Certainly, someone has already told you that when in Cantabria you must go to see Comillas without a doubt. And they are right because this is not just a picturesque town like the many others along the Cantabrian coast.
To find the reasons for this fame we will have to go back to the end of the nineteenth century, although, three centuries before, the people of the village had already left a good story to tell. Fed up with the abuse from the parish priest and the Duke on duty, they rebelled and decided altogether, not to enter the church anymore. Of course, the priest was angry and threatened to excommunicate everyone as well as denying them the sacraments for about a year. But finally the Mayor mediated, and it was agreed to build a new temple in which there would be no privileges, while the old church was abandoned and nowadays is a cemetery which we recommend a visit.
We’ll leave the dead ones in peace now, and we’ll move to precisely the 6 of August 1881, when King Alfonso XII was about to arrive in Comillas. What was he looking for here?
To be truthful, not much actually. That was the result of the insistence of Antonio López y López, a local who, like many others, had emigrated to America and, like very few, had come back very rich. After he gained the King’s friendship, he persuaded him to come to Comillas, his hometown, to spend the summers here. López hoped that after the king, the Court would follow, and, after the Court, more sophisticated people. This would place the town at the same level as San Sebastian or at least Zarautz.
The businessman was so anxious for everything to go well that, by that August day, he had even brought the new electric light to the town’s streetlights. The monarch liked the place and convinced himself to spend the summers here. So, López’s dreams, as in the fairy tales, became a reality. And they were happy ever after…Comillas was filled with modernist buildings, distinguished holidaymakers and with a discreet splendour that is still present in the town.
As well as the Casa Palacio de Ocejo, where Alfonso XII took his Royal naps, you can see, at a distance, the Pontifical University. All this is the result of López’s efforts and the money of other indianos who, like Máximo Díaz de Quijano, wanted to leave evidence of their success here.
Díaz de Quijano got his impressive Capricho (whim) built by a young man named Antonio Gaudí, who between 1883 and 1885, left some of his artistic genius in this town. Only, for this reason, you will understand if we tell you that you are already taking too long to go and visit El Capricho.
At its side, you will find another impressive building for such a small town: the Sobrellano Palace, or Marques de Comillas Palace. Antonio López y López received the title of Marquis after a successful career which, in reality, had a very dark start: the slave trade.