Basque ethnography at a glance

Eleuterio Goikoetxea with his family. Photographer: Felipe Manterola.

The 9th of July 2022 was the centenary of the opening of the Igiriñao mountain refuge (Gorbeia) and Zeanuri Council organised a ceremony at the hut to commemorate that fact and pay tribute to the man behind it, Eleuterio Goikoetxea. At 6.30 p.m. on 30 December, the presentation of the book entitled Eleuterio Goikoetxea y el refugio de Igiriñao. 1922-2022 [Eleuterio Goikoetxea and the Igiriñao Refuge] will take place at the Arkotxa building in Zeanuri.

Eleuterio Goikoetxea Goikouria was born in Zeanuri on 6 September 1888, at the Zubiate house, the property of the Rotaetxe family. His father, Felipe Goikoetxea, was the estate manager of the Rotaetxe, a post in which Eleuterio succeeded him. He mainly worked as a builder and property surveyor. He was a well-respected figure and his good offices were often sought to act as the mediator in neighbourhood disputes.

He was also a leading political figure, and was a member of the Basque National Party and a local councillor from early 1914 to the end of 1917. He was the candidate with the most votes in the local elections of 12 April 1931 and was appointed as mayor. He was thus the first mayor of the II Republic in Zeanuri.

Eleuterio Goikoetxea can be considered the trail-blazer of mountain tourism, as he opened what was known as the “first alpine inn of the Basque Region” in 1922. Given the good response to the initiative, he expanded the refuge first in 1923 and later in 1927. He received subsidies from Bizkaia Provincial Council both to build and extend it in 1923.

He also built a small chapel – the Chapel of Our Lady of the Snows – just a few metres from the refuge, and where shepherds and mountaineers could attend mass in summer, on Sundays and feast days.

Gorbeia shepherds in front of the Igiriñao refuge, 1934. Photographer: Felipe Manterola.

Eleuterio built and opened the Igiriñao refugee as a private business, but he always considered alpine tourism as an opportunity to diversity and stimulate the local economy. He urged the local municipal authorities to improve the access infrastructures to Gorbeia, and to work with mountain and climbing clubs such as the Basque-Navarra Mountaineering Federation.

During the Spanish Civil War, the refuge was damaged and Eleuterio was first imprisoned and then exiled, and his wife, Guillerma Uriarte (1891-1978), and his children would run the business.

In 1942, the Basque Delegation of the Spanish Mountaineering Federation offered to buy the refuge and Eleuterio, – even though it seems he was “forced” – accepted the offer: the Federation bought two of the stakes and Eleuterio continued to own the other.

Eleuterio died on 1 May 1956 and the family sold his share to Bilbao Alpine Club in 1957.

In that same year of 1957, the Federation sold its two stakes: one was bought by Juventus S.D. and the other, Iberduero.

The refuge that originally was Eleuterio’s, continues to stand there but now has three owners: Iberdrola (Arnotegi Mendi Taldea), Bilbao Alpine Club and Juventus S. D.


Jon Urutxurtu


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