Durango

City of heretics

The capital of the comarca of Durangaldea, found in the valley of the same name, Durango is a city with great historical value that has been the site of several incidents of heresy throughout its lengthy history. Advantageously located in central Biscay, between three parks and next to a highway, Durango is a perfect starting point for a tour of the province.

Plan your visit to Durango

Durango’s historical quarter can be toured in just one morning, but its location makes it possibly the best city from which to go on day trips around the rest of Biscay, especially excursions to the province’s three natural parks: Urdaibai on the coast, and Urquiola and Gorbea in the mountains. In under an hour you can get from Durango to almost any destination in Biscay, the closest ones being the legendary town of Arrigorriaga and the medieval town of Elorrio, just a few kilometers away. To the north, there’s Guernica and the fascinating Oma Forest with Santimamiñe Cave. There are numerous places to eat and a handful of places to sleep, which we have compiled on the pages “Sleeping in Durango” and “Eating in Durango”.

Want to explore this place?

Baptized Tabira de Durango and later Villanueva de Durango, as it was known until the 16th century, the town has long been populated, although the exact date of its founding is unknown. Originally under the domain of the Crown of Navarre, in 1195 it was annexed by Castile under Alfonso VIII the Noble who in 1212 ceded it to Diego López de Haro II, when it was absorbed into the Lordship of Biscay.

During the history of Durango, in the 14th and 15th centuries the War of the Bands was waged among different noble families from the historical territory of the Basque Country. Durango was the stage of bloody battles between the Ibarguren, Zaldibar, and Unzueta families.

The modern history of Durango includes several cases of heresy. Between 1442 and 1444, the Franciscan Friar Alonso de Mella proposed a new interpretation of the Bible while openly criticizing the pope, the wealth of the Church, and traditional sexuality and also advocated for a new comunidad libre (free community). More than 100 heretics, followers of Mella’s interpretation, were burned to death on Calle Kurutziaga where a commemorative cross was later erected, an event which also took place in Santo Domingo de la Calzada and Valladolid. In the 18th century, a Dominican apostate who practiced healing in Durango was ultimately tried and imprisoned by the Inquisition. In the final third of the 19th century, a self-proclaimed prophet known as Manzanero arrived in Durango after he made predictions about the end of the world and was driven out of his town by villagers throwing stones. His ideas took root in Durango, where he founded his own sect with few repercussions beyond the boundaries of the comarca.

The 16th century was marked by tragedy: there were multiple plague outbreaks and a great fire that reduced all wooden construction to ashes. In the 17th century, the town’s iron industry flourished, providing Castile with all kinds of weaponry. Durango also specialized in the production of decorative architectural elements, especially balconies.

Imagen antigua de Durango

Moving into the 19th century, Durango was occupied during the first two Carlist Wars, as it was the site of the court of the pretender to the throne, Don Carlos. During the first Carlist War the Decree of Durango was signed, leading Carlos to order the execution of the captured foreign combatants.

On March 31, 1937, Durango was bombed by the German Condor Legion in service of the Spanish Nationalists, causing over 500 fatalities. This attack took place just before the Guernica bombing, but the latter would be the one to go down in history for its international repercussions and the impact of Picasso’s famous interpretation of the event in his painting Guernica.

Starting in the 1950s, Durango’s economy began to grow thanks to the industrial development that also generated a large influx of immigration from elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula. Currently, Durango has consolidated its status as one of the most important towns in the Basque Country.

The town of Durango in the Duranguesado Valley is located on the left bank of the Ibaizabal River and is spanned from south to north by the Mañaria River, a tributary of the Ibaizabal. It is just ten kilometers from one of the Basque Country’s most unique ecosystems, Urkiola Natural Park. Therefore, many of the main tourist attractions are linked to nature and outdoor activities such as hiking, climbing, and spelunking, among others.

Despite the devastating 1937 bombing, the town conserves a wealth of history and art in its interesting historical quarter. Spanning the area between Santa María de Uribarri Church and Santa Ana Church, it maintains its egg-shaped medieval form with four parallel streets (Barrenkale, Artekale, Goienkale, and Kalebarria) and one intersecting street (Zeharkale).

Begin your tour in Ezkurdi Plaza, next to the railroad station. From there, go down Calle Andra Mari to arrive at Santa María de Uribarri Basilica, the city’s main church which has been designated a Bien de Interés Cultural (Asset of Cultural Interest). Built in the 14th century, the structure is fundamentally Gothic with some Renaissance elements and Baroque refurbishments. The church has a notable bell tower, which sits atop the long-standing Arandoño Tower. Its portico is emblematic of the city. This enormous structure is supported by oak beams and has a capacity of 2,000 people. Flea markets used to be held inside. Inside, note the main altarpiece, the work of the sculptor Martín Ruíz de Zubiaute.

Nearby on Calle Kurutziaga you can find the Cross of Kurutziaga, also known as the Calvary of Durango, which was supposedly erected as an expiatory monument after the heresy of Alonso de Mella. The Gothic-style cross features an impressive column of more than four meters high with detailed decoration depicting the story of humanity’s redemption, from original sin to the Passion of Christ. The serpent of the Garden of Eden, with the head of a woman, coils around the shaft of the column, and it also features the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil along with other symbolic elements. The cross itself represents the Crucifixion. The Cross has been moved to Veracruz Chapel, which currently houses the Kurutzesantu Museum.

Taking Calle Barrenkalea, we come upon Lariz Tower, a Renaissance mansion built in the late 15th century where it is believed that Queen Isabella may have spent the night in 1483. It is the only one of Durango’s five mansions that is still preserved today, and it currently houses the office of tourism.

Continuing along Calle Barrenkalea or Calle Artekalea, you’ll come to the town hall, a unique 16th-century Renaissance building in the Classical style with Neapolitan influences. The rectangular building is divided into two floors and an attic. Its façade, which features an arcade with seven arches and a large balcony on the first floor, was covered with bright polychrome in 1772 with Rococo motifs of legendary architectural works, love stories, hunting scenes, etc. On the ground in front of town hall there is a plaque that depicts the 1857 city plan, where you can see the town’s oval-shaped configuration with the four main streets mentioned earlier.

Take either Calle Barrenkalea, Calle Artekalea, or Calle Goienkalea to get to Santa Ana Plaza, where you’ll find the church and the gate of the same name. In medieval times, Durango was surrounded by a defensive wall with a total of six gates, but the only one that still stands is Santa Ana Gate (Market Gate) which served as an exit for the old road to Castile. Built in 1566 according to Renaissance design, it was renovated in the Baroque style in 1743. The gate is a large two-floor triumphal arch with a walkway in the semicircular arch. Next to it is Santa Ana Parish Church, an 18th-century Baroque construction that replaced a building from the Renaissance.

Crossing under the arch and over the river, you’ll arrive in the Tabira neighborhood where San Pedro de Tabira Church is located. The city of Durango originally developed around this 16th-century church built on top of a 12th-century chapel. The rectangular-shaped Gothic construction, notable for its choir, consists of two floors and features Mudéjar-style latticework. In the bottom of the church are two medieval sarcophagi which, according to legend, belong to the mythical count and countess of Durango, Sancho Esteguiz and Doña Toda, who were part of the legendary Battle of Padura. Rosario Chapel completes the church and is adjoined to it on its north side.

Ayuntamiento de Durango

Returning to the historical quarter, on the corner of Calle Agustinalde and Bruno Mauricio Zabala we find Etxezarreta Mansion, which houses the Durango Art and History Museum, including a section dedicated to Basque art as well as one dedicated to the history of the town and the comarca. Also on exhibit is a miniature model of Durango in the 15th century. The mansion also houses the Center for the History of Crime, which has to do with the acts of heresy that took place in the town.

On the same street you can find el Convento de los Agustines Descalzos (Convent of the Barefoot Augustinians), built in the 17th century, whose church currently shelters the Saint Augustine Cultural Center, a space which holds a wide variety of live events ranging from theater to concerts as well as other cultural activities. Not too far from there you’ll also find the Zabala Mansion, the birthplace of Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, the founder of Montevideo.

There’s a lot to see in Durango in December. The long weekend for Constitution Day coincides with the Feria del Libro y del Disco Vasco (Basque Book and Record Festival), one of the biggest events in the Basque cultural scene.

Must see

Place d’Armes
Rue Principale

Practical Data

Coordinates

43° 10′ 0″ N, 2° 38′ 0″ W

Distances

Bilbao 33 km, San Sebastián-Donostia 71 km, Madrid 418 km

Parking

Free parking at the second entrance to Durango (coming from the direction of Bilbao). The historical quarter is a pedestrian area and there is free parking outside the “blue zone.”

Altitude

119 m

Populations

28 691 (2013)

San Fausto Day (October 13)

Durango Book and Record Festival (beginning of December)

Nearby destinations

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