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Stroll before dinner

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posted by Peter Kittsteiner alias Silanov on Tuesday 12th of January 2021 05:10:15 AM

Calle del 31 de Agosto Kalea, an alley in the old town, with the Basílica de Santa María del Coro in the background, San Sebastián (Donostia), Basque region, Spain Some background information: San Sebastián is a coastal city and municipality located in the Basque Autonomous Community in northeastern Spain. The city’s Basque name is Donostia, but in spite of appearances, both the Basque form Donostia and the Spanish form San Sebastián have the same meaning of Saint Sebastian. The city lies on the Bay of Biscay, 20 km (12 miles) from the French border. It is the capital of the province of Gipuzkoa. The city’s population is about 190,000 while its metropolitan area has about 450,000 residents. Locals call themselves donostiarra (singular), both in Spanish and Basque. The main economic activities are commerce and tourism. Despite the city's small size, events such as the San Sebastián International Film Festival have given it an international dimension. In 2016, San Sebastián was the European Capital of Culture, along with Wrocław, Poland. The city is surrounded by easily accessible hilly areas, sits at the mouth of the river Urumea and has three main beaches, which make it a popular seaside resort: Playa de la Concha, Playa de Ondarreta and Playa de la Zurriola. In 2018, the first one, Playa de la Concha, was even elected Europe’s best beach by customers of the popular travel portal tripadvisor.com. Well, I don’t deny, that it is definitely one of Europe’s most beautiful city beaches. But to be honest, I cannot fully understand the result of that election. In my opinion, electing it Europe’s best beach just shows that many travellers on tripadvisor.com have absolutely no idea, as they never leave the beaten tourist tracks. However, if you don’t leave them, you’ll never be able to find Europe’s real best beaches with regard to wideness, neatness, beauty of scenery, development, seclusion and parking spaces free of charge. San Sebastián is thought to have been in the territory of the Varduli in Roman times, but its name appears first in the Middle Ages. In 1014, the monastery of St. Sebastián was donated to the Abbey of Leire by King Sancho III of Pamplona. In 1181, the town was chartered by King Sancho VI of Pamplona, 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. However, the Kingdom of Navarre was deprived of its main direct access out to the sea. Perhaps as soon as 1204, the city’s nucleus at the foot of Mount Urgull started to be populated with Gascon-speaking colonizers from the city of Bayonne and beyond, who left an important imprint in San Sebastián’s identity in the centuries to come. In 1265, the use of the city as a seaport was 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 had come to an end. Up to the 16th century, San Sebastián 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 almost all buildings in 1489. After burning to the ground, the town began a new renaissance by being rebuilt mainly with stone instead of bare timber. The early 16th century brought a period of instability and war for the city. New state boundaries were drawn that left San Sebastián located close to Spain's border with France. Thicker and more sophisticated walls were erected while the town became involved in the military campaigns between 1521 and 1524 that formed part of the Spanish conquest of Navarre. The town provided critical naval help to Emperor Charles V during the siege of Hondarribia and also aided the monarch by sending a party to the Battle of Noain. 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. In 1656, the city was used as the royal headquarters during the marriage of the Infanta to Louis XIV (resp. the Sun King) 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 had to be reconstructed. In 1808, Napoleonic forces captured San Sebastián in the Peninsular War. In 1813, after a siege of various weeks, a landing party from a British Royal Navy squadron captured Santa Clara Island in the bay. Situated on a narrow promontory that jutted out into the sea between the waters of the Bay of Biscay and the broad estuary of the Urumea River, the town was hard to get at and well fortified. Three days later, British and Portuguese troops besieging San Sebastián assaulted the town. The relieving troops ransacked and burnt the city to the ground while only the street at the foot of the hill remained. The liberal and bourgeois San Sebastián became the capital of Gipuzkoa until 1823. When absolutists assailed the town in 1854, it was again designated as the capital city. In 1863, the defensive walls of the town were demolished and an expansion of the town began in an attempt to escape the military function it had previously held. The new city was modeled according to an orthogonal shape much in a neoclassical Parisian style, and elegant buildings were designed, like the Miramar Palace or the Concha Promenade. The city was chosen by the Spanish monarchy as a summer retreat, following the French example of nearby Biarritz. Subsequently, also the Spanish nobility and the diplomatic corps opened residences. In 1887, the Casino was erected, which eventually turned into the current city hall. After much debate within the city over its vocation, either tourism or manufacturing, San Sebastián developed into a fully-fledged seaside resort. Following the outbreak of World War I, the city became a focus for renowned international figures of culture and politics like Mata Hari, Leon Trotsky and Maurice Ravel. In 1930, Spanish republican forces signed up the Pact of San Sebastián leading to the Second Spanish Republic. In the Spanish Civil War, the 1936 military coup was initially defeated by the Resistance led by the Basque Nationalists. But later in the same year, the province fell to Spanish Nationalist forces during the Northern Campaign. 485 people were executed as a result of pseudo-trials. In the aftermath of war, the city was stricken by poverty, famine and repression, coupled with thriving smuggling. In the 1950s a massive immigration from various parts of Spain began, spurred by growing industrial production. Social, cultural and political contradictions and inequities followed, sowing the seeds of popular dissatisfaction. A general climate of protest and street demonstrations ensued, driven by Basque nationalists – in particular by the armed separatist organisation ETA. In the 1970s, some renowned politicians and police officers were murdered in San Sebastián by the ETA. Today, the political situation is much more peaceable. There are still independence efforts and the wish for independence is deeply held in the Basque soul, but fortunately, violence doesn’t seem to be the means of choice for the Basque nationalists any longer.



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  • Published 07.07.22
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