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The building that has been home to the Shipping Museum since 1991 is one of the few that survived when the city was burned to the ground by British and Portuguese troops after the siege of 1813. It was built in the 18th century, and is the only relic of the San Sebastián Merchants’ Guild still standing.
The fortified tower house was built by the Merchants’ Guild to supervise operations in the port and provide numerous services such as monitoring the arrival and departure of vessels, collecting mooring fees, controlling loading and unloading operations, keeping the wharves and anchorages in good condition, maintaining order and security on the dockside and on the vessels moored there, handling towing operations, maritime assistance, monitoring and supplying sand and stones for ballast, etc. For some time it was also home to a school of maritime studies.
Up to the mid-19th century this was the only building outside the city walls in the harbour area. The exact date of its construction is not known, but it is thought to date from the mid 18th century, as it appears on a plan of the city dated 1760, marked as the “Guild House”
After the devastation of the city by fire in 1813 the tower house became the official headquarters of the Merchants’ Guild and the St. Peter’s Guild of Seafarers [“Cofradía de Mareantes de San Pedro”].
The dictionary published by Pascual Madoz in 1845-50 refers to the tower house in the harbour area of San Sebastián as a “storehouse for chains, rope and other rescue equipment”. At some time in the 19th century ownership of the building was transferred to the state, and it became the offices of the ministry responsible for public works and ports. A photograph taken in the late 19th or early 20th century shows a great sign on the façade that read “Public Works and Maritime Assistance”. By then the harbourmaster’s residence had been transferred to another nearby building.
In July 1936, during the early days of the Spanish Civil War, the building was used as a shelter by the residents of the harbour area, as it offered more protection than their homes against crossfire and stray bullets.
From then until work to ready it for use as a Museum began in 1988, the tower house was used for a great many different purposes. It served as the residence of the dock supervisor, as a boathouse for the launch linking the mainland with the lighthouse on the island, as a storehouse for the equipment of the divers in the port and for the dock cleaning and maintenance service, as the residence of the chauffeur of the Delegate for Public Works and as a vehicle registration office.
It was the home of the dock supervisor until the 1970s. With the advent of the Basque Government, ownership was transferred and eventually taken over by the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa.
For more information on the history of the building (in Spanish) follow this link:
Tuesday to Saturday:
10:00 - 14:00 and 16:00 - 19:00
Sundays and public holidays:
11:00 - 14:00
December 24 and 31:
10:00 - 14:00
Closed on Mondays. Closed January 1, 6 and 20, and December 25.
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