Santander, the history of a city looking out over the sea

The history of Santander dates back to the 1st century AD, the date from which Roman archaeological remains found in the city date. However, many historians go back as far as 26 BC when, during the Cantabrian Wars against Rome, the Emperor Augustus wished to record his desire for victory over the Cantabrians in the Portus Victoriae (Port of Victory).

Santander 1575

The first documentary trace of Santander appears in the privilege granted by Sancho II to the monastery of San Emeterio in 1068, from whose Latin name, Sancti Emeterii, the present name of the city seems to have been derived.

The legend, which dates back to the 3rd century, tells that San Emeterio and San Celedonio, two brothers who served in the Roman legions, declared their Christianity and were imprisoned by order of the Emperor Diocletian. After their beheading, their heads were thrown into the river Ebro on a stone raft and after travelling along the entire peninsular coastline they reached the coast of Santander. According to the same legend, the impact of the boat against the Isla de la Horadada cracked the rock and created the arch that this island has, now demolished by a blow from the sea in January 2005.


Later, Santander became an abbot's town and, in 1187, it was granted a charter by Alfonso VIII. Santander also formed part of the Cuatro villas de la Mar together with San Vicente, Laredo and Castro Urdiales and the ships that supplied the fleet of the Kingdom of Castile sailed from its shipyards. An outstanding triumph of the Santander navy was the capture of Seville in 1248, receiving as a reward a coat of arms that includes the images of the Torre del Oro and the river Guadalquivir.

Dársena de la Ribera

In the 13th century, the town of Santander was already structured around two nuclei: the Puebla Vieja (Old Town), in which the castle and the abbey-collegiate church stood out (today's area of the Cathedral and Calle Alta), and the Puebla Nueva (area of Calle Santa Clara and Calle San Francisco), both linked by a bridge and between them was the Atarazanas building. However, its expansion would receive a major setback: a plague epidemic devastated the city in 1497. For years, Santander suffered the effects of depopulation and plague. In the same year, the Armada of Flanders with Margaret of Austria on board arrived in Santander.

Fortunately, the opening of the Reinosa road in 1753 initiated an important trade in Castilian wool and flour, especially from 1765, when the port of Santander was authorised to trade with the American colonies. At the same time, the town underwent an institutional transformation: in 1754 it was elected seat of the diocese of Santander and on 29 June 1755, King Ferdinand VI granted it the title of city. From this moment on, Santander acquired a preponderant status over the rest of the regional area, becoming the capital of the territory in 1801 with the creation of the Maritime Province of Santander.


In 1791, Pope Pius VI named Saint Emeterius and Saint Celedonius as patrons of the Diocese of Santander. Although this devotion spread beyond the city, their history dates back to the Middle Ages, when they were already considered patrons of the church and the town according to the constitutions of the abbot D. Nuño Pérez in 1310. During the Muslim invasions, their relics were transferred to the monastery on the Cerro de Somorrostro, attracting the population around them.

In the 16th century, the relics were rediscovered in the crypt of the Church of Santo Cristo, establishing the celebration of this event on the third day of Easter. Originally, the feast was celebrated on 3 March, but in 1669 it was changed to 30 August. In 1676, the solemn procession with the relics was mentioned. In 1754, the collegiate church became a cathedral and in 1755 Santander was granted the status of city and provincial capital. Bishop Menéndez Luarca consecrated a cathedral bell in honour of the Holy Martyrs in 1743. This bell was rung during sea storms as a symbol of support for sailors. This gesture is mentioned in 19th century literary works, such as "Sotileza" by Pereda.


The 19th century was the period of Santander's true urban expansion. Although at the beginning of the century the city suffered the Napoleonic invasion, epidemics and colonial crises, progress did not cease. The flour trade boom, together with the import of colonial products, favoured the establishment of the railway between Alar del Rey and Santander. The port of Santander had so much traffic that it was even referred to as the Liverpool of Spain. Such was the expansion of the city that in 1857 the Banco de Santander was created.

In the last third of the 19th century, the city began to become a tourist and leisure destination, with Benito Pérez Galdós being a regular visitor to the Santander summer, who would eventually build his house in the Cantabrian capital, christening it San Quintín. The Baños de Ola baths would gain great fame, thanks to the therapeutic properties of its waters, being advertised for the first time in 1846 in La Gaceta de Madrid.

Baños de ola

The festivities of Santiago in Santander have their origins in the area of Alto de Miranda, when a man called Santiago González, also known as 'Tío Santiago', established a business that included an inn, a bar, a boarding house and a picnic area, which became very popular in the area. Around 1853, Santiago González began to organise festivities to celebrate his name day and attract customers, even financing shows such as fireworks.

Due to the success and growing popularity of the festivities organised by Santiago González, what began as an almost private festival gradually became Santander's main celebration. Thus, the festivities in honour of Santiago became a prominent event in the city's calendar, with the active participation and enthusiasm of the Santander community. Over the years, they became the starting signal for the Semana Grande (Big Week) in Santander.

Ferias de Santiago

In the summer of 1861, Queen Isabel II decided to spend a few days on the beaches of El Sardinero and, in gratitude, the City Council gave her the "Alfonsina" estate so that she could establish her summer residence in Santander. However, this project did not go ahead for political reasons, but was taken up again with the figure of Alfonso XIII. Thus, the city gave the monarch the land on the Magdalena Peninsula and the palace of the same name, whose work was completed in 1912 and the following year the royal family began to spend the summer there until 1930. Its construction led to the construction of some of the most emblematic buildings, such as the Gran Casino, inaugurated in 1916, the Hotel Real, also inaugurated in the same year, and the Hipódromo de Bellavista in 1917.



However, this era of growth was abruptly interrupted by the tragic explosion at the docks of the ship Cabo Machichaco in 1893. The detonation, which claimed the lives of at least 500 people and left thousands more injured, left a deep mark on the city. Despite the devastating impact, the Santander community showed remarkable resilience by joining in the rescue and reconstruction efforts. Although the tragedy left lasting scars, it also highlighted the spirit of unity and solidarity that characterises Santander.

Cabo Machichaco

The Museum of Prehistory and Archaeology of Cantabria, also known as MUPAC, has its roots in 1925, when Doctor Carballo founded this institution with the purpose of preserving, researching and disseminating the rich archaeological heritage of our region. Over the years, the museum has become one of the most outstanding in Spain.

In 1932, the Summer University, the current Menéndez Pelayo International University (UIMP), was founded. During the first summers, numerous courses were organised on the most important subjects of the time, as well as courses on Spanish language and literature for foreigners. The University gradually experienced an exponential growth that made it necessary to create a campus, so several buildings were built in Las Llamas with classrooms dedicated to teaching and a residence for foreign students.


Later, in 1941, the people of Santander had to face a fire that devastated the Cantabrian capital, leaving it practically reduced to ashes.

It was one of the biggest fires that Santander has suffered throughout its history. It started on 15 February and in less than 48 hours devastated the historic centre of the city. Thanks to the work and effort of all the people of Santander, the flames were left behind and Santander became what it is today, the bride of the sea.


In 1981, Santander opened the Museo Marítimo del Cantábrico, a landmark that reflects the city's rich maritime tradition. Located in a privileged setting by the sea, this museum quickly became a point of reference both regionally and nationally. With an extensive collection ranging from the history of navigation to the marine fauna of the Bay of Biscay. Over the years, it has contributed significantly to preserving and disseminating the maritime legacy of Santander and the entire Cantabrian region.

Another important date in Santander's history is 1983, a momentous year in which the city acquired a special status by officially becoming the capital of Cantabria. This milestone marked a moment of great importance for the region, as it coincided with the constitution of Cantabria as an Autonomous Community in the same year.

The Palacio de Festivales de Cantabria was erected in 1990 with the aim of becoming the cultural hub of the city. It is currently the venue for the Santander International Festival, the city's most important annual cultural event.

Palacio de Festivales

The arrival of the year 2000 would be marked by unrepeatable sporting events, such as the celebration of the Semi-Final of the Davis Cup tennis tournament in 2000 and the celebration in 2002 of the Cutty Sark Tall Ships, which Santander hosted.

In 2004, the foundation of the Parque Tecnológico y Científico de Cantabria would have a knock-on effect for some of the largest companies in the region, which over the years would establish their headquarters here, thereby creating a technologically cutting-edge ecosystem.

The Parque de las Llamas, inaugurated in 2007, is an emblematic green space located in the city of Santander, in the autonomous community of Cantabria, Spain. This park is located in a privileged area, near the sea and next to the El Sardinero stadium.

The Parque de las Llamas offers large green areas for recreation and leisure, as well as paths for walking and cycling. It also has children's play areas, rest areas, fountains and artificial ponds.

Parque de las Llamas

The celebration of the Sailing World Cup in Santander in 2014 marked an important milestone not only in the sporting sphere, but also in the urban and environmental development of the city. As a result of this internationally prestigious event, the Gamazo area underwent a complete transformation, aligning itself with the objective of promoting urban regeneration, environmental conservation and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. One of the main initiatives arising from this transformation was the creation of the emblematic Duna de Zaera, a symbol of Santander's innovation and commitment to environmental sustainability.

In addition to the construction of the Duna de Zaera, the reform of the Gamazo area included the improvement of infrastructures and the creation of green and recreational spaces.


In recent times, Santander and Cantabria have undergone a process of modernisation and growth, making the most of their resources and promoting economic diversification, especially in sectors such as tourism, industry and technological innovation. Despite the challenges, the ingenuity of its people has enabled Cantabria to move towards a more prosperous and autonomous future, with Santander as a key centre of this evolution.

EThis identity of contrasts is completed by a city that has been steeped in the latest cultural and artistic trends and that you will find portrayed in the modern Centro Botín, a privately driven cultural space inaugurated on 23 June 2017, or the Anillo Cultural that runs through the main cultural points of Santander.

Centro Botín design is the work of Italian architect Renzo Piano, known for his work on projects such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris and The Shard skyscraper in London.

Centro Botín

In 2018, Santander took a significant step forward by joining the Smart Tourist Destinations project, seeking to modernise its tourism offer.

From March 2021, nature and architecture lovers will find in Santander the ideal place to enjoy one of the largest vertical gardens in Europe, a jewel that Santander proudly boasts. This impressive garden, which covers almost 600 square metres, is located in the Tabacalera Civic Centre.

This green oasis in the middle of the city offers visitors a unique experience, where natural beauty merges with architectural innovation. Visits are free of charge and are limited in capacity, allowing visitors to fully enjoy this green masterpiece without crowds.


In addition, in July 2021, the ENAIRE collection of contemporary art was inaugurated in the Naves de Gamazo, marking a further step in the revitalisation and enhancement of this emblematic area of Santander. This initiative not only adds significant cultural value to the environment, but also represents an opportunity to promote contemporary art and bring it to a wider public.

The inauguration of the Naves de Gamazo reflects the city's commitment to cultural development and the promotion of creativity. These warehouses, former port warehouses converted into exhibition spaces, now house a carefully curated selection of contemporary art works, offering visitors a unique immersive experience in the world of modern art.

Projects such as those mentioned above confirm that the Cantabrian capital has managed to reinvent itself and transform itself into a city of great attraction not only for tourism but also for business and administration, positioning itself as one of the most important centres of culture and leisure in the North of Spain.