The Santander International Festival arose from the idea of providing a cultural alternative to foreign students who came to study at the International University of Menéndez Pelayo.

Backed by the resolve of Ataúlfo Argenta and its first festival director, Manuel Riancho, the festival was set up in La Porticada Square in 1952. La Porticada, a simple stand by day, became a magic stage by night which all the great twentieth century artists of stage, dance or concert hall passed through with the entire cultural scene of the region taking shape within it. That venue was brought to an end on the 30th August 1990 with Mstislav Rostropovich and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra in concert, and its present venue, the Palacio de Festivales, took up the baton from 1991 on.

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