San Sebastian Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Spain > San Sebastian > History

King Sancho el Mayor of Navarra (Sancho the Elder) founded the city of Donostia (San Sebastian) around 1180. It is likely however that human settlement had previously begun, possibly in the El Antiguo district. That walled, medieval area was the beginning of the Parte Vieja (Historical Quarter), although there are no architectural remains pertaining to that early period. The oldest remaining buildings were constructed after the 16th century. Remains of the city wall can still be seen at Monte Urgull, El Muelle and the Boulevard car park.

However, few buildings of even the post-16th century era remain standing. Among the few that do are the Iglesia de San Vicente (Saint Vincent Church), the church of Santa María and the convent of San Telmo. The city had to be rebuilt following its destruction in the great fire of August 1813. This was the beginning of a concerted modernisation effort that continued with the demolishing of the city walls, which contained the city's growth, after 1863, and the forging of city expansion through reclaimed land from the Río Urumea (Urumea River), the sand dunes surrounding the city and the salt marshes. This expansion and development of an important urban area is referred to as the Area Romántica. Buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that typify this era in the city's history include the Hotel María Cristina, the Teatro Victoria Eugenia (Victoria Eugenia Theatre), the avenues of the Boulevard and Francia (France) and the Calle Prim. In these places one can appreciate the so-called Eclectic style, a reinterpretation of previous architectural styles applied to dwellings built with modern materials.

A necessary place to visit in the city is the seaside promenade of La Concha (the Shell). This links two important urban areas that are separated in time but not in space: the port, whose construction began in the 14th century, and the Peine de los Vientos of 1976. Along the way you can see other places of interest such as the Real Club Naútico (Royal Yacht Club), the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), the area of La Perla, the Palacio de Miramar (Miramar Palace) and the funicular (cablecar).

The medieval community was clearly inclined towards commerce and, despite several interruptions over the ages, this activity continues today with San Sebastian's broad selection of cultural, gastronomic, commercial and tourist offerings. These activities have been modified over time. From being a spa resort visited by European royalty in the 19th century, San Sebastian today presents a modern image to the world, adapted to the requirements of tourism. The city has interesting cultural events, especially in the summer, and new infrastructure developments like the beach of Zurriola, and the Palacio de Congresos del Kursaal (Kursaal House of Parliament).

Once you have visited San Sebastian, it is worth taking in the townships and villages surrounding the city, which are of significant tourist and cultural interest. Of particular interest are the medieval towns, typified by Hondarribia. Here you can see the impressive remains of the city wall, the local church and the Castillo de Carlos V (Castle of Charles V), then take a walk to Monte Jaizkibel. Another interesting place to visit is the village of Pasajes, situated on the edge of the bay of the same name and whose buildings even today retain a nautical flavour. Towards the west of San Sebastian there are another three coastal settlements worth a visit. One is Orio, with its casco histórico (medieval historical quarter) and busy fishing port. Another is Zarautz, an important tourist centre with interesting cultural activities, the (Torre Luzea (Luzea Tower), Campanario (bell tower), Itsas Natura, Photomuseum, various monuments and renowned surfing beach. Finally there is Getaria with its interesting historical quarter, varied gastronomy and the port facilities where fishing and recreational activities intermingle.


  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. Temp. 46° 47° 49° 51° 56° 61° 65° 66° 64° 59° 52° 48°
Avg. Precip. 6.4 in 4.9 in 5.0 in 6.2 in 5.1 in 3.6 in 3.1 in 4.6 in 4.6 in 5.5 in 6.9 in 6.5 in

Fahrenheit temperature scale is used.