The legacy of the towers that built Bizkaia
When visiting Biscay, you may miss the great crenellated fortresses that dominate the landscapes of old Europe.
From Scotland to Sicily, from Gibraltar to the Urals, medieval castles have been preserved and are now genuine attractions. The impressive castle of Olite in Navarre or the more modest Sajazarra in La Rioja are nearby examples.
In Bizkaia, towers have taken their place.
T he absence of a border with Al Andalus and the remoteness of the marks of the Frankish kingdoms prevented the concentration of Biscay’s mediaeval assets on the construction of large castles to protect the territory. The disputes between the kingdoms of Asturias first, then León and later Castile with those of Navarre and Aragon were always settled in other lands and did not require huge fortresses either.
Throughout the Middle Ages, villages were founded and walled and, above all, towers were erected. Many of these towers were built inside the towns themselves. Most of them outside them, in what was called “Tierra Llana” (Flat Land). They were always related to water mills, ironworks, bridges, fords and patron saint churches. In the town of Bermeo alone, there were 30, and the one of Ercilla is still preserved. Bilbao boasted a good handful of them, of which only vestiges remain.
Portugalete still boasts that of the Salazar family.
Originally, they were used to defend the rights of the great families of the territory in internal disputes or as a reflection of dynastic conflicts in Bizkaia. After the Middle Ages, these towers, which were generally cubic, crenellated, with a high access and a small outer wall in the case of those built outside the villages, came to have a palatial and representative function. Many were transformed into large farmhouses. And others are no longer standing.
A large part of them, in varying degrees of transformation, are now used for public functions, such as museums, exhibition halls and suchlike. They are open to visitors.
And they are well worth a visit. Let’s take a look at some of them.
TORRE DE ERCILLA EN BERMEO
It has watched over the old port of Bermeo since the end of the 15th century. It was the family seat of the Ercilla family, the origin of the military man and renaissance writer Alonso de Ercilla. It has a hexagonal floor structure with ashlar and masonry work.
Classified as a monument in the mid-20th century and acquired by the Provincial Council (“Diputación Foral”), it houses an interesting Fisherman’s Museum.
Throughout the Middle Ages, villages were founded and walled and, above all, towers were erected.
TORREBILLELA IN MUNGIA AND MALPICA IN ZAMUDIO
Its origins date back to the Middle Ages, more than likely linked to the Butrón river. It was first remodelled during the Renaissance and then in 1852.
Today, it is a palace that encloses three of the sides of the tower, which has numerous neo-Gothic elements, and now houses a municipal exhibition hall, conference room and cultural facilities.
Zamudio uses its Malpica Tower for the same purpose, which is very close to the church of San Martín and visible from the road.
OXIRANDO TOWER, IN GORDEXOLA
It was built at the beginning of the 16th century as a road control point connecting the plateau with the interior of Bizkaia on the right bank of the river Herrerías.
It is a unique building of its kind and is considered to be one of the most beautiful works of civil architecture in the area, with late Gothic and Renaissance elements.
IN THE DURANGUESADO AREA
The Etxaburu Tower in Mañaria is located in this area, both in exceptional scenic settings. Not far behind is the Izurtza Tower, near Durango, a magnificent 15th century building.
In the same area, but in Abadiño, the Casa Torre de Muntsaraz, now the headquarters of a public body, has its roots in a defensive building dating back to the 9th century.
Among other interesting towers are the Aranguren Tower in Orozko; the Madariaga Tower in Busturia,headquarters of the Basque Biodiversity Centre; the Avellaneda Tower,headquarters of the Enkarterri Assembly House; or the Muñatones Towerin Muskiz, which dates back to the 9th century, still has its walls completely intact, is the setting for historical recreations and offers guided tours.
Place the towers that have most caught your attention on a map, trace a route and visit them. You’ll find good restaurants and taverns, as well as welcoming people, next to them.
Butrón y Arteaga, Butrón and Arteaga, two impressive mediaeval castles that are not mediaeval
Biscay is home to two spectacular castles, whose foundations date back to the Middle Ages, but whose current look is the result of 19th-century neo-Gothic architecture. We are talking about Butrón and Arteaga.
Butrón, in Gatika, between Mungia and Plentzia, was the battlefield for mediaeval and Renaissance battles. In 1878, the architect Francisco de Cubas rebuilt it completely, inspired by Bavarian castles and the Alcázar of Segovia.
The outcome is stunning.
Arteaga Castle is in the town of the same name, in the heart of the Urdaibai biosphere reserve. There is nothing left of the modest original defensive tower.
In its place, the Duke of Alba had a French-inspired castle built in the 19th century to pay honour to his sister-in-law, Eugenia de Montijo, wife of Napoleon III.
SUART by ANE NAVARRO
Exclusive jewelry made by hand and measure for each client.
VICTOR – 1940
The one of all life, in the Plaza Nueva in Bilbao.
Family treatment with our usual specialties. Warehouse with more than 1,200 references. Homemade desserts.
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The Royal Academy of the Basque Language – Euskaltzaindia, founded in 1919, is the official academic institution that watches over Basque language.