Thursday, 13 July 2017 10:47

Azkoitia, a village linked to a ball wrapped in wool, covered with leather and sewn with thread

I have spent several periods in Andalusia and I have been fortunate to make many friends there. Some of these friends have expressed for the first time the desire to know what is going on 'Up there'. Anyway, Sevillians Dolores and Rafi often run away from the clichés and told me that the sport shown on the roof of a famous TV series caught their attention. That is why they want to know more about the Basque pelota (or Basque handball, a traditional Basque form of handball). I would have never expected they would ask for this! However, I found the solution on since I discovered the initiative Zu ere pilotari (you are a pelota player).


iglesia azkoitia



It is an initiative that seeks to stop being a simple observer and for two hours become a real pelotari with a professional. They give you the opportunity to play the ball by hand and/or pala (a kind of racket made of wood), also explaining the secrets of our sport. We got in the car and told them it would surprise them, and that they should prepare a tracksuit and slippers.



pelota mano 


We have reached the fronton (the place where pelota is played) Gurea in Azkoitia. It is an 85-year-old building, which is 38'5 meters long and capable of accommodating 888 people. Jesus Mari Andueza has explained that 17 years ago, they could come up to 1,300 people, but with the remodeling the third floor was removed from the fronton. 


gurea fronton


azkoitia fronton trasera


fronton atano trasera


The image of Mariano Juaristi, Atano III, is present in the fronton. According to Andueza, Juaristi has been the best pelotari of the town and for many people was the best in history since he won a lot of championships in two decades.


escultura fronton atano


It is said that they gave the Txapela (the prize they give you when you win a pelota game) to this person in the time of war even without playing the game! The point is that his fame has reached these days and his name is written in gold in the history of this sport; for example, the main fronton of Donostia bears his name. However, he has not been the only famous pelotari in town. Jesus Mari told us that in 1980 there were 24 azkoitiarras who played for professionals and that besides the Atano family, the Tapia, Andueza or Larrañaga families were really attached to this sport.


cuadro pelotaris


 Previoysly, Azkoitia was denominated like "The cradle of the ball" and it is the unique town that has participated in all the editions of the championship Interpueblos. Unfortunately, Andueza has recognized us that those times are not the same as those of today and that the sport pelota no longer has the health of before, although what is being lost in Euskal Herria is being won in Soria, Zamora or Burgos. Not in vain in the summer season, there are many towns that in their festivals announce pelota festivals.


pelota caja


After two hours in the fronton and a good shower, we left the room with a smile in the mouth, and as soon as we have crossed the door that smile has become greater since we have found in front another six frontones. All united, all different, as if it were a work of art. 


oteiza frontones arbol 


The poster has indicated that it is Fronti Zuriak or the Frontones of Jorge Oteiza and like I usually do when I get into the kitchen ... I have left these Sevillians shocked with my wisdom. I have explained them that Azkoitia was the adopted town of this universal artist, so they wanted to realize this space by bringing together the ideas of Oteiza with the pelotazale tradition. 


fronton zuberoa 


The six frontones that symbolize the seven provinces of Euskal Herria show the different modalities of this sport, but as Oteiza used to say that the sculptures have to be effective, they played with the spaces in such a way that everyone could use this area to enjoy the sport. "The truth is that the pelotaris are called the artists of the court and in this work of art anyone can carve their sculpture with pelotazos." They have looked at me with a strange face, but it came out of my mouth.


oteiza fronton principal


Recently, I had been to Azkoitia and to seize the day I thought of showing Dolores and Rafi what I learned from Juanba Mendizabal. We have approached the square and under the arcades of the Town Hall we see some people giving dimbi-damba to the ball, that is, playing pelota. And I say, don't the local police and the mayor complain? 


kontsejue iturria


consejo fronton


The cameras have begun to take shots and our faces must have been a poem since two men have immediately approached us to ask if we liked what we were seeing. In addition, they told us that they would explain what that was. Now, a question arises: who are you? He responds: I am Juan Mari Juaristi, Atano XIII. We are going to meet a member of the Atano family!!!

We have invited him to a coffee and he has treated us with great pleasure. He laughed when I explained that I want to introduce the two Sevillians in the world of pelota and that is why I brought them to Azkoitia. Surely he has thought that I am crazy, but at least he has explained to us that the two frontones Goiko Losa and Kontzejupe are really important in the town.


goiko losa



 Those frontones are located in the main square. Both were built in the 18th century. The Town Hall was built in the 1930s, but so much was the demand to play pelota in the village ... that its arcades became frontones. Goiko Losa was built by the Count of Peñaflorida in 1759 and soon became a betting area. 



imagen goiko losa


In any case, the Azkoitiarras have always had a special affection for Kontzejupe, as being in the middle of the village gives a special vitality. At the time of txikiteo (when people go out and have a couple of wines), it has always been a meeting area to watch people playing pelota; workers used to play there before entering the factory and here have been various bets and special festivals. It is a fronton with its own rules, with the wall on the right (and three doors on it!) and not on the left, with vaulted ceiling, columns, different traps ... so to play here you have to leave the force aside and you have to use other skills and your head. The great Atano III used to say that the one who knew all the cracks and traps of this fronton was prepared to play anywhere, and that Kontzejupe has been the University of all the pelotaris of Azkoitia.


kontsejupe centro


We have had a good time with Juan Mari and we are sorry that we had to leave. Some people will say that sport is not culture, but I believe that today we have practiced and learned a lot by doing sporting culture. Dolores and Rafi are amazed and I think they will return to Andalusia satisfied with the surprise that I have given them. Speaking a bit about Andalusia ... tapas; tapas and hunger ... hunger and ... Pintxopote! 


pincho ttakun

Argazkia: Ttakun Taberna 


This is also culture, so today we will also go home with a full stomach after going through the bars of Azkoitia.


inaki dedo fronton




Many thanks to Jesus Mari Andueza for making this experience something unforgettable and of course, to Juan Mari Juaristi (Atano XIII) for getting closer to the interesting history of the pelota in the Basque Country. I can not forget Oihana from Urola Turismo, who is helping me to know all the corners of Urola.





Iñaki Sare

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