Santillana del Mar

Immaculate Town - Museum of the Marquis of Santillana

Despite its name, Santillana is not on the coast, although it is near the coast on the eastern edge of the Cantabrian region. The town, which is very close to the caves and the Museum of Altamira, has an extraordinary conjunction of historic and artistic appeals, with many beautiful medieval and Baroque houses and was described by Jean Paul Sartre as the prettiest village in Spain.

Plan your visit to Santillana del Mar

In this medieval village, the calm walkway is an unforgettable experience. The Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, the Palace of the Belardes, the home of the Tagle, and the nearby caves of Altamira are essential viewing here; however, it is a town that can be visited in a day, depending on the degree of detail you’re looking for. To continue your trip it is possible to walk towards the East to see the beautiful beaches and the city of Santander, or walk in the opposite direction to see the modernist villa of quotes and the near Oyambre Natural Park. If you would also like the current different options of cuisine and the best accommodations, please visit our page for Sleeping and Eating in Santillana del Mar.

Do you want to visit this place?

Nearby to Santillana is the Cave of Altamira, in whose walls an extraordinary set of paintings of the Paleolithic Superior is located. These paintings show that Santillana del Mar is located in an area that has been populated for more than fifteen thousand years.

Many historians identify Santillana del Mar as the old Cantabrian town of Concana, while other historians place it in Liébana. What does seem certain is that a Roman road passed by this villa passed that linked the coastal ports of Portus Verasueca (San Vicente of the Barquera), Portus Blendium (Suances), Portus Victoriae (Santander) and Portus Amanum, and later, Flaviobriga (Castro Urdiales).

During the Muslim invasion the town was called Planes, and in it were deposited the relics of Santa Juliana, a Christian martyr of principles from the fourth century. To accommodate these relics in the ninth century IX an Abbey was built, which was directly loyal to the Asturian Crown. During the time it took to create this monastery, the name of Planes came to be forgotten, and was replaced by the name of this Saint, which would develop with the time into the name Santillana.

The Asturian monarchs and the Castilian counts continued protecting the monastery, until it transformed into the Collegiate Church. In addition, with the granting of a Charter by King Alfonso VIII of Castile, the village became a “de abadengo”, or a dependent of the same Abbot.

In the 15th century, the great poet and intrepid feudal Knight Don Iñigo López of Mendoza was named Marquis of Santillana by the Castilian monarch Juan II, receiving with this title jurisdiction of the village. His descendants, the Dukes of the Infantado, kept this privilege until the Suppression of the manors in 1837, despite the fact that since the end of the 16th century the nine valleys controlled by the Casa de Infantado were reversed by the crown to mean that the villa of Santillana del Mar was in it’s own municipality.

Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana

The decline of Santillana del Mar manifested in a shortage of important buildings for the last decades of the 16th and the 17th centuries. Santillana del Mar returned to splendor at the end of the 17th century, and more than ever during the 18th century with the return of the “Indians”—those emigrants who went to America and brought a capital with which they built magnificent mansions.

At the same time the writers Amos de Escalante and Benito Perez Galdos, as well as outstanding members of the bourgeoisie of Madrid, restored some of the houses and became vacationers in the town. This incipient tourism increased further with the discovery of the Caves of Altamira and the cave paintings in 1879. In the 20th century, the town was mentioned in Nausea (1938) a novel by the French philosopher and writer Jean Paul Sartre, who spoke of it as “a true relic in life of man”.

The early appointment of Santillana del Mar as a Historic-Artistic Site in 1889, and the restorations undertaken by Count Güell (grandson of Antonio Lopez, the first Marquis of Comillas) in 1927 led to the streets of Santillana del Mar being preserved so well that they are virtually unchanged, maintaining their 16th century atmosphere.

The old town follows a linear scheme, in the Greek form, composed of Velasco Street which continues towards Santo Domingo, from where there are two streets: one that goes to the Collegiate Church and the other which leads to the main square, the market, or Ramón Pelayo, where the weekly Saturday market is held.

We start our tour in the Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana, a Romanesque design of the 12th century with later additions, which has been declared a national monument. The temple, of basilical design and with three naves, is crowned by semicircular apses, and follows the Romanesque model of the Camino de Santiago. The primitive Romanesque façade, at the foot of the temple, shows a series of reliefs preserved in the interior of the Church (Pantocrator, Saint Juliana…)  due to the construction of the Bell Tower to the West in the 13th century, a gate was replaced on the South side. In the middle of the 15th century the remains of Santa Juliana were moved to the front and in the first half of the 16th century the altarpiece of the altar greater was built. An important gold treasure is kept in the sacristy. The magnificent cloister (13th century), the only one of Romanesque style in Cantabria that is still intact, is esteemed by the great decorative variety and wealth of the capitals. Some of these capitals have representations of scenes from the Old and New Testament and others relating to the life of the time, as “The Welcome of the Lady to the Knight”.

The Museum of Jesús Otero is located in the Plaza de la Colegiata, which is a permanent exhibition on the sculptor from Santillana del Mar. Opposite from it you can find the House of the Archduchess of Austria, or House of the Abbots (17th century), whose beautiful patio has been converted into an antiques shop. In the nearby Plaza de las Arenas is the Palace of the Velarde (between the 15th and 17th centuries), a building from the Gothic to Renaissance transition.

Although there are many mansions that deserve mention, we’re pointing out some key examples in Santillana del Mar. Next to the uniquely conserved trough for cows, you can find the House of Cossio and the House Quevedo, both from end of the 17th century. In the latter it is traditional to drink a glass of milk and cake with the people of town.

Following the calle del Río (previously Rúa del Rey) you will find the Casa de los Villa, of Baroque style, also known as “Casa de los Hombrones” due to the imposing warriors that stand guard on the shield, in which states: “a good death is a work of life.” Another significant building is the Casa de Leonor de la Vega (between the 15th and the 17th centuries), according to the tradition, it housed the mother of the first Marquis of Santillana.

The concentration of the civil architecture can be found in the main square. The Torre de Don Borja, attached to other buildings and property of the Santillana Foundation is managed by the municipality of Santillana as the scene of festivals and cultural events. The Torre del Merino, from the 14th century, was the residence of the merino (the house and symbol of Lordly power that eventually imposed the ecclesiastical power, the Abbot, and an was later appointed by the Duke of the Infantado). Built with stonework from blocks in the bow point of access, retains all its defensive elements: arrow slits, machicolations and embrasures battlements. On the other side of the square is the House of the Eagle (17th century) and the House of the Parra (16th century), converted together into the cultural center. In front of them is the Palacio de Los Barreda, now Parador Nacional Gil Blas.


Practical data


43° 23′ 36″ N, 4° 6′ 17″ W


Santander 30 km, Comillas 16 km, Madrid 439 km


82 m


4215 (2013)

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