Heritage

Oñati: awaking the senses.

In Oñati, today is history, and tomorrow is being constructed. Oñati is a sparkling, unspoilt jewel. A natural area in which every detail is guaranteed to delight and surprise.

Oñati is a Basque region, and as such, is imbued with all the characteristics of an age-old culture: its own language, individual personality, historical roots and ability to adapt to the changing times. It is also special due to the fact that it was a Señorío and County for so many years. The Señores (or Lords) and later Counts of Oñati held dominion over the town for many centuries, and the region did not become part of Gipuzkoa until 1845, something which left its mark on the personality and awareness of the population.

Oñati is often said to be the most historic town in the province of Gipuzkoa and the great painter, Ignacio Zuloaga, once described it as the Basque Toledo. Oñati awakens the senses, both because of what it once was, and because of what it is. A walk around Oñati is like taking a trip back in time, uncovering a way of life that now no longer exists. A walk around Oñati is to discover the genuine feeling of all the ages of mankind.

This unique town is also the birthplace of a number of prominent figures, one of the most famous being Rodrigo Mercado de Zuazola, who was a very influential man in his day. Born to a humble family, he rose to a high position in the church as a result of his natural talent. Nevertheless, his most lasting achievement was the foundation of Oñati University. He defrayed the construction costs and in 1548, the university was officially opened. The University of Oñati can hold its own against the great universities of the era, such as Salamanca, Valladolid and Bologna, among others. Classes continued right up to 1902, when a government decree forced it to close its doors. Although it no longer functions as a university, visitors can still admire the wonderful renaissance building, with its plateresque entranceway which depicts, among other elements, the virtues to which man should aspire, Rodrigo Mercado de Zuazola himself and evidence that it was built under the protection and patronage of the powerful emperor Carlos I of Spain and V of Germany.

Although the university was built in just eight years, the San Miguel Parish Church needed more than three centuries to gain its current appearance. Many of the secrets of Oñati are located here, either buried underground or standing proud for all to see. Art and human symbolism just waiting to be deciphered. The same can be said of many of the town's other buildings, which meant the world to their illustrious creators. One such building is the Bidaurreta Monastery, a fine example of renaissance architecture and the mausoleum of the chief accountant at the court of the Catholic Monarchs of Castile, Pero Lopez de Lazarraga, as well as of his wife and followers.

Time and time again, Oñati has spread its wings and adapted to the changing times. The University contributed knowledge, accompanied by illustrious names and the construction of magnificent palaces. As a result, Oñati is an architectural delight, filled with wonderful buildings set around majestic squares and hidden gardens that sweep us back in time.

Oñati has the largest surface area of any town in Gipuzkoa. Its many districts or neighbourhoods contain numerous marvels just waiting to reveal their charms, one of the most important being the popular architecture of the imposing farmhouses.

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However, a tour of these districts could hardly fail to include a visit to what is perhaps the town's most famous area: Arantzazu. More than five hundred years ago, the Virgin Mary appeared here on a thorn bush to a local inhabitant. The sanctuary was built soon after but it was not until the middle of the 20th century that a number of artists of great renown, both in the Basque Country and the rest of the world, such as Oteiza, Txillida, Basterretxea and others of the same generation, got together to build the magnificent avant garde complex that greets visitors as they approach this beautiful mountain site, which provides both the backdrop to and inspiration for the building.

Beyond its outlying farmhouses, Oñati also enables us to journey back through both time and space to a place inside each of us that is awakened by the beauty of the natural landscape. Although the Aizkorri Nature Reserve is the area's most famous natural area, there are also numerous other paths, all well-signposted, which take us around the local area past megalithic monuments, remains of craft activities long since disappeared, old roads and bridges, rivers that disappear right before our eyes in order to reappear just as miraculously a little further downstream, beautiful landscapes and caves once inhabited by both mankind and animals belong to now extinct species. Oñati is a paradise for anthropologists and palaeontologists. In this sense, and owing to the importance of some local finds, an ambitious project has been launched which aims to recover the inside of Arrikrutz cave, a project which will no doubt tell us much about the region's former inhabitants and their dwellings.

Oñati feels and evokes feeling. It dances and celebrates. The survival of deeply-rooted traditions such as the Corpus Christi day procession is unique. This procession, which goes back hundreds of years, is an intrinsic part of the town's personality.

Oñati is sensitive to life. For this reason, it takes the utmost care when sketching its future. And if the University of Oñati played an important role in its past, so Mondragón University is a key part of its present and future, particularly owing to the establishment of a strategic centre focusing on new technologies. The diversification of activities helps the town build a better future, and this is one of Oñati's most important assets: its ability to adapt to change, foreseeing future trends and implementing the improvements required to survive in the years to come.

Oñati calls out to our senses. It is a land to see and to enjoy.