Many centuries have passed since the laying of the first stone of the current Cathedral of Santander. Its walls were silent witnesses of difficult days as those in which the city was in flames victim of a fire that rocked it or that in which a freighter exploded in the nearby docks shaking its pillars. But it also witnessed happy days. Days in which Santander wore its evening dress and sported its best clothes. Nowadays, surrounded by emblematic buildings, it sees how the capital has been evolving to become what it is today, a dynamic and cosmopolitan city that opens its doors to visitors. Opposite the Cathedral, in the monument reminiscent of the river that flowed beside it, we contemplate its reflection and we start an itinerary that will reveal us places and singular occurrences in the city.
The route suggested in this itinerary covers the primitive city, the seed of the current Santander, whose physiognomy has changed much more than usual in other cities due to the fills of the bay and the disasters that, one after another, shook Santander till the mid-20th century. Thus, wars, fires and even a huge explosion have shaped the new city of Santander, which has managed to recover from each fall. The route proposed starts in the place once called Puebla Vieja (the area of the Cathedral) and covers part of the expansion of Santander, planned at the end of the 18th century.
At the foot of the staircase of the Cathedral we find Atarazanas Square, a place where seawater used to arrive and where shipyards operated from the 14th century. Later, Santander became the main naval base of Felipe II armies and both fishing and war vessels were repaired and built here.
The building located on the left side of the square, if looked facing the Cathedral, is the Post Office. Built in 1916, it has many elements in the Cantabrian regionalist style, so popular at the beginning of the 20th century, more noticeable if seen from its main façade.
Banco de España
To the left side of the Post Office, from its main façade, we can see the building that housed the Banco de España bank until year 2011. Inaugurated in 1922, it takes the form of a classic Renaissance palace. Its ground plan is rectangular and it has a large courtyard covered by a stained glass window. This building was erected on the site formerly occupied by the fort of San Felipe, a medieval fortress built in the time of King Alfonso II and demolished at the end of the 19th century. Banco de España, the Post Office and the church of El Cristo were the only important buildings which escaped from the fire of Santander in 1941, colloquially known as ‘The Andalusian’ because it began in Cadiz Street and finished in Seville Street.
Alfonso XIII Square
Popularly known as Plaza de las Farolas (Streetlamp Square), this space has been recently remodelled with works that have also recovered the
old docks of the city. This has led to the construction of an interpretation centre, the CIAMS (‘Museums’ section – See page 28), which can be
visited free of charge from Monday to Friday arranging an appointment at the Tourist Office of Pereda Gardens.
Lying next to the Bay are located the Pereda Gardens, with a monument in tribute to the famous Cantabrian writer José María de Pereda, who appears depicted surrounded by some of the characters of his works, as the predominant element. In these gardens there is also a monument dedicated to writer Concha Espina, a simple fountain built the same year she was awarded the National Prize for Literature in 1927, and which was inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII. Pereda Gardens are undoubtedly an ideal place to have a rest and relax before continuing the visit.
Paseo de Pereda
Parallel to Pereda Gardens extends the avenue with the same name. Its stately buildings facing the sea, among which we find the world headquarters of Santander Bank, represent one of the most important artistic treasures of the city and an example of almost every architectural style from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. These buildings are the result of the capital invested by indianos and jándalos, that is to say people from Cantabria who emigrated to America and Andalusia, respectively, and returned to invest the wealth they earned. During the era of colonial maritime commerce, the merchants and the companies controlling the traffic with America set up their headquarters and residences in this street.
The building of the Santander Bank bank was built in 1875 by Atilano Rodríguez and reformed in 1945 by Javier González de Riancho. Its façade, which has
more than 40 balconies made of wrought-iron and stone, is crowned by four large statues representing the arts, the culture, the trade and the navigation.
In the lower level, a large frieze represents the banks protecting industries, blast furnaces, mining, and sports. The two façades of the building are divided by a large arch and an underground corridor and, although it might seem they are symmetrical, the left side has one less balcony than the right one.
The emblematic Porticada Square (or Velarde Square) is an example of the Neoherrerian architecture generally adopted for the reconstruction of the city
centre after the Civil War and the fire of 1941, which turned Santander into a mere site. The walls of this square, which boasts a bronze figure of the Cantabrian hero in the Spanish War of Independence, Pedro Velarde, are made up of the buildings of Caja Cantabria bank, the Chamber of Commerce and the local offices of the Treasury, the Ministry of Defence and the Government of Cantabria. The Porticada Square is an emblematic place as well as a traditional meeting point for the people of Santander. From 1952 to 1990 it was the venue for the International Festival of Music and Dance of Santander, attended by renowned figures such as Rostropovich, José Carreras and Rubinstein. Nowadays, it still hosts concerts and shows, especially in summer. With a bit of luck, in this square you will have the chance to enjoy the music of Pedro ‘from La Porticada’, a street dog -as he calls himself on his first album- who has played for decades in this arcade and is very well known. On one side of the square there is an archaeological site in which the old medieval wall, separating the city from the sea and defending it since the 13th century, can be admired.