Kinds of farmhouse
One of the most surprising characteristics of rural Gipuzkoan architecture is the extraodinary variety of kinds of farmhouse which exist in a small territory of only 1,977km2. There are several explanations for the spectacular wealth of these vernacular forms: on one hand, the natural fragmentation of Gipuzkoan geography, separated into badly communicating valleys, could have contributed to the development of some very local construcion traditions; on the other, the economic stratification of the farmers could have caused different models of buildings to spread according to the specific personality of each social group. Factors of a natural type must also have had a strong influence, especially the greater availability of certain construction materials- wood or stone- in realtion to others.
However, the reason which best explains this great diversity in existing farmhouses –even in areas very close to each other and with no particular social or ecological differences- is that, in spite of the repetitive conservatism which is normally attributed to popular architecture, the Basque farmhouse has always shown itself to be extremely receptive to historical changes, both with respect to the incorporation of new construction techniques, as to the rapid assimilation of artistic fashions. To understand the great variey of changes which this cultural receptivity has provoked, it is necessary to know that practically all the farmhouses still standing were built over a period of four hundred years, from 1500 to 1900, and that each generation had a slightly different way of doing things than their ancestors and descendants.
Each technique and form has its own period of historical validity and its own rythm of assimilation, transformation and decline. Knowing this, it is possible to organize the different types of farmhouse into large groups and attribute them to a specific period, somewhat overcoming the chronological ambiguity which normally surrounds the interpretation of folkloric materials.
Even so it is difficult to carry out a synthesis of all the types of existing farmhouse. The variety is so great that those encompassed in this document are only a small gallery of façades of some of the clearer and most representative types, but it is obvious that the reality of the more than eleven thousand Gipuzkoan farmhouses is much richer and includes a multitude of unique and allusive examples.
Stone renaissance farmhouses
Some of the first known farmhouses in Gipuzkoa have four stone outer walls. They have a dark and impenetrable look to them, and have sometimes been confused with ancient towers which have lost their upper floors. However, the wide dimensions of the ground plan and total absence of defensive elements – amongst many other details, prove that they were really farmhouses.
These farmhouses, of which Legarre, in Altzo, is a magnificient example, have no portico nor other covered space serving as a trasition between the house and the outside, a feature which is often seen in Gipuzkoa but rarely on the rest of the Cantabrian coast. The house is entered through a door with an open ashlar arch on one side of the façade. This arch normally still had a gothic outline in the fist years of the 16th century, later becoming an elegant semicircular roseton during the rest of the century.
The most primitive examples, such as Legarre itself, had hardly any windows at all and those which can be seen today were opened much later. However, this aspect of a solid fortress, still obvious in cases such as Etxezabal de Astigarribia (Mutriku), rapdly disappeared and, around the year 1525, houses were already starting to proliferate with several openings for light and ventilation, which were almost always in the shape of double or twin windows in the rich Makutso farmhouse, in Oiartzun, clearly represents the desire for opening up to the sun and nature which characterized renaissance architecture, in contrast to the darkness of mediaeval interiors. Moreover, the lintels carved with great naval anchors put us in the spirit of the period, evoking the memory of a man who wanted to be remembered by his neighbours for his bond with the sea.
Stone farmhouses with no porch have been continously built throughout history, although doors with an arch disappeared after the early 17th century. However, in many cases, great paved porches were added late, as in Albizua and Agarre in Bergara, showing that the model of totally closed house didn’t entirely suit the needs of Gipuzkoan farmers.
Buildings with an open trellis façade are one of the most prolific families of all Gipuzkoan farmhouses. They were fist built in a vey early period, at the beginning of the 16th century, and later, although they underwent substantial technical variations, were continously developed until the 19th century.
The common basis of all these farmhouses was that of putting together a trellis of different-sized small wooden beams, which vertically supported one other. The spaces in this trellising were later filled in with rubblework which was then plastered with mortar and lime, or else with bricks which, due to their beautiful colour and high price were normally left open to admiration. The relative lightness and solidity of this type of structure meant that the house could be built higher and with corbels, although this was carried out much less frequently in the Gipuzkoan farmside than has been believed.
We can distinguish the age of the different structures by the kind of joints used in the organization of wood for this trellis-work. In the oldest examples of trellised farmhouses, such as Agerre (Irura) and Aritzeta Erdi (Alkiza), the small beams form high and regular quadrilateral or rectangular shapes which are covered with rubblewordk. There are practically no props nor oblique parts, but when these do appear they are joined to the other elements by mixtilineal profile joints.
It would seem that brick-filled trellises were uncommon before the mid-16th century, except in buildings of a certain nobility, such as that of Legazpi in Zumarraga. However, when they became popular in the world of Gipuzkoan farmhouses they set down roots of a vitality unheard-of in other Basque territories. Thes houses were well accepted throughout the Oria basin but, in comparison, brick is practically unknown to popular architecture in the Deba region. Many of the craftsmen tile-makers who made these bricks were seasonal workers who came from the north of the Pyrenees and it is perhaps for this reason that there are more examples in areas near the border. One factor which favours this hypothesis is their abundance in the areas around San Sebastian, with beautiful examples such as Urruzmendi in Usurbil, and Aliri or the other houses in Zubieta. Whatever the case, we can see that their use became less common half-way through the 18th century. Their golden age was the 17th century, which is when farmhouses as rational and harmonious as Lerobi hHaundi in Oiartzun were built and other cruder versions were renovated, such as Aranburu Zahar in Aia.
Trelliser filled with rubblework were much more widely used, both with relation to space as well as to time. They were used both on large farmhouses with no porch, like Etxeaundi, in Lizartza, as well as on those with porches, sucha as Etxeberri in Altzo. A greater number of small slanting beams was introduced to join the vertical posts of the trellis, but never the curved parts often used in other parts of Europe. It was only half-way through the 17th century that the use of a thick inverted tree-shaped fork became fashionable in the upper vertex of the façade to support the ridge of roof as can be seen in places such as Ateaga (Anoeta). In Elkeita (Asteasu), however, these are hidden beneath the truss purlin.
The farmhouses which still have most of their main façade in wood are said to be the oldest in Gipuzkoa. In reality, they are only a cheaper and more showy kind of trellised architecture, in which the small beam trellis has been externally covered with a screen of vertical tongued and grooved or nailed boards.
Their period of historical validity was the 16th and first half of the 17th century, and they were applied to farmhouses which wanted to build a porch and needed a light material which wouldn’t overload the girder. The lower floor was always built in stone, but the skeleton or basic structure could still be made from thick oadk beams, which can still be seen, amongst many other examples, in Urbizu Bekoetxe in Idiazabal.
In most of the ancient Gipuzkoan farmhouses with wooden façades, boards can only be seen in the centre of the front wall, such as in Izar Haundi in Zumarraga, and it is rare to see them spread across the whole width of the building. In Gaztelu, in Bergara, recent renovation has done away with an example of this dating from 1530. In fact, this kind of structure is extremely fragile and difficult to isolate against the cold and damp, making their present –day maintenance fairly difficult. Today wood is only conserved, and replaced relatively often in the top part of the house, such as in the fivehundred-year-old Lazpiur in Bergara, where is function is to ventilate the hayloft.
Specifically Gipuzkoan types of wooden farmhouses are the building to which an extension was added to the front façade in the early 17th century, consisting of a wide covered threshing porch on the ground floor on top of which is a spacious granary with wooden walls, mounted on a series of pillars. The best conserved example of this has to be Igartubeitia in Ezkio-Itsaso, but some other related examples still survive, sucha as Arandi, in Ormaiztegi, which was the birth place of the Carlist General Tomás de Zumalacárregui, or Izarre Haundi in Gabiria, and Aginaga in Azkoitia. These houses seem extremely ancient, but actually correspond to a relatively evolved form of the Basque house, although made with poorer means.
Farmhouses with arched porches
With respect to construction quality and architectural design, farmhouses with porches comprising large carved stone arches were the higest peak in the historical evolution of the popular Gipuzkoan house. Their solidity, habitability and elegant aspect have few peers in the panorama of rural European architecture.
Their difusion is linked to the high development undergone by northern stone hewing during the Baroque period. They came into being in the mid-17th century and were successfully introduced amongst the better-off farmers, who had a confident view of the future thanks to the profibable acclimatization of corn.
The area in which these houses can be seen most coincides with the Southwestern quarter of Gipuzkoa. There are farmhouses of one, two and up to five large open arches at the base of the façade. However, just as those of one and two stone rosetons are common to Eastern Biscay, the Alavese valley of Aramaiona and the whole North-west of Navarre, those with three or more are a variety of Basque country house unique to the territory of Gipuzkoa.
The latter are the more stately, and are often huge farms with three and four floors, such as Lardamuño, in Zizurkil, with more than 500m2of ground plan under an enormous blanket of tiles. Unfortunately this image is often mutilated, because the fact that the porch is no longer used for agricultural functions has led to the growing custom of closing up some of thesse arches to increases the size of the kitchen and other rooms. This is the case in many ancestral houses such as Laskibar in Irura, Eduhegi in Bergara and Madalena in Segura.
One of the most important and outstanding developments of the time when farmhouses with arches and retaining walls started proliferating was that the building could be increased in height without endangering its stability. Due to this, in the mid-18th century, the second floor started being used as living quarters, increasing the number of bedrooms and introducing a more elegant area which was used as a room for receiving guests at family ceremonies, such as weddings, christenings and funerals. This additional floor is quite obvious in the most developed examples, such as Gurrutxaga in Zumarraga and Lapatza in Antzuola, although it was still inexistent in the generation of its forerunners, such as Irazabal Etxeberri in Bergara.
Farmhouses with no porch
The last generation of Gipuzkoan farmhouses, dating from the 19th ventury, abandoned the use of porches, both with arches as well as with a large wooden lintel. This was partly due to a desire to lead a more reserved and discreet lifestyle, centred around the family group, but was also a reply to the necessity of rationalizing domestic architecture.
In practice, this would seem to signify the triumph of an older type of farmhouse, that of the traditional stone Gothic-Renaissance house, but there are some importat differences brought about by more than three centuries of development. On making a superficial comparison, it can be seen that these modern farms were built from lower-quality materials, since they haven’t the great oak beams and ashlar arches of the 16th century houses; however, they were comparatively more comfortable to live in: they had large windows and several sources of natural light, were better isolated, had decent and independent dormitories, kitchens with functional chimneys and were more suitable for working with the harvest and animals.
The first examples, such as igor Txiki in Ernialde, still have the rustic feeling of stone hewn by traditional stone masons, outstanding amongst the series of identical and well-ordered white limestones windows, following the criteria of rationality imposed on all the constructions built during the neoclassical period. In later buildings only large farmhouses, such as Arane goikoa in Eskoritaza, still had rigidly and monotonously ordered doors and windows, with poor wooden or plastered brick lintels.
Today this can be considered as the wides-spread type of farmhouse in Gipuzkoa, although an apparently modern façade often hides the complex structure of a building hundreds of years old which, in its own way, has tried to adapt to the times