One of the most representative buildings in Donostia and undoubtedly its most emblematic auditorium is celebrating its anniversary: 20 years have elapsed since the Kursaal de San Sebastián, an old palace that after many avatars were rebuilt by Rafael Moneo to constitute the bastion of art and the culture that today is.
And there is no autumn that we do not see on our screens, as a background for movie stars who attend the Donostia Festival. A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit the Kursaal and I still have some precious musical memory of the auditorium that turns years old.
To celebrate the anniversary, the program of the Kursaal Eszena in San Sebastián proposes a dozen concerts by artists such as Vetusta Morla, Ludovico Einaudi, Los Secretos, the Geneva Camerata orchestras or the NDR Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg …
Family music, classical, modern music, dance … complete the program until January. On November 28 a gala is held with the participation of the Euskadi Orchestra, the dancer Lucía Lacarra, and the singers Izaro, Mikel Erentxun …
The Kursaal, an old palace
The term Kursaal comes from the German words Kur (‘cure’) and Saal (‘room, hall’), so etymologically it means ‘priest’s room’. A Kursaal or Kurhaus was a typical architectural element of nineteenth-century Central European spas, which constituted a multi-purpose building.
It was usually composed of a sumptuous lobby, ballroom, theater room, concert halls, game rooms, and restaurants. In the spas, the Kursaal became the center of social life, it’s most important and representative building.
With this name, it was called similar buildings in recreational areas in other countries of Europe, and that is how it arrived in Donostia. The Great Maritime Kursaal of San Sebastián or simply Grand Kursaal was a sumptuous palace inaugurated in 1921.
It had the same location as the current Kursaal: in front of Gros beach and next to the mouth of the Urumea river on land reclaimed from the sea. To connect it with the city center, the emblematic Zurriola bridge was built, popularly known as the Kursaal bridge.
The new Kursaal turns 20
With the prohibition of the game during the Franco regime, the Kursaal dedicated itself to theater and cinema, ceasing to be so profitable. In 1973 the old building was demolished in order to build a new, more functional one. A contest was called to award an auditorium and a congress hall.
“Two rocks stranded” by Rafael Moneo won this contest, and it was the architect himself who executed the work between 1996 and 1999. The congress palace of San Sebastián is composed of two huge glass cubes, 7,000 square meters “rocks” connected underground, which are home to two multi-purpose auditoriums, an exhibition hall, a restaurant and a parking lot.
At first, the modern building composed of two large translucent glass cubes caused some controversy, since it was very different from the style of the previous building and the surrounding French classicism, very ornate, of sandstone and rounded shapes. It passed a building of straight lines, geometric shapes, and glass.
The Kursaal was inaugurated on August 23, 1999, with a concert by the Euskadi Symphony Orchestra and Ainhoa Arteta. Today, most of San Sebastian already consider it an insoluble and organic part of the city, appreciating its undeniable positive impact on the economy, tourism and cultural life of San Sebastián.
We congratulate the Kursaal on its 20th anniversary hoping that it will fulfill many more as a cultural axis of Donostia-San Sebastián, starring in our memories on the walks along the sea and the mouth of the river, or as the bottom of the bridge that we will undoubtedly cross, from the hills to far away or, better yet, as the setting for some special concert.