Architecture of Cantabria

The architecture of Cantabria has evolved from a medieval period in which ingenuity prevailed in civil works without excessive pretensions against the exaltation of artistic individuality; undergoing a modern age in which emerged remarkable sagas of stonemasons mountaineers and architects of the late Gothic, Plateresque and Renaissance; until a contemporary era in which it has evolved from an architectural regionalism to the most diverse international modern influences.

As far as traditional mountain folk architecture is concerned, even with differentiating local varieties, this has conserved until today a significant constructive stock, based on a way of understanding architecture, of applying the materials, of symbiosis with the Cantabrian environment and climate and to be at the service of ancestral customs and practices. Within this vernacular architecture stands out as more traditional and typical of Cantabria the rural house in its different variants. This goes from the humble shepherd huts, winters and chuzones, to the hidalgas mountainous houses and noble palaces, passing by the well-known traditional mountain house or the modest cabins pasiegas.

It must be borne in mind that in traditional architecture the defining line between two types of buildings is often diffuse and difficult to establish because, for example, the same type of house, but of different sizes, may correspond to different economic levels, such as it is the case between the houses and mansions or the house and the palace.

Military architecture
Cantabria, like other autonomies in northern Spain, preserves the remains of several military settlements, especially the second Iron Age, many of which are yet to be discovered. Among these castros, inhabited even during the Roman domination, stand out those of the Espina del Gallego and Castilnegro, both surrounded by triple circles of walls.

Cantabria also has a good number of menhirs in the interior of the region, as well as other prehistoric cultural events.

Roman architecture
After the Cantabrian wars the Romans occupied Cantabria, although they did not romanize it at all, and created in its territory nine cities, some of which are still undiscovered and several in what are now other autonomies. Within the current Cantabria stand out the main city, Julióbriga, and Flaviobriga (Castro Urdiales), which then did not belong to Cantabria.

The pre-Romanesque architecture
In Europe, pre-Romanesque art developed from the 8th century to the 10th century during the High Middle Ages. This architectural current will be a precursor of the forms that the subsequent Romanesque art will develop from the eleventh century.

In Cantabria, existing pre-Romanesque art would be inserted within the third stage of the Hispanic pre-Romanesque period, called the repopulation period, 2 and whose chronology belongs to the ninth and tenth centuries.

The architectural remains of this dark period that abound in the region and more known are the so-called rock churches. These hypogeal emergencies were excavated in a soft rock that allowed easy manual excavation with only simple tools, such as picks, shovels and similar equipment. They are usually temples of a single nave, with a triumphal arch, sometimes a horseshoe, and a vaulted apse. Tombs also excavated in the rock and edicles usually complete these hermitic assemblages.

Geographically they extend mainly through the valley of Valderredible, surpassing the limits of the region towards the north of Burgos, near Aguilar de Campoo. An exception to this spatial distribution is found in the rock chapel of San Juan de Socueva, located in Arredondo, in the Ruesga Valley.

But perhaps the most remarkable testimony of the pre-Romanesque Cantabrian architecture framed within the art of repopulation is the church of Santa María de Lebeña. A temple located in the narrow pass of La Hermida, in the region of Liébana, founded in 924. Next to him another one of the maximum exponents is the hermitage of San Román de Moroso, in Bostronizo.

The Romanesque architecture
The tenth century began an economic awakening in medieval Europe, which gives rise to the first international art: the Romanesque. The success of this trend came largely from the expansion of the hand of the Cluniac order and the pilgrimages that spread its peculiarities.

In contrast to other later artistic trends much more “urban”, the Romanesque art in general, and its architecture in particular, was developed primarily in the rural world, having its most important manifestation in monastic buildings. At this time the monasteries had a multifunctional function, were religious, cultural and agricultural productivity centers, all within the feudal context of the moment.

Its characteristics in the architecture were the use of the semicircular arch and the barrel and ridge vaults. Likewise, large and heavy walls were required, with only spans, that could support the weight of these vaults, all reinforced with thick buttresses on the outside. Associated with the architecture and finishing off the building, there were examples of sculptures of rough and popular carvings in cloisters, portals, capitals and corbels.

Due to the reasons for influence in matters of politics and economy of Castile, stylistically speaking the Romanesque mountain was related to that of Burgos and Palencia, although that did not reach the quality of these except in isolated cases. Its Cantabrian chronology covers the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but in the most remote territories, far from the places of passage, it would still extend until the fourteenth century.

The geographical distribution of the Romanesque architecture in Cantabria is lax and diverse, being able to group in areas by aesthetic similarity, such as the Romanesque of the valleys of Campo and Valderredible, the one of the basin of the Besaya, the one of Liébana or that of the coast. Among the most representative buildings are the Collegiate Church of Santillana, Castañeda, Cervatos and Elines, the churches of Piascas, Bareyo, Silió and Yermo.

Gothic architecture
At the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th, the Gothic appears in Cantabria and it will be developed until the 16th century. This became the bourgeois and urban art par excellence, so it is not surprising that its appearance in mountainous lands was fostered by the development of the four coastal towns: San Vicente de la Barquera, Santander, Laredo and Castro-Urdiales. The importance of these came from its economic and commercial boom, the privileges granted by King Alfonso VIII of Castile and its international strength through the Brotherhood of the Marshes, which allowed to afford the great gothic architecture, ambitious and expensive.

Technical innovations such as the pointed arch, the ribbed vault or the flying buttresses allowed the Gothic to create tall, slender and luminous buildings without the walls to support and the thrusts of the vaults, which allowed to open large windows. Thus, they emphasize the Cathedral of Santander, the church of the Asunción de Laredo, the church of Santa María of the Port of Santoña, the one of Santa Maria of the Asunción de Castro-Urdiales and the monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana, that had to replace another preexisting of the twelfth century.

However, the adoption of this new artistic and architectural trend was hampered by the importance of the Romanesque tradition that, as in so many areas of Spain, occurred in Cantabria. Unlike other big cities, where a powerful bourgeoisie is emerging, able to cover part of the costly Gothic works, the Cantabrian villas are not going to be so strong, especially when in Cantabria the monasteries still conserve great importance.

But if something stands out in this period of regional architecture are the medieval defensive towers, the strong mountain houses and other popular urban architecture. Such are the tower of San Vicente de la Barquera, the tower Infantado of Potes, that of Manrique in Cartes or the Merino in Santillana del Mar.

The architecture of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries
After the Middle Ages, the sixteenth century began with a Gothic heritage in Cantabria that is difficult to erase. Elements such as the ribbed vault weighed in a deep-rooted mountain architectural tradition, being difficult to move except on rare occasions. An anachronistic religious Gothic extended to the rural world, which will not be abandoned until practically the 20th century. The great stonemasons and Cantabrian architects did not leave in their land the know-how that led to the rest of the regions of Spain, predominating here the archaism and the sobriety, but with an emphasis on the balance, the proportion, the good use and the use of the materials. The sparse decoration was only broken by the funerary sculpture.

The exterior of religious buildings is simplified. The plants are of Latin cross, of a single ship, accused cruise and rectilinear head. The elevation of the nave is very simple and the vault Gothic becomes in many cases starry. The medieval bulrush of simple decoration survives with more embrasures than bells. In the case of the towers, they are quadrangular in height. The decoration is reduced to the doorways, initially in Gothic style to later adopt Renaissance traces: semicircular arch with voussoirs decorated as a coffered ceiling,pinteres and plateresque columns, Renaissance emblems and grotesques, etc.

Within the civil architecture in the sixteenth century, and following as a point of evolution the strong houses and towers of the Medievo, it was consolidated a type of building so typical and genuine in Cantabria as is the mountain manor house. Its elements that distinguish them unmistakably are its large portal, corrala, flagship tower and main body with well carved chairs and blazon, as well as chapel at times.

During the Baroque, XVII and XVIII centuries, the general appearance was similar, varying only the decoration of the portals and certain areas of the interior of the churches, such as chapels, sacristies, etc., where semi-spherical vaults were decorated with strips moldings, capulines of illumination and in elevation, recessed pilasters.

Within the baroque architecture of the seventeenth century include the church of the Annunciation (or the Company), in Santander; the parishes of Guriezo and Liendo; the facade of the church of Ampuero and the church of Miera. From the 18th century they are the church of San Martín de Tours de Cigüenza, in Alfoz de Lloredo; the Chapel of the Lignum Crucis, in Santo Toribio de Liébana; the chapel of the palace of Elsedo, in Pámanes; the church of Rucandio, in Riotuerto; and to a lesser extent the church of San Sebastiánof Reinosa. Only in the funerary sculpture was a decoration in keeping with the times.

From this period are great Cantabrian architects who were a national reference as Bartolomé de Bustamante, Juan Ribero de Rada, Juan Gil de Hontañón, Diego de Praves, his son Francisco de Praves, Juan de Nates or Juan de Herrera himself.

The architecture of the 19th century
In the nineteenth century Santander was already a cosmopolitan city, thanks to the strength of its port and its merchant traffic with America. Since the previous century, the growth of the Cantabrian capital was constant and so its urban expansion needed to recover land to the sea to the east, an area on which an exemplary widening of the population was projected.

This optimism of industrial and commercial development, as well as the strong demographic increase, was reflected in one of the earliest signs of interest in metallic architecture applied to the construction of large and modern public buildings. In this sense it is worth mentioning the figure of Antonio Zabaleta and his architecture focused on new materials and the search and application of a style in keeping with the times. After his initial work at the Casa de los Arcos de Botín (1838 – 1840), in 1839 the Santander City Council commissioned him to write the ambitious Municipal Plan for Markets, which would run until 1842. Of the three built in a row –theMercado del Este, the Atarazanas Market and Pescadería – only the first has been preserved, built between 1840 and 1841. This market was a milestone in its time due to the introduction in Spain of the concept of the commercial gallery. In it was also applied a wooden deck with ferrovítrea armor, one of the first experiences carried out in Spain with glass.

After the catastrophe suffered in the city by the explosion of the steam Cabo Machichaco in 1893, the city council of Santander approved an Extraordinary Plan of Municipal Works, among which the construction of the palace-town hall, designed by Julio María Martínez Zapata in 1897, stood out, and the iron Market of the Hope, devised by the architects Eduardo Reynals and Toledo and Juan Moya and Idígoras and inaugurated in 1904. Inserted in this period is also the Volunteer Firemen Park of Numancia Square, inaugurated in 1905 and designedValentín Ramón Lavín Casalís.

The century is not alien to the prevailing historicist currents throughout the century, building works such as the church of San Jorge in Las Fraguas, in imitation of a Roman temple. They anticipate at the end of the century the foreign influences that will give rise to the eclecticism of the first two decades of the next.

During the last decades of the nineteenth century, the so-called Village of the Archbishops, Comillas, a population of humble past, seafaring and fishery, will become one of the richest Spanish towns in fashion architecture with buildings of historicist, eclectic and modernist trends.. Antonio López y López and his son Claudio López Bru, marquises of Comillas, would promote the construction of various monumental buildings such as Capricho de Gaudí (1883), the work of the brilliant Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí; the palace of Sobrellano (1890), by Joan Martorell; and the Universidad Pontificia Comillas (1892), by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.

The twentieth century
Throughout the 20th century, Cantabria experienced a strong development of architecture. The region did not remain alien to the confrontation that contemporary architecture lives between artistic ideals and social reality.

The need to respond to hygienic concerns, the search for comfort or demographic growth marks the evolution of architecture, which will try to present ever more valid solutions. On the other hand, the internationalization of architectural culture means that Cantabria ceases to be a secondary nucleus in the national panorama, keeping in touch with the latest trends.

The century begins with the construction in 1900 of the Mercantile Bank, the work of Casimiro Pérez de la Riva, which gives continuity to the scenographic excesses of 19th century administrative buildings. In 1907 the Modesto Tapia Building, headquarters of the then Monte de Piedad, current headquarters of the social work of the Caja Cantabria, was completed. Details of the work of Joaquín Rucoba and Casimiro Pérez de la Riva already foreshadowed the regionalist mountain architecture that will leave its constructive imprint in Cantabria for almost half a century.

In 1909 the construction of the palace of the Magdalena began, destined to lodge to the Spanish real family and finalized two years later. Work of the young architects Javier González Riancho and Gonzalo Bringas Vega, in it is reflected an eclecticism of Central European and Anglo-Saxon influences. This building has become the most internationally recognized image of the city of Santander.

In 1913 the Gran Casino de Santander was projected by Eloy Martínez del Valle, associated with the summer leisure of the El Sardinero spa resort.

Architects such as Valentín Casalís or Javier González Riancho himself began the 20th century by joining the search for a Spanish national architecture. At the beginning of the 20th century Leonardo Rucabado will popularize the mountain regionalist architecture, the mountain style, determined by the historicist evocation of the mountain architecture of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 4 Rucabado carried out in Santander outstanding works, such as the Menéndez Pelayo Library and Museum, the Casuca, the Solaruco or the Palace Project for a nobleman in the Mountain. In his Hotel Real, of 1916 and in reinforced concrete, details of the great European hotels are fused with the decoration typical of the mountain regionalism. This trend will be followed later by different national and regional architects with works such as the Correos de Santander building, designed by Secundino Zuazo and Eugenio Fernández Quintanilla.

From 1925 the classical and regionalist tradition began to be rejected, accepting an entire amalgam of derivatives, both of an architectural conception based on reason (rationalism, constructivism and neopositivism), and of more utopian currents (futurism and expressionism). The best modern architecture in Cantabria in this period would emerge from the combination of both trends. Thus, José Enrique Marrero would build the Siboney building in Santander, Gonzalo Bringas would build the Royal Maritime Club andEugenio Fernández Quintanilla does the same with the María Lisarda theater, current Hotel Coliseum.

After the Civil War the architecture is impregnated with a certain traditionalism, fostering a preference for materials, techniques and national themes. The reconstruction of Santander after the fire of 1941 made it possible to put this trend into practice in the region. Thus, an organicist, grandiloquent urbanism was pursued, with attempts at monumentalization reflected in performances such as the streets of Isabel II and Loyalty or those of the railway stations building and Plaza Porticada. However, some architects like Luis Moya Blanco, from the tradition, looked for more modern solutions for their works, as shown by the church of the Virgin Grande, inTorrelavega.

Little by little, there is an architectural renovation that comes, sometimes due to the influence of critical regionalism (Casa Olano in La Rabia, Comillas), others by the hand of organicist solutions or the definition of a new specialty, with the use of new materials, such as concrete or glass. From the seventies on, the architecture carried out in Cantabria is integrated into the international panorama, characterized to the present by a total diversity.

The new architecture
In the last decades, Spain has become an international center of innovation and excellence in constructive design and, as such, Cantabria is no stranger to this trend. The “new architecture” is reflected in the region through buildings and projects that seek modernization through internationally renowned architects, such as the Casa de la Lluvia or the Altamira Museum, by Juan Navarro Baldeweg; the Botín Art Center, by Renzo Piano; the new soccer field of El Malecón in Torrelavega, by MMIT Arquitectos; or the proposals for the management of the maritime front and the pending railway integration of Santander. In the case of the Cantabrian capital, these projects are aimed at incorporating the city into the predominant urban development current currently.

Source from Wikipedia