According to historians, the area where San Sebastián is now located was originally called "Izurum". The first record of the name San Sebastián (Saint Sebastian) is found in connection with a description of a local abbey in a document from the early eleventh century. The city’s eventful history includes the conquest by the French in the 18th century, and its development into a cosmopolitan European centre during World War I. Illustrious personalities like Mata Hari, Leo Trotzki, and Maurice Ravel were known to frequent San Sebastián’s world famous Casino.
From 1940 to 1975, San Sebastián became the summer residence of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco every August. In the 1950's, Juan Carlos de Borbón, the former Spanish King Juan Carlos I, resided here as well.