ELORRIO – HISTORICAL WALK
This walk is perfect to find out all there is to know about Elorrio’s history, making stops at the town’s most charming buildings, mansions and gardens. You may also extend your walk through the marvellous countryside surrounding Elorrio.
As you walk, you will find informative panels to better understand and imagine the Elorrio of old.
SAN AGUSTÍN DE ETXEBARRIA
2 kilometres from Elorrio on the road to Durango.
The beautiful church of San Agustín de Etxebarria is located on this neighbourhood.
This early church, known as Barria monastery, was built in 1053 by the count and countess of Durango, as part of one of the most important elizates (local governments) of Durangaldea.
It was rebuilt to its current form in the 15th century in the Basque Gothic style. Inside is the magnificent Plateresque-style retablo which bears at its centre an image of Saint Augustine, possibly the most valuable of its kind in Bizkaia. The church also boasts a beautiful and slender tower with a square ground-plan.
Outside, a wide portico surrounds the entire church, while opposite its south side we will find a peculiar-looking chapel guarding two stone sarcophagi where, according to tradition, rest the remains of the count and countess of Durango.
A real beauty, and an unmissable stop on this journey into the past.
ELORRIO’S ORIGINAL HOUSES
In 1356, Don Tello, lord of Bizkaia, founded the town of Elorrio. The land was divided up into plots for its urban development around two parallel streets: Kanpokale (or “Field street“), and Errekakale (or ”River street“), a mediaeval outline that survives to this day.
The original houses were built out of wood, but slowly the material fell into disuse in favour of stone, as a way to prevent fires from spreading, and also because stone allowed for slightly taller structures.
This illustration shows what the first houses of Elorrio looked like. They had no glass windows, partition walls, nor hearths, which meant the fires were built by the window openings. Imagine how blackened the walls and ceiling must have been!
Calle San Pío
The town of Elorrio was once surrounded by a defensive wooden palisade, but this was soon replaced by a stronger, longer-lasting stone wall. The only ways in and out were the wall’s six gates, though only two of them remain standing today: Kanpokale Gate (shown in the photograph) and the archway at the end of the canton of Elvira Iñurrieta.
The coat of arms of the Catholic Monarchs can still be seen on top of the entrance to Kanpokale Gate. It only features the arms of Castile and León, Aragón and Sicily, which means that it dates from before the conquest of Granada.
It seems to have been customary, in those days, to build a niche beside each gate to house a figure of the saint or incarnation of the Virgin Mary, to whom each gate was consecrated.
Some of these niches still survive, exactly where they would have been placed beside the wall, which no longer exists.
San Juan Gate:
Although the building is new, there is a niche housing a figure of St John at Errekakale Street 3
Uribarriko Andre Maria Gate:
A niche with the figure of the Virgin Mary can be seen at Errekakale Street 34.
San Antón Gate:
There is a niche, but no figure, at Kanpokale Street 11.
This gate was demolished and replaced by the commemorative three-arched monument currently intersecting with Arriola Street. The niche was kept at the top, but it is empty.
By the way, the beautiful calvary of Santa Ana, right beside it, is worth a visit.
3. HISTORICAL MOMENTS
THE FIRE OF 1480
The earliest houses in Elorrio were built of wood. They were terraced, so that neighbouring houses formed blocks with shared walls. This meant that it was very hard to put out any fires, which often raged through entire rows of homes.
The fire of 1480 started in the house of Juan de Uria, on the street now called Kanpokalea.
Discover the surprising methods they used to fight fires in those days, and why the gates of the town wall were closed when a fire started.
The answer is on the information panel on Errekakale Street 18
THE BATTLE OF ELORRIO
Calle Arriola (junto al río)
On February 21st 1468, a power struggle between the Ibarra and Marzana families erupted into what became known as the “Battle of Elorrio”. The Ibarras were members of the Oñacinos, and thus had the support of their fellow faction-members, the Muxica, Butrón, Arteaga and Zarate families, as well as 300 mercenaries loaned by the Marquess of Santillana.
The Marzanas belonged to the opposite faction – the Gamboinos –, with the Avendaño and Velasco families on their side, along with the Count of Haro, 150 horsemen at the service of the Count of Salinas.
This is considered as one of the most important battles of the Middle Ages in the area, taking the lives of over 1000 men. Both sides suffered major casualties, and the entire town went into mourning for the many lost family members and friends.
Discover who won the great battle on the information panel on Arriola street.
MEDIEVAL TOWER HOUSES
Calle Arriola (junto al río)
Tower houses were not only built for residential and defensive purposes, but also held an important social function as status symbols of their landlords, who were feared as lords (or jauntxoak in Basque). Their motto, somewhat foreboding, was “Heaven is ruled by God, Earth by he who owns the most”.
Some of the town’s most famous tower houses include Urkizu, Ibarra, Otsa and Esteibar. None of these original structures survive, but the mansions that replaced them bear the same names, bearing witness to the wealth and social class of their lords.
The Urkizu mansion (on the corner of Arriola Street with Errekakalea) still preserves a door originally belonging to one of the Urkizu tower houses.
Additional information about the tower houses is available on the panel on Arriola Street.
Berrio Otxoa 43
Errekakalea (which translates as “River Street”) was the liveliest, busiest street in Elorrio. Craftsmen and women would work outside their homes and exchange their products on this street.
In social, financial and political terms, iron working and blacksmithing was the most important trade in this mediaeval town. Iron crafting gradually developed into an industry, with products no longer being made just for local use, but also for export to different areas of Spain, Europe, and even the Americas.
This was in line with the original goal of the town’s founders to establish a strong trade route.
You can discover the traditional trades of Elorrio in the information panel on Berrio-Otxoa Street 43.
Martín de Arespakotxaga had this mansion built in 1620, on three of the town’s original building plots, which required part of the town wall to be demolished. This is why the building is attached to Kanpokale Gate, one of the six old town gates.
The only other gate still standing is Errekakale Gate, down Elvira Iñurrieta, by the river.
Walk around to the back of the mansion and take a look at the beautiful open gallery along the back wall. With its four arches, it is an architectural gem.
The adjacent building, known as Arespakotxaga Txikia (Little Arespakotxaga) was part of the mansion, and used exclusively by servants. Over the door, a verse from the Song of Songs is engraved: “Sub umbra illius quem desideraveram sedi” (“I sat down under his shadow, whom I desired”). It is indeed an honour to be beside such a great mansion.
The family coat of arms is on display in a corner of the building. Coats of arms were proof of a family’s social status as nobility, which traditional Basque laws granted to all those born in Bizkaia.
Calle San Pío
This superb, Baroque-style mansion was commissioned by Juan de Arespakotxaga y Azkarraga in 1666, on land owned by his ancient family seat. Three beautiful arches overlook the garden. If you look closely at the façade, you will see that the family coat of arms is divided into four sections, one for each surname of the lineage: Arespakotxaga, Azkarraga, Andueza and Urkizu.
The road to Durango had to be diverted slightly to the north to accommodate the construction of this mansion.
The Arespakotxaga lineage owed their fortune to the iron ore of Mount Udalatx, which they sold in Andalusia and the Indies.
Juan Bautista de Arespakotxaga became a Knight of the Order of St James, Secretary to King Philip IV of Spain in the Bizkaia court-martial. Several members of his family fought at the siege of Baeza; others were knights of the orders of St James and Alcántara, and held mayoral and other public positions in Elorrio. The family amassed great wealth through these positions and other business enterprises.
Coat of arms: Elizburu Street, opposite the convent of Santa Ana.
Garden and gallery: San Pio Street.
See also the panel on the town’s Baroque mansions.
Zearsolo Palace or “Casa Jara”
Berrio-Otxoa 2 / Calle Elizburu para ver el jardín
The size of this mansion, along with its wrought-iron fencing, entrance, coats of arms and garden (located at the rear) makes it the most spectacular in the centre of Elorrio. The current building is the result of two renovations carried out in very different periods.
The façade on Berrio-Otxoa Street, more austere, belongs to the original mansion (Zearsolo) and dates from the 17th century. The façade on the square is 300 years more recent, dating from 1934.
They are easy to distinguish: walk around to the rear where the garden is located (Elizburu Street). On the second floor, there are three outstanding arches and the walls are partly covered in climbing plants. Truly beautiful!
Urkizu Tola Mansion
Standing on a crossroads at the entrance to Elorrio, the Urkizu-Tola Mansion is a fine example of urban mansion architecture in a quasi-rural setting.
The last major renovation of the building was undertaken by the Marquess of Tola de Gaytán in the early 1900s. He took advantage of its privileged location to design a residence with magnificent balconies, overlooking the natural splendour of the garden.
Originally commissioned by Captain Agustín de Urquizu in 1677, it is one of the most outstanding examples of Baroque residential architecture in Bizkaia.
Urkizu Aldatsekua Palace
This building is currently owned by the council, and is used as a day centre for pensioners. It was built in the early 20th century on a site previously occupied by the Urkizu mansion, which was destroyed in a fire.
On hot days, there is welcome shade to be found under the trees in its garden, featuring various romantic-style elements, including the well, the layout of its paths and various details on its walls, which bear witness to its past splendour.
This garden is also used as a venue for public meals during town festivities, including “Sukalki eguna” (pot-roast contest) and a lunch for the crews or “cuadrillas” formed for local festivities.
The garden is home to some very old trees shipped in from far away, such as the great Himalayan cedar located by the steps up to the house.
By the Kurutziaga calvary. At the end of Berrio-Otxoa Street.
In the early 19th century, two spas opened in Elorrio, due to the high quality of the five sulphurous water springs and numerous iron-rich springs in the area. They soon became fashionable among the wealthy middle classes, and helped pull the town out of the economic recession that it was suffering at the time.
The Belerín or Baños Nuevos spa stood on the site now occupied by the company Besaide. The advent of the railways improved accessibility to the spas, and helped increase the number of visitors.
Tourists from the cities brought their cameras with them. Thanks to this, many photographs of Elorrio exist from that period.
The information panel on the spas stands between the Olazabal (Modet) and Urkizu Aldatsekua mansions, beside Kurutziaga calvary.
Olazabal Mansion or “Modet”
This aristocratic mansion dates from 1890, and is said to have hosted the finest high-society soirées of its time. Its large garden was an ideal setting for such events.
The façade of this aristocratic home features an unusual, British style coach-house, the exact location of which is shown by a carved bust of a horse over the entrance.
The Olazabal coat of arms is emblazoned on the side of the building.
The street adjacent to this mansion was once the course for “idi-probak” (contests in which oxen drag weights over a set course) and is currently the site of the cattle fair during the Ferixa Nausikoak festivities.
We hope you enjoyed this tour of the history of our town.
To complete your tour, be sure not to miss the Berriozabal well-spring, with its beautiful panoramic view, or the necropolis of Argiñeta. These two magical spots are just a short walk from the old town of Elorrio.
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