A Brief History of Santander
Santander dates from Roman times, well before the 3rd century. But in later years Santander endured a succession of problems. They began in 1497 on the heels of two centuries in which the city had profited as a leading port in the wool trade with Flanders. In that year Santander hosted the marriage of Don Juan, the crown prince of the Catholic Kings, to Margarita of Austria; the bride-to-be had arrived with a large escort of soldiers, servants and, unwittingly, the plague, which exacted a considerable toll on the city’s population. A century later, riches from the New World began to improve the city’s outlook and by the 19th century Santander had come on strong as an innovator in the Spanish banking industry, a role it still holds in the 21st century.
On a bleak day at the end of the 19th century Spanish newspaper headlines read: “Freighter Explodes in Santander Port, Over 100,000 Killed.” In addition to the startling death toll, the old town, which had grown up around the ill-fated port, was badly damaged as fires swept the city following the explosion. When the flames had died down a new fire station was quickly built in a show of perseverance and soon thereafter King Alfonso XIII established Santander as the summer retreat of Spanish Royalty; the well-healed followed and continue to do so.
In 1941 another fire raged in the city, devouring most of what the previous one hadn’t. That the city had avoided the devastating effects of the CivilWar a few years earlier was small consolation. Santander, arguably Spain’s most determined city, emerged from the ashes in the ensuing decades to take up its place alongside the País Vasco’s San Sebastián as one of the two favored resort cities on Spain’s Atlantic Coast. Despite pockets of grime and noisiness, Santander looks sleek and modern and – if the lack of old-world architecture is any indicator – braced for the future. The good times roll and the fire station still stands in case the past repeats itself.
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