From Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Orientation of the house openings

The layout of the openings depended on the location of the house and on the local climate. In general, the largest number would be on the sunniest frontage, in other words, between the ones facing south or east. Windows were either not added to the north-facing wall or they were very small.

However, it was seen in some communities that if the kitchen was in this part of the house, it usually had a pantry next to a window, facing northwards, whose purpose was to keep food for longer.

Arrangement of the openings on the frontage

The arrangement of the opening on the frontage varies greatly not only from place to place, but also between the houses in a single town. Even so general rules can be made out and a certain level of harmony was usually sought that was often achieved by arranging the openings symmetrically.

The main door usually opened into the ground floor, which usually had a small window. The living area was generally on the first floor, which had larger windows and there was sometimes a balcony in the centre of the frontage. The third floor usually had smaller openings, if any, and there was sometimes a smaller balcony.


Main door

The house could be accessed through one or two doors. When there were two entrances, the main door was used by people and the other by the animals. If there was only one entrance, that doorway was used by both the residents and their livestock. The door to the stable had to be large enough for a pair of oxen harnessed to the wagon to get through. In the past, the door was always made out of timber. Another common feature is a hole, which is usually circular and known as a cat door. It was used for the cats and hens to come and go, and the key would sometime be left there when the dwellers were away from home. The doors usually open inwards and the walls around the opening are bevelled so that the inner part is larger.

If the doors are large, they are usually built out of vertical oak panels where any type of moulding is facing outwards. The panels are attached to thick planks made out of the same material, that are held in place horizontally inside by means of ironwork nails with large heads and which are sometimes decorated.

Apart from having the joint function of being the entrance and enclosing the house, the main door had other roles, which were not only artistic or architectural, but also as the building’s calling card, along with being symbolic. Certain rituals were performed there and items to protect the house and its inhabitants were and are still hung there.


The most interesting aspect of the windows in the past was there were relatively few of them and their small size. Yet this scarcity and smallness was not only the result of the climate, but also a different way of understanding the role of light and air.

Developments and the rise in the importance of hygiene led to ever bigger and more openings. There was also the added factor that it was difficult to buy glass in the past. One or two sheets of wood, in which one or two small glassless windows were made, were used to close the opening. This must have generally been the way of covering the window openings in the past, which was later replaced by using glass.

The trend to reduce the openings both in size and number is hardly surprising with such a poor closure system as barely any light entered if the window was closed and none if there were no small windows. On the other hand, if the window was open, the cold would come in. Once the use of glass was widespread, the windows could be larger.

The number of windows and their size also varied depending on which floor they were located. Therefore, they were few in number and small in the stabling and attic storage space, while they were larger and greater in number in the rooms used by the dwellers. On the other hand, windows are usually larger on the main frontage and smaller on the side walls.

The general rule seems to be that the older the house is, the smaller the windows are in size. Even though the windows of the floor or floors used as living quarters were enlarged when the houses were refurbished, the windows of the attic storage space are proof of how small those openings were in the past, provided that that storey has not been converted to be used for residential purposes.

Wooden shutters were common in the territory studied and were used to darken the rooms or to ensure privacy when the lights were turned on at night. It seems that the interior shutters were older than they outside ones, which have the added advantage of protecting the wooden window frames from bad weather.

Windows generally open inwards and the side windows having a side ones have chamfering meaning that the sizes of the opening on the inside wall are larger than the outside ones.


Balconies are a feature in damp and cloudy areas, where they are used as driers. When their only purpose, apart from light and ventilation, is to for the dwellers to go outside, and the balcony floor is therefore extended, in other words, the so-called lookout balconies, they were only generally a feature when the houses are on streets.

The drying balcony was in a protruding space exposed to the sun and protected as far as possible from the wind and rain, and was where the harvest produce and clothes of the members of the household were put out to dry.

The balconies were usually made out of timber and the railings out of iron.