Founded in 1203, Hondarribia rose up surrounded by a stone wall already in place to protect it, whose outline gradually expanded along with the town's urban framework. To this day there are still some stonework structures carved from the lime and sandstone brought from Mount Jaizkibel, which give us some clue as to the town's original mediaval boundaries. Examples include visible remains on the façade of the parish church and the little arch of San Nicolás, accessible by crossing a drawbridge which was constructed circa 1998, that takes you uphill to the main street calle Mayor and the Carlos V Parador hotel.
It was the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries when major defence works were carried out. Key examples of these include the keeps, bastions, moats and drawbridges that were erected in order to protect those residing in the area at the time. Access point to the space between the walls was gained through two doors, the Santa María and the San Nicolás after having first crossed their corresponding drawbridges.
The Cubo de Santa María (Saint Mary's Keep), the Baluartes de la Reina, San Nicolás and Santiago (the Queen's Bastion and those of Saint Nicolas and Saint James) are three more buildings from that time that still survive to this day; unlike the Bastión de la Magdalena, whose remains are now underground, may they rest in peace. From the 17th century onwards, the fortified enclosure expanded thanks to the construction of two more defensive walls, those of Saint Nicolas and Guevara, beautifully finished off with the moat, which can still be seen at floor level, in the shade of those impressive ramparts.
Hondarribia is also home to an old quarter that is crying out to be explored. And thanks to receiving such close care and attention over the years and centuries, you will be transported back to the Middle Ages just by taking a stroll along its streets, surrounded by the remains of a defensive wall that is unique in the whole of Gipuzkoa. The Old Quarter is full of pretty, Basque-style houses, most of them with wooden balconies, not to mention a plethora of baroque-style buildings that all add to its loveliness. Its medieval maze of narrow cobbled streets reveals some curious findings, such as the date of construction carved into the exterior beams of some of the houses, little palaces (such as Egiluz) and the Carlos V castle, which has housed some of history's most illustrious figures, including Juana la Loca, Felipe IV, King Charles II of England... Magical also is the Calle Mayor, the town's main street, through which the actor Steve McQueen was marched with other prisoners alongside the Santa María Port before boarding a ship destined for Devil's Island, in the film “Papillon”.
Within the fortified enclosure is a rectangular network of stone paved streets (built that way in order to transport heavy cannons at greater speed) as well as some really cool buildings with forged iron balconies over which hang eaves of great architectural beauty. At the top of the hill, next to the Plaza de Armas, is the Carlos V castle, which built over the site of an earlier medieval castle, of which some vestiges can still be seen.
And as if all that weren't enough, just a stone's throw away is the parish church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción y del Manzano, an attractive work of gothic, renaissance and baroque architecture. A veritable trio of styles!
The division of the various sites, based on long, narrow lots, typical of medieval urban planning, can still be seen in the east end of the enclosure. However, in the west this sort of distribution is no longer in evidence due to building work based on guidelines set out by 1970s architect Manuel Manzano, as you can appreciate in the spectacular and chained Plaza de Gipuzkoa main square. A magnificent spot at which to end our visit, thanks to its array of welcoming cafeterias and restaurants all situated in a place which once also served as a location for the Spanish film “El Pícaro”, with legendary Spanish actor Fernando Fernán-Gómez in the lead.