Orduña – Urduña

A Steep Cliff, a Strategic Path, and Customs

Located at the foot of an imposing crag, Orduña is located in an enclave outside its provincial territory, surrounded by the towns of Alava and Burgos. It is the only town in Biscay that has a city title. Here we tell you what to see in Orduña, as well as its history. The good gastronomy of the area and the best places to stay can be found our our pages about sleeping y eating in Orduña.

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The first reference to Orduña dates back to the 8th century, but it was not founded as an actual town until 1229, when Lope Díaz de Haro, Lord of Biscay, granted it under the jurisdiction of Vitoria. In 1284, the Castilian Prince Sancho “El Bravo” confirmed this status.  In 1288, King Sancho IV of Navarra seized the Castle of Orduña, which was retained as a nominally dependent villa of the Burgos rulers. When King Enrique and his wife passed it on to his son, Prince Don Juan, the estates of Biscay (1370) and Orduña (1373), were both united as royal domain.

Orduña was of interest because it is located in a fertile valley that contains the shortest path between the plateau and the ports of Bermeo and Portugalete. It was accessible through a road (only suitable for cavalry, not for cars) that went around the steep Peña de Orduña, a mountain port with 900 meters of altitude with a drop of 9% in many areas, down to the 298 meters of the valley plain. This road was dangerous when the terrain was dry and impracticable the rest of the time. In spite of everything, it was used to transport Castilian wool that was exported to the north of Europe and to the South, where bars of iron and Basque weapons were transported alongside travelers and luxury products from Europe.

During the time of Juan II of Castile, the commercial activity and customs increased until 1467. It received the title of “city” from King Enrique IV, thus being the first and only Vizcaya villa to have this title. It was given by Enrique IV to the Ayala family, who retained it until the Catholic monarchs recovered it by force. The residents of the city would come to buy the castle and make sure that they did not fall back under the power of feudal lords.

In 1535, a large fire devastated the city, reducing the majority of its heritage to rubble and ashes. Still, Orduña was able to back restore its previous position.

In the mid-sixteenth century, the authorities of the estates of Biscay, together with those of Orduña and Bilbao, pushed for the opening of a royal road (suitable for wagons) to the port of Orduña. The authorities of Navarra and Guipúzcoa attempted to disrupt this project that jeopardized their trade routes. Meanwhile, the Alaves destroyed the advances at night that were made by the workers during the day. Finally, the emperor Carlos V suspended the project on May 17, 1553.

In March 1686, the Bizkaia authorities got the authorization to widen the road by the port of Orduña, facilitating the traffic of goods. In 1774,  its commercial relevance intensified to the point that, between the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV, an important commercial customs port was built there. It began to be operative starting in 1792.

Qué ver en Orduña
Palacio Diaz de Pimienta

The arrival of the 19th century and its wars provoked the decline of the city. After the First Carlist War in 1841, the government decided to move the internal customs to the coast. Since the beginning of the 19th century, there were several attempts by the Alava authorities to take over this territory until, in 1843, the government of Madrid decreed its segregation of the province of Biscay and its conjunction to Álava. This decision was successfully appealed, residents arguing that their Bizkaian economy was based on commercial interests through the road to Bilbao.

In 1870, they created a school that was later transformed into boarding school, where students studied from the ruling class of the Basque. The Jesuits who managed it complained about the atmosphere there, saying: “Orduña, a great city with ten bars and no bookshop”.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the city worked to entice visitors to the Balneario de la Muera. At the beginning of the 21st century, the former customs office had been converted into a modern spa hotel, a symbolic closure to its commercial past.

The historic quarter of the city of Orduña, declared a Historic-Artistic Site in the year 1997, still has its medieval structure, following a path framed by the ancient walls and rectangular floor. It was accessed through seven gates, of which only one remains, the Portal Oscuro, which is currently attached to the town hall. The Plaza de los Fueros or Foru Plaza is the geographic center. This is a large arcaded square in which there are several significant buildings of the town: the old customs office from the late eighteenth century, a neoclassical building that had served different purposes until being converted into a hotel-spa; The Renaissance Palace of Mimenza (16th century) and that of Díaz de Pimienta, with a baroque style from the 17th century. Other buildings include the baroque Church of San Juan and, of course, the City Hall, which is a good example of eclecticism. While its battled tower is eminently medieval, the rest of the building is of an elegant baroque style. The Church of the Sagrada Familia, a Baroque-style building that highlights its two bell towers and the baroque ensemble housed in its interior, is one of the most important in the Basque Country.

Iglesia de los Jesuitas

When crossing the Portal Oscurco and Burdin Street, you will reach another building to see in Orduña, the Parish Church of Santa Maria de la Asunción (14th-15th century). It is a three-nave temple of Basque Gothic style, conceived as a church-fortress and built on a stretch of the old wall, with a walk round the apse and a powerful tower. Inside, the Baroque altarpiece, the Renaissance mural paintings covering the apse, and the Chapel of San Pedro (which contains an interesting Hispanic-Flamenco altarpiece) are particularly striking. In the vicinity of the temple is the Palacio Ortés de Velasco, a renaissance palace of the late sixteenth century that, like the Church, has some military character to it.

Outside the walls are the Convents of San Francisco (16th century) and Santa Clara, as well as the neoclassical shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Antigua (18th century), annexed to a convent of nuns. It should be noted that the Txarlazo Monument, which honors the Virgin of La Antigua, is one of the first monuments in Spain built completely in concrete.

The Essentials

Dónde dormir en Orduña
Ayuntamiento de Orduña
Dónde dormir en Orduña
Monumento al Txarlazo

Important Information


42° 59′ 45″ N, 3° 0′ 30″ W


40 km from Bilbao, 126 km from Donostia-San Sebastián, 373 km from Madrid


In the Plaza of Gernika


293 m


4,246 (2013)

Nuestra Señora de la Antigua (May 8th), Celebration of the Coronación (first weekend of September)

Txakoli D.O. Bizkaia wineries: La Antigua, Gure Ahaleginak and Llanera, Oruno Farmhouse cheese

Other nearby destinations

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