From a historical point of view, Ataun has been a very important town thanks to its strategic location – it is on the Navarre border. Although nowadays it is not an important stopping off point, at one time the road from Navarre to the coast passed through.

Enlarge imageSan Gregorio Magno

The San Gregorio Magno Church

The population of the town, in centuries gone by, was much greater than it is now, which bears witness to its importance. At present, vestiges of that illustrious past are still conserved: the Zubikoeta (17th cent.) and Zelaibar (16th cent.) palaces, San Martín de ToursSan Gregorio Magno (19th cent.) and Santa Isabel (20th) churches, the Town Hall (17th cent.)… There are also treasures inside them, such as the Iberian baroque organ in San Martín’s church, one of the most important of the 7 that exist in Gipuzkoa, and a Renaissance altarpiece.

Enlarge imageThe Elorreta sheep pen

The Elorreta sheep pen

If we go back further in time, the dolmens left by the first settlers (the megalithic stations of Aralar and Ataun-Burunda), the remains from caves, such as Pikandieta or Limurita and the remains of the old Roman road in Berrenoa are of particular importance. One may also visit numerous spots discovered and presented by the Ataun man, Joxemiel Barandiaran.

Following the tradition, the shepherd’s sheep pens, the cable and pulley which have been so important especially for transporting grass and wood, and the lime kilns, have been conserved to help us to understand the way of life in the past. And of course there is the treasure compiled by Joxemiel, the pride and joy of the people of Ataun, which can be seen in the Barandiaran Museum: the mythological world.

Dolmen and caves

Aitxuloko zista

Ataun is packed with prehistoric vestiges, there are numerous dolmens and caves full of tools left behind by human beings thousands of years ago as well as other vestiges. The megalithic stations of Aralar and Ataun-Burunda afford us the opportunity to walk over the Arantzazumendi, Lizarrusti/Aietsu and Ubegi mountains, going from dolmen to dolmen and seeing dwelling places of the gentiles, such as the wall of Urrezulo, Praalata, Larreluze, Intsusburu and many others and getting to know the environment that farmers and shepherds used to live in.

But there are even older remains in Ataun, where lie the oldest vestige of the presence of human beings in Aralar: the Usategi cave. These first vestiges date back 27,000 years and more recent vestiges have been found in caves such as Pikandieta, Kobazar, Armontaitz and many others. However, the most famous cave in Ataun is the Troskaeta cave, for it is several kilometres long and the bones of the Urdus Spelaeus bear found there are of special relevance. Therefore, it can be seen that Ataun is an enclave abounding in caves and dolmens and the presence of prehistoric man can be felt in the air.

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The carriageway

Berrenoako galtzada

The road that goes through Ataun today is late, specifically from the 19th century and its importance is not a fraction of what the old road’s was. In fact, before the present road network was created, as it was a stopping off place between two territories, Ataun has always recognised that it is a “gateway”.

The old road, which united Gipuzkoa and Navarre lead through the Berrenoa mountain pass on the route which went from Atxurrenea through Ergoiena, San Gregorio, Arrondo, Astigarraga to San Martín and in Igartza it joined the old Gipuzkoa road network.

It was a road for carriages and carts, as donkeys and horses were used for transport. There are still some remains of this road, and in Berrenoa, remains can be seen of the stone carriageway built in the Middle Ages.

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Elorretako saroiak

The sheep pens are places where the flock takes refuge at night and the shepherds shelter. There is usually a cabin which serves as a shelter for the shepherds when they go up to the mountain pastures in summer.

The sheep pens are usually to be found in a sheltered place away from currents of air, in a hollow or next to a rock. Each sheep pen usually includes one or more shacks for the shepherd to shelter in and also sheepfolds, vegetable gardens, a stable or a place to milk the sheep, etc. in the Basque Country, there are several types of sheep pen; here, we are more concerned with those in the area of Ataun and Aralar. Nowadays, in this area the rooves are of roof tiles but, as this was forbidden in the past, they were thatched, gabled, not very inclined roves. The door is under the highest part and there are no windows. The cabin is usually divided into three parts: the first part, after the entrance, has a “roof” and this is where the kitchen is and where the utensils for making cheese are kept. Then there is the bedroom – the bed is usually made up of heather. And finally, there is the cheese dairy covered with planks or cloth. The walls are of wood and the floor is usually of earth which has been compressed by treading on it, although it may also be of slabs or wood. As well as the cabin there is usually a stone enclosure, which is the stable or where the sheep are milked.

In Ataun there are remains of old sheep pens. In the area of Agautz, we will see more than one cabin and stable in an incomparable spot.

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Arrondasaietxen kablea

This was used in very few towns, as the system is related with the orography. However, in Ataun, it was of great importance and extremely useful. Nowadays, it is used for transporting grass. In a study carried out in 1996, 197 cables and pulleys were counted; today, there remain 32, only 17 of which are used. What happened was that in the 1950s farmers were introduced to the tractor systems and, when pinewood was processed industrially, the cable and pulley were used less and less.

The cable and pulley is a system of transport created to make work on the farm easier. Ataun is in a valley through which the River Agauntza and its tributaries run and there are steep slopes within a short distance. Because of the rugged terrain, most farmhouses are built at the foot of the mountains and consequently, districts are formed but the grass and the leaf litter has to be brought down from the mountains. In the past, the necessary raw materials were brought down on horses or on the farmer’s back or in whatever way possible as there were no trails for carts at that time. And this is how it was until the 20 th century when, in the 1920s, the people of Ataun began to use the cable and pulley to make farm work easier. The cable and pulley adapted perfectly to the needs of the people of Ataun with its steep slopes until it finally became the main system of transport of agricultural products. The cable and pulley was so successful that the trade of cable-maker was created.



Arrondasaietxen kablea

The production of lime was a job that was developed in Ataun for 5 centuries. At that time, lime was essential for survival: it was necessary in quarries, building work and agriculture. The materials needed to produce lime were stone and fuel and all the work could be carried out without the need to leave Ataun. [2].

Lime is a fertilizer or a valuable element for building work and it is produced by burning limestone in a hole. In Ataun, there were three types of lime kilns: holes in the ground, pots and ovens.

The first system used to produce lime was that of the hole in the ground; nowadays, not one is left. Although the system was old and tiring, the lime produced in this way was the cleanest. Wherever there was limestone and fuel (gorse, heather, twigs and branches…) a hole between 5 and 6 metres in diameter and 1 metre deep was made in the ground. The fuel was placed at the bottom of the hole and then, as was the case of the charcoal kilns, the door and the chimney were built. The secret of good lime was to keep the fire going with patience, putting more fuel on little by little.

Later, came the pots, better-known in other places as lime kilns or lime holes. This was a great advance as it was no longer necessary for someone to be present to keep the fire going and, besides, they were near the farmhouses. However, it is still a job carried out by neighbours: the transport of stones and wood was, as always, very tiring. The secret of this technique was to adapt the lime kiln to burn wood and stone only, without any difficulty. But although this signified progress, the lime obtained was not as clean as that obtained from the holes made in the ground. One of the few lime kilns still conserved can be found next to the Amundarain farmhouse.

Finally, came the ovens, which made it posible to produce lime continually (day and night). The lime kilns that exist in Ataun today are of this type. They have two main points of entry: the fire door to light the fire and start the lime kiln going and the loading door, through which stone and fuel are added. Today, there are five lime kilns left [1]: Sukia, Urrestarazu-Garakoa, Baztarrika-Garakoa, Olaluzeaga and Errazti the hut in Lizarrusti; the one in Olaluzeaga can be seen by everyone.



Zubikoeta Palace (17th cent.)

The palace was built by General Gabriel de Zubikoeta. It is a four-gabled roof building with a square floor and the four sides are on view. Two square towers at the front of the building cut into the roof. Painted s tone walls. Coat of arms in the centre of the façade. On the roof there is an wooden structure protruding from the attic.

The San martín de Tours church (16th-17th cent.)

Built where the previous church (13th cent.) stood. The main altar is not facing towards the east, as is usually the case, but towards the west due to the different modifications made at various times. The front part was begun in the 16th century and its wooden pillars and posts are covered with planks. In the 18th century it was demolished and rebuilt. In fact, in 1730 the master architect, Domingo Bernardo de Arabia built the tower and Francisco Auzmendi built the choir between 1750 and 1752 following Ignacio Ibero’s plans. The front part, however dates back to 1833. The owners of Lazkao House wanted to appropriate it in the 16 th century but the neighbours took the matter to court and won the case in 1851. It has a coat of arms on the façade: a castle with a warrior in the centre, which bears witness to the fact that a castle probably existed there in the past.

In the church portico, meetings of neighbours were held until the Town Hall was founded in 1658. The dead were buried in the church until 1808, when a law was passed forbidding the burial of the dead in churches.


The remains of the old castle are to be found on the first peak in the Aizkoate mountain range, above the quarry at a height of 480m. between the 11 th and 14 th centuries, it was a place of great interest as, in the Middle Ages, it was an important stopping off point during the conflict between Castile and Navarre. There used to be a fort to watch over the border between both kingdoms and it probably had some connection with shepherding. This may be the origin of the legend that says that it was the dwelling place of the “gentiles”. The gentiles were a strong, savage race that did not want to convert to Christianity but who often came into contact with the inhabitiants of the people who lived in the town below.

King Alfonso VIII of Castile took the Athagun or Athavit Castle away from the Navarrese in the year 1200 but the Navarrese recuperated it in 1261. In 1279 it was besieged by troops from Gipuzkoa but when Navarrese reinforcements arrived, they had to retreat. Thanks to an inspection made in 1294, we know that, at that time, it was burnt, which tells us that it was mainly built of wood but it was rebuilt. In 1335, troops from Gipuzkoa kept the castle under siege once again, for two months. In 1378, by order of the King of Navarre, and after the war with Castile, the castle was torn down because it was thought to be of no value. Since then, there has been no evidence and the location of the fort has, until the present day, been considered to be in Jentilbaratza, riddled with legends regarding the gentiles.

Joxemiel Barandiaran began his first research work in Jentilbaratza. In 1916, he found utensils, nails, pieces of rusty iron, pieces of swords, three spear tips and two coins from the 12th century. From there, anybody who passed would be watched, judging by the remains found, which were a clear indication of war and struggle. In 1928, two forest rangers found a Roman gold ring at the bottom of the hill where the castle stood; it had an eagle engraved on it and it probably fell from the castle. There is still a good section of wall on the top of the hill, specifically the western wall and there is still a beautiful hole in perfect state of conservation cut into the rock to keep water in (a small well 2.5 x 4m). Next to it but a little further down, we will find a cave hole in the southern slope of the rock and, according to Barandiaran, a sort of window opens out onto the eastern slope. It appears that the cave was joined to the castle because steps were cut into the rock to get from one place to the other.

Saint Calvary (16th cent.)

It can be found in the district of Astigarraga. It was created by Pedro Ortiz de Telleria, who was an active rector of the parish. In a document from 1619, the following can be read: “they asked for permission to build a church in the so-called Mount Calvary…” and in his testament, in 1632, he says: “…furthermore, on Mount Calvary, I order there to be two masses for my soul to be put to rest…as I had it built for the Association of the Holy Cross”.

Astigarraga bridge

The prestigious building contractor, Miguel Imaz Apalategi took part in the building of this bridge. Construction was completed in 1921 and the result was a beautifully structured bridge with two concrete balls on either side (at present, one of them is missing), the legs of an animal and a human face on the central support (the 1953 floods washed one of the paws away). Among Miguel Imaz Apalategui’s most important works are the Hotel María Cristina, the Victoria Eugenia Theatre and the Gran Casino Kursaal.

Perunezar baserria

The house where Joxemiel Barandiaran was born. J. Barandiaran was born on the 31 st December 1889.

Sara (20th cent.)

The farmhouse where Joxemiel Barandiaran lived. Joxemiel spent 17 years in exile in the north of the Basque Country (1936-1953), the last 13 in the Bidartea farmhouse in the town of Sara. Before returning to Ataun, he built the Sara farmhouse (1952) to look like the Bidartea farmhouse. He lived there until his death in 1991.

Zelaibar Palace (16th cent.)

One of the Lazkao Landlord’s tower houses. A four-gabled roof with the four sides on view. It has stone walls, and ashlar corners in the shape of a chain can be seen. The windows and doors are very much closed and with a flat arch. The entrance by one of the facades has a pointed arch and the other entrance has a semicircular arch. Both entrances have arch-stones.

San Gregorio Margno’s church (16th cent.)

It stands on a rock to the west of the Arrate trail. In the past, the carriageway leading to Navarre passed by here to the Berrenoa mountain pass. At first, it was a hermitage. In documents from 1535, mention is made of two “…hermitages in San Gregorio and San Sebastian…”. It has been rebuilt several times but the most important change took place in 1893 when it took on the shape that can be seen today.

The temple, which was built on a medieval fort, belonged to the Lord of Lazkao. It has a ground floor in the shape of a cross and originally it was a hermitage (the first documentary mention was in 1535. In 1794, it became a parish and the decision was taken to build a new church, so it was renewed and made bigger). Later, new parts were added. Its walls are of rouge stone and inside, we can see buttresses. With the exception of the towers it has a double gable roof and it looks like a robust fort.

Santa Isabel’s church (16th cent.)

It is in the district of Aia. In the past there was another church (built in 1794) but it burnt down in 1825.The neighbours decided to build another church. It was built between 1911 and 1913 by the neighbours and each one put in over one hundred hours of work and invested 200 pesetas.

The Larruntza mill (15th cent.)

It was founded in the 15th century. The Larruntza hydraulic group is located in the district of San Gregorio and takes water from the Agauntza and Lauztierreka rivers. This group, which has been in operation for six centuries is made up of two mills, an ironmongery, a sawmill, a hydroelectric centre and the infrastructure needed for these elements – two dams, two canals, two supply channels, etc.

Over this long period of time, however, not all the elements have worked simultaneously; the development and rhythm of each one of them have been very different: mill, mill and ironmongery, mill and small mill, turbine and sawmill.

The mill is older than the ironmongery. Advantage was taken of the mill’s infrastructure to start up the ironmongery. The first time the mill was mentioned was in 1408 whereas the ironmongery was mentioned for the first time in 1489. Also, the ironmongery lived a shorter life and disappeared in 1697 in spite of the fact that the mill and the small mill carried on operating. The mill continued to operate until the 20 th century when the water was channelled with the turbine. The turbine was built in 1929. From then on, its function was changad: it stopped transporting grain and it was adapted for use in joinery and sawmill work.

With a view to recuperating and protecting Ataun’s heritage, the Town Hall has developed numerous initiatives regarding the Larruntza mill and its surroundings over the last few years.

In 1998 and 1999, the neighbours worked to clean and tidy up the surroundings. In 2000, part of the small mill was renewed. In 2001, the Aranzadi Science Society was ordered to carry out archaeological research and, finally, in 2002, the entire Larruntza group was acquired and is now the property of the Town Hall.

If we bear in mind that the first time the Mill was mentioned dates back to 1408, we can imagine how many events it has witnessed over these six centuries. However, over this long period of time, not all the production elements of the group have worked simultaneously and the development and rhythm of each one have been very different.


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