History, art and culture at San Sebastián’s San Telmo Museum

May 11, 2017
Oihana Guillan

One of the best ways to gain an appreciation for a new destination is to learn more about a city or country’s history and culture. There’s something about delving into the past that can make for a more vivid experience of the present. While San Sebastián is not really known for its museums (indeed, there are not many, something quite surprising considering the importance that culture has in the everyday life of locals), but if there’s just one place where you can get the whole history of the Basque region and San Sebastián, Museo San Telmo is it! San Telmo Museum is located in Plaza Zuloaga, 1, in the Old Town, next to San Vicente church and in the heart of the pintxo area: the Parte Vieja. The museum is well-known for its permanent exhibitions about Basque history, together with temporary exhibitions on different subjects from different parts of the world.

What is very attractive for people who visit this museum is the opportunity to discover the ancient culture and traditions that our ancestors left us. The exhibit Mirando a San Sebastián (Looking at San Sebastian), goes through the history of the city’s economic, urban, social, and cultural development. Other permanent exhibitions include the historic evolution of the museum itself, an historical art collection, and a look at some of the most important milestones in Basque history. But San Sebastián is not just about ancient times — as you can learn on our tours. Indeed, a very important fact about its character is the French style that our city has, which dates back to the Belle Époque times between the world wars. That’s what makes it very special compared to other Basque cities, but San Sebastian has not always been the city we know today, something shown through informative exhibits that help bring the city’s past to life.

The museum also gives insight into Basque celebrations and traditions in a section devoted to our traditional and modern festivals, which we love with intensity. Some of these festivals include the famous tamborrada, the San Sebastián Film Festival, the Santo Tomás festival in December, and the reconstruction of what happened on August 31, 1813, the terrible date that changed the fate of the city forever. This last one is celebrated annually in the Old Town on a very noteworthy street, and if you visit San Sebastián during the last week of the month, you will see the recreation of what happened on that day when British and French troops face off and destroyed and burned the whole city except one street, the street the festival occurs on. After remembering the battle through different points of the Old Town, the climax comes when the lights are put out and the fire is simulated with candles and torches, creating a fascinating environment.

If you are interested in culture and history of our region, then San Telmo museum is a must-do during your stay in San Sebastián.