To understand the history of this place, we're going to divide it in two...First, we'll talk about the building itself, then the museum inside it. Two stories which, like many others, ended in a good partnership between both, despite very different origins.
So, we’ll start with the building. It began life as a monastery for Dominican friars; the building work commenced in 1544 and finished 18 years later, in 1562. It has a clearly transitional architectural style between Gothic and Renaissance. You're in the oldest museum in the Basque country.
One interesting aspect of this building is that, when they came to build the cloisters, they couldn't do it in the usual way, to the side of the church, because that site was occupied by Mount Urgull, so they solved the problem by building them at the foot of the church.
And those cloisters were used by friars for more than 250 years. Then, in 1813, in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars, the monastery was destroyed by soldiers, ending up, among other losses, without its main altarpiece. Even so, the friars continued with their daily routine until twenty-something years later, in 1836, the military, in their charming way, asked them to hand over the building...
Let's leave the history of the building for a moment, and find out about the second story: the project of a Museum of History, Art and Archaeology which was conceived in the year 1900. It started out in a building on the corner of Andia Street and Garibai Street, and the early years were a struggle, given the little budget allocated to it. This led to the citizens of Donosti making donations of money and artefacts to the project, which was inaugurated on 5th October 1902 as a museum worthy of the name.
However, thanks to this participation by the public, the premises were too small from the outset. Three years later, in 1911, the city council inaugurated a much larger building on the corner of Urdaneta Street and Easo Street, where the Municipal Library and the School of Arts and Crafts were also housed.
But history tends to repeat itself, and this building soon became too small too...which is where our two stories meet.
In 1928, the city council acquired ownership of the Monastery of San Telmo, which had been classified as a National Monument. So, with a large building empty of soldiers on the one hand and the need of the museum for more space on the other, the conclusion was evident, and on 3rd September 1932 our 2 stories merge and the present San Telmo museum is inaugurated in the building which had once been a monastery, then a military barracks.
Years pass, the museum is still growing, and guess what? The building is too small again! So, between 2007 and 2010 it was completely renovated and extended to the very edge of Mount Urgull, as you can see it today.