Santander History Facts and Timeline

(Santander, Cantabria, Spain)

Santander is a large port city in the far north of Spain and is the capital of the Cantabria region. Although this is not the best-known destination on Spain's tourist map, there are a number of sites which will appeal to those interested in the history of Santander.

The city's recorded history dates back to Roman times, when it was called 'Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium'. However, its current name is reputed to have its origins in the third century, when legend has it that the head of a martyr, St. Emeterio (Santemter), was brought into the city. This is disputed by a number of other historians, who believe that the name is derived from St. Andrew (Sanct Ander) instead.

The Castile Era

The Bay of Santander is the perfect natural harbour and as such, the port was of huge importance to the Kingdom of Castile in the latter Middle Ages. Earlier in its history, Santander had fought for the crown in the battle for Seville and was subsequently rewarded with a coat of arms.

The Cathedral of Santander dates back to this era, with construction beginning in the latter years of the 12th century, on the site of an old Roman abbey. The abbey housed the remains of the martyr, St. Emeterio, as well as his compatriot, St. Celedonio. This Gothic-style church took almost two centuries to complete and remains one of Santander's top historical sights.

El Sardinero

In 1755, Santander was officially given city status and in the mid-19th century it began its first foray into tourism. The El Sardinero beach had formerly been a rugged section of coastline when it was developed to provide facilities such as bath houses and restaurants. This elegant beach resort became famous when Spanish royalty began to visit and is now dominated by the well-known Sardinero Hotel.

Disasters in the City

The modern history of Santander is marked by two main disasters. The first of these occurred when the Cabo Machichaco steamship suffered a dynamite explosion in the year of 1893, leading to roughly 500 fatalities. The Cathedral of Santander was extensively damaged by the enormous explosion.

The second disaster took place in 1941, when a two-day-long fire swept the city. This great fire caused thousands of residents to lose their homes and allowed a chaotic atmosphere to reign over the city. Miraculously, there was only one death from the blaze. However, the Cathedral of Santander was badly hit once again and much of the historic centre was destroyed. After extensive repairs, the cathedral eventually reopened in 1953.

20th Century History

Santander has been a popular destination among Spanish royalty since the late 19th century, and in 1909 the public gifted the Palacio Real de La Magdalena (Magdalena Palace / Royal Palace) to the royal family.

This English-style palace was the summer residence of the Spanish monarch from 1913 until 1930. The palace is now open to the public and is amongst the most-visited attractions in Santander.