Basque Country

Basque Country has a special place in my heart. As a kid we made a stop with my parents and my sister in Mutriku on our way to Portugal three times: in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Each time we stayed for a few days. In 2019 and 2022 I went again with my family with the campervan of my parents adding lots of new adventures and impressions of new places, also photographed by Kurt Hielscher. Below you'll find his photos and mine from Ondarroa, Butron Castle, Mañaria, Elorrio and Durango next to photos from some other places like Mutriku and Gaztelugatxhe because there's a story to that or I just liked them. Still need to come back for the one to rephotograph in Bilbao and few other places I missed so far, but I'd love it to come back to Basque Country again! 

I even made separate pages for San Sebastián, Pasai Donibane and Hondarribia


As said, my parents took me and my sister a few times to Portugal. The drive lasted four days and we always made a stop in Mutriku, an authentic small Basque city, and stayed for few days on its campsite. Ofcourse we stayed there in the summer of 2019 too: in our campervan with a beautiful view and sunset just next to bar Furgoka. We could walk straight into the city. Within a 10 minutes drive to the west Ondarroa has the same kind of an authentic vibe. In advance I really looked forward to go back to Mutriku and make this beautiful photo of Kurt Hielscher in nearby Ondarroa. After we made lots of photos on and around the bridge, the Zubi Zaharra, and the Artibai river, we ate some teriffic pintxos in Ondarroa. Love this place!! 

Ondarroa, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Ondarro, 19th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar.


In 1988 we didn't make it to Portugal after our stop in Mutriku, because we went back to the north due to health problems of my granddad. My sister, me and my dad went to Bretagne to spend the rest of our holidays leaving my mom at the trainstation of Lorient. She took the train back home to The Netherlands to support her mom and dad, my grandparents. In Mutriku I remember a terrible night with very heavy storms. My sister and I slept in the car while my dad tried to keep the tent in place. The day after we left for Bretagne in France. On our way, we could see the damage that had been done to roads and trees: there were quite some landslides and it was a terrible sight that made a big impression on me. In 2019 we made a stop in Mutriku and stayed for the night with the van.

Sunsetview from bar Furgoka in Mutriku where we stayed for the night with the campervan. 

Early morningview to the beach where we went for some fresh skinny dipping.

Butron Castle

Mr. Juan Agustín Núñez Guarde did an excellent job capturing almost all photos Kurt Hielscher published in his photoalbum about Spain over 100 years ago. In his 1991 photobook only few are missing: some patio's (I could not find either) and this one. I don't know the reason, but today it is quite easy to find this place with google maps. In the summer of 2019 we stopped by on our way to another beautiful place: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (see below). It was a clouded day with showers from time to time and the weather contributed to this mystical even ominous feeling this abandoned, not accessible castle gives. One can stroll around wondering what it is like inside, but that is all left to the imagination, because it is a private building, though it seemed totally abandoned.

Butron, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher. 

Butron, 27th of July 2019. Photo: Casper Molenaar.


Coming from Durango in the north to Parque Natural de Urkiola one will pass the village of Mañaria. With just over 500 inhabitants it is an easy to miss village at the entrance of the park. What wíll get your attention when entering the village is the huge building of the concrete factory and an excavated mountain behind it. I can imagine that that sight make people to not want to stop in this village, but inside there's some pleasant places to find. Kurt Hielscher did make a stop here 100 years ago, as did we. There'some decay but a lot has been preserved, though houses like the three on the photo underwent some remarkable changes overtime: check the doors, the windows, the balconies, the benches (and the people on it with Kim on the photo I made) and even the height and number of the floors. Around the corner is a square with quite old buildings, a bar, some art, an exhibition "Stories from Urkiola" about people from the region and their role in its history, and a playground with a parking lot next to it where we could park our van. Kurt Hielscher probably made his photo from the middle of the street, but it is the main road through the village and cars hardly slow down on the BI-623 so I stayed on the sidewalk assuming it was good enough, but now, afterwards, I realize that from the middle of the street and with some more distance, probably it would have been a little better. The second photo is made by Mr. J.Agustín Núñez who already rephotographed most of Kurt Hielscher's "Das Unbekannte Spanien" during the 2nd part of the '80s.

Photo: Kurt Hielscher, 1914-'19.

Photo: Mr.J.Agustín Núñez, 1987-'91.  

Photo: Casper Molenaar, 7th of August 2022.


Just outside Elorrio, twenty kilometers from the coast and 45 kilometers from Bilbao, we found the Nécropolis de Argiñeta with its ancient tombstones on a grey and rainy day. It felt really in the middle of nowhere though it is actually a short drive from Elorrio and not so hard to find since it is marked on Google Maps and Kurt Hielscher noted under his photo the subscription "Cemetery with stone sepulchres near Elorrio" over a hundred years ago. We were taken by surprise to notice that upright standing stones were made from hard plastic and filled with styrofoam only to find out later that the originals, 13 in total, were placed inside the building that was closed for visitors when we were there, unfortunately. Five of such copies from Stelae are to be found outside. These disc-shaped Stelae date back to the 7th or 8th Century but those with inscriptions probably to the 9th AD and are decorated with former astral symbols. Some inscriptions here are thought to be the oldest Christian in Vizcaya and perhaps in the whole of the Basque Country. 

Elorrio, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Elorrio, 18th of August 2022. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

To be alone in such a place, in the rain, taking the time to investigate the tombs, made it a special experience for us. For sure we wouldn't have been here without knowing about Kurt Hielscher's photo. When it suddenly started to rain really really hard, we fled back to the car for a drive back to the coast, to Donostia/San Sebastián, where we spent the evening with fireworks still in the rain, but the next morning we were already welcomed again by the sun and went up with the funiculair to Mt. Igueldo.

Elorrio, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher.

Elorrio, 18th of August 2022. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

This farmhouse I found near the Necropolis in Elorrio, but Elorrio is also near Durango. There were plenty of similar farmhouses around here, but to find the right one was like a needle in a haystack. Before the holidays I had found this one close to the Necropolis thanks to Google Earth and I assumed it could be the right one. It was raining cats and dogs that day and when I made a quick snapshot I realized this was not the right one, but decided to not investigate further but head back to the coast again. 


Over the years this impressive crucifix changed location six (!) times, but I knew where I could find it: in the Kurutzesantu Museoa that is situated in Tourist Information at the Kurutziaga Alea. 

The Kurutziaga Cross, Durango, 1914-'19. Photo: Kurt Hielscher. 

The Kurutziaga Cross, Durango, 18th of August 2022. Photo: Casper Molenaar.

The museum is solely about the crucifix and is designed in a way that one can check the crucifix from below as well as above and around. We were warmly welcomed and a nice lady explained a lot. You can feel the crucifix is really special. Kurt Hielscher must have known that too a hundred years ago when he made his photo. At that time it was situated outside but close from where it is now, within the Ermita de Vera Cruz. The Kurutziaga Cross dates from the late 15th or early 16th century and is made of sandstone and way higher than I expected: 4.30 meters high. There are three theories about the origins of the cross: It was created in atonement for a 15th-century episode of heresy in Durango, inspired by the unorthodox preaching of the Franciscan Alonso de Mella. Many of his followers having been burned to death on the site where the cross would be set up, near the Jesuit chapel of Vera Cruz. Others, however, favor a connection with the religious brotherhood of Vera Cruz that met in the chapel. Still others believe that the cross may have been erected to mark the boundary of the town. Durango has some 30.000 inhabitants and is known as the first place to be bombed during the Spanish Civil War on the 31st of March 1937 at the request of General Franco by Italian and German air forces that left the city destroyed. There are two versions of the transfer of the crucifix to the capital of Vizcaya, Bilbao, for safekeeping. The first that it was disassembled and preserved before the bombings. The other that it was hit by a bomb that broke it into three pieces that were later recovered and transferred to Bilbao. Soon after the crucifix was transferred to Bilbao, the return was demanded on the 23rd of June 1937. In 1980, the crucifix was the target of a terrorist attack by El Batallón Vasco-Español (BVE) which caused great damage: it collapsed and broke into several pieces, some of which did not recover. The existence of copies and photographs allowed the cross to be reconstructed, although this required further intervention later on. In the years leading up to the transfer inside, the crucifix remained outside protected by some kind of metal umbrella. The crucifix shows on one side the sacred tree and the serpent of paradise and the expulsion of Adam and Eve while on the other side the temptation of Eve and the sin of Adam next to the apostles with Jesus, Mary, Saint John and several angels. Finally some non-biblical representations of the moon and the sun are depicted and have given rise to much speculation.


Last but not least, though Kurt Hielscher never published a photo from here, I would like to share some photos of one of the most  stunning places I have ever seen: Gaztelugatxhe. It was quite a walk too, but worth it, even when caught by a thunderstorm on our way back.

Below: Gaztelugatxe

In the footsteps of  Kurt Hielscher