San Sebastián was for centuries little more than a fishing village, but by 1174 it was granted self-governing status by the kingdom of Navarra for whom the bay was the principal outlet to the sea. Whale and cod fishing were the main occupations along with the export of Castilian products to European ports and then to the Americas. After years of knockabout trans-European conflicts that included the razing of the city by Anglo-Portuguese forces during the Peninsular War, San Sebastián was hoisted into 19th-century stardom as a fashionable watering hole by Spanish royalty dodging the searing heat of the southern mesas (tableland). By the close of the century, the city had been given a superb belle époque makeover that has left a legacy of elegant Art Nouveau buildings and beachfront swagger.
Modern day San Sebastián maintains its style and excitement with a growing reputation as a major venue for international cultural and commercial events.