Atop the southern slope of the city everything is seen from a different perspective. Roofs cover the entire incline up to the Bay as if they were a single large reddish mantle. As the funicular slowly descends between the houses, we start to make out narrow streets and passages inviting us to get lost in them. An area living outside the hustle and bustle of the inner-city and full of chances for you to discover places of great cultural interest.
Alternative environments, businesses, art galleries, restaurants and all of it with the flavour of authenticity. A great way to know a Santander that is not included in tourist guides.
Those visitors doing this itinerary will know the city even better than some of the locals of Santander and, certainly, infinitely better than the tourist who is satisfied with the Santander appearing in postcards. The route proposed here explores neighbourhoods and streets distant from the conventional tour. It goes from Canalejas neighbourhood to Finca Altamira, an area characterized by its steep slopes, passages, communal courtyards and hidden corners, fruit of a past in which the whole area was called ‘the High’ southern slope and was populated by vegetable gardens and cattle pens. This route is highly recommended for those with a liking for the outskirts and a passion for art and the bohemian atmosphere.
This itinerary starts at the northern door of the Festival Hall, facing the ‘Gas Hill’. Once there, we must cross the road, take the side street just in front of it, where Soto bar is located, and turn slightly to the right until we find a flight of stairs. This road is called Subida al Gurugú (Ascent to El Gurugú) and it takes you directly to the first stop of the route, a small community garden next to the stairs, surrounded by small buildings and decorated by one of the neighbours, a former sailor nicknamed ‘Gringo’. This artist has created a wide variety of ornaments and lovely spots using recycled materials. Trees and benches are painted, there are flowerpots made of tyres, white flags waving in the most unexpected places, old lifebelts serving as a frame for a group of mirrors… Such is the display of imagination, colourfulness and tenderness that here it is seems to be possible to forget the problems and cut ourselves off from our surroundings.
Walking up the stairs of El Gurugú we reach the Paseo de Canalejas, a large sloping avenue where there is a mix of old villas that belonged to wealthy people and very modest buildings with red hipped roofs and colourful façades, in which humble workers and fishermen used to live. If once we arrive to this street we turn to the left of the stairs and we continue downhill, we will arrive to Calasanz School, formerly used as Field Hospital and headquarters of the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. If preferred, we can turn right and continue uphill to reach the market of Miranda and descend later, alternating the itinerary along Barrio Camino neighbourhood, Tetuán and Paseo de Canalejas.
Paseo de Canalejas, 85
Working days from 11 am to 2 pm and Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6 to 9 pm.The Miranda market is a small building from 1912 used to sell food up to a few years ago. Following a complete restoration, this market has become a cultural centre, being the headquarters of the Espacio Imagen association (www.espacioimagen.org), which organizes courses, talks and exhibitions specialised in photography, video and design. The market also hosts a telecentre with Internet access.
Barrio Camino and Tetuán
At the back of Miranda Market is the main street of Barrio Camino neighbourhood, the beginning of an avenue in which we would recommend to turn off as many times as necessary towards the streets linking the neighbourhood with Paseo de Canalejas and Tetuán, a bit further on. Strolling in this area involves taking the wrong street and reaching a dead end or walking down stairs to nowhere.
It does not matter. Getting really lost in a city running along the sea and built atop a mountain is impossible: you just have to walk downhill. This area of Santander was home to the old seafaring population who worked at Puertochico and was later moved to Barrio Pesquero. Therefore many of the ground floors of its houses were in their day cellars in which fishing tackles were stored. Here, small shops and lifelong bars, as well as the restaurants specializing in seafood and fish, are very common. Reaching the main road that crosses Tetuan, Casimiro Sainz Street, we can see in the roundabout leading to the tunnel the statue of ‘La Sardinera’ (‘The Sardine Dealer’), a tribute to all those women who years ago sold products unloaded in Puertochico, as José Gutiérrez Solana recalls in his book ‘La España Negra’ (‘Black Spain’): “women, with naked legs, overwhelmed by the enormous weight of their wicker baskets full of silver sardines, through whose slits water and scales that stuck to their hair were still draining; others were loaded with blue bonito with metallic reflections, with their gills still pouring blood, huge and big-bellied. Then, sailors were crossing with picturesque suits, berets, their oilskin clothes and their huge boots with wooden soles, which made much noise against the pavement, carrying nets full of weights, floats and rowing oars on their shoulders”. A few metres from the statue, on the left pavement, lies the Doctor Madrazo Cultural Centre (☎ telephone 942 203 100) in what once was a wholesale food market. It has a library, and Internet access and it hosts exhibitions and talks.
El Sol Street
El Sol Street starts right after that of Tetuán, once we cross the road where ‘La Sardinera’ monument is located. It is a very special street. In its first stretch we find two main galleries in the North of the country, Juan Silió, at number 45 (www.juansilio.com), and Del Sol St, at number 47 (www.delsolst.com). Its second part, after crossing Menéndez Pelayo, is characterized by the succession of villas on the right pavement: Villa Asunción, all covered with ivy, Villa Sotileza and Rosa María house. Next, on de corner of Francisco Palazuelos Street, stands the Church of El Carmen. This place is the beginning of a cultural centre of great importance in the city that will delight avant-garde and Candem-style art lovers. Several galleries are concentrated within a few meters*: Roales, at number 16; Demolden Video Project, at number 12 (www.demolden.com) and Caverna de la Luz, at number 11 (www.lacavernadelaluz.es), apart from several bars with bohemian atmosphere and select music and a couple of associative centres just around the corner, the Eureka European Cultural Centre (www.eurekasantander.org) and the headquarters of the Cultural Association of Independent Artists, ACAI (www.acaindependent.es). In this way, it is not surprising that this street has become a meeting point for artists, intellectuals and all kind of night owls, who enjoy a varied leisure programme mainly channelled by the Sol Cultural Association (www.solcultural.com), born with the main objective of flooding the streets with artistic expressions.
C/ Daoiz y Velarde, 26 (www.galerianuble.com)
C/ Peña Herbosa,11
C/ Castelar, 7
Mercado del Este, local 12 www.galeriaeste.com
The street crossing the end of El Sol Street is San Simón, a good option to continue the itinerary, especially if it is walked uphill towards the zone of Entrehuertas and Prado San Roque, which is the most complicated way of reaching El Rio de la Pila street and its Funicular, but also the most interesting route. If we are tired, we can also go down San Simón and turn right at the main street up to the roundabout of El Río de la Pila, but we will miss a walk through winding streets, communal courtyards and small gardens that formerly were the orchards supplying Santander, hence the name of the area, which can be translated as ‘Among Gardens’. The instructions here are the
same as in the neighbourhood of Tetuán: it does not matter if we get lost and go round and round, especially if we walk in the daytime.
Whatever is the option chosen in the previous point of the itinerary, if we have walked westward, we will reach the Funicular, which has stops in El Río de la Pila, San Sebastián, Prado San Roque and General Dávila. The perfect plan here is to take the funicular to the last stop to admire the views of the Bay with the city our foot. It operates from 6 am to midnight. From the top of General Dávila we can see the red roofs of old buildings, the needles and domes of churches and the cranes of the port, in the distance. During the journey it is much easier to distinguish small grass areas in the courtyards of houses and even some kitchen gardens that survived the urban development of the area following the fire of 1941, which destroyed vegetables gardens, fruit trees and txakoli vineyards. After a break, we can descend by Prado San Roque Street and then go down the stairs of the place called El Río de la Pila.
Río de la Pila
Of the six fountains that existed in the town, the most famous were those of Becedo and El Río de la Pila, a street that took its name (‘River of the Basin’) from the spring that ran down the slope and flowed into the sea, in front of what today is the arch of Santander Bank. This area outside the town was the suburb and housed humble people, fishermen and sailors. In the second half of the 19th century, the street was given a great boost with the building of the famous Bath House of Arístides Toca, which attracted the high society of Santander and later became the Pereda Theatre, and the construction of Casino Kursaal, the night leisure centre at that time. This is the precedent of what this street is today, a renovated nightlife hub in Santander after several ups and downs. For example, in the second half of the 20th century, some establishments in the area lived their glory days, as El Riojano restaurant where, in addition to offering good meals, social gatherings with some of the most interesting intellectuals of the moment were organized. Another important point in the cultural history of Santander which had an impact in several locals of El Río de la Pila occurred between 1977 and 1985, in parallel to the Madrid scene but with peculiarities that thoroughly distanced it adopting the nickname of ‘la Marejada’ (‘the Surge’). This movement was so far-reaching that it covered really disparate genres as punk and techno-pop, and it was promoted by young people refusing to follow the standards of a conservative generation who had lived under Franco dictatorship. After years in which leisure here ceased to be as interesting and safe as it used to be, today the area is one of the hubs of alternative culture in Santander. It attracts a sort of audience that enjoys non-commercial music and knows about trends and cosmopolitanism, largely thanks to the restoration works
and the night bars of El Río Suena association (cuandoelriosuena.com).
CASYC and UC Assembly Hall
Sevilla and Tantín streets To continue the walk we must take one of the streets crossing El Río de la Pila, San Celedonio Street, which has an appearance very similar to that of the rest of streets covered in this itinerary, a long way from the stately Santander. A few metres away, where this road meets Sevilla Street, culture lovers will find two reference centres in the city. The CASYC (Centre for Social and Cultural Action of Caja Cantabria) constantly schedules exhibitions, theatre performances and screenings, among other activities (casyc.com/cultura) and the Assembly Hall of the University of Cantabria (UC) usually hosts exhibitions, talks and book launches (www.unican.es). In front of the assembly hall there is a building with a mural painting on its façade representing 14 Cantabrian writers with influence in the region.
Back at San Celedonio Street, we can continue straight on up to the cross slope of La Atalaya which, as its name suggests (‘the Watchtower’), connected the city centre to the defensive building from which it was possible to guard the arrival of boats to Santander. This slope also witnessed the comings and goings of the women who tilled the ground on this side of the hill and beyond it, in Las Llamas (See itinerary 4), who used to go to the marketplace to sell their garden produce. Carts had two small front wheels and two large rear wheels to climb the slopes more easily.
What today is General Dávila Street was formerly called ‘el Alta’ (‘the High’) because it took up the crest of the hill where a large part of the city is built, creating its characteristic slopes. The birth of this thoroughfare has a military origin. It was designed on the occasion of the war against the French by marshal Pignatelli to easily transport armaments to the forts built here, as the one that today is the María Cristina civic centre, or the Fort of Isabel II and the Fort of López Baños, not existing any more. The area had to be really protected, since from this point it was very easy to attack the rest of the city. Walking a few metres to the left as we arrive to General Dávila, at the end of the slope of La Atalaya, we reach Finca Altamira, a recreation area offering special services for senior citizens, with sustainable social gardens among its attractions where they are taught how to cultivate. A little further on stand the Ataulfo Argenta Conservatory. and the Jesús de Monasterio Conservatory.