The seaside town of Castro Urdiales, on the eastern coast of Cantabria, preserves an interesting an interesting conduction of the artistic and historic which, joined with its beaches, makes it one of the most beautiful and highly-visited places in the province.
Plan your visit to Castro Urdiales
This charming seaside resort, which has been a holiday resort of the bourgeoisie since the 19th century, has an attractive and monumental landscape to which you could devote a whole day of sightseeing and visits, for both the urban areas and for the beach and surroundings. On the second day of the trip you can go towards the West by the Cantabrian motorway to visit another beautiful coastal town: Laredo. Another option is to head South to go hiking or for other forms of active tourism in the Natural Park of Collados del Asón. If you want to regain energy enjoying the local cuisine, or stay in the area for longer we suggest you to visit our sleeping and eating in Castro Urdiales page.
The area of Castro Urdiales was populated more than 12000 years ago, as evidenced by the remains and paintings found in the caves of El Cuco and La Lastrilla. Its port was already used from before, although there is some discrepancy as to which Roman era it was used during. Plinio el Viejo mentioned a “port of the Amanos,” which was the name of a tribe belonging to the Autrigones. Others say that the port was used by the Samanos, a pre-Roman ethnic group with an advanced culture, as evidenced by the bronze sculpture of the Neptune Cantabrian found in Castro Urdiales. Ptolemy referred to the Flaviobriga port as a “colony” for veterans, recognized as a Roman colony in the year 74. It was not until the 11th century when it began being called by its proper name.
In the year 1163, Castro Urdiales obtained from King Alfonso VIII of Castile a jurisdiction similar to Logroño, a legal move that promoted strong maritime and commercial development. This was the first brotherhood of the four villas-bringing it together with San Vicente de la Barquera, Laredo and Santander-which created that legal title. Until 1200 (during which Guipúzcoa Castilla joined) the Cantabrian ports were the most accessible to the plateau, which means that the brotherhood was responsible for the transport of the Castilian wool to markets in the North. Likewise, their boats had a great role in the conquest of Seville over the Muslims, fulfilling the quest to capture the river Guadalquivir in 1248. This associative experience proved to be very beneficial, for since May 4, 1296, representatives of eight important commercial towns met in Castro Urdiales to launch a second, even more ambitious alliance. The representatives came from the Cantabrian ports of Castro, Santander and Laredo; from the Basque ports of Bermeo, San Sebastián, Hondarribia and Getaria; and finally, of the town of Vitoria. All of them decided to form the brotherhood of la Marina de Castilla with Vitoria (also called Brotherhood of the marshes), designating Castro Urdiales as the capital. The following year San Vicente of the Barquera joined, making the brotherhood composed of nine locations. The objective of this Alliance was to coordinate their interests against the King (such as retaining the privileges won by its contribution to the Reconquista), coordinate the trade relations of each villa with ports in Flanders, France, and England, and to establish a mutual defense pact in case of attack on vessels and merchants. The brotherhood is would remain very operational during the following two centuries, establishing numerous foreign armed conflicts, especially with the British.
Ships from the port of Castro were engaged in fishing, trade and cultural events, although they would go on to replace their primitive orientation towards trade with Europe with more open trade towards the Atlantic following the discovery of America.
The village suffered many calamities during the 16th century, and it lost quite of bit of the population, which could have influenced the move of the governor of the four villas to Laredo. Between 1739 and 1763, Castro Urdiales was separated from this district, instead joining the Señorío de Vizcaya.
During the war of independence, its residents were positioned against the French, supporting the troops and English vessels that harassed to the nearby Bilbao until May 11, 1813 when it was raided and destroyed by the former.
The village began to recover during the 19th century, when it became an important port for the shipping of iron extracted in the mines of the neighboring Encartaciones Bizkaia. Towards the end of the same century, the bourgeoisie Bilbao began to use it as a place for holidays, which began an architectural renovation of the area.
As in the majority of Spain, in 1918 the Spanish Flu caused a terrible mortality in the area, but in the case of Castro Urdiales, the help of the provincial Council did not arrive, causing a major problem. The relief came from neighboring Diputación de Vizcaya, which led to the City Council in 1924 voting in favor of annexation to the Basque country, a decision which would prove to have no practical effect.
The village of Castro Urdiales has the charm and tradition of an illustrious sailing and fishing center. The area of the town extends facing the port and the maritime walkway, which continues and the city expands onward.
In the area of Santander and Ardigales streets and two meters deep the remains of Flaviobriga were found, and many artifact from this zone have been taken to the Prehistoric and Archeological Regional Museum of Cantabria, Santander (which is currently awaiting new headquarters). You can find more information about the area of Castro in this museum between the Paleolithic and Middle Ages, in an archeological room.
The old town of Castro Urdiales, or “Puebla Vieja,” preserved from the medieval period, was declared a historically and artistically significant site in 1978. The center is concentrated around the rocky promontory which dominates the port, visible from any point of the bay. Here stands the Church of Santa Maria de la Asunción, which was recognized as a national monument in 1931 and regarded as one of the most important Gothic churches in the North of Spain. It was initiated in the 13th century and built under the protection of King Alfonso VIII of Castile. It’s basilica temple floor plan with three naves. In the courtyard there is a Roman military figure (a stone indicating the distance of 1000 steps) which points to the where the roads that joins the old Flaviobrioga with Herrera de Pisuerga, in Palencia. The interior of the church houses many paintings and sculptures, including the White Virgin, a gothic statue in polychrome stone; three gothic images of kings and other three interesting Baroque representations of Christ, the Cristo de la Agonía, a canvas attributed to the painter Francisco de Zurbarán, in the altarpiece of the same name; a Christ lying, and an Ecce Homo, the last two last of which were sculpted in the workshop of Gregorio Fernández. Facing the facade South of the temple the remains of the Hermitage Romanesque of San Pedro (12th century) can be found, which is where (until the 16th century) the local council gathered to meet.
Next to the Church is the castle, which is either from the late 12th century or early 13th, and is perched on the primitive Roman fort that gave rise to the town. With a pentagonal floor-plan and strong outside bases, it was the main defensive place of the village. Before the French invasion, in 1841, many inhabitants came to the castle to flee on English ships embarking from the port. Inside, some events and exhibitions are held in a half-barrel vaulted room. In 1853 a light was added to the Tower so that it would fulfill the functions of the port’s Lighthouse.
Alongside the breakwater, on the other side of the Medieval bridge, is the chapel of Santa Ana, rectangular and with a porch supported by square pillars. It currently hosts the Centre of Interpretation of Flavióbriga. From this point one can enjoy a nice view of the Bay and the port.
Church of Santa María de la Asunción
On the seafront you will find the Town Hall, designed by Antonio Vega and built in the 18th century entirely out of stone. It is a three story building framed by two towers finished off with eaves of Baroque imprint that, at the end of the 19th century, were renovated by Eladio Laredo, who crowned the central body of the church with a crenellated tower that altered its original form.
Closer to the main street and Ardigales, one can still observe remains of the old wall with a certain medieval flavor.
At the end of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, some powerful Basque families built their summer residences in Castro Urdiales. To see the most spectacular facade of all, it is worth approaching the pier of Don Luis Ocharán, from where you can see complex Ocharán, an eclectic building reminiscent of the Palladian villas by his arcaded facade, with ten classical ionic columns in double row and side staircase of paired columns. This main facade is decorated with panels of ceramic by Daniel Zuloaga.
Castro Urdiales also has important modernist and other eclectic buildings. One of them is the Chalet Sotileza (1914), the work of Cantabrian architect Leonardo Rucabado, creator of the Mountain school of Architecture. The property is decorated with a tower, balconies and portalada reminiscent of historical Cantabrian houses.
Another building of interest is the Hotel Royal, also designed by Eladio Laredo, of eclectic style, located in the center of town. It is decorated with elements reminiscent of gothic architecture, and with others elements referencing the shields of Catholic kings and the Emperor Carlos V, such as the arrows, the harness, and the imperial eagle. Currently it is the site of the Cultural Center of Eladio Laredo and the Ataulfo Argenta School of Music.
Castro Urdiales has been cradle of master musicians since the 16th century. It boasts an important Orchestra of parish principles from the 19th century, and of different corals. Among the village natives, musicians include pianist and conductor Ataúlfo Argenta, to whom the town has dedicated a garden at the port area. In the square, next to the statue erected in his honor, you can hear his music, which sounds all the time through a speaker system.
Along the maritime walkway extends Brazomar beach, which has gold sand and is 400 meters in length. Next to it is Ostend beach, which has artificial sand and fewer people.
On the first Friday of July, Castro Urdiales is full of floats for their traditional parade of “El Coso Blanco.” Other festivals remind us of the town’s maritime past, such as August 15, the day of the assumption of the Virgin, when a cooking competition is held in the dock area. Some 300 groups mount their tables and chairs in the Park of Amestoy and cook stews from Nice in their kettles. There is also a Cockaigne contest, that consists of balancing on wooden planks to reach a prize and, after, the music and dance celebration.
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