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A suitable environment


The Basque coast enjoys practically all the natural resources needed for shipbuilding. Oak, abundantly available in local forests, was always the first choice as a raw material. The wood is sturdy and highly resistant to alternate exposure to water and air. Oak also provide the immense range of different straight and curved shapes needed to build a ship. High-quality iron ore from Bizkaia was processed in the many forges scattered along the sea coast. They were powered by the force of the rivers and fired by the charcoal produced in the extensive forests. The combination of iron ore, energy and fuel led to the development of a burgeoning steel industry, founded to a great extent on shipbuilding. 60. The mountainous geography of the Basque Country led to the growth of a wide variety of different tree species on the hillsides. As well as the abundant oaks –the wood most often used in the shipyards– other species such as beech, chestnut, ash, walnut, fir and holly were also used to make oars, pulleys, masts, etc. 61. From the eighteenth century on, the beech and fir woods of Irati provided excellent materials for shipbuilding. The huge firs were used to make masts for the frigates and ships-of-the-line of the royal, shipyards and the beeches supplied material for making oars.

The mountainous geography of the Basque Country led to the
growth of a wide variety of different tree species on the hillsides.
As well as the abundant oaks -the wood most often used in the
shipyards- other species such as beech, chestnut, ash, walnut, fir
and holly were also used to make oars, pulleys, masts, etc.
The mountainous geography of the Basque Country led to the growth of a wide variety of different tree species on the hillsides. As well as the abundant oaks -the wood most often used in the shipyards- other species such as beech, chestnut, ash, walnut, fir and holly were also used to make oars, pulleys, masts, etc. © José Lopez
Rivers. The heavy rainfall and steep hillsides of the region helped
power the water mills needed to drive the hammers and
bellows in the forges.
Rivers. The heavy rainfall and steep hillsides of the region helped power the water mills needed to drive the hammers and bellows in the forges. © José Lopez

Charcoal. The pieces for the ships were smoothed out in the
forests. This process produced large quantities of wood, which was
used to make charcoal, essential for firing the furnaces of the forges.
Charcoal. The pieces for the ships were smoothed out in the forests. This process produced large quantities of wood, which was used to make charcoal, essential for firing the furnaces of the forges. © José Lopez
Agorregi Forge. The iron ore mined in the Basque Country
could be processed industrially in local forges thanks to the abundant
availability of water power and charcoal. Iron production,
which has close ties with shipping, has played a central role in the
Basque economy for centuries.
Agorregi Forge. The iron ore mined in the Basque Country could be processed industrially in local forges thanks to the abundant availability of water power and charcoal. Iron production, which has close ties with shipping, has played a central role in the Basque economy for centuries. © José Lopez

From the eighteenth century on, the beech and fir woods of Irati
provided excellent materials for shipbuilding. The huge firs were
used to make masts for the frigates and ships-of-the-line of the royal shipyards and the beeches supplied material for making oars.
From the eighteenth century on, the beech and fir woods of Irati provided excellent materials for shipbuilding. The huge firs were used to make masts for the frigates and ships-of-the-line of the royal shipyards and the beeches supplied material for making oars. © José Lopez
Beech trees are long and straight, making them ideal for building
keels. Although beech wood does not withstand alternating exposure
to water and air well, this did not pose a problem in the case of
the keels, which remained underwater at all times.
Beech trees are long and straight, making them ideal for building keels. Although beech wood does not withstand alternating exposure to water and air well, this did not pose a problem in the case of the keels, which remained underwater at all times. © José Lopez

Pruned oak. Cattle grazing in the forests destroyed shoots and
saplings. The result was an unusual way of managing woodland. The
trees were pruned to a certain height, so that the cattle could not
reach the young branches that would replace those recently cut off.
The young branches were trained into the shapes the shipbuilders
required.
Pruned oak. Cattle grazing in the forests destroyed shoots and saplings. The result was an unusual way of managing woodland. The trees were pruned to a certain height, so that the cattle could not reach the young branches that would replace those recently cut off. The young branches were trained into the shapes the shipbuilders required. © José Lopez
Cultivated oaks. All parts of the oak could in making the different
parts used to build a ship.
Cultivated oaks. All parts of the oak could in making the different parts used to build a ship. © José Lopez

Cultivated oaks.
Cultivated oaks. © José Lopez
Ironworkers at the Mirandaola forge in Legazpi.
Ironworkers at the Mirandaola forge in Legazpi. © José Lopez
Many of the products manufactured in the forges were used to
meet the demand for ships' nails, anchors and guns.
Many of the products manufactured in the forges were used to meet the demand for ships' nails, anchors and guns. © José Lopez

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