The port city of Santander is the capital of the autonomous community and historical region of Cantabria situated on the north coast of Spain. Located east of Gijón and west of Bilbao, the city has a population of 178,465 (2013).
In the Roman Empire, the city was known as "Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium". Its present name is possibly derived from Saint Andrew (Sanct Ander) or Saint Emeterio (Santemter, Santenter, Santander), a martyr whose head was brought there in the 3rd century, along with that of Saint Celedonio, according to legend.
The city owes its existence to the excellent harbour of the Bay of Santander. Santander was an important port for Castile in the later Middle Ages, and also for trade with the New World. It officially became a city in 1755.
In 1893 the freighter Cabo Machichaco exploded in the harbour, killing more than 500 people, including the Major of Santander and the Civil Governor of Cantabria (his walking stick was found broken in the Loredo beach, fourteen kilometres away from the place of the incident).
In the early 20th century Santander became the favoured summer residence of King Alfonso XIII, who built the Palacio de la Magdalena as the residence of the royal family during the holidays. The city gained great popularity from this and from the 19th century enthusiasm for sea bathing, and it remains popular with the Spanish for beach holidays today. During this period, Santander was (as the rest of the northern cities) a very important economic centre, with one of the biggest harbours and connected by train to the rest of Spain. Despite being a very important city, Santander wasn't a industrial centre, which helped the economic development of Torrelavega based in the industry.
Great fire of 1941
Santander fell victim to a great fire in 1941. Fanned by a strong south wind, the fire burned for two days. The fire started in the Cádiz Street, next to the harbour, the Cathedral and the medieval quarter. The fire destroyed the Old Town Hall, Jesús de Monasterio and Vargas streets and Atarazanas square buildings. It affected heavily the architecture of Santander, from small stone and wood buildings with balconies to the enormous blocks of flats built during the reconstruction. Also in 1942 the old train stations (Estación del Norte and Estación de Bilbao) were demolished and the new Train Station was built, so only survived the old Bank of Spain, the Porticada Square, the Market of La Esperanza, the Postal Office, the New Town Hall and some small streets with old buildings (in the zone affected by the fire).
There was only one casualty, a firefighter from Madrid killed in the line of duty, but thousands of families were left homeless and the city was plunged into chaos. The fire destroyed the greater part of the medieval town centre and gutted the city’s Romanesque cathedral.