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From the past, to the present

 

The dim light of Bodegón Alejandro comes from the lamps, the kitchen and especially, from the huge circular picture that dominates the two dining rooms. An old print, with a curious story behind, that takes us to San Sebastian’s most warlike past and serves as a reminder of what the city was like and what it has become, thanks mostly to its ability to overcome adversity.

The watercolor exhibited at Bodegón Alejandro, which offers a 360-degree view of the city, was created at a time when San Sebastian was suffering the continuous attacks not only from the sea, but also from wars and fire. The city paid dearly for its strategic location and was besieged three times during the first third of the 19th century. One of the bleakest episodes took place on the 31st August 1813, when San Sebastian was destroyed by the Anglo-Portuguese army after defeating the French troops fortified in Mount Urgull. A terrible fire that its citizens commemorate to this day.

The artwork that presides over Bodegón Alejandro perfectly reflects the city’s strategic personality. And despite being painted in the 1820s by a British military born in Gibraltar, Thomas Staunton St. Clair, it was not envisioned to wage war; it rather sought a different and faithful way of depicting reality.

Little is known about this watercolor’s journey. It was initially in the ranks of the British Legion, it later passed to the hands of the General's heirs, and it was probably left forgotten in a dusty drawer until it finally found its way into the office of an art dealer who specialized in Hispanic artworks. As the city grew in height and width, it faced social and economic changes, learned from mistakes and made new ones, the watercolor continued its journey until the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa bought it in London in 1998. Today, this work is carefully preserved by the Zumalakarregi Museum in Ormaiztegi, whose aim is to showcase the 19th century in the Basque Country in order to bring it to the general and specialized public.

Even if the picture shows at a glance the huge change the city has experienced during the recent centuries, San Sebastian has kept its cosmopolitan character untouched. It is in its nature to receive and welcome, to emerge stronger after defeat and to take advantage of its natural surroundings. It is a city that looks on to Europe, clinging to the sea and mountains.

The mystery of the watercolor

The panorama drawn by General Staunton is not complete, two pieces and a legend are missing: the 39 strategic points that the original has all over its surface. Dozens of citizens took part, assisted by the Aranzadi Science Society, in a game where they had to spot each one of these 39 points and identify the location from which the picture was drawn.

Among the findings, here is an interesting one: the picture was not conceived from a specific place, as the authors commonly do in these types of works, but rather from two. And one of these is located in the San Sebastian neighborhood of Aiete.

From the Old Town, where the foundations of San Sebastian are found, Bodegón Alejandro also has a corner to observe the past of the city, understand its present and imagine its future.