Sightseeing in Santander
Santander is a narrow city running lengthwise along the Bahía de Santander to the Mar Cantábrico, which is separated from the bay by the Península de La Magdalena. The few sights in the bay area constitute the city’s oldest surviving buildings. Situated in the vicinity of the Jardines de Pereda and the nearby Plazas de Pombo and Porticada, these generally date to the turn of the 20th century or later and include the Banco de Santander, the Real Club de Regatas and the Correos and Ayuntamiento. The one exception is the Catedral, though divine intervention has not spared it from the necessity of repairing the ravages of fire and time. This area is the commercial and social hub of the city, nearest the train and bus stations, the tourism offices and countless tapas bars.
From Puerto Chico the Avenida de la Reina Victoria runs past the bayside beaches to the Península and Royal Palace, then turns north to skirt the Cantábrico beaches of El Sardinero. The fancy homes of El Sardinero front a large, sandy swath that is the locus of the summertime action; while not dead during the rest of the year, things do slow down and, in cases, close down during the colder months. It stretches as far as the Cabo Menor, home to the large Parque de Mataleñas and the city zoo, beyond which is the small Playa de Mataleñas, nestled in a rocky cove.
Santander’s oldest surviving monument, the Gothic Catedral dates to the 13th century, though much of what is visible today was built in the 1950s after the 1941 fire had all but stripped, gutted and partially leveled it. The Catedral is neither visually impressionable nor boorish. It is utilitarian in scope and curious in design, as it is in fact two churches, the latest built atop the earliest and both sharing the same ground plan.
In the northern nave of the lower crypt known as the Iglesia del Cristo, a glass floor reveals the excavations of a Roman settlement built on this hillock after the Romans had conquered the region around 25 BC, during the reign of Augustus. Silver reliquaries encase the skulls of two Roman soldiers, Celedonius and Emetherius, martyred around the year 300 and thereafter delivered to the site, which hastened the construction of the earliest monastery and invited numerous pilgrimages.
The high church, surrounded by 17th-century chapels, was reopened in 1953 after extensive remodeling and additions that included a new ambulatory, transept and dome. It was rebuilt in the Gothic style with certain classical motifs added to set it apart from that which remains of the original church. Of the interior, chapel relics that were hurriedly spirited away before the fire, as well as one altarpiece, remain from the original holdings. Lying among saints, the tomb of the revered Sananderine writer Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo occupies a space near the northern nave. A marble stone next to the sacristy door bearing a poetic Arabic inscription is said to have been taken from Sevilla by Cantabrian sailors who participated in that city’s Reconquest from the Moors. With it they returned to Santander, capital of a region that had never fallen into the hands of the Moorish invaders.
The Palacio Real de la Magdalena, at the highest point of the Magdalena Peninsula, is surrounded by green, tree-shaded grounds and modest seaside cliffs. It was inaugurated in 1913 as the summer residence of King Alfonso XIII. The English-styled manor would serve its royal role for the next 20 years until Franco took control of the country. It now serves a less distinguished though far more beneficial function as home to the Universidad Internacional Menéndez Pelayo. The palace setting affords a great view of El Sardinero as well as the other beaches and small islands surrounding the peninsula. Three galleons are moored on the Cantabrian Sea side, a gift to the city from the native mariner Vital Alsar. They last set sail in the 1990s to recreate Orellana’s expedition across the Pacific Ocean. Nearer to El Sardinero, a Mini-Zoo is dedicated to sea animals and the children who love them.
From Plaza Porticada, site of Santander’s annual festival of music and dance, the shoppers’ street of Juan de Herrera runs to the 20th-century Ayuntamiento or town hall, with its subtle Modernist style. Next to it is the Plaza de la Esperanza, a busy fish market, the Casa-Museo-Librería Menéndez Pelayo devoted to the city’s illustrious writer and the region’s Museo de Bellas Artes. In the opposite direction, approaching the area around the former fishing port turned marina of Puertochico, is the Museo de Prehistoria y Arqueología and the Museo Marítimo de Cantabria.
Santander is endowed with a number of large parks, the main ones being the Parque de la Magdalena on the peninsula of the same name and the city’s largest, the Parque de Mataleñas. The latter is situated immediately north of the El Sardinero district beaches.
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