (21st edition in 2010) and the Surfilm Festibal, a cinema festival featuring surfing footage, especially shorts. During centuries, the city has been open to many influences that have left a trace, often mingling with the local customs and traditions and eventually resulting in festivals and new customs.

San Sebastián Day[edit | edit source]

Tamborrada, children's section

Every year on 20 January (the feast of Saint Sebastian), the people of San Sebastián celebrate a festival known as the "Tamborrada". At midnight, in the Konstituzio plaza in the "Alde Zaharra/Parte Vieja" (Old Part), the mayor raises the flag of San Sebastián (see in the infobox). For 24 hours, the entire city is awash with the sound of drums. The adults, dressed as cooks and soldiers, march around the city. They march all night with their cook hats and white aprons with the March of San Sebastián.

On this day a procession was held in the early 19th century from the Santa Maria Church in the Old Part to the San Sebastián Church in the district of Antiguo, while later limited on the grounds of weather conditions to the in-wall area. The event finished with a popular dancing accompanied on the military band's flutes and drums. In addition, every day a soldier parade took place to change the guards at the town's southern walls. Since the San Sebastián Day was the first festival heralding the upcoming Carnival, it's no surprise that some youths in Carnival mood followed them aping their martial manners and drumrolls, using for the purpose the buckets left at the fountains. In the period spanning the 1860s and 1880s the celebrations started to shape as we know them today with proper military style outfits and parades and the tunes fashioned by music composer Raimundo Sarriegui.[14]

Adults usually have dinner in sociedades gastronómicas ("gourmet clubs"), who traditionally admitted only males, but nowadays even the strictest ones allow women on the "Noche de la Tamborrada". They eat sophisticated meals cooked by themselves, mostly composed of seafood (traditionally elvers, now no longer served due to its exorbitant price) and drink the best wines. For "Donostiarras" this is the most celebrated festival of the year.

Semana Grande/Aste Nagusia[edit | edit source]

Giants and big-heads of the city in "Semana Grande"

A festival called Semana Grande in Spanish and Aste Nagusia in Basque ("Big/Main Week") is held every year at mid-August. An important international fireworks contest takes place, in which a fireworks presentation is made every night over the bay and, at the end, the contest's winner is declared. It also highlights the parade of the gigants and big-heads, every afternoon

Basque Week[edit | edit source]

This decades long festivity taking place at the beginning of September features events related to Basque culture, such as performances of traditional improvising poets (bertsolaris), Basque pelota games, stone lifting contests, oxen wagers, dance exhibitions or the cider tasting festival. Yet the main highlight may be the rowing boat competition, where teams from different towns of the Bay of Biscay contend for the Flag of La Concha. Thousands of supporters coming from these coastal locations pour into the city's streets and promenades overlooking the bay to follow the event, especially on the Sunday of the final race. All day long the streets of the Old Part play host to droves of youths clad in their team colours who party there in a cheerful atmosphere.

Santa Ageda Bezpera[edit | edit source]

Saint Agatha's Eve is a traditional event taking place at the beginning of February or end of January in many spots of the Basque Country. It holds a small but cherished slot in the city's run-up to the Carnival. Groups dressed up in Basque traditional farmer costume march across the neighbourhood singing and wielding a characteristic stick beaten on the ground to the rhythm of the traditional Saint Agatha's tune. The singers ask for a small donation, which can be money, a drink or something to eat.

Caldereros[edit | edit source]

View of the harbour

This is a local festival held on the first Saturday of February linked to the upcoming Carnival, where different groups of people dressed in Romani (Gypsy) tinkers attire take to the streets banging rhythmically a hammer or spoon against a pot or pan, and usually bar-hop while they sing the traditional songs for the occasion. They were just men voices some time ago, but women participate and sing currently too. The festival is 125 years old in 2009.

Santo Tomas[edit | edit source]

This popular festival takes place on the 21 December, a date frequently shrouded in winter cold. From early in the morning, stalls are arranged across the city centre and people from all Gipuzkoa flock to the streets of the centre and the Old Part, with crowds of people often dressed in traditional Basque "farmer" outfit turning out and filling the area. Traditional and typical produce is showcased and sold on the stalls, while the main drink is cider and the most popular snacks are txistorra (a type of thin, uncured chorizo) wrapped in talos (flatbread). A large pig is on display in the Konstituzio Plaza, which is raffled off during the festival.

Olentzero[edit | edit source]

As in other Basque cities, towns and villages, on Christmas Eve the Olentzero and the accompanying carol singers usually dressed in Basque farmer costume take over the streets, especially in the city centre, asking for small donations in bars, shops and banks after singing their repertoire. Sometimes Olentzero choirs roam around the streets in later dates, on the 31st for example, and are often related to cultural, social or political associations and demands.

Food[edit | edit source]

Jamón serrano and pintxos in one of the numerous bars of the Old Quarter

Donostia is renowned for its Basque cuisine. San Sebastián and its surrounding area is home to a high concentration of restaurants boasting Michelin stars, namely Arzak (San Sebastián), Berasategi (Lasarte), Akelarre (district Igeldo) and Mugaritz (Errenteria) to mention but a few. Adding to these cooking highlights, the city features tasty snacks similar to tapas called pintxos, which may be found at the bars of the Old Quarter.

It is also the birthplace of Basque gastronomical societies, with the oldest recorded mention of such a txoko back in 1870.

University[edit | edit source]

Donostia-San Sebastián has become an important University town. Hosting different Universities like Universidad de Navarra, Universidad del País Vasco (UPV/EHU) and Universidad de Deusto, the secondary studies activity is having an increasingly impact on social, cultural, technological and economical levels of the city and sourroundings. With its pushing innovative and research centers and its research strategies it is becoming one of Spain's main Science production locations, along with Barcelona, Madrid, Bilbao, Sevilla and Valencia, among others. Donostia-San Sebastian's Scientific production covers areas like Materials Science, Cancer Research, Alzheimer and Parkinson, Architecture, Polymer Science, Biomaterials, Nanotechnology, Robotics or Informatics.

Sport[edit | edit source]

The principal football club in the city is Real Sociedad. After two seasons in the Segunda División, the club won promotion back to La Liga after winning the 2009–10 Segunda División.[15] Real Sociedad was one of the founding members of the top division in Spanish football, La Liga. They enjoyed a particularly successful period of history in the early 1980s when they were Spanish champions for two years running (1980–81, 1981–82). The city's Anoeta Stadium is home stadium of Real Sociedad and also hosts rugby union matches featuring Biarritz Olympique or Aviron Bayonnais.

Each summer the city is host to the well known bicycle race, the one-day Clásica de San Sebastián (San Sebastián Classic). Bicycle racing is extremely popular in Spain, the Clásica de San Sebastián processional cycle race is held during early August. It has been held annually in San Sebastián since 1981. The race is part of the UCI ProTour and was previously part of its predecessor the UCI Road World Cup.

Famous people from San Sebastián[edit | edit source]

The comb of the wind: Peine del viento sculptures of Eduardo Chillida at the foot of the Igeldo mountain

Twin cities[edit | edit source]

Panoramic view of the Bay of La Concha (Bahía de la Concha/Kontxako Badia) at night

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ The nickname of La bella Easo ("beautiful Easo") comes from a 19th-century identification of the town as the Roman port of Oiasso. Other locations seem now more probable.
  2. ^ Bildu se hace con la alcaldía de San Sebastián. El País. Thursday 11 June 2011 (Spanish)
  3. ^ Donostia (Basque) / San Sebastián (Spanish), El Diario Vasco, Thursday 29 December 2011. (Spanish)
  4. ^ Proyecto Audes.
  5. ^ Donostiarra. Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
  6. ^ "Geography and Economy of Donostia-San Sebastián". Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  7. ^ European Commission of Culture (28 June 2011). "Donostia-San Sebastián to be the European Capital of Culture in Spain in 2016". Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  8. ^ Trask, L. The History of Basque Routledge: 1997 ISBN 0-415-13116-2
  9. ^ "Valores Climatológicos Normales. San Sebastián / Aeropuerto". July 2011. 
  10. ^ "Hallan un centenar de objetos de hace 22.000 años en el parque de Ametzagaina". El Diario Vasco. Retrieved 17 September 2011.  Article in Spanish
  11. ^ a b "LOS GASCONES EN GUIPÚZCOA". IMPRENTA DE LA DIPUTACION DE GUIPUZCOA. Retrieved 17 September 2011.  Site in Spanish
  12. ^ Hugh Thomas, Spanish Civil War, (2001), p. 226
  13. ^ Hugh Thomas, (2001), p. 397.
  14. ^ Sadaba, Javier; Sadava, Asier (1995). Historia de San Sebastián. Editorial Txertoa. pp. 107–110. ISBN 84-7148.  Book in Spanish
  15. ^ "Real Sociedad & Levante Promoted To Primera Liga". 2010-06-13. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  16. ^ Álvaro Bermejo

External links[edit | edit source]

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