C A N T A B R I A   U N I V E R S I T Y
Besaya Basin
Saja y Nansa Valleys
    Cistercian monastery of Viaceli
  This area, known as the Merindad (Jurisdictional District) de las Asturias de Santillana, is in the western half of Cantabria. Its existence is documented as of the 13th century. It stretched from the mouth of the Deva on the Asturian border to the mouth of the Miera, where the Merindad of Trasmiera begins. Its border reached the mountain range of the Cordillera Cantábrica to the South. The area is made up of several valleys that run perpendicular to the coast; for the purpose of this itinerary we have designated three distinct parts.

Coastal Route.

First there is the coastal route, with extremely interesting places such as Santillana del mar, Comillas and San Vicente de la Barquera.

The town of Santillana del Mar (see Santillana del Mar: Town of Nobility and Monasticism) has a very rich artistic heritage from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. The origin of this town was a small hermitage where a handful of monks enshrined the relics of Santa Juliana in the 8th century. Soon this small hermitage became a monastery supported by the nobility and the Crown, as shown by documents dating from the 9th century. The Romanesque collegiate church that still stands today was built on the site of this monastery in the mid-12th century. Its chapel houses an altarpiece of the early 16th century, whose sculptural and pictorial features are extremely interesting. The cloister is particularly outstanding, with its varied collection of capitals. Also medieval is the lay architecture constellated around the main square, like the towers of Don Borja and of Merino, and the nearby tower of Velarde and the house of Doña Leonor de la Vega. In the early 17th century the Dominican monastery of Regina Coeli and Dominican convent of San Ildefonso were built. But the most fruitful period in terms of lay architecture was that began in the two latter decades of the 17th century and continued throughout the 18th century. The palaces and casonas that can be seen all throughout the town belong to this period. All these buildings became feasible through the wealth brought back from the American colonies by indianos (colonial settlers) returning to their homeland.

Near Santillana, and on the way to Comillas,is the town of Cóbreces, where there is an important group of neo-Gothic buildings put up at the turn of the century. This group is the Cistercian monastery of Viaceli -whose church is one of the earliest concrete structures in Spain- and the parish church. In the upper reach of Cóbreces there is an 18th-century casona, "El Castro", that is perfectly preserved and features a chapel as an extension. Near Cóbreces, heading inland, is the village of Novales, where there is an important 16th-century church: a valuable example of a columnar church. Very near Novales is Cigüenza; its church, reminiscent of Spanish colonial buildings of its same period, is one of the best examples of Cantabrian Baroque. The next town along the route is Comillas, a fishing village that contains an important set of Modernist architecture thanks to the patronage of the Marquises of Comillas (see Comillas: Town of the Picturesque and the Modern). The palace of Sobrellano, with its chapel-pantheon, the Pontificial University College and Gaudí's Capricho folly are splendid proof of this. Once through the natural park of Oyambre one reaches San Vicente de la Barquera, an essentially maritime town; an interesting place to visit here is the Puebla Alta (High Town), a longitudinal urban strand that is the oldest quarter of the town, and which later spread outside the original town walls to the neighbourhoods of La Mar and Tenerías. Sections of the medieval town walls, with double-leaved gates, still remain, as does the castle; the evidence suggests that a castle stood on this site from very far back, though what remains now is 14th-century. Before reaching the church one finds the Town Hall, formerly the Hospital of the Corro family, which has a notable Renaissance façade. At the far end of the old quarter is the church of Santa María de los Ángeles, whose construction began in the early 13th century in a Burgundian Gothic style. Inside, the remarkable feature is the Corro family chapel, with two sepulchres -one of which is Gothic, the other Renaissance. In the lower reach of the town is the bridge of Maza, a large Renaissance structure. As for popular architecture, the porticoed fishermen's houses of San Vicente are highly interesting.

Portada meridional de la Colegiata de Santa Juliana
Church of Santa María de los Ángeles
(San Vicente de la Barquera)
High Altarpiece of the Collegiate de Santa Juliana
Convent of Regina Coeli Dominican
Merino's Tower
Cloister of the Collegiate Church of Santa Juliana
El capricho de Gaudí (Villa Quijano)
Palace of Sobrellano
Hospital of the Corro family, present-day Town Hall.
(S. Vicente de la Barquera)
  A R T I S T I C   R O U T E S