San Sebasti├ín (known officially as Donostia-San Sebasti├ín) is the capital city of the province of Guipuzkoa in the Basque Country. The city is located in the north of the Basque Country, on the southern coast of the Bay of Biscay. San Sebastian is the Spanish name for the city and Donostia is the Basque name. The city's picturesque coastline has made it a popular beach resort. The city is divided in two by the Urumea River.
Places of Interest in San Sebastian
The streets of the city's Old Qaurter (Parte Vieja) are packed with many popular bars and restaurants. The old quarter is divided into two parishes relating to the Santa Mar├şa and San Vicente churches. Other places of interest in the city include:
- San Sebastian's three spectacular beaches: Playa de Ondarreta, Playa de la Zurriola and Playa de la Concha. La Concha is the largest and was made popular by Queen Isabel II, who used to spend her summers there. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful city beaches in Europe. Ondarreta beach is located at the foot of Mount Igeldo and La Zurriola is situated on the right bank of the river. All three beaches are fully equipped with sun loungers, parasols and changing rooms.
- The small island of Santa Clara, which is located in the centre of La Concha Bay, has a lighthouse and tiny wharf. The island is considered to be the city's fourth beach in summer, when a ferry service operates between the island and the city harbour.
- The Cathedral: The Cathedral is a neo-Gothic structure, dating back to the 19th Century. Its spire is 75 meters high and can be seen from most points in the city.
- Monte Urgull and Monte Igueldo (the two hills on either side of the bay): The Castillo de la Santa Cruz de la Mota can be found on Mount Urgull, which stands on the site of a former fort.
- The San Telmo museum (Museo de San Telmo), an art gallery full of Basque paintings.
- The Naval Museum and Aquarium, which are located in the area where the old quarter opens out into the harbour.
Festivals and Fiestas in San Sebasti├ín
San Sebasti├ín has a rich cultural heritage, with many internationally reknown music and film festivals taking place all year round. Its dynamic cultural scene has led to the city's bid to become "European Capital of Culture" in 2016. Some of the main festivals and events in San Sebasti├ín include:
- San Sebasti├ín Day, celebrated on 20th January, honours the city's patron saint, and involves parades and two cross-country races. At midnight, the mayor traditionally raises the flag of San Sebasti├ín and, for 24 hours, the city's inhabitants, dressed as cooks and soldiers, march around the city to drum music.
- The Caldereros or "Tinker's Parade" is traditionally held on the first Saturday of February, and is a prelude to the city's Carnaval. Different groups of people dressed in Romani (Gypsy) tinkers attire parade through the streets banging a hammar or spoon against a pot or pan, whilst singing traditional songs.
- In April, the city hosts a book fair, a music festival and the festival of Andalusian folklore.
- Jazzaldia, San Sebasti├ín's Jazz Festival, is the longest, continually running Jazz Festival in Europe. It is held during the last week of July. Throughout the festival, music gigs take place in a number of locations throughout the city, some of which have free admission.
- The Musika Hamabostaldia, lasting for at least 15 days in August, is another music festival featuring classical music concerts.
- The Semana Grande festival (also called "Aste Nagusia" in Basque) takes place in mid-August. It involves an international fireworks contest, brass bands and fairground attractions on the Paseo Nuevo seaside promenade.
- Basque Week is celebrated at the beginning of September and it features events related to Basque culture.
- The International Film Festival, held every year in September.
- The increasingly popular "Horror and Fantasy Film Festival" takes place in October.
- The popular Santo Tomas festival takes place on 21st December. Traditional and typical local produce are sold on various stalls in the Old Part of the city. Cider is the traditional beverage and popular snacks include txistorra (a type of thin, uncured chorizo) wrapped in talos (flatbread).
A brief history of San Sebasti├ín
The city of San Sebasti├ín was once a small fishing village, that became a thriving port, importing wines and oil for England and France. The city has undergone many sieges throughout the centuries. It was captured by Napoleonic forces in the Peninsular War (in 1808) and occupied until 1813, when British and Portuguese troops besieged the city and defeated the French occupying troops. However, the city was almost completely burnt down in the siege. In the same year, the city was rebuilt in the same area but with a slightly altered style. Later, in 1833, British volunteers, led by Sir George de Lacy Evans, defended the city against a Carlist attack. The remains of the fallen were buried in the "English Cemetery" on Mount Urgull. In the 19th Century the city fell into decline, but was later restored to its former glory partly thanks to Queen Isabel II, who began the tradition of spending her summers there in 1845. In 1863, the city walls were demolished in order to expand the city and Spanish nobility and diplomatic corps opened residences in the summer capital.
In 1914, following the outbreak of World War I, the city attracted many renowned figures from culture and politics such as Mata Hari, Leon Trotsky, etc. The San Sebasti├ín International Film Festival began in 1953 and the first democratic municipal elections were held in 1979 (won by the Basque nationalists).
San Sebasti├ín is renowned for its excellent cuisine and traditional Basque dishes. The city and its surrounding area is home to many Michelin star restaurants. However, one of the most famous culinary offerings of the city is pintxos; a tasty snack similar to tapas, that can be found in many of the bars in the city's Old Quarter.