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Definition of the house concept and names

At the end of the second decade of the 20th century, Barandiaran wrote that the rural house was an institution made up of the building, its land, its dwellings and by tradition, in other words, by that web of relations that closely links the current generation with the past ones.

In Basque-speaking areas, etxea has been found to be the generic name given to that house in all the provinces.

Name of the house

It was common in rural area that the person who live in the house was known by its name, for example Goikomendi, or by the name resulting by adding the inhabitant's name to the house's, thus Goikomendiko Anton (Antón the one from Goikomendi), and his children to theirs as Goikomendiko Antonen semea edo alabea (the son or daughter of Antón the one from Goikomendi).

Caro Baroja points out that naming the houses followed several principles: that the house belonged to a certain person, a former use of the house, the topography, whether it was old or modern and the quality of its construction. Thus, the eastern part of the Basque Country (including Álava, Navarra and the north-Pyrenean Basque Country [lying within France]) is very rich in personal names, while the western part (Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa) have more descriptive names[1].

Name, surname and nickname of the owner

The information on Sangüesa (N) was taken as an example for this section. The most common formula here is to refer to the homes of the farmhands by their nickname, the stores generally by the first surname (Aramendia bakery, Landa sodas); by where the owner is from (El Lumbieraco); by the woman's name (La Mayorala); by the noble title (House of the Count of Javier); by an event (Casa de los Ruidos [House of the Noises]) or by its function (The Slaughterhouse).

Trade and activity of the owner

Caro Baroja points out that the houses of Bera (N), as is the case of many others of the Basque domain, have a founding name that refers to the earliest builder or to his trade. Several types are to be found: with the proper name, surname, nickname, the trade, etc., with the enea suffix; others with the words baita or -tegui, with borda, etc.[2].

Place name

The information on Donoztiri (BN) was taken as an example for this section. The proper name here refers to the topographic conditions of its location, thus for example, Bidegainea (on the path), Uhartea (between rivers); also to its origin, Argainborda (building of Argainea); sometimes to its use, Errientaenea (teacher's house) or to the building material used, Harretxea (stone house).

Orientation of the house

In the past, the aim was for the main entrance and/or the most important openings of the homesteads and isolated houses to be, as far as possible, south- or east-facing to enjoy the sun for most of the day. This also meant that they were protected from the prevailing winds and rain that come from the north and north-west areas of our territory. The stable occupied the northern part of the dwelling. In the Basque language, the term used to indicate the preferred orientation has generally been found to be eguzkira begira (looking at the sun), which is indiscriminately used to mean south and east facing.

East facing

In Sara (L), the situation and structure of the rural house area are in keeping with its traditional functions. Its main façade is east facing. The prevailing winds are from the west; the trees exposed to the winds incline sharply to the east and the rear or west-facing façades have only a few and small windows. The Labourd houses in general have their back to the Atlantic rain and the main façade therefore faces east or south-east, thus also benefitting from the first rays of sunlight[3].

South facing

The information on Valdegovía (A) was taken as an example for this section. The main door is south facing, the kitchen usually looks north to dry the meat from slaughtering the animals, for smoke to be drawn up the chimney and to store food in the pantries. As the majority of villages are laid out linearly, the houses were both on both sides of the road, preferably on the north rather than the south side.

Houses and lands in mixed and disperse settlements

The most general situation in rural areas is for the house to be located in the centre or close to fields or cropland, the meadows rather further away, and private or common uplands outermost. The houses can be scattered and away from the others, separated by spaces or strips of land, or grouped together.

Location of houses in concentrated arrangements

The paths were important in the concentrated settlements as the houses were usually built by them and their need and use are obvious as a means of communication and transport link.

Houses separated by party walls

Party walls were commonly used to separate houses and swelling in concentrated settlements, and the charter towns are the prime examples. Thus, the houses were adjoining, creating small communal interior courtyards, and forming small neighbourhoods, streets and districts.

Houses separated by a yard

Information on Aurizberri and Burguete, the towns in Navarre, has been used as the example for this section. There, the houses are grouped together, but not adjacent, and there is a small space between them that is not less than half a metre and which is known as artea in Basque and belena or corral (run or yard) in Spanish.

Land adjoined to the house

There are different names for the land adjoined to the house and it was used for different purposes, including as a vegetable garden.

Threshing floor

In Álava, the threshing floor, el rain or larraina, and the vegetable garden can be found next to the house. The threshing floor was where the grain was threshed in the past. In some communities, the threshing floor was also used to store firewood and for farming tasks such as stacking beetroot to feed the livestock (Agurain, Berganzo-A).

The vegetable garden is the plot where at least leafy and root vegetables are grown; which is home to some precious fruit trees, flowers and plants, and where clothes are dried on the clothesline. The house’s well is also usually in the vegetable garden.

Market or vegetable garden

In Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Navarre and the Northern Basque Country, some houses have a small vegetable garden to the side or behind, known as baratzea or ortua in the dialect of Bizkaia. If the market garden is irrigated, it was usually used to grow leafy and root vegetables, ortuariak and fruit, which were usually for consumption by the household and meticulously cultivated, and are or were looked after by the woman of the house, etxehoandrea. Some fruit trees are also grown here.

  1. In the first zone –as this author points out– , much of the process of the population moving from the countryside can be studied from the small urban centres, where there are many names ending in -enea, -ena, -baita, as many of what are now known as homesteads and which made up the disseminated population have names that shown their former dependency of those houses in streets or urban centres. CARO BAROJA, Los vascos, op. cit., pp. 126-132.
  2. Julio CARO BAROJA. “Las bases históricas de una economía tradicional” in CEEN, I (1969) pp. 22 and ss.
  3. Alain, LASSE. “L’architecture labourdine” in Etxea ou la maison basque. San Juan de Luz: 1980, p. 94.