Basque Fact of the Week: The Basque Farmhouse, or Baserri

One of the most unique and ubiquitous sites in the Basque Country are the rural dwellings that dot the mountainsides. With their red-roof tiling, their stone corners, and white-washed walls, they are an enduring symbol of the rural traditions of the Basque Country.

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  • Each baserri has its own name and, in the days before it was mandated that children take the names of their parents, people were named after their baserri. These names are toponymic, meaning that they refer to the place. The baserri my dad grew up in is called Goikoetxebarri, meaning the “new house up there” (in my own translation). Uberuaga means “place of hot water” or “hot springs,” indicating that, at one point, the family baserri was next to a hot springs.
  • The word baserri comes from the Basque words basa and herri, meaning, respectively, wild and settlement.
  • The original baserri were made of wood. It wasn’t until the 15th century that rich farmers who could afford stonemasons started building with stone. The increased building activity of this time led to some of the first environmental laws, in 1657, which required, amongst other things, that anyone who cut down a tree had to plant two in its place.
  • In Hegoalde, the Spanish side of the Basque Country, when a husband and wife are ready to retire, they select one, and only one, of their children (it doesn’t have to be the eldest nor a male) to inherit the baserri. In Iparralde (the French side), however, the Napoleonic Codes made such inheritances illegal.
  • While there are many variations in style, some basic features common to nearly all baserri are the fact that the stables are in within the building and there are three floors. The entrance typically points to the south-east, shielded against the weather.
  • One superstitious practice is to hang “eguzkilori” or “sunflowers” (silver thistle) on the baserri door to both ward off witches, devils and lamia as well as protect against lightning.

Primary source: Wikipedia.

3 thoughts on “Basque Fact of the Week: The Basque Farmhouse, or Baserri”

  1. I live in a house named Eguzki Lore and we have one of the flowers on the front-door. So far we’ve not been troubled by witches. The English name for it is stemless carline thistle (Carlina acaulis). The common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) from which cooking oil is made is called Ekilore in euskara.

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