The historic centre of Getaria is located on a rocky cape opposite the island of San Antón, which has been artificially linked to the coast since the 15th century. Between the two, sheltered by San Antón, lies the port of Getaria, which was the town's main source of wealth for centuries and which still maintains an important fishing industry. The parallel streets of the town centre, with their medieval layout, descend towards the sea.

Still partly encircled by the remains of its modern walls, the historic centre of Getaria preserves its main monuments, including the church of San Salvador, the towers of Zarauz, Ochoa Ibáñez de Olano, as well as the remains of many other Gothic and Baroque palaces and houses, and several archaeological sites of great historical value. The lively streets of the old town are also one of the centres of Getaria's social life and renowned maritime gastronomy. The grills, located outside, are a fundamental architectural element of several buildings-restaurants, as well as of the cultural landscape of the town.

San Salvador church

The current building of the parish church of San Salvador de Getaria is the main Gothic building in Gipuzkoa, declared a National Monument at the end of the 19th century.

Its architectural features include two superimposed triforiums. The upper triforium was originally a clerestory that was transformed into a triforium at the beginning of the 17th century after it was enclosed by walls on the outside.

It also stands out for the absolute irregularity of its layout, so that there is not a single section of the building that is parallel to another. In short, it is an architectural feat on the part of its builders.

It should be noted, however, that not all the irregularities that we observe in both plan and elevation are of a voluntary nature.

Some are the result of the need to adapt the building to a very rugged terrain. The town of Getaria sits on a magnificent natural harbour, protected by the island of San Antón, but this location came at a very high urban price: the urban centre sits on a promontory that juts out into the sea and forms a narrow, overhanging valley. The church sits at the bottom of this valley, on the old bed of the stream that runs down it. This is the reason for the construction of part of the crypt in the form of a tunnel: to allow the waters of the stream to flow out to sea. This is the reason for the irregularities in the floor of the church, which is laid out on an inclined plane up to the roof of the tunnel, which runs under the section of stone floor.

Perhaps the best example of the architectural irregularities of the building are the three entrance doors to the church:

  • The main doorway, facing south, gives access to the ground level of the church.
  • The north doorway opens at a lower level, giving access to the crypt.
  • The west doorway opens at a higher level, at the level of the first choir.

Historical landmarks


This church also has a fascinating history:

  • From an archaeological point of view, it has in the subsoil the foundations of previous churches from the high and full-medieval period, with their corresponding cemeteries around it, all over ruins and vestiges from the Roman period and even earlier (the oldest remains from the Bronze Age).
  • The institution of the Province of Gipuzkoa was founded in this church in 1397: the representatives of the industrial and commercial municipalities of Gipuzkoa met in this church in order to put an end to the abuses of the nobility. They created the Brotherhood, which is the name they then gave to the General Assemblies, or government of Gipuzkoa that has survived to the present day, as well as a book of laws, the origin of Gipuzkoa's private legislation that we know as the Fueros.
  • In 1486, Juan Sebastián de Elcano, the great navigator who led the first round-the-world voyage between 1519 and 1522, was baptised in this church. After completing his feat, Emperor Charles I, 5th from Germany, granted him a new coat of arms with the motto "Primus Circumdedisti Me". Assets related to the great sailor were highly coveted by the main merchant and ship-owning families of Gipuzkoa throughout the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, who tried to link up with Elcano's descendants. This is the case of Don Pedro de Echave y Asu, a knight of the Order of Calatrava, a wealthy merchant and galleon builder who became rich in the silver trade with America during the 17th century. In 1672 he even appropriated the inheritance or legacy of Juan Sebastián de Elcano, whose estate included the Elcano family tomb in the church of San Salvador. As soon as he took possession of the property, he proceeded to place a new tombstone on the tomb in memory of Juan Sebastián de Elcano, linking it with his own name. Don Pedro thus invested himself with the incalculable honour of being linked to Elcano's legacy, of appearing as the descendant of the human being who empirically demonstrated the sphericity of the planet".