De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Esta página es una versión traducida de la página RELACION DE LA CASA CON EL SUELO EL CLIMA Y LA ACTIVIDAD. La traducción está completa al 100 %.

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The house and its setting

This chapter considers the influence that the soil and climate had when building traditional houses. Aspects are analysed such as the nature of the soil that not only conditions the depth of the foundations, but also the type of stone used to build the house, the presence of water in the sub-soil, the relief, protection against adverse climate conditions and, in short, the influence that climate has had on the way of building.

The houses were built taking into account the proximity of the cultivated land, orientation, being sheltered from the winds and having water nearby. As the most fertile land areas were kept for crops, the houses were built on stonier areas, which were less apt for farming (Orozko-B).

As regards the land belonging to the house, each one would ideally have land next to it, which would be used to grow vegetables for own consumption and domesticated animals. From the perspective of a livestock farmer, the ideal situation was for all the land to be concentrated in a single piece with the house and the ancillary buildings located there, that the land would be flat or at least slightly undulating, deep enough, but not waterlogged, south and never north facing, crossed by a water course or have springs and some trees to provide shade for the livestock (Carranza Valley-B).

The relationship of the house with the climate

The local climate was a very important aspect to be taken into account when building a house in the past. It should be remember that the insulating materials used today were unknown in the past and there were sometimes no glass panes for the windows.

Climate conditions affected nearly all the elements that form part of the structure of a house, particularly outside, which insulate the room occupied by the people and also often by the animals.

It was also usual that trees were planted around isolated houses in the past as protection, particularly the roof, from the wind and to provide shade during the summer. The most valued species were therefore perennials, such as the holm oak and also the bay laurel.

The house and the activity of its dwellers

The houses also were adapted to the needs of their dwellers. Thus, their structure was generally adapted to farming activities, which prevailed in the area studied. The type of farming was also a factor, meaning that the house of a livestock farmer was different to the one of a crop farmer.

The dwellings were also adapted to the artisan activities of their owners. Those activities were usually carried out on the ground floor. In many locations, both in the case of separate houses or blocks of housing, the artisan or commercial activities of cobblers, farriers, carpenters, the café-casinos [cafés with an area where members could play at cards and gamble], etc, were sometimes located on the ground floor of the house; others, in the hallway or ezkaratza, in the gateway or in the stable, and even in an adjoining building or on the first floor. That was also true for other trades such as seamstresses, tailors, barbers, etc., as they only needed to use one room of the dwelling or the ground floor to be able to ply their trade. Professionals, including doctors, lawyers and similar professions, had one or more rooms on the floor where they lived fitted out to exercise their profession. Consequently, the difference between those houses where different trades or craft activities were performed and other dwellings was not in the outside of the building but rather in the lay-out of the inside area.


The information on Orexa (G) was taken as an example for this section. The houses there were built with three objectives: to be used as the dwelling for the family, to provide shelter for the animals in the stable and to store the grass in the hay loft. The hay lofts were enclosed when facing north, while the east-facing ones were nearly always open and the grass usually remained as it had been stored. Access to the ganbara was direct from the outside so the grass could be stored there more easily.


In more urban settings, a separation could be seen between the ground floor, used for artisan work or trade, and the upper part, used for dwelling purposes, but belonging to different families.

Current adaptations

As the houses lost their traditional functions, their structures were modified to adapt to the changing times. The homesteads are usually no longer inhabited for the requirements and tasks for which they were built, and they have therefore been transformed from a modern approach.

The mass exodus from livestock-farming has freed up the space of the stable and also the hay loft. Even when the family continues with that work, the trend has been to no longer keep the livestock in the stable for hygienic reasons and making it easier to manage the animals, and that space has likewise been freed up. The stabling has then been adapted for other purposes, including as a workshop, garaging for the car and other vehicles, and often as a living area.

The stable, given its size, has also proven ideal to be used as a txoko or place to gather around the table. In the old houses where not many modifications have been made, it has been used to house the heating boilers and diesel fuel tanks.

As has been the case in Navarra, the rooms with presses in general have fallen out of use and were used as granaries or junk rooms for some years. Finally, they have disappeared as they were converted in storehouses, garages, stores or bars.

Appendix: Influence of the production on the types of homesteads

Alberto Santana, when considering the different types of homesteads that could be found in Bizkaia, argued that their diversity is not down to climate or to the different source of the construction materials as those conditioning factors are throughout the territory, but rather to local building tradition and to the specialist production of certain areas. Since production varied down through the centuries and that was reflected in the house, the result is the accumulation of different types of homesteads.