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martes 5 diciembre 2023

Bertan 11


The subject of "Medieval Towers" in Gipuzkoa, places us in a context of long lasting cultural references which ought to be accurately circumscribed.

Obviously, Gipuzkoa features, in 1996, a Cultural Heritage of Medieval origin Towers, an important part of which is still unknown and very little respected and valued. On the other hand, the Towers themselves are material testimonies of a type of culture and of a "style of life" which has nowadays disappeared. Their presence reminds us of them and, immersed in a world which is totally oblivious to their meaning, they are the most important element for recalling an obscure epoch.

Legazpi Tower (Zumarraga)
Legazpi Tower (Zumarraga). © José Luis Galiana

Many towers - most of them - are still used for what they were built: they are the family dwelling and refuge. But the structural transformations that most of them underwent, the modifications in the environment in which they were constructed and, evidently, the use that they were given to throughout the centuries, utterly distanced them from the meaning that they had when they were first built.

The Towers were built to fulfil some objectives, by some social strata and for some purposes, most of which lack meaning for us. Nearly all abandonned by mid or the end of the XVI century by those who conferred them their character and by those for whom the Tower was a symbol respected by the community, for whom the tower represented an element of their natural social Landscape identified with a set of especific social, economic and cultural values, the Towers today are nothing but a vestige which is difficult for us to understand in its full load of meanings.

Ugarteko Orubea (Oiartzun)
Ugarte Manar (Oiartzun). © José Luis Galiana
Berastegi Manor (Berastegi).
Berastegi Manor (Berastegi). © José Luis Galiana

Depending on the environmental context in which they are preserved today, on the greater or lesser impact caused by the passage of time and on the different uses that the Tower had, the evocative capacity and the documentary value that the structure itself reflects are very different. What relationship can we establish between the immense stone block of the Tower of the Berriatua traders at the Mutriku pier, that of Zumeltzegi - of the Earls of Oñati - in Oñati, or that of the Elder Relative Manors in Berastegi or Loiola? All of them so different in their architectural elements, in their military or commercial character, defensive in nature, or simply as a social representation, but all of them also so very similar. All of them built by the governing strata in the Territory of Gipuzkoa around the XIV to XVI centuries.

Lili Tower in the Urola Valley.
Lili Tower in the Urola Valley. © José Luis Galiana
Lili Tower (Zestoa).
Lili Tower (Zestoa). © José Luis Galiana

Thus, referring to the Towers of Gipuzkoa, we are obliged to reject hackneyed ideas and move into the quicksand of hypothesis, establishing comparisons with similar societies; to gather data scattered around several archive collections, to relate characters and celebrities, lords of war (such as that Juan Amezketa, zalduna the gentleman, who took his host of Gipuzkoans to France and England at the end of the XIV century from his ancestral home in Amezketa and from his Tower of Leaburu) and men of letters (like Azkoitian Bachelor Juan Martinez de Olano, famous because of his confrontation against the lineages of the Elder Relatives and in particular the Likonas, lords of Balda, and the Olasos, whom cost him, in 1473, almost already an octogenarian, his own kidnapping and the payment of some ransom and countless adventures) to traders and shipbuilders (like aforementioned Berriatuas of Mutriku, or the Lilis of the Tower that bears their name in Zestoa, who traded in Italy and Flanders) to ecclesiastics and notaries. The list can be very long and complete.

Woman from Hondarribia
Woman from Hondarribia. © Archivos de la Fundación Social y Cultural Kutxa. Vascos y Trajes. Tomo I. María Elena de ARizmendi Amiel.

The Tower becomes, as will soon be explained, an element with such force in the urban and rural landscapes of Gipuzkoa, that it will even give name to its inhabitants. There is hardly a coastal town, from Hondarribia to Ondarru that does not boast a lineage named "La Torre"; in some cases, like that of Saint Sebastian, where using both surnames alike, they also combine the double name of Oianguren-La Torre clearly alluding to their double belonging to a lineage, that of the Oiangurens and to a stratum, that of Tower owner and, in this case, "de la Torre", that of the pier, leaning on one of the doors of the wall and over the parish of Saint Mary, a symbol of prestige and power, which is very concrete and palpable in its mass of stone.

Nevertheless, Towers start coming into fashion. Their, in many instances, impressive evocative character is the best vehicle to understand that they entail a cultural treasure of incalculable value still to be discovered, that they hide among their watts a great part of our history, be it Towers that still maintain their primitive character and even a great part of their imposing presence and even solemnity, as traces of their ancient prestige, or be it remains that the sundry use and ihl-treatment of centuries have turned into small vestiges of old splendours which we must revive and revalue; our Towers are not, can not be, inddiferent to us.

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