SANTANDER CITY, OUR SPANISH LANDFALL.
Wednesday 14th to Monday 18th May 2015
Bev and I were last in Spain in 1972 and at that time, it was ruled by dictator General Francisco Franco. Franco was in power from 1936 (the end of the civil war) until his death in 1975. Today Spain is a rapidly growing democratic capitalist economy. The country joined the EU in 1986 which lead to rapid economic modernisation. Gone are the donkeys and old women dressed in mourning black, two things I remember vividly when we were here last.
Santander is not what I expected. In light of the city being destroyed twice, once in the late 1800s and again in 1941, I was thinking it would have been rebuilt in a bland and uninteresting form typical of 1950/60s styles of architecture. This was not the case for many of the historic buildings have been restored with a mind to their architectural heritage.
Before delving into the events that destroyed Santander and taking you for a tour of the city and surrounds I thought it might prove beneficial to geographically locate the town.
Santander is the capital of the autonomous state of Cantabria, which fronts the southern shores of the Bay of Biscay. The map below shows its location.
Spain comprises seventeen autonomous states and two autonomous cities, each with their own culture, traditions and political divisions and because of these differences over the centuries there have been many power plays and destructive events. The following map shows the autonomous states and cities of Spain.
It is interesting to note that the two autonomous cities, Ceuta and Melilla on the northern shores of Morocco have been in Spanish hands since the 16th century. Of course Morocco lays claims to Ceuta and Melilla but a referendum asking the residents of the cities whether they preferred to remain under the Spanish umbrella or go over to Morocco resulted in an overwhelming majority to stay with Spain. Both Ceuta and Melilla are what one would consider border hot spots. Refugees from Africa often make a push to cross into these cities as once in they are theoretically in the EU.
Another geographical fact that many are probably unaware of (I was ignorant of the fact until I started these writings) is that the Canary Islands, located to the west of Casablanca Morocco, is a Spanish autonomous state. I only knew the Canary Islands as the home of the familiar Canary island palm, Phoenix canariensis, a commonly planted palm in avenues and streets worldwide. Canary Island palms are sometimes erroneously called date palms. The date palm is Phoenix dactylifera. The Canary Island palm and the little canary bird are the national symbols.
When one reflects on childhood days there are sounds I remember: the call of the clothes prop man (a clothes prop was a long forked bush pole placed under the clothes line to keep the clothes line up high), the clip clop sound of the milk delivery man’s horses on the road in the wee small hours of the morning, the big end (bearing) knock of steam trains travelling the line near our home and the singing of the bright yellow canary my mother kept in a cage.
Canary Island palms are not a favourite with me for a number of reasons. In Australia they harbour the obnoxious introduced starling. Starlings often flock in thousands in the Canary Island palms and when they do in malls they foul the footpaths and cars parked thereunder. Their droppings can actually eat into the paint of cars. Also when seeking nesting places they evict native birds from their nests and move in. Another reason I dislike the palm is they have extremely sharp spikes and when I was a child coming home from school bare-footed one day I ran a spike right through my foot. The spike went in between my big toe and the one next to it with the point sticking out the top of my foot.
As I mentioned previously, there have been many destructive events in Spain, the most serious in modern times was the Spanish Civil war. The war commenced in 1936 and came to a conclusion in 1939. Prior to the start of the war King Alfonso V111 had fled the country leaving the left and right to eventually battle it out for the control of the country. The right wing Nationalist forces were led by General Franco and at the head of the left wing forces (which were not a homogeneous group but more regional militias) was President Manuel Azana.
The Nationalists received help from Nazi Germany and Italy’s Mussolini and Russia’s Stalin came to the aid of their republican comrades by sending advisers and technicians. The Nationalists won the war and Franco became dictator and lead the country until his death in 1975. In 1973 when Bev and I were here last there were many prominent statues of Franco. They have all been torn down and probably ended up in scrap metal yards.
BASQUE COUNTRY: In more recent times there has been trouble in Basque Country resulting from the Basques attempting to gain independence from both Spain and France. The Basque conflict is also known as the Spain-ETA Conflict. The Basque separatist group known as the Basque National Liberation Movement carried out bombings and assassinations in an attempt to gain independence. ETA has been declared a terrorist organisation by the Spanish, British, French and the US governments. Fortunately over the past few years, following a leadership change within the group, all is quiet on the Basque front. The following map shows the extent of Basque Country. The brown portion on the map indicates Basque country in France.
The reason for the town of Guernica being highlighted is that it was the first city in the world to have experienced a deliberate aerial bombing. It is a generally accepted fact that the Nazis participated in the Spanish Civil War so as to test military equipment for later use in WW2.
The bombing inspired artist Pablo Picasso to paint what is now called Guernica. Picasso used a grey, black and white palette and it is known as the most moving and powerful anti-war painting in history. The Guernica stands just over three metres tall and close to eight metres long and it shows in modern style the suffering of people, animals and the ruins of the city. Unfortunately due to copyright difficulties I am unable to show a copy of the painting.
The Nationalists, with the help of the Nazi Germany, obliterated the city because of its high spiritual significance for the Basques. It is estimated that over one thousand innocent citizens were killed on the day of the bombing and many more died later from injuries.
SANTANDER: The first destructive event in Santander occurred in 1893 when the ship Cabo Machichaco blew up and virtually destroyed the entire dock area and a large proportion of the town. A fire on the ship spread to a large store of dynamite in the hold, which ignited and in a moment the Santander sea front and a large proportion of the town ceased to exist. It is generally believed that the captain of the ship underestimated the quantity of dynamite in the hold so as to avoid port fees.
A small on deck fire began on the ship and many Santanderians came to watch, not knowing there was a stock of dynamite on board. The fire spread to the hold and for the onlookers it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A chronicle reported the explosion as follows: ’The fire struck the vast stock of dynamite in the hold which exploded. The crowds who came to watch the fire on the quay were blown to smithereens… The more distant crowds—some of them two miles off—were overwhelmed by the falling debris, timbers, fragments of iron, portions of roofs, and, according to the testimony of one officer, frag-ments of human bodies. The wooden houses took fire and burnt with a kind of wilful rapidity. There were too few hospitals and too few doctors to be of any use, the enormous numbers of the missing developed in most families the tortures of suspense. As usual, the savage side of human nature woke up first, and the criminal class, delighted with the catastrophe, began plundering the dead and the deserted houses which remained’.
The second devastating event to affect Santander was the Great Fire of 1941. The fire started in Cadiz Street near the Cathedral and medieval quarter and fanned by strong winds destroyed many historic buildings. Fortunately some survived including the Cathedral, post office and the city hall that faces onto the Plaza Porticada.
Most of the historic buildings in Santander are made from limestone and marble. The main difference between limestone and marble is limestone is a sedimentary rock and marble is a metamorphic rock. Limestone forms when shells, sand and mud are deposited at the bottom of the oceans and lakes and over time solidify into rock. Marble forms when sedimentary limestone is heated and squeezed so the grains recrystallize.
What a mouthful! I wonder whether church authorities when dealing with correspondence write the full name or write CB of the A of the VM.
During our stay in Santander the mercury fell to eight degrees centigrade so at every opportunity we sought out spots to warm ourselves. Cold days and warm sun make for magic moments and sitting in the courtyard on this occasion with theologian Jose Eguino Trecu looking on was one of those magic moments.
Bronze sculptures are everywhere in Santander. One very creative group of bronze statues is of a group of kids swimming on the promenade.
Along Santander’s foreshore there is a great bike path and the one to the west goes for several kilometres. On the morning of the day we took to it there were intermittent showers, however when you are travelling with limited time you have to go, raining or not. On the shore side of the ride there were many old historic and modern buildings. Following is a photographic record as we rode along the path. Enlarge the following historic building images and look into the detail, the workmanship is outstanding.
Tens of thousands of sun worshippers come to the beaches in summer and with the benefit of the visitors’ dollar the local council can keep the beaches in pristine condition. Early morning every day there is a team of cleaners out scouring the beaches for rubbish.
The day we rode along the beaches there were three tractors working vigorously scouring for objects. An acquaintance of mine who ran the Marine Discovery centre near the iconic Sydney beach Bondi carried out a survey of Bondi beach to determine how many cigarette butts were in the sands. Surprisingly, he recorded twenty butts per square metre. When the local council heard of the results smoking was banned on the beach. Other nearby councils followed suit. There are far more smokers in Spain than in Australia so there are probably more than twenty per square metre if the beaches were not constantly scoured.
Another form of pollution in Santander that is yet to be overcome is dog flotsam, not so much dog doo (most owners pick their dog droppings up) but dog urine. Thousands of pet dogs are constantly doing it against doors and posts. There is a very high population of dogs per capita; in fact there are more pet dogs in Santander than we have seen in any other city in the world.
Further along the coast the bike path gets into nature.
In Santander central business district and near the railway station there is a tunnel going through a spur. We like riding through tunnels as it saves a lot of huffing and puffing if we have to go up and over. The tunnel in question has a week-day purpose and a Sunday purpose.
Markets, bookshops and hardware stores are the businesses we seek out when visiting a new city or town. We couldn’t find a bookshop but we found a hardware store.
The reason for visiting the hardware was to buy a small gas canister stove for cooking along the way. The shop attendants spoke no English so I had to resort to sketching what I needed. In our home town we have a store called Bearfast which sells every need for the engineer and no matter when you go in it is always busy. The Santander store was similar, I felt quite at home.
When we travel in countries where there are language difficulties I have resorted to the pen. Often those I am attempting to communicate with laugh and invite those around to come and have a look, the pen certainly breaks down barriers.
A shop of necessity if one is going to cook is the fruit and vegie shop. Why is it that European fruit and vegies taste like they should? Is there some sort of soil deficiency in Australia that makes our supermarket food taste so bland?
Taking into consideration the present Euro/ Australian dollar exchange rate, one kg of pears costs $1.50, mandarines $1.00 and bananas $1.50.
And now for a walk, along the hillside back streets of Santander, where the amazingly beautiful vernacular oriel windows are a feature. An oriel window is a form of bay window that does not reach the ground. In Islamic culture the oriel provides an area in which women who were usually kept indoors could peer out and see street activities below while not being seen themselves.
There is another feature relating to Santander that is not commonly known and that is the city has been declared a smart city. A smart city is one where sensors have been placed at strategic points that relay information to a bank of computers, which enable authorities to efficiently run the city. For example some sensors, when detecting a siren, change traffic lights along the route which ambulance, police or fire vehicles are moving so as to create a clear way of travel. Other sensors sense movement; if there is no pedestrian movement the streetlights dim and as soon as someone steps onto the street the light returns to full intensity. Sensors attached to rubbish bins send a message to the garbage men telling them the status of the bin. If the bin is not full it is bypassed and is only emptied when the sensors send an ‘I’m full’ message.
Delegations from all over the world visit Santander to see how a smart city works. In total there are 12 500 sensors around the city and the city council estimates that running costs have been reduced by 20 to 25% since sensors were installed.
One most desirable feature of a smart city is the timing indicator at pedestrian crossings. The timing indicator means both drivers and pedestrians know exactly where they stand when it comes to how long they have to wait before moving on.
Santander is bicycle friendly city. Cyclists are permitted to ride across pedestrian crossings and drivers will stop. Some drivers actually stop for cyclists intending to cross outside designated crossing zones.
You might think this loo not all that smart but you can pay by credit card!
One final thing about Santander that I must mention and that is thirty kilometres east of the city is the famous Cave of Altamira which features prehistoric paintings of wild animals and human hands. It was the first cave in which prehistoric cave paintings were found. When first discovered in 1880 there was much debate about wether prehistoric man had the intellectual capacity to produce such fine work. In 1902 their authenticity was accepted, changing the perception of prehistoric man.
The caves are not open to the public at the moment because when they were open humans brought in heat, humidity and microbes thus upsetting the caves eco system and in turn the cave paintings began deteriorating. The government is wanting to reopen the caves, much to the displeasure of scientists. People wishing to visit the cave when they do reopen have to place their names on a list. At the moment the list is three years long.
That’s the end of this post. After four days in Santander, two more than we initially thought we would stay, we have decided not to ride over the mountains to the south but catch a train south to Salamanca then after a stay there push on to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. After Lisbon take a train to Faro on the far south coast of Portugal then either ride to or take a bus to Seville. We hope you tag along with us as we move south Encountering the Past once again.
One last message: Santander is not without its graffiti but having done a story on graffiti previously I will not show Santander graffiti now, however I cannot resist one piece.