From Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
Jump to: navigation, search

Other languages:
Inglés • ‎Español • ‎Euskera • ‎Francés


The term "foundations" has two meanings: the part of the building that is underground and bearing the whole structure, and the land on which the same building stands.

In general, preparing the foundations usually involves digging between 70 cm and a metre, looking for a layer of rock or hard clay, and that they are basically made of stone, even though we will see that timber is used in very damp soil.

Outside walls

The purpose of the outside walls of the dwelling, along with the roof, is to close a space where the dwellers can be safe and sheltered from inclement weather. They also support the roof[1].

Construction materials

The materials used to construct the outside walls of the houses have been stone, timber and earth, baked as bricks and not baked as adobe or tapial.

However, Urabayen, back at the end of the second decade of the 20th century, warned that the better communications would gradually popularise the use of other materials such as cement and steel, or those earlier ones in areas where they were not readily available[2].

Walls with timber latticework

The presence of wood in the latticework is a feature that reveals the age of the building as the houses with latticework date back to an intermediate stage between the old constructions make completely of timber and the later ones where stone was used for the enclosures.

Masonry walls

Masonry is the most expensive way to build as working the stone involves a great deal of work and therefore money. However, a masonry wall is stronger. Therefore, this type of walls were used in buildings where the main aim is to achieve ostentation or durability.


A crucial aspect when building a wall was the material used to hold the stones together. More recently, concrete has been used for that purpose, but in the past, prior to that component coming into use.


Caves or underground dwellings are simple excavations in the ground divided into compartments that make up the different rooms. Those to be found in southern Navarra are different from many of the ones in Aragón as the former are dug out of a cliff while the latter are underground.

They were to be found in quite an extensive area in Navarra and were located in the zone where brick and adobe prevailed.

Timber internal structure

Widespread use of timber

There is the widespread belief that the oldest farmsteads are those where the use of timber predominates and not only for its internal structure, but also as enclosures. That has been pointed out by several authors, such as Caro Baroja referring to Gipuzkoa, although it applies to the rest of the territory.

Timber was used for many parts of the house, particularly in the northernmost zone of the territory studied, where trees were more available. The wood was used to support the tiles, the flooring of the upper floors, the main and often the only component of the stairs, a fundamental part of doors and windows, and also of balconies in some cases. It was also the main material used to make traditional furniture and fixtures.

Bench base

Normally, the posts are supported by the wall that encloses the first floor, meaning that they do not stand on the ground, thus preventing the timber from rotting from the damp.

It is the same case with the posts of the interior timber structure that starts from the ground floor. There were not supported on the earth or on rock, but rather on a piece of stone that is, in generally, truncated pyramid-shaped that insulated the base of the posts from the dampness of the floor and, to a great extent, as this floor was used as stabling, from the manure. That piece of stone is known as the bench base.


As regards the structure, the most common practice was for large posts to rise up from the ground floor to support the thick beams running across the width of the building and which supported other smaller posts on which the plank floors and partitions were placed. Other vertical posts would rise up from there which supported a second floor, as applicable, and afterwards the structure of the roof, which was timber has already been seen.

Inside walls and partitions

In some towns of Gipuzkoa, the existence of inside walls dividing the farmstead into two so that the sleeping alcoves were separated from the rest of the dwelling.

In large areas of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, it was common for farmsteads were divided in half following the axis that runs from the frontage to the rear wall, in such a way that it could be inhabited by two different families. That division was by means of a gutter wall.

Adobe was widely used, particularly in the past, in the southern part of the territory.


Indoor stairs

In the southern part of the territory studied, materials such as plaster and bricks were used to construct staircases, while planks were used in the northernmost zone. In an event, stone is also seen, particularly when the entrance steps to the house are outdoors.

Outdoor stairs

One particular type of stair is the outdoor staircase to the building meaning that the first floor can be accessed from the street. These staircases can be on the side or appear on the frontage of the house, as is typical in Zeanuri (B), where they lead to the balcony, which leads into the inside of the house. That staircase is known as patin.


Plank roofs

In the northernmost area of Vasconia, where timber is abundant, the plank floor was usually the roof of the room under it in the farmsteads.

Ceilings were gradually introduced to improve the aesthetical aspect of the rooms to provide greater luminosity. This was possibly one of the first renovations carried out to the roofs of the farmsteads.

Origin of the construction materials


The quarries nearly to each settlement were one of the most important sources of stone for construction.

Stone was sometimes obtained from the river as it was customary to use boulders.

Lime and plaster

Lime has been an important element both as part of the mortar that had a similar function in the past as concrete does today, and to whiten the walls, partitions and roofs.


The most sought-after timber was oak[3] due to its strength and durability. It should also be noted that it was the most abundant.

In the same way as with the other construction materials, the oak traditionally usually came from the surrounding area.

  1. URABAYEN, La casa navarra, op. cit., p. 74.
  2. URABAYEN, La casa navarra, op. cit., pp. 79-80.
  3. Es de presumir que los utilizados hayan sido de distintas especies ya que en el área estudiada crecen varias, ninguna de las cuales abarca todo el territorio, y que de todas ellas las empleadas en construcción, como es obvio, hayan sido las maderables: al norte el roble pedunculado (Quercus robur), en las zonas montuosas centrales, de mayor altitud, el roble albar (Quercus petraea) y al sur el quejigo (Quercus faginea).