Next to Bilbao
The westernmost tip of Biscay, Enkarterri (Las Encartaciones in Spanish) borders with Cantabria and Burgos, and comprises the following towns and villages: Abanto-Zierbena, Alonsotegi, Artzentales, Balmaseda, Galdames, Gordexola, Güeñes, Karrantza Valley, Lanetosa, Muskiz, Ortuella, Sopuerta, Turtzioz, Zalla and Zierbena. With a long history stretching back centuries to the foundation of Balmaseda in 1199, this region boasts an unrivalled architectural and natural heritage.
From the mountains that border Cantabria all the way down to the coastline in Muskiz, the territory is covered with forests and valleys carved by rivers – a strategic spot rich in natural resources and raw materials. Cave paintings and rock art attest to human habitation at least since the Late Stone Age. It was the Romans, though, who first noticed the potential for development and thus built a pathway to coastal Flaviobriga (present-day Castro Urdiales).
Medieval governing institutions allowed the locals to independently manage the land. A Pyrenean oak tree around which representatives from every town used to meet remains upright in Artzentales. Later on, as if to mark the geographical centre of the region, the meeting place was moved to the Avellaneda House of Assembly in Sopuerta. The majestic building has now been turned into a museum that provides a vivid testimony to the history of Enkarterri.
The Middle Ages were turbulent times, marked by vicious side wars that ravaged the region. The rival Oñaz and Gamboa factions confronted each other with extreme violence – a number of defensive tower-houses bear witness to fratricidal violence. The end to such wars prompted a new prosperity that resulted in the construction of urban palaces and the unification of villages into new towns and municipalities.
The local economy, dependent on trade, was badly affected after the opening of a new route to the inland in 1770. The period coincided with the rise of iron mining in the towns Muskiz, Abanto and Ortuella – which somehow made up for the decline, although the distant Karrantza and Lanestosa saw no benefit as many of the youth fled the impoverished region in search of a better future in the Americas. These emigrants, also known as “indianos,” would later return bursting with money aimed at building stunning mansions – a matter of pride and completion among th nouveaux riches.
This is but a glimpse of our history. Do not hesitate to drop by and find out more by yourself.