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Donostia (in Basque) or San Sebastián (in Spanish) is the capital city of the province of Guipuzcoa, in the Spanish autonomous community of the Basque Country. Its population is 178,017 (2001 estimate).

The city is located in the northeast of Spain, on the Bay of Biscay, close to the French border. San Sebastian's picturesque coastline makes it a popular beach resort.


    * 1174 The city is awarded status as fuero by king Sancho VI of Navarre.
    * 1200 The city is conquered by Castile, whose king Alfonso VIII, confirms its fuero.
    * 1728 The foundation of the "Real Compañía Guipuzcoana de Caracas" boosts commerce with the Americas.
    * 1808 Napoleonic forces capture San Sebastian in the Peninsular War.
    * 1813 British and Portuguese troops besiege San Sebastian and eventually defeat French occupying troops. After being welcomed by the inhabitants, the relieving troops burnt down the city.
    * 1813 The city is rebuilt in the same spot.
    * 1863 The city walls are demolished and an expansion of the city begins.
    * 1937 The province falls to Falangist forces in the Spanish Civil War.


Every year on 20 January (the feast of Saint Sebastian) the people of San Sebastián celebrate a festival known as the "Tamborrada". At midnight in the Konstituzioa plaza in the "Alde Zaharra/Parte Vieja" (old city), the mayor raises the flag of San Sebastián, during 24 hours the entire city is awash with the sound of drums. The adults dress as cooks and soldiers, and march around the city. They march all night with their cook hats and white aprons with the March of San Sebastián. Adults usually have dinner in "Sociedades" which traditionally were only admitted for males. Nowadays even the strictest ones allow women on the "Noche de la Tamborrada". They eat very sophisticated meals cooked by themselves, mostly composed of seafood (traditionally elver, now no longer served due to its exhorbitant price) and drink the best wines. For "Donostiarras" this is the most celebrated festival of the year. After hearing drums all night children wake up with a version of the Tamborrada for kids. Children dress traditionally as soldiers and march around the city. Children from all the schools of San Sebastián march that day. They have their specific costumes which usually represent a particular country (England, Germany, Romania, etc.)

A festival called Semana Grande or Aste Nagusia is held every year in August. There is a fireworks competition in which every night, there is a fireworks presentation over the bay, and at the end, a winner is declared.

San Sebastián is known for its Basque cuisine and pintxos (tapas) and restaurant district near the port.

The most important Spanish International Film Festival is held in San Sebastián, the Donostia-San Sebastian International Film Festival


Donostia-San Sebastian is a coastal city in the Vizcaya Gulf (Cantabric Sea, Atlantic Ocean) situated in the Basque Country. There are 20 km to the Frech border.

How to come

By plain: From Madrid there are two daily flights to San Sebastian. From Barcelona there is one daily. The airport is situated in Hondarribia/Fuenterrabia. From the airport you can take a bus or taxi to reach Donostia. Airport phone number: 943668500.

By train: From Madrid RENFE (Spanish train company) goes to San Sebastian, or even to Irun/French border. There are also trains from Barcelona. I would recommend you, if you take a train from Madrid or Barcelona, to take a night one (about 6 hours from Madrid, and 7 from Barcelona). From Paris you can take TGV (Great Speed Train, belongs to SNCF, French train company) upto Hendaia/Hendaye and combine it, in its last 20 km, with Eusko Trenbideak company's train that link Hendaia with Donostia (both train stations are one in front of the other in Hendaye).From Bilbao or Pamplona is much recommended to take a bus to reach San Sebastian. RENFE - SNCF

By bus: Well linked to Spanish major cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Pamplona, Valencia, Alicante, Salamanca, etc. Take Continental Company to go from Madrid, La Roncalesa from Pamplona, Pesa from Bilbao. It is also linked with London (Euro Lines company, 22 hours including the time for the Dover-Calais ferry), an inexpensive way to go to San Sebastian.
By car: From Madrid take N-I (National One) road, via Burgos and Vitoria-Gasteiz; alternatives to this road: take toll road between Burgos and Miranda de Ebro, and take another toll road from Vitoria upto to Durango (direction Bilbo/Bilbao). About 5 hours.
From Barcelona take N-II upto Zaragoza, then go to Pamplona. Even it is a good road, the alternative is to take toll road. About 6 hours.
From Bilbao take A-8 toll road (about 9 euros) to reach San Sebastian in one hour, or take the national road (2 or 3 hours, depending on the traffic). If you are not in a hurry I can suggest you to take the national road to visit different towns and villages in the Basque coast (Orio, Zarautz, Zumaia, Getaria, Mutriku, Ondarroa, Lekeitio, Gernika, etc).
From Pamplona take A-15 and N-I to reach San Sebastian. It is just 45 minutes-1 hour.
From Paris take A-10 toll road till the border (via Orleans, Tours, Poitiers, Bordeaux) and A-8 toll road from the border to San Sebastian. Not paying alternatives are N-10 in France and N-I once crossing the border.

San Sebastian

    * Distances: 20 km to the French border (Hendaia/Hendaye in Lapurdi province), 75 km to Pamplona, 100 km to Bilbao, 465 km to Madrid, 780 km to Paris.
    * Names: It is called officially Donostia-San Sebastián, in Basque is called Donostia, and in Spanish San Sebastián. Although many people called it just Donosti, even using Spanish.
    * Weather: Temperature is moderate the twelve months of the year, but rainny during the winter, maintaining an average of 22 ºC. The climate is oceanic humid.
    * Tourist Information center: at Reina Regente, s/n, close to the Donostia's Boulevard, in the Victoria Eugenia building (phone 943481166).

      Donostia-San Sebastian is very famous by its gastronomy. It is a city where visitors can eat fenomenal. But this doesn't mean that we have to have a large quantity of money. For little money we can eat in the pintxos bars (pintxos are called tapas in a lot of place of Spain) or cideries (sagardotegi, sidreria).
Popular parties and festivals

    * In mid-August (the week of the August 15th, from sunday to sunday), is the Aste Nagusia (Semana Grande, Great Week) with international fireworks competitions every night at 23:00, all kind of music at streets, usually free of charge, sport events like San Sebastian-San Sebastian International cycle competition, bull flights, etc.
    * In the second half of September there is the International Film Festival.
    * In the second half of July there is the Jazz Festival, known by the name Jazzaldia.
    * The most important events for local is in the 20th of January, the Danborrada.
    * In the 21th of December is Santo Tomas, party with very rural influence.





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The Basque Country (Basque: Euskal Herria) is a cultural region in the western Pyrenees mountains that define the border between France and Spain, extending down to the coast of the Bay of Biscay. It corresponds more or less with the historical homeland of the Basque people and language.




Basque Country

According to the Basque tradition, the Basque Country is made up of seven traditional regions. The four regions Laurak Bat to the south, within Spain, form Hegoalde (“south zone”), while the three to the northeast, within France, form Iparralde (“north zone”). The seven regions are:

Basque Country



Southern Basque Country

Three Spanish provinces comprising the heart land, were grouped into the Basqye Autonomous Community (Euskadi):

  • Álava (Araba in Basque), capital Vitoria-Gasteiz (Vitoria is the Spanish name, Gasteiz the Basque name)

  • Biscay (Bizkaia in Basque, Vizcaya in Spanish), capital Bilbao (Bilbo in Basque), also the capital of the Basque Country

  • Guipúzcoa (Gipuzkoa in Basque), capital San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque)

East of it is a separate Autonomous Community, larger on its own:

  • Navarre (Nafarroa in Basque, Navarra in Spanish), capital Pamplona (Iruñea, Iruña or Iruñesco in Basque)



Northern Basque Country




The Basque Country shows continuity of population since the Late Paleolithic. It appeared in Roman times divided in tribes but also forming part of a greater ethnic area that included at least Aquitanie and the quasi-impassable central Pyrenees up to Andorra.

The Roman presence manifested in some roads and ill-studied small towns, probably recycled local settlements. Pamplona was formally founded by famous Roman general Pompey, who used it as headquarters in his campaigns against Sertorius.

In the 3rd century though, apparently under the pressure of feudalization, Basques at both sides of the mountains seem to have revolted in a movement associated into the Bagaudae and established an independence de facto. This independence stood the Visigothic attacks, establishing the Duchy of Vasconia, at times vassal of the FranksAquitaine. or united to

This Duchy of Vasconia is unable to resist the troubles caused by the struggles between the Muslim raiders, Eudes the Great of Aquitaine and Charles Martel of the Franks and ends as possession of this last one.

In the South, the Kingdom of Pamplona, later Navarre, was (for at least between 805 and 1200) the only political entity to encompass the Basque Country on both sides of the Pyrenees (Soule was actually autonomous and Bayonne and coastal Labourd soon fell to the English). The kingdom reached its greatest size under Sancho III of Navarre (c. 9851035). Sancho's kingdom encompassed not just Navarre, with most of the Basque Country, La Rioja and the NE of Castile, but also Castile and Aragon themselves, which at the time were just counties. Sancho, known as The Great, also exerted protectorate over Leon and the fragile remains of Vasconia, whose name was already evolving into Gascony.

After Sancho's death, the kingdom was divided among the four sons, getting one Pamplona, the other Castile, the other Aragon and this one Sobrarbe and Ribargoza. A fraticide war broke soon after and Pamplona was divided. It was during its incorporation to Aragon that the name Navarre was styled.

In 1157, Ramiro the Restorer, after a dynastic dead-end becomes king of Navarre and starts a series of wars against Castile which end in a peace that leaves La Rioja and Bureba to Castile but the Western provinces still in Navarrese hands. Nevertheless, in 1999, the Castilians launch another invasion that finally incorporates the three provinces to it, keeping (except Treviño) their self-rule (Fuero).

In 1512, the troops of Ferdinand II of Aragon took the Southern part, but Basse-Navarre, north of the Pyrenees remained independent until 1620 when it was incorporated into France, with which it had been in personal union since 1589, when the King of Navarre inherited the French throne.

Navarre and the Northern provinces also kept their particular forms of self-rule. The French provinces lost it with the centralization that happened with the French Revolution, which therefore found local resistance. But also sympathies as the autonomous government of Gipuzkoa asked for incorporation to the French Republic, request that was conveniently ignored.

During the French invasion of Spain by Napoleon, the Basque provinces were the ones that the French held more easily, as there was no resistance. Yet the occupation abuses ended rising people in arms there as well.

In the 19th century, the Liberal approach to the state, that implied centralization and homogenization in a single nation-state, caused the Basques to adhere to the reactionary Carlist party in the Carlist Wars, wars that ended when the Basque governments in rebellion saw no more possibilities to them. In the process, Basque provinces lost most of its autonomy but kept at least remnant, particularly tax-collection, that has served for a recent partial restoration.

Particular impact had the displacement of the customs border from being between the Basque provinces and Spain to the coast and the border with France, a border that runs through the middle of the Basque Country. The traditional route Pamplona-Bayonne was cut and the fruitful smuggling activities that fed the interior provinces just vanished. The coastal provinces may have been more favored though.

As result of the end of the Carlist Wars, and embedded by the ideas of nationalism that impregnated Europe in the late 19th century, the Basque people felt impelled to refound the Basque struggle into more modern foundations. Among several others, Sabino Arana and his brother Luis, founded the modern Basque Nationalism, in the late 19th century.

This ideology found fertile ground specially in the burgueoise class that flourished then in Bilbao and the other industrial areas of the country. Initially it had some clerical and racist undertones, specially as a reaction to massive Spanish and Galician immigration, as workforce for the growing industry, based specially in the rich iron, much appreciated by the British foundations. Naval industries, metallurgy, small weapons... all that made of Bilbao and some many Gipuzkoan towns, thriving economic centers. And an influential Basque burgueoise class was born with it.

Basque Nationalism, basically aligned in the Basque Nationalist Party (EAJ-PNV), founded by Arana, aimed, via democratic means, to achieve some sort of self rule that approximated or superated (independence) the self rule that once granted the foral autonomy. It worked hard for it under the Republic, when also a leftist party (EAE-ANV) existed. Yet it didn't achieve it until 1937, in the last months of resistance against the fascists.

Under Franco, there was a fierce political repression that softened slowly as decades passed. There existed a Basque Government in the exile, alternatively based in Venezuela or Paris but its activities were limited to ghostly representation and difficult undercover activities. Eventually, a schism in the nationalist youths EGI, created a new group that asked for immediate action. It was named Euskadi ta Askatasuna (Basque Nation and Freedom) and it's now best known as ETA. It would eventually become a very active and bloody urban guerrilla organization.

The restoration of democracy in Spain, after c. 40 years of fascist dictatorship, brought eventually also autonomy for the Basque Country, though Navarre has so far been governed by pro-Spanish parties that prefer a separate statute and special and polemic linguistic laws. The Basque Autonomous Community, comprising only the Western provinces, has been ruled by nationalist-dominated governments. After 38 years of armed struggle, ETA declared a permanent truce in March 2006.



See also


The current Statute configures the autonomous community as a federation of the three constituent provinces, which had been ruled since their incorporation to Castile in 1200 by their own laws and institutions in what is known as the Foral System. This autonomy, similar to the one that enjoyed neighbour Navarre, was severely cut in the 19th century and largely suspended under the Fascist regime but was restored in its severed form by the Spanish Constitution of 1978.

The post-Franco Spanish Constitution of 1978 acknowleges "historical rights" and attempts compromise in the old conflict between centralism and federalism by the establishment of autonomous communities(e.g. Castile-León, Catalonia, Valencia, etc). The provincial governments (diputación foral) were restored only in the Basque Country and Navarre, but many of their powers were transferred to the new government of the Basque Country autonomous community; however, the provinces still perform tax collection in their respective territories, coordinating with the Basque, Spanish and European governments.

Under this system the Diputaciones Forales (Basque: Foru Aldundiak) administer most of each of the provinces but are coordinated and centralized by the autonomous Basque Government (Basque: Eusko Jaurlaritza, Spanish Gobierno Vasco).

The seats of the Basque Parliament and Government are in Vitoria-Gasteiz. But the Statute provides for their transference to Pamplona if Navarre ever decides to join the Basque Autonomous Community. The Parliament is formed by 25 representatives of each one of the three provinces, without considering their respective demographic weight. The Basque Parlament elects the Lehendakari (President) who forms government following regular parliamentary procedures. So far all Lehendakaris (even those in 1937 and in the exile) have been members of the Basque Nationalist Party (Eusko Alderdi Jeltzalea), moderate and Christian-Democrat, but they haven't always received confortable majorities and have needed to form coalitions often with either pro-Spanish or pro-Basque more left-leaning parties, often governing in a difficult minority position.

The current government, lead by Juan José Ibarretxe (Eusko Alderdi Jeltzalea) is supported also by left-leaning nationalists of Eusko Alkartasuna (Basque Solidarity) and Communist-dominated Ezker Batua (United Left). Both Spanish centralist parties, Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Workers' Party) and Partido Popular (People's Party) are again in the opposition as are the radical nationalists of the Basque National Liberation Movement that had to run this time under the umbrella of a new formation: Euskal Herrialdeetako Alderdi Komunista (Communist Party of the Basque Homelands).

The autonomous community has its own police force (the Ertzaintza), education and health systems, and a Basque radio/TV station. These and other attributions under the Gernika Statute have been slowly and painfully only transferred by Madrid, yet many others remain without been transferred after more than two decades of autonomy.




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