Basque society has always been very closely linked to its ancestors, and not only in a spiritual way but also socially and economically. Etymologically made up of the terms argizaia (wax) and ola (board), the word argizaiola refers to a wooden stand or base around which wax that burns in remembrance of the deceased is rolled. The San Telmo Museum of San Sebastián has around fifty argizaiolas that symbolize a certain homage to the ancestors of the Basque Country; fire thus becomes a sign of life –of domain– which purifies and accompanies the dead.
Death was precisely the central theme of one of the Museum’s exhibitions in 2019 – an exhibition which generated great interest. The Museum’s temporary programming focuses on themes that attract locals and visitors alike. Issues as relevant as design matters between humans and machines, the artistic invention of the body, and the realities of countries impoverished by wars and conflicts are all dealt with, and the lives and work of great figures such as Hitchcock, Pasolini, and Tony Ray-Jones are examined. During 2020, the exhibition on Elcano’s voyage will be one of the great events of the summer, and additional programming will also include proposals on art and photography.
The Museum’s permanent collection offers visitors the chance to discover, in an entertaining way, the remote and recent cultural and historic past as a seed for current Basque society. The Museum’s heritage collection is the foundation for that glimpse into the remote and recent cultural and historic past, which also includes audiovisual and interactive resources. Thus the milestones, behaviors, and ways of thinking and living are presented which, over time, have helped to shape Basque Society. Likewise, keys for contemporary interpretation are offered.
Sections included are “Memory Traces”, “The Awakening of Modernity”, and “The Challenges of Our Society”. The first section goes through the most relevant milestones that have had an influence on the Basque as a people – from prehistory to the eighteenth century. The section entitled “The Awakening of Modernity” shows how the way of life transformed from that of a rural community to become more urban and industrialized. “The Challenges of Our Society” addresses the current challenges of the Basque Country through audiovisual materials, emphasizing the ability of individuals to intervene in the world surrounding them and thus participate in the construction of their future.
San Telmo is, additionally, the only museum in San Sebastián that has a Fine Arts area, which includes a sampling of international art from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, as well as an area specially dedicated to Basque art from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The eleven impressive paintings that decorate the sixteenth-century Dominican convent, by Josep Maria Sert, and which represent the people of Gipuzkoa and their happenings are another of the reasons why San Telmo attracts so many visitors. They are a fundamental part of the complex, as well as the cloister in Elizabethan style and the contemporary building with its particular façade designed by the architects Nieto and Sobejano. A visit to this museum allows for a holistic view of Basque society – something which is necessary not only to be familiar with the region’s history but also to understand the culture of today and tomorrow.
San Telmo Museum
Plaza Zuloaga 1, San Sebastián.
Tel.: +34 943 481 580