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CANTABRIA, SPAIN

Santander

Cantabria is a Spanish province and autonomous community with Santander as its capital city. It is bordered on the east by the Basque Country (Biscay), on the south by Castile and León (provinces of León, Palencia and Burgos), on the west by the Principality of Asturias, and on the north by the Cantabrian Sea.

Cantabria belongs to the Green Spain, the name given to the strip of land between the Cantabrian Sea and the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain. It is called green because it has a wet and moderate oceanic climate, strongly influenced by the Atlantic Ocean winds that get trapped by the mountains. The average precipitation is about 1,200 mm, this allows the lush vegetation to grow.

Cantabria is the richest region in the world in archaeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period. The first signs of human occupation date from Lower Paleolithic, although this period is not so well represented in the region. The most significant cave painting site is the cave of Altamira, dated from about 16,000 to 9000 BC and declared, with other nine Cantabrian caves, World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

The modern Province of Cantabria was constituted on 28 July 1778. The Organic Law of the Autonomy Statute of Cantabria was approved on 30 December 1981, acquiring in that way fields, bodies and institutions of self government.

From then on there are continuous references to the Cantabri and Cantabria, as the Cantabri were used as mercenaries in various conflicts, both within the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere. It is certain that they participated in the war of the Carthaginians against Rome during the Second Punic War, from references by Silius Italicus (Book III) and Horace (Book IV, Ode XIV). They are also mentioned during the siege of Numantia waged by Gaius Hostilius Mancinus, who is said to have lifted the siege of the city and fled upon being informed that Cantabri and Vaccaei were present among his auxiliaries.

The majority of the references in the following period are related to the Cantabrian Wars against Rome which began in the year 29 AD. Roughly 150 references can be found in Greek and Latin texts, attesting to the notoriety of the Cantabri. Their territory was significantly larger than that of modern day Cantabria, bounded on the north by the Cantabrian Sea (the name used by the Romans to refer to the Bay of Biscay), and on the west by the western edge of the Sella River valley (in modern day Asturias). To the south it extended as far as the hill fort of Peña Amaya, in the modern-day province of Burgos, and to the east almost up to Castro Urdiales, in the vicinity of the Aguera River.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Cantabria regained its independence from the rule of the Visigoths. In the year 574, King Liuvigild attacked Cantabria and managed to capture the south of the country, including the city of Amaya, where he established a Visigoth province called the Duchy of Cantabria (see picture), which would serve as a limes or frontier zone to contain the Cantabri as well as their neighbors the Vascones. To the north of this cordon, however, the Cantabri continued to live independently until the Arab invasion.

From the central core formed by the Brotherhood of the Four Cities (Santander, Laredo, Castro Urdiales and San Vicente de la Barquera), the Brotherhood of the Marshes was created, thereby uniting all the important seaports to the East of Asturias.

During the period of the Reconquista, the Four Cities actively participated in the re-settling of Andalusia, dispatching men and ships. The coastal port cities of Cádiz and El Puerto de Santa María were repopulated by families from the ports of the Bay of Biscay. Ships from the Four Cities also took part in the taking of Seville, destroying the ship bridge linking Triana and Sevilla, a war achievement that is pictured with a Carrack and the Torre del Oro of Sevilla in the coat of arms of Santander, Cantabria and Avilés (Asturias).

From the 16th century on, interest in studies related to Cantabria and the Cantabri reemerged, particularly around the issue of the precise location of the territory that this people occupied. It was not until the 18th century that the controversy about the location and extension of Ancient Cantabria was settled, thanks to works important for the knowledge of the history of the region such as La Cantabria by the Augustinian father and historian Enrique Flórez de Setién. Concurrent with the resurgence of this interest in the Cantabrians and the clarification of the aforementioned polemic, many institutions, organizations and jurisdictions in the mountainous territory received the name of "Cantabrian" or "of Cantabria".

In 1727 the first attempt to unify what would later become the Province of Cantabria occurred. Despite this, the high level of autonomy that the small entities of the fractured estate of Cantabria enjoyed, combined with the proverbial lack of resources, continued to be the main reason for Cantabria's weakness, aggravated by the progressive advance of the Bourbonic centralism and its administrative efficiency. The latter continually underlined the impossibility of the smaller entities facing by themselves the multitude of problems of all kinds: from perennially difficult communications, to troubles in the exercise of justice, from difficulties in ensuring adequate reserves for hard times, to the indiscriminate levees for soldiers, and above all the progression of fiscal impositions. All of this worked toward the acceleration of contacts between villas, valleys and jurisdictions, which tended to focus on the Assemblies of the Provinces of the Nine Valleys, led by the deputies elected by the traditional entities of self-government.

During the War of Independence (1808–1814), the bishop Menéndez de Luarca, a strong defender of absolutism, promoted himself as the "Regent of Cantabria" and established the Cantabrian Armaments in Santander, a section of the army whose purpose was to travel to all the mountain passes from the Central Plateau to detain any French troop. Although defeated, he managed to later reorganize in Liébana under the command of general Juan Díaz Porlier, calling it the Cantabrian Division, in which there were various regiments and battalions, such as the Hussars of Cantabria (cavalry) or the Shooters of Cantabria (infantry). During the Carlist wars they formed a unit called the Cantabrian Brigade.

In 1963 the president of the Province Council, Pedro Escalante y Huidobro, proposed reapplying the name of Cantabria to the Province of Santander, in accordance with a scholarly report written by the chronicler Tomás Maza Solano. Notwithstanding active steps taken and the affirmative vote from the townships, the petition wasn't successful, mostly due to the opposition of the City of Council of Santander.

On December 30, 1981 a process started on April 1979 by the Council of Cabezón de la Sal, under the presidency of Ambrosio Calzada Hernández, was brought to completion. This municipality initiated the process outlined by Article 143 of the Spanish Constitution to bring the self-rule to Cantabria. An additional 85 townships of the region and the Province Council also signed on to the proposal of the Town Council of Cabezón de la Sal.

Map of Cantabria:


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