History & Culture

The Basque Country has a wide artistic and cultural heritage which has been preserved for centuries. This rich history is also concentrated in its gastronomic heritage with its extensive and varied range of products and traditional dishes. In Hondarribia all of these resources come together in an urban, rural, marine and border equilibrium. The excellent geographical and environmental conditions have enabled the historical fostering of livestock, agriculture and fisheries.

There is archaeological evidence of Neolithic human settlements on the coast and on Mount Jaizkibel and we know about their diet as gatherers. Medlar seeds and the oldest finding of quince in the Spanish state were uncovered in a medieval site in the city centre.

Since its founding, a whale on the city’s coat-of-arms has symbolized Hondarribia’s centuries-old relationship with the sea, fishing, its gastronomy products and the great transoceanic voyages.

Recently, the first written document of North America was discovered, the will of a fisherman from Hondarribia in Newfoundland in 1563. It speaks of the death of ‘Domingo de Luça’ who died in Placencia harbour in Newfoundland in the course of a codfishing voyage. This document provides very interesting information.

The history of whaling recognises Basque fishermen as pioneers in this art of fishing. In a document from the year 1200, King Alfonso VIII asked for a whale each year from the “Arrantzales” or Basque fishermen. In the National Archives of Paris, there exists a city seal from 1335 showing fishermen harpooning a whale.

The Fisherman’s Guild of San Pedro was founded in 1361. It is the oldest in the Spanish State and still actively continues as a fraternity today. On July 25, the day of Saint James,  the Guild hold the ceremony of the ‘Kutxa’, and according to tradition, the catch of the next fishing season depends on the number of spins a youth can do while carrying the Kutxa on her head. The Kutxa is a wooden box that houses the relics of the Guild: the chalice with which the high mass is officiated, cruets and a silver cross and the Papal Bull granted to the Guild by Pope Clement VIII in 1595.

For centuries the traditional crops have been apples for cider and grapes for wine.

The traditional Basque wine, mostly white, is known as ‘Txakoli’, and its grapes are named after the city: hondarribi zuri, (the white) and hondarribi beltza (the black). Its origin is uncertain and opinion differs; for some, the vines were brought by the Arabs, and for others, by the Romans. Documentation already existed in the Middle Ages that speaks of its production, such as the settlement charter granted by King Alfonso VII to Hondarribia. The historical record of the city shows Txakoli references from as early as the sixteenth century (ordinances, prices…) and the shield of the city is decorated with bunches of these grapes. It was in the sixteenth century when these vineyards disappeared, possibly from an epidemic, but the city has now recovered them through a private initiative creating a new winery called ‘Hiruzta’.

Cider is produced throughout the historic province of Gipuzkoa, closely linked to the long whaling voyages of the Basques to the coast of Newfoundland. Cider was the usual drink on the vessels and not water which would become contaminated. Well known is the relationship of fishermen from Hondarribia to ‘Red Bay whaling base’ in Canada which they founded during the first half of the sixteenth century and is now a World Heritage Site. In the historic centre of Hondarribia, in its stronghold, there were abundant presses where cider was produced. Nowadays it is preserved in the farmhouses, buildings situated in rural areas which are economically self-sufficient.

The important role of Euskera, the Basque language, is evident in the transmission, protection and promotion of the culinary culture of Hondarribia. Also, in Hondarribia the work of women is key as bearers of the city’s culinary tradition and their role in its protection and transmission. Especially the net-menders, the women whose craftsmanship in the repair and maintenance of the nets of fishing vessels has been of note.

The great evolution experienced by the gastronomy of Hondarribia over the centuries is the result not only of social and economic changes but also the work and creativity of its ‘baserritarras’ (farmers), ‘arrantzales’ (fishermen), artisans, traders, hoteliers and cooks. However, the city has maintained its identity and its essential values of tradition through the involvement of all citizens in all daily culinary activities. This evolution culminates in two unique expressions of culinary creativity in the world: the ‘Gastronomic Societies’ and ‘Pintxos’.




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