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 www.urolaturismo.eus since I discovered the initiative Zu ere pilotari (you are a pelota player).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Azkoitia has left me trapped and on my way to Azpeitia, I decided to rest at the Hotel Loyola. What better name to rest these days, right? For tomorrow I have been recommended to visit the Parish of San Sebastián de Soreasu and while thinking about all the colours and stories that I will find, I have seen a huge red building that has intrigued me.
Under the Izarraitz, surrounded by green grass, and with the reflection of the blue sky and its white clouds, it gets a special aura around it. But my feet do not let me do one more step and my curiosity will have to wait until tomorrow.
As soon as I got down to breakfast I called Paco. He is going to show me the parish, but first I want to see this building because it gives me something that San Ignacio must do with this monument.
I've been trying for ten minutes to dare to ring the bell. In the end, as if the conscience asked me, is there ...? The finger has been directed to the call switch. Carmen has opened me, nice to rage, she explained to me that this was a convent. But this building holds a treasure in its back: The Chapel of Our Lady of Olatz. A chapel as simple as it was charming of the twelfth century, Ignacio de Loyola adored it, keeps the image of a Virgin of the Romanesque that gives the name to the temple, the place and many women of Euskal Herria.
How many times would San Ignacio visit this hermitage? Surely, as many as I visit the barrel of the bar under my house. Turning to the beauty that can arise from simplicity, I realised that I was going to be late for my date with Paco and I left for the Parish of Soreasu.
Paco has been walking between these walls for years. Imagine how many, who, being here, knew Juan XXIII when he was still a Cardinal of Venice, illustrious personage who would end up being first Pope and saint afterwards.
The Loyola are buried under the high altar and you can still see the pile where Ignatius was baptised.
And above our heads, an impressive organ. Together with Paco, I could go up to the choir and I have seen for the first time in my life how this musical instrument is. I like to listen to music and much, besides, but I am bad when trying to play a melody. That's what we'll leave it to the experts because sounding these tubes is not in anyone's hands.
This in its day Templar center has 8 different chapels, but perhaps, the most special, it is the one of "The Solitude".
It was built after asking for it for Nicolás Sáenz de Elola. This one was to the conquest of Peru next to Pizarro and had to return to its native town bathed in gold. Painted in grisaille style you will seem to be in the "Divine Comedy" of Dante.
As I left the parish of San Sebastián de Soreasu my feet have taken me to the Magdalena. As soon as I got there I found Miren. From his hand, I have been able to see the hospital and the hermitage that the founder of the company of Jesus so well knew.
On his return from Paris, Ignacio spent three months in this hospital showing his teachings. By that time, he already had many followers and what to say in his town, so every time he gave mass the hermitage was filled up and the sick who could not approach her, had put them by the window so they could see him and hear him. The Hermitage is found as in the thirteenth century, with the same soil and the pilgrim way, I took off my shoes to enter it. The hospital, however, has undergone a great change but has only one theme: Ignacio de Loyola. I have not been the only visitor, since there are people from all over the world around here, as evidenced by the Chinese or Japanese signatures, or ... well from the east, which appears in the guestbook.
The day has been long and I'm out of luck, I'm going to get in the car and head home. But, suddenly I am surrounded by people who go from bar to bar through the streets of Azpeitia. Clear! The pintxo-pote! This is a divine message. I have entered a bar called Zuhatz and leaning on the dart machine, and along with a beer, I have been served a pintxo ...
The day has been full of colours, reddish, blue, green, black, white ... but it is time to immerse me in the colours of the different skewers. Today, the bartender from under my house will miss me.
Thank you to Paco and Miren for making this an unforgettable experience. Also, thank Oihana and Maixa from Urola Turismo for taking care of me and giving me all the necessary information and advice.
The journey to my interior lived in Loyola has left me exhausted, but wanting to know more. Many times, I thought that to know your interior you should know your exterior, and I believe that. St. Ignatius did so, not in vain he reaches Manresa on foot. It is said that to know what surrounds you, you should go outside. Normally that idea we usually associate with travel, but to know your inner, should we also know what surrounds you? Along with that question I have entered wanting to know the towns and roads that had around him. Azkoitia and Azpeitia or "Haitz goitia" (above the stone) and "Haitz Beitia" (under the stone), and in the middle of it all, Loyola. Could it be that the Holy House of Ignatius of Loyola is that stone? Who knows.
As I left the Hotel Arrupe, I had to decide whether to go up or go down and as I am better off going down, I preferred to climb first to go down afterwards. Oihana and Maixa, in the information office of Loyola, gave me the telephone of the historian and guide Juan Bautista Mendizabal, the best person to know "The Ignatian enclaves in Azkoitia." Thus, apart from the importance of the family of San Ignacio, and other anecdotes of this town. And is that Juan Bautista is not a person, since, in addition to being the president of the Royal Basque Society of the Friends of the Country, he takes great care of the Insausti Palace, now the headquarters of the "Caballeritos".
It is not good for me to think, or to listen to with empty guts, and as I have reached Azkoitia, I have entered the Presalde bakery. Pasta, buns, pastries ... my eyes made me shrimp. I could not resist and along with the coffee with milk, I got a "mille-feuille" between the chest and back, highly recommended. I have also seen that a woman bought Azkoitia's famous "macaroons" and of course, I left the store with a full box.
I have called Juan Bautista and we have remained at the Insausti Palace. I have been able to know thanks to Juan Bautista another fragment of our history with this illustrious personage, his devotion to count the adventures of the "Caballeritos" has been impressive, normal being he also one of them. But knowing that what he was looking for was something that had more relation with the founder of the Jesuits, he took me along a path that has brought us closer to the old part, until arriving at the Tower House of the Balda. Note if the building is older than the town itself. There lived Marina Saez de Licona and Balda, the mother of Ignacio de Loyola. In a previous chapter, I told you that, on the paternal side, St. Ignatius belonged to an important lineage of the Oñacino side. On the part of the mother, it belongs to a family that turned away from the Ganboinian. Therefore, everything indicates that in this history so divided ours is something that unites us and that is Ignacio de Loyola. Anyway, now I begin to understand where this pique can come that are healthy between the azpeitiarras and azkoitiarras: the place of origin of the founder of the Company of Jesus. Some are from Azpeitia, others that in those days the child was born in the mother's house and should be from Azkoitia ... well, what is clear is that it has origins of the two peoples. In this tower house was built a chapel in honour of San Ignacio, but unfortunately today it is privately owned and cannot be visited, but if you can see the interior from the chapel gate.
I spent the time flying, sitting in Plaza Balda in front of the sculpture of Oteiza. I feel like a character in the fifteenth century while Juanba tells me stories of the buildings around us. But my stomach has returned to give signs of life and brought me back to reality. Entering Calle Mayor is easy to see the parish, but Juanba has invited me to eat something in any of the bars of this cobbled street. Under the branch of a bar called Ttakun, we have enjoyed a good meal.
After the coffee, we went up the street, a palace has left me hallucinating. It attracts attention to its walls. Intensive black walls by which it becomes known as Black House or "Etxe Beltz". But it is the Tower House of Idiáquez, built under the protection of the old medieval wall, is a site with much history. The shields of the Idiáquez, the Olano, and the Loyola can be seen in their façade, therefore, it has a direct connection with San Ignacio and more specifically with his niece Marina Uso de Loyola. Since its descendants, the present owners of the Tower House of Idiaquez, are today the lords of Loyola. Anyway, it is a house with a lot of history, even here the first Carlist suitor was married to the Princess of Beira.
Once there, it was also the visitation of the parish. Apparently, this was not the first parish of the town, since the oldest church, that of Santa Maria de Balda was in the land of the Balda, where it conserves its Romanesque cover. In 1510, he was transferred to the centre of the population where he received numerous contributions from the most notable families of the moment. In addition to the internationally known "Cavaille Coll" organ, among the most outstanding works of the building are the altarpieces of the Recalde houses of the Seville school and the altarpiece of the Olano-Idiáquez, the two linked to the family of Loyola. The main altarpiece is designed by the great Jesuit architect, Brother Bautista. Author, among others, of the Imperial College of the Jesuits of Madrid in Toledo Street. Dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, the image of St. Ignatius is very present.
This visit to Azkoitia I have finished in the Palace Floreaga or Zuazola. What today is the Joseba restaurant was ordered by Pedro Sánchez Zuazolakoa, who was secretary general and treasurer of the Emperor Charles V and raised it in Mudejar style in the seventeenth century. I have also been able to know that the descendants of this illustrious personage joined the Loyola, passing these to be the lords of the tower. With the passage of time, it ended up being the residence of farmers and here was born, for example, the famous pelotari Atano III. But his story may be told in another chapter.
I said goodbye to Juanba in the parking lot in front of the palace. I will need time to remember and order in my notebook all the stories he had told me. And, like all good guides, it has been an open book for me. I continue with the recommendations given in the morning by Oihana and Maixa and I have approached the restaurant Abaraxka. If anything, we can boast in this land is his kitchen and the great cook Mikel Uria could not expect anything else. Mikel has his restaurant in an unbeatable place, overlooking Loyola, where you have different menus. As the daylight dims, I have enjoyed in peace and quiet a good glass of wine as I recalled all the places I have met in Azkoitia. Tomorrow, in Azpeitia, Pako and Miren are waiting for me, two more people with whom I will be able to know in detail the life of St. Ignatius.