Vitoria-Gasteiz and what National Geographic missed about it

This an article about Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of Basque Country, which has been included into the list of 25 ‘Best of the World’ destinations to travel in 2021 by National Geographic. For a complete route in Basque Country check our article here.

National Geographic mentions every year its favourite 25 destinations to “inspire future travels and remind us why we love to travel”. Cool, right? In the list, there are national parks, jungles, islands, glaciers, mountainous areas, regions and even entire countries included.

But… Why National Geographic chose Vitoria for its list?

They mentioned some reasons that we can summarize mainly in there points:

Historical beauty

The historic center, el casco antiguo in Spanish, is definetly beautiful. It is a cute medieval almond-shaped quartier with plenty of heritage buildings made out of pure historical stones. Churches, noble houses and the Cathedral as the cherry on the top.

Catedral de Santa María de Vitoria-Gasteiz is currently under renovation but even though it receives many visits since Ken Follett wrote about it in one of his very successful books. Next to the Cathedral they have set up a statue of the famous writer.

Culture and art

Vitoria-Gasteiz has many places to enjoy arts, indoor art, art on the walls and especially jazz. The city hosts emerging and legendary jazz artists during the International Jazz Festival held in July.

Moreover, culture in Vitoria means especially popular culture. In the Old Town, the streets that are named by medieval trades. Streets that nowadays are home to bars and restaurants where you can eat the Basque version of tapas: pintxos. And during the festivities, people gather in Celedón Square to see the effigy of a Basque villager, known as Celedón, sliding with an open umbrella to start the party. When he reaches the balcony, Celedón magically turns into a real person who invites the crowd to enjoy the party.

Environmental sustainability

Vitoria has more green area per inhabitant than any other city in Spain. Efforts to conserve urban nature and sustainable transport, not to mention that a large part of the population travels by bike or tram, gave Vitoria-Gasteiz the title of European Green Capital in 2012. Vitoria has been widened recently, in a moment where the conscience of sustainability and the need of preserving the heritage to be combined with the modern life is present. Someone has done a good job but the question is still there.

What has National Geographic missed?

We could say gastronomy. Yes, indeed, not to mention this is a big mistake, but gastronomy is a big asset of all around the Basque Country. So, what makes Vitoria so special, unique, and National Geographic doesn’t paid attention to?

The viewing balconies

The white balconies dot the facades of Vitoria. They were originated in the Old Town as a reflection of the beginning of the industrial era. There are plenty of examples from Plaza de la Virgen Blanca to the 19th Century Ensanche quartier. Currently they are a very visible characteristic of the town that makes it unique. The oldest dates back to 1854 and was built on Portal del Rey street.

They fulfill a bioclimatic, functional and aesthetic purpose. Even cultural since since they allow seeing without being seen.

As you can imagine the tradition of having big windows is very old but the technics behind have evolved a lot. The first ventilation points in the facades of the buildings were the loopholes windows, like the one on the north façade of the Old Cathedral. They developed to a larger openings as the one we can admire on Doña Ochanda tower, where it was perceptive to strengthen the perimeter of the window with stone in order not to damage the façade and keep it safe. The construction technique evolved further with a stone molding that stands out as an armrest, a detail that was used in the design and construction of the future viewpoints.

The industrialization came and the new high and middle class that lived in the centre needed a new style, modernist, neoclassic… The viewpoint could not be built before 19th because the glass sizes reached just to a limit and for longer spans there was no industrialized manufacture of glass. Then the French developed it in 1840 and from that moment, it began to proliferate on the facades of the new cool elites.

For more information about those balconies and the past of Vitoria I really recommend to google for the books of Iñaki Zárate Apiñániz, a local author.

I would suggest to start a viewing balconies tour from Plaza de la Virgen Blanca and to continue to Calle Pardo, Calle Cuchillería, Calle de Postas y Calle Manuel Iradier.

Click on the map or here for an interactive map of the suggested route

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