History photos

The old harbour of Placencia de Butron was erected in a natural shelter from the storms of the Bay of Biscay. The town was granted a charter by Don Diego López de Haro in 1299.

The origins of the old town can be traced back to the early thirteenth century (ca 1236) when a well-planned settlement was built. The town was distinctly commercial in character, with the port trading in goods from inland and from elsewhere in Europe. It stood on an inlet at the mouth of a navigable river estuary linking it to the hinterland which was to form its main area of influence. From the forested inland areas it also took the timber needed for a burgeoning shipbuilding industry.

Over the centuries, local people gradually came to have more contact with the sea and to become expert seamen. By the late Middle Ages the town had signed agreements and treaties with other flourishing ports around the Bay of Biscay.

Placencia de Butron gradually attracted a new social class made up of sailors, traders and craftspeople, who came into conflict with the interests of the old long-established rural families of the town, such as the Muxikas and the Butrons. After numerous disputes, the nobles' power waned, although they formed alliances with the new middle classes.

It was at this time that the first municipal bylaws were set down and the St Peter's Guild of Seamen was founded (sixteenth century). Plentzia's fortunes in the centuries that followed were mixed. In the eighteenth century it enjoyed a time of particular prosperity: as the local fleet began to specialise in shipping metal ore, many local seaman benefited. This was in turn reflected in the urban fabric of the town, with the walls being demolished and the first lands reclaimed from the river to provide land for new homes.

The town suffered after the Convention and Carlist wars and the subsequent exodus of the shipbuilders. Seafarers began to venture further afield, acquiring their maritime knowledge at the Nautical School set up by the Seamen's Guild in the eighteenth century. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the town had become largely residential, with a new social class made up of naval captains and officers and men who had made their fortunes in the Americas. They sought to boost economic life in Plentzia by bringing the railway to the town and installing brine and quicklime factories. These industries endured until the early years of the twentieth century, when they went into decline and eventually closed altogether.

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