Basque Fact of the Week: Artxanda, a Green Oasis in Bilbo

Sometimes, you just miss the most obvious things. I’ve been to Bilbo several times, but I never thought to take the funicular up to Artxanda. But, that’s the beauty of traveling with others, they make you think about things differently, explore new avenues, push you beyond the familiar. The funicular itself is iconic, though in the height of summer it was crammed full of sweaty people. Still, we took it up and took in the sites that Artxanda, a beautiful green space overlooking downtown Bilbo, offers. Well worth the cramped quarters!

The view of central Bilbo, including the Guggenheim, from Artxanda. Photo by Blas Uberuaga.
  • Artxanda is one of two mountain ranges that surround and define the city limits of Bilbo, the other being Pagasarri. Artxanda is closer to the center of the city and, as a consequence, has seen a lot more development. The first houses were sold and constructed around 1668, when the name of this particular summit was Sondicabaso.
  • The Artxanda funicular connects the center of Bilbo with the Mount, specifically the Mirador de Artxanda. Artxanda had already become a popular destination for the residents of Bilbo and, in the early 1900s, it was proposed that the two become connected by a funicular. Approval was granted in 1915 to build the funicular, but with a few conditions, amongst them that inebriated passengers or passengers carrying smelly packages not be allowed to ride. Another condition was that a side path be built for emergencies. The cost was about 3,000 euros. The first trip was taken on October 7, 1915, by then mayor of Bilbo Benito Marco Gardoqui.
  • There are a number of sites at the top of the mountain. One of the first is a big metal gear that is from the original funicular. Another is a giant footprint that commemorates the soldiers that fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Nearby is the hermitage of San Roque with panoramic views of the surrounding valleys. San Roque is the destination of a pilgrimage every August 16. In older times, pilgrims would come to ask for protection for their crops against draught and storms. There is also the large red sign that repeats Bilbo/Bilbao with an amazing view of the city as a backdrop.
  • The mount is also lined with trenches from the Spanish Civil War. It served as part of the Iron Ring, a vast network of tunnels and trenches that were built to protect the city during the war. Today, archeologists are excavating these trenches and tunnels.
  • Artxanda is also famous for txakolin. The first txakolindegiak, the first places to serve txakolin at least commercially, were in Artxanda. One place in particular, El Txakoli, began as a small shelter for shepherds and mountaineers in 1897.

Primary sources: Artxandako Funikularra; Artxanda: el histórico vigía de Bilbo, Naiz; Auñamendi Entziklopedia. ARTXANDA. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/artxanda/ar-22626/

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 174

Kepa lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Maite had gotten up early to go for a jog along La Concha. She had invited Kepa to join her, but he wasn’t really a jogger. He needed a competitive element to get him motivated to exert himself. A game of basketball with friends, that was great. A partido of mano in the fronton, that was the kind of thing that got him going. Running for the sake of running? He never quite understood that.

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

He let his eyes sort of defocus as he stared at the ceiling, little floaters flittering across his vision. Sometimes he saw shapes in the fuzzy black blobs and lines that danced across his vision, but most of the time he simply tried to track them. When he shifted his eyes to look more directly at one, it always seemed to shift away, to the side of his vision, always fuzzy and grey.

“Just like these symbols,” he said to himself. “Always just a little out of focus, always just beyond my grasp.”

He flicked his eyes back and forth, driving the floaters across his field of vision, not ready to get out of bed and start his day. 

After a while, he got bored of chasing floaters. He held his hand in front of his face and forced his finger tip to glow. Staring at the bright light, he moved his finger, drawing in the air. When he closed his eyes, the after image remained, his drawing almost brought to life on the back of his eyelids. He wrote out Maite’s name and there it was, almost burned into his vision. He tried to draw a virtual picture of her face, but it turned out to be a distorted caricature. He blinked furious to try to erase the hideous image from his eyes.

He absent mindedly continued drawing random shapes in the air, burning them into his retina and watching them fade against the blackness of his closed eyelids. At some point, without really thinking about it, he drew a circle. Within the circle he drew a triangle. Next to one point of the triangle he drew another circle and, next to the other, he drew a crescent. 

“Amalur,” he mumbled to himself as he closed his eyes, focusing on the after image of the symbol that Ainhoa had tattooed on her shoulder, that filled Marina’s journal. “What does it mean?”

Instead of fading, the symbol grew brighter and brighter against the back of his eyelids, to the point that it was almost painful. He shoved his hands against his eyes trying to block the light, but it was coming from inside his eyes. He was about to scream when the light suddenly vanished. Rubbing his eyes, he opened them. Blinking, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust back to the ambient light. As they did, he found himself staring at the apparition of a woman.

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write blas@buber.net if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: Igeldo, the Mount and the Neighborhood

Perhaps the most iconic vista of La Concha and Donostia is from Mount Igeldo, the peak that rises to the west of the city. A small winding road leads from the city up the slope to an amusement park that hosts this most amazing view. You can also grab a funicular that will take you from the city to the top, something I still need to do.

The view of Donostia from Mount Igeldo. Photo by Blas Uberuaga.
  • Igeldo refers to both a barrio and the Mount that overlooks La Concha; they are distinct entities.
  • Rising about 255 meters (836 feet) above sea level to the west of the heart of Donostia, the barrio of Igeldo is officially part of Donostia with about 1000 people. Igeldo was included in the town charter of Donostia way back in 1180 by King Sancho IV the Wise of Nafarroa. While it has always been part of Donostia, it has some independence in terms of the management of the surrounding mountains and the local economy. It even has its own mayor and “city” council. In fact, Igeldo tried to obtain independence from Donostia – and briefly did – but in 2014 that movement was stopped by the courts.
  • At the top of the funicular that connects Mount Igeldo with the main city, upon the hill Mendiotz, lies an amusement park. Inaugurated in 1912 by Queen Maria Cristina, the park was designed to look like a military outpost. Originally, it also had a dancehall and casino, attracting a very different crowd than it does today, with its amusement rides and games targeting children. The park was built to take advantage of the growing tourism of the city as well as the funicular that connects the mount to the city. A group of local farmers bought the land and developed what would become the park.
  • The funicular itself is over 100 years old, constructed in 1902. It is the oldest funicular in the Basque Country.
  • Before the park, a lighthouse stood on the peak, constructed sometime in the sixteenth century. This lighthouse was powered entirely by burning wood. It was damaged during the Carlist Wars and had to be abandoned in 1854. A new lighthouse was built nearby to warn ships of the violent waters. The old one was renovated and today the Torreón, as it is called, has a majestic view of the coast.
  • There is also a meteorological observatory on the Mount, created by Juan Miguel Orcolaga y Legarra. In 1900, he alerted Basque authorities to an impending hurricane which he had predicted from his careful measurements and that led to the financing of his observatory a few years later. The station has been collecting data 24 hours a day since 1905, though records from before 1928 were lost. It is one of the oldest observatories manned 24 hours a day.

Primary sources: Arozamena Ayala, Ainhoa; Cendoya Echániz, Ignacio. IGELDO. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/igeldo/ar-73055/; Igueldo, Wikipedia; Mount Igeldo, Donostia/San Sebastian Tourismoa; Parque de Atracciones Monte Igueldo, Wikipedia; La Otra Cara de Igueldo, Diario Vasco

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 173

Sorry for the silence. I was on work travel and then I caught COVID just in time for the holiday. Feeling much better now and finally testing negative. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

“Well,” said Maite as she climbed back into the car, “that was a bust.”

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“What do you mean?” replied Kepa as he pulled the car out onto the road. “We learned that these symbols are related to ancient Basque beliefs.”

“So?” asked Maite exasperated. “How does that help us?”

Kepa shrugged sheepishly, feeling slightly reprimanded. “I’m not sure, not yet. But it’s more than we knew before.”

Maite nodded. “That’s true.” After a moment’s silence, she added “Sorry for snapping at you.”

Kepa let out a sigh of relief. “No worries. This is frustrating for both of us.”

“If the zatiak – the magic of these witches – is related to Basque mythology, what does that mean?” asked Maite rhetorically.

“That the Basque gods were real?” ventured Kepa.

Maite shook her head. “Not necessarily. I do admit that there are things beyond our understanding here, but I’m not ready to recognize the existence of prehistoric gods.”

“Does Garuna have any theories?” 

“I haven’t bothered to ask it, to be honest,” replied Maite. “But, it can’t hurt.”

Kepa watched as Maite laid her head back, having what he must imagine was one of the strangest internal dialogues any person has ever had. He just wished he was privy to it.

“So,” asked Maite in her thoughts. “What does this mean? This symbol of Amalur and her daughters?”

Garuna rumbled from the depths of her mind. “I find it somewhat insulting that you only want to talk when you need something.”

“Why else would I talk to you?”

“So I can learn more about your time and the world around us.”

“So you can take it over?”

There was a silence before Garuna finally responded. “I don’t know what the symbols mean. The ancient Basque gods are nothing more than myth. I have never seen any evidence that they are more than that.”

“What about the zatiak? Might they not be evidence?”

“They are evidence of something. But what, I cannot say. They are beyond my experience.”

“They were. But now they are an intimate part of your experience. They are why you are here.”

“That is true. But I have not had the ability to really analyze them. One sample does not make for a representative set.”

“I guess we’ll have to find more for you to analyze then.”

“That would be… desirable.”

Maite sighed. She feared what Garuna would do with the power of the zatiak or, worse, with her body holding that power.

She shook her head, as if waking from a deep sleep.

“He’s got nothing,” she said aloud as she turned to Kepa.

“Well,” he replied. “I guess we file this one away until we can learn more.”

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write blas@buber.net if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: La Vina and Burnt Basque Cheesecake

Our night in the Parte Vieja started off at a cocktail bar, Arraun, where everyone else (I’m a beer and kalimotxo drinker) had some of the fanciest drinks I’ve seen in quite a while. It was cool to find such a non-traditional spot in the heart of all of these pintxo bars. But, really, those pintxo bars were the main attraction and we hit several of them, with one highlight being La Viña where the now famous burnt Basque cheesecake was created. It is amazing that what is now a global phenomenon started off at this little spot in the Parte Vieja!

Lisa and I outside of La Vina. Our daughter is in the background, enjoying the cheesecake.
  • La Viña opened in the Parte Vieja of Donostia in 1959 as a pintxo bar. The first owners were Eladio Rivera, Carmen Jiménez, Antonio Rivera and Conchi Hernáez – Eladio and Carmen were husband and wife, as were Antonio and Conchi. Today, La Viña is run by Santiago “Santi” Rivera, Eladio and Carmen’s son, who joined the family business in 1987. He took over La Viña in 1997.
  • Santi created what would become known as burnt Basque cheesecake not long after he started in the family business, in the 1988. Through classes, he was familiar with some ingredients that were less common in the Basque Country. And he had free range of the kitchen on off days and would experiment. He went with a minimalist approach, partially because there simply wasn’t enough space in the bar’s kitchen to store so many ingredients. His classic cheesecake only contains 5 ingredients: cream cheese, eggs, cream, sugar, and flour.
  • His cheesecake doesn’t have a crust – just the burnt shell from cooking the cake at “too high” of a temperature. This was done in part because he didn’t want the distraction of a chewy/crunchy crust – he wanted the cake itself to be everything, to melt in your mouth.
  • It was in 1997 that, following the advice of another chef, he stopped storing the cheesecake in the fridge and left it out to sit on the counter, letting it keep its lighter texture.
  • La Viña has been serving Santi’s cheesecake for decades. But it is only in the last few years, with the influx of tourists, that burnt Basque cheesecake has become a world-wide phenomenon. In 2020, the New York Times named it the flavor of the year for 2021.
  • Santi and his team are currently building a bakery to make their cheesecake, but it won’t be shipped. Santi says the cheesecake is best eaten with 36 hours of being made. He isn’t willing to sacrifice the unique flavor and quality for greater profits.

Primary sources: La Vina’s webpage; The story behind Basque burnt cheesecake, National Geographic; The True Story Behind Burnt Basque Cheesecake—and the Pintxo Bar That Created It, Condé Nast Traveler

Fighting Basques: Honoring our Basque World War II Veterans Who Fell in the Pacific

On the 5th of December, a small ceremony will take place on the Japanese island of Okinawa in which tribute will be paid to all American veterans of Basque origin who died during World War II (WWII) in the Pacific, with special recognition for those who perished on the island. They were over twenty young Basque-Americans, six of them killed in Okinawa. Their identification and now visibility and public recognition are the result of the research project Fighting Basques: Memory of WWII, led by the homeland history association Sancho de Beurko since 2015. To date, more than 1,600 combatants of Basque origin have been identified in the United States Armed Forces, of which 1,100 biographies of both the veterans and their emigrant families have been completed.

This event is the result of a collaboration between the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and the Sancho de Beurko Association, under the auspices of the North American Basque Organizations (NABO).

The Battle of Okinawa (March 26-June 22, 1945) was the last major battle of the last world conflict, in which more than 12,500 American soldiers fell, including five Basques, and more than 36,000 were wounded, many of whom died after the battle. On the Japanese side, more than 77,000 soldiers and more than 100,000 Okinawan civilians died. A sixth Basque died on the island as a result of a tragic accident at the end of the war. This will be the first tribute on Japanese soil to our Basque WWII veterans.

Joseph Uriola poses for the camera in a relaxed manner in his barracks.

Among them is Sergeant Joseph Uriola Alcorta, born in Boise, Idaho, on May 22, 1919, to immigrant parents from Bizkaia, Juan Urriolabeitia, a native of Markina, and María Dolores Alcorta, born in Ondarroa. Joseph enlisted in the US Army a few months before the United States entered the war. As a member of the 184th Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division he participated in the Aleutian Islands Campaign and in the battles of Kwajalein and Leyte. Joseph was killed in combat on April 7, 1945, in Okinawa, at the age of 25. He received the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, posthumously, for saving the life of a wounded comrade in the Philippines.

Dr. Pedro. J. Oiarzabal, co-principal investigator of “Figthing Basques,” will travel to Okinawa to participate in the event. He will also take the opportunity to see WWII memorials first-hand, as NABO will soon launch a fundraising campaign with the goal of establishing the first national WWII memorial to publicly recognize the selfless service of Basque and Basque-American veterans.

Basque Fact of the Week: The Heart of Donostia, La Parte Vieja

After La Perla and our brief hike up Mount Urgull, we were ready for a night out, celebrating our trip and one of our party’s birthday. And what better place to celebrate than the Parte Vieja of Donostia? When I lived in Donostia, my friends and I spent quite a few nights wandering the bars, enjoying some drinks, and meeting some strange characters. Now was my chance to show the special charm, the unique marcha that only a night out in Donostia’s Parte Vieja can provide. It was a great night of family, friends, food, and fun!

I’ve always been told you can judge a bar by the number of hams hanging from the ceiling – this one looked pretty good. Photo by Blas Uberuaga.
  • The Parte Vieja, or Parte or Alde Zaharra in Euskara, sits in the historic center of the city at the foot of Mount Urgull and is bounded to the east by the Urumea River. It was the urban center of the city, defined by the walls surrounding it, until about 1863. In fact, the whole of the Parte Vieja’s layout is relatively new, particularly considering that Donostia was founded in the 12th century. In 1813, the combined forces of Britain and Portugal, during their efforts to end the French occupation of the city, burned the old town to the ground. In addition to the two main churches and the San Telmo Convent, only a few buildings on a street now called August 31 Street (Abuztuaren 31 kalea), since the city was burned on that date, were unharmed.
  • The walls that once surrounded the center were for the most part taken down in 1863, as the city was declared to no longer be a military fortress, allowing the city to expand. At the time, Donostia had about 15,000 inhabitants, 10,000 of which lived within those walls.
  • The cornerstones of the Parte Vieja, which survived that 1813 fire, are the Santa María and San Vicente churches. San Vicente (San Bizente in Euskara), of gothic style, is the older – construction began in 1507. Santa Maria, a basilica, was constructed in 1738 with the support of the Royal Company of Caracas. However, the center of the Parte Vieja is Plaza de la Constitución. This is where the Tamborrada begins. Consti, as the locals call it, was originally a bullring, and you can still see the boxes where people would watch the bull fights from.
  • The Parte Vieja, and by extension Donostia itself, is perhaps best known for its vibrant gastronomic scene, typified by the bars full of pintxos. Pintxos started in Donostia. The first was the Gilda, created when a bar owner stuck an anchovy, an olive and a chilli pepper with a toothpick. Donostia has the second most Michelin stars per capita in the world (only behind Kyoto, Japan) and several are in the Parte Vieja.

Primary Source: Parte Zaharra, Wikipedia

Basque Fact of the Week: Mount Urgull

Rising out of the heart of the oldest parts of Donostia, Mount Urgull commands an amazing view of the city. Lisa and I had gone up part of it before, but we’d never made it to the top where the Castle lies. We did this time. It is a wonderful escape from the bustle of the city, and there were more than a few young people hiking up to pass the afternoon before hitting the bars of the Parte Vieja. At the top, the views from the Castle were spectacular!

A view of La Concha from Mount Urgull. Photo by Blas Uberuaga.
  • Mount Urgull rises some 123 meters (about 400 feet) above the city center of Donostia. In fact, at one time, there was only a small spit of sand connecting the mount to the coast, but over time that area was built up to form the Parte Vieja of Donostia. Even before it became a peninsula, it was an island and, over time, sediment built up from the river Urumea, connecting it to the mainland.
  • On top of the mount lies the Castle of Santa Cruz de la Mota, which dates back to the 12th century. It was built by Nafarroan king Sancho the Strong in 1194. In the 16th century, the structure was fortified to help in the defense of the city. The castle was the scene of much military activity. In particular, it played a role in the Siege of San Sebastían, part of the Peninsular War during which, after multiple attempts, the British took the city from the occupying French forces – Urgull was the last bastion of French forces during the siege. It also played an important role in battles during the Carlists Wars.
  • In 1921, the city acquired the mountain from the Ministry of the Army and converted it into a public park.
  • The statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a relatively new addition, built in 1950. The associated chapel was built in 1955.
  • There are a number of additional sites to see in addition to the castle, including several batteries of canons – some built over the years by the French, the English cemetery, and the Historical Military Museum. The cemetery, dedicated in 1924, honors the British that died in the Siege of 1813. However, perhaps most impressive is the view of the city and La Concha beach.
  • The name Urgull is of Gascon origin, meaning pride. Its Gascon origins attest to the large Gascon population of the city at the time of the founding of the city in 1180.
  • Because of the mountain’s isolation, a unique lizard, a version of the Iberian wall lizard (Podarcis liolepis sebastiani), has evolved there.

Primary sources: Arozamena Ayala, Ainhoa. Monte Urgull. Auñamendi Encyclopedia. Available at: https://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/en/monte-urgull/ar-130925/; Urgull, Wikipedia; Monte Urgull, Wikipedia; Monte Urgull, donostiasansebastian.com; Urgull, Wikipedia

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa: Part 172

“Kaixo!” said Ainhoa as she walked into the bar and sat down next to them. 

“Zer nahi duzu?” asked Kepa as he waived over the waiter. “What would you like?”

The Adventures of Maite and Kepa is a weekly serial. While it is a work of fiction, it has elements from both my own experiences and stories I’ve heard from various people. The characters, while in some cases inspired by real people, aren’t directly modeled on anyone in particular. I expect there will be inconsistencies and factual errors. I don’t know where it is going, and I’ll probably forget where it’s been. Why am I doing this? To give me an excuse and a deadline for some creative writing and because I thought people might enjoy it. Gozatu!

“Mil esker!” replied Ainhoa. She looked up at the waiter. “Cortado, mesedez.”

The waiter nodded as he disappeared.

Ainhoa turned back to Kepa and Maite, who was already nursing her coffee. “So,” she began, “I admit, when we met, I didn’t think you’d keep reaching out like this. It’s a bit…” she paused a moment while searching for the right word “…unusual. I don’t usually get this kind of attention.”

Maite nodded. “We’re sorry to be bothering you so much, but the truth is, you are just so interesting. I can’t get enough chatting with you.”

Ainhoa looked at Maite a bit warily. “See?” she said. “Strange…”

“Ok,” said Kepa, trying to alleviate the tension that was quickly growing at their small table. He pulled out the journal they had found in Marina’s destroyed baserri. He put it on the table and pushed it over toward Ainhoa. Maite gave glared at him as he did so, but he shrugged as Ainhoa picked up the book.

“Zer da?” she asked as she opened the cover. “What is this?”

“To be honest, we don’t know. I found it at an antique book store and thought it was pretty cool. Some of the designs in there are just pretty awesome and I thought I could use them for some graphic design work I hope to do. But then I remembered…” He pointed at Ainhoa’s bare shoulder, where there was a tattoo of a triangle inscribed within a circle. Next to the point of the triangle was another circle, on the left, and a crescent on the right. “That tattoo you have, it’s one of the symbols that is pretty common in this book. I hoped you might know what it means.”

Ainhoa absentmindedly rubbed her shoulder as she thumbed through the book until she saw the same symbol. “Huh” is all she said as she stared at the book and the other strange symbols that filled the page. 

“I’ll be honest,” she began, “I don’t know what it means. It came to me in a dream one night. I don’t even remember the dream, but I remembered the symbol. It spoke to me, you know? I could sense a power within it.” She shrugged. “So, I thought it would make a great tattoo.”

“It is pretty cool,” admitted Kepa. “Do you know anything else about it?”

AInhoa was silent as she sipped on her coffee. “Well,” she said, “I only have some vague images from the dream, nothing coherent. Just images of three woman. One was older than the other two, who looked like twins, except one was very bright and the other was obscured in shadows. However, all three smiled at me. I could feel an immense power coming from all three of them. They then somehow morphed into this symbol -” she pointed at the open page of the journal “- and then the dream ended.”

“Three women, one older, and two sisters?” repeated Maite. “Reminds me of the legend of Amalur.” 

“Of course!” exclaimed Ainhoa. “How could I not have seen that? That’s exactly what it is. Amalur and her daughters Ilargi and Eguzki.”

“If this symbol represents Amalur and her daughters,” pondered Kepa as he tapped the drawing in the journal, “what do the rest of these symbols mean?”

Ainhoa shrugged. “Sorry, but I have no idea. They don’t mean anything to me.”

If you get this post via email, the return-to address goes no where, so please write blas@buber.net if you want to get in touch with me.

Basque Fact of the Week: La Perla Spa of Donostia

We finally made it to Donostia, skipping some of the other small towns on the coast as we had to meet our AirBnB host. Driving our microbus through the narrow streets of Donostia was not my favorite thing, neither was trying to park it. But we made it. The next day we were rewarded with an appointment at La Perla spa. I had heard of La Perla but in my previous visits, as a “young” student more interested in socializing than in relaxing, I had never really considered visiting. It was pretty amazing, certainly worth a few hours. The variety of water treatments was cool and I think we all left more than refreshed.

Family and friends at La Perla spa in Donostia. Photo by Blas Uberuaga.
  • La Perla specializes in thalassotherapy – the use of seawater for therapy (the Greek word thalassa means sea). As a specific form of therapy, thalassotherapy has been promoted for maybe a few centuries, though the Romans certainly took thermal baths and other treatments in what was essentially what we would call thalassotherapy.
  • La Perla got its start in 1887, at a time when Donostia was a destination of Europe’s high society. It began as a large red hut on the beach, overlooking La Concha and the sea. It was called “The Pearl of the Ocean.” In the early 1900s, the modern spa was built. Designed by Ramón de Cortázar, the new spa was inaugurated on July 2, 1912.
  • The spa grew out of Queen Maria Cristina’s visits to the city as her summer home. She would bathe in the waters of the bay and the original spa was built to serve her and her court’s needs.
  • However, the building, partially due to an overall drop in activities in the city that coincided with the ban on gambling, fell into decay such that, by 1924, it was in near total ruin. In the 1960s, it was converted into a hall for festivities. In the 1990s, the spa was given new life. The old building was demolished and a new one that reclaimed its use for thalassotherapy was built, opening in 1995.
  • Today, La Perla sports a large number of facilities leveraging the ocean’s bounty for water therapy. These include: a hydrotherapy pool, a relaxation pool, a panoramic jacuzzi, a sensory labyrinth, water beds, a marine vapor bath, an ice fountain, dry and wet saunas, and facilities with sea views and direct access to the beach. It sports a total area of facilities of 5500 square meters, or nearly 60,000 square feet.

Primary sources: La Perla; La Perla (balneario), Wikipedia

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