The mythical city of the red stones

Not far from Bilbao, along the way from the Biscayan capital to Vitoria, is the place where the origin myth of Biscay culminated. Two famous battles also took place here between the Carlists and the liberals. This is an excellent location for visiting Bilbao at a reduced price and for touring central Biscay.

Plan your visit to Arrigorriaga

Many travelers on a budget use Arrigorriaga as a place to stay for day trips to the old part of Bilbao as well as its downtown area. Although there is very little to see in Arrigorriaga, you won’t want to miss out on what it does have to offer. San Pedro de Abrisqueta Chapel—located on the outskirts and poorly marked, but worthwhile to seek out—is a special and charming place; its parish church, as well as its bridge, is of great importance in the history of Biscay. From Arrigorriaga you can go on excursions to Urquiola and Gorbea Natural Parks. There are numerous places to eat and a handful of cheap, nice places to stay, which we have compiled on our pages about sleeping and eating in Arrigorriaga.

Want to discover this place?

There are various interpretations of the origin of Arrigorriaga’s name. The best-known one has its roots in history and legend. It is believed that present-day Arrigorriaga used to be a town known as Padura, which in the year 870 was the site of a famous battle bearing its name between the people of Biscay (led by Juan Zuría, the first Lord of Biscay) and the people of León. The battle ended in a decisive victory for the forces of Biscay, who forced an unexpected retreat of León’s troops after practically decimating their lines. According to an oral legend, the ground of the battlefield was left completely covered in blood, for which reason the name Padura was changed to Arrigorriaga, whose etymology would come to mean “place of red stones.” The most widely-known version of this myth was written by Lope García de Salazar in the 15th century, centuries after the event took place. Another theory links the town’s name to the old iron deposits in Mount Ollargan which tinted the stones in the surrounding area red. These iron mines were always one of the area’s main sources of income. Although in the year 1300 they came under the jurisdiction of Bilbao, their economic effect continued to be felt Arrigorriaga.

Throughout the entire history of Arrigorriaga, it was an elizate in the merindad of Uribe which had a certain administrative clout within the comarca and whose representative held the 39th seat in the Casa de Juntas de Gernika (a governmental body). It comprised the towns of Basauri, Arrancudiaga, Alonsótegui, and Zarátamo. The first known written reference to the town is dated back to 1107, when Santa Magdalena Parish was absorbed into San Salvador de Oña Monastery.

Life in Arrigorriaga went about without any notable milestones until the 19th century. In 1835 and 1872 during the Carlist Wars, it was the stage of two bloody battles, both revolving around Moyordín Bridge, which connected the town to nearby cities like Zarátamo. In 1876, at the conclusion of the final Carlist War, Basauri, Arrancudiaga, Alonsótegui, and Zarátamo were able to break away from Arrigorriaga once and for all, but not without having to first take their case to court.

Economically, as was also the case in other nearby towns, the 19th century saw the birth of Arrigorriaga as a manufacturing center, thanks in part to the development of the mining industry.

Qué ver en Arrigorriaga
Arrigorriaga en 1918

In the 20th century, several tragedies took place which significantly impacted the town. In 1940, a fire scorched the 18th-century town hall and its important archives. Then, in 1983, the flooding in Biscay caused tremendous damages in Arrigorriaga.

In the present day, Arrigorriaga has become a place where many travelers stay overnight due to its proximity to Bilbao.

One of the city’s notable buildings is the 19th-century Santa María Magdalena Parish Church, although no part of its original structure remains standing. On the altar is an expressive sculpture of Santa María Magdalena, a 1705 work by Nicólas Teite which curiously depicts the saint nude from the waist up. In the church there is also a funeral stele with a sarcophagus which, according to legend, contains the remains of Infante Ordoño of Asturias, the son of Alfonso III the Great and heir to the throne of León, who died in the Battle of Padura. Interestingly, in 1920 the Salón Festivo was opened in the east wing of the church, becoming one of the first movie theaters in Biscay.

San Pedro de Abrisqueta Shrine is possibly the oldest shrine in Biscay; although the current building dates back to the 11th or 12th century, there are several elements that indicate an even earlier origin. On the doorpost of the main entrance there is a decorative motif that may be attributed to the Visigoths, and pre-Roman fragments can be seen on the stained glass window in the apse. Also on the south wall, above a rounded arch, there are remains of Roman funeral steles which were repurposed as construction materials, as was common practice in the Middle Ages.

Santo Cristo de Landaederraga Shrine, which dates from 1655 although it has undergone several renovations since then, is notable for the austerity of its decoration and especially for the sculpture of Jesus on the cross which is housed inside.

When it comes to Arrigorriaga’s civil assets, the town hall stands out and is the result of several renovations. In 1940, the original 1777 building was fodder for the great fire which also wiped out most of the town archives. The most recent renovation was undertaken in 2011, giving the town hall a more modern appearance.

Moyordín Bridge, today surrounded by a beautiful wooded area, was a strategic bridge that in the 19th century served as the stage for two battles between the liberals and the Carlists, whose defeat of Arrigorriaga was a stepping stone to the sieges that ultimately allowed them to capture Bilbao.

Dónde dormir en Arrigorriaga
Ayuntamiento de Arrigorriaga

For travelers with curiosity and time to spend, there’s a lot to see in Arrigorriaga. We recommend the tour called “El Secreto de las Piedras Rojas” (“the Secret of the Red Stones”) which is organized by the town. On this free cultural tour, lasting an hour and a half, a written guide will take you on a walking tour of the town’s most significant historical events, customs, and places. The route begins in an old school building in Plaza de Arrigorriaga.

Basic Facts


43° 12′ 28″ N, 2° 53′ 10″ W


Bilbao 11 km, San Sebastián – Donostia 93 km, Madrid 390 km


On calle Severo Ochoa


55 m


12 374 (2013)

Santa Magdalena (July 22), San Antonio (June 13), Romería de San Pedro (the Sunday after June 29)

Nearby destinations

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