Category Archives: Ferrerías

The Basilica of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits

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You have surely heard of the Catholic order of the Jesuits, as they are present all over the world. But I´m sure you didn´t know that the founder was born in 1491 in the heart of the Basque Country, in Azpeitia. Iñigo de Loyola (born Iñigo, a Basque name, that he changed later to Ignacio), of a noble family and educated in the best manner, soon became a soldier serving the King of Castile. In 1521 he was injured while battling in Pamplona, and retired to his fortress in the valley of Loiola, near Azpeitia and Azkoitia. During his long recovery he got used to reading religious books, that made him rethink his whole life. Once recovered, he started a life of sanctity that led him to the foundation of the Jesuit order, probably the most influential in the history of the Catholic church.

The 18th century basilica is located in a beautiful valley, surrounded by a park full of trees and by the Urola river that flows through the mountainous scenery. As you can see by the pictures, it´s a magnificent but at the same time a modest building, with a great dome covered in baroque paintings and designs. On its left hand side you can visit the birthplace of San Ignacio de Loyola, a.k.a. Iñigo de Loyola, that has been beautifully restored to its original state. You can visit both buildings, and in the fortress tower you can see the rooms as they were in the 16th century.

Right by the Basilica (or Sanctuary) there´s a nice, cozy hotel and some rural housings, as well as fine restaurants, in an atmosphere surprisingly almost tourist free. The valley offers very interesting visits, like the Ferrería de Mirandaola (Ironmongery) in the Iron Valley or the town of Idiazabal, where the world famous Idiazabal sheep cheese is made (also, the Cheese Museum deserves a visit).

 

Enkarterriak/Encartaciones, the Western Valleys

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On the west of Bizkaia there exists the land known as Encartaciones, “The Chartered Towns”, a succession of green and mountainous valleys that hide beautiful places with a long mediaeval tradition, and that have always been a “different” part of Bizkaia. They had their own Casa de Juntas de Avellaneda, an ancient way of ruling themselves, parallel to the one in Gernika, and still there. But, once again, you will see no tourists at all on this area, probably the least visited in Bizkaia, despite its enormous offer of interesting attractions for those that seek the “untouched” areas. Basque is hardly spoken on this area.

Among its several attractions, the town of Balmaseda, with its mediaeval bridge  and the amazing church of Saint Severino. They hold a magnificent live recreation of the Passion of Christ on Easter (Holy Week). Not far, the best and biggest Rolls Royce museum in the world, already mentioned on this blog. Also, the Ferrería del Pobal, a faithful recreation of how ironworks were made in the past centuries, using just the force of watermills and fire. This land used to be full of iron mines and has a long tradition of ironworks, as most of the Basque Country. In Karrantza you have the Pozalagua Caves, the biggest cave in the world in its part known as Torca del Carlista (500 mt long, 240mt wide and 135mt high), with the highest concentration on earth of unique excentric stalactites and stalagmites of all shapes, even the weirdest ones.

For fun, Karpin Abentura, www.karpinabentura.com, a place where wild animals are treated from injuries and live  in its spacious areas and also where kids will enjoy the “live” dinosaurs. Also, a great place for families is Sopuerta Abentura, http://www.sopuerta-abentura.com/, fun in the trees…

Regarding food and accommodation, I can recommend Hotel Amalurra (www.amalurra.com), a different experience, it offers a complete Spa service and great food in its nice restaurant. Perfect for relax and to enjoy nature, it has huge gardens and children are most welcome. Also, the very new Hotel Ibaia, luxuriously located on an ancient convent in Gordexola, beautiful town full of palaces and manor houses (and where my grandpa was born, by the way), www.hotelibaia.es. Also, a very special place is www.casavicentepallotti.com, a balneary run by the Palotinos Fathers, Catholic priests, for those that look for relax and meditation in a romantic scenery. And almost any restaurant in the area of good, honest food at unbeatable prices.

Useful info on the area on www.enkartur.net and www.karrantza.com.

Basque Ferrerías, Ironworks of the Middle Ages

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el pobalOne of the main characteristics of the Basque soil is (well, it was) its rich content in high quality iron. Up to the XVI century, there were around 300 foundries! producing iron for all of Europe. Nowadays, iron still plays an important role in our present industrial activity (unfortunately, not as before…). At the very beginning, the foundries were located on top of the mountains and they used the wind as the main force to produce iron, using coal as their source of heat (in a very anti-economical way). Soon they found out that it made more sense to have the ironworks close to a water stream, and so “modern” foundries were established in many Basque towns.mirandaola

I´ve been to two of these foundries, both recently restored and open to the public . You can visit them (visits are also available in English) in order to watch “live” how iron was formerly obtained. The historical reconstruction is very well performed and what you see is probably very close to what it really was, they take great pride in transforming iron “the old way”. One of them is near Bilbao, in Muskiz (Bizkaia), Ferrería El Pobal, www.elpobal.com (this link will redirect you to another page available in English)- press here for a 4´youtube video of a visitor-. You can also see how they got flour from wheat with a water mill. Entrance tickets are cheap and very interesting, kids find it really amusing.

mirandaola2The other one is located in Legazpi, Gipuzkoa, where there formerly were 7 foundries. This one is Ferrería Mirandaolaon this link (not the best of webs, but at least it´s in English), located in the middle of a beautiful park where you can enjoy the incredible and beautiful landscape surrounding it. There are restaurants nearby where you can have a good meal after the visit, and even get all the way to Azpeitia, to the Museo del Ferrocarril (http://www.nekatur.net/museo-vasco-del-ferrocarril-de-azpeitia), where you can take a ride for half an hour on a real XIX century train powered by coal, apart from an interesting collection of old engines, trams,  buses, fire trucks, the workshop, etc…