Completely surrounded by mountains, for centuries Oñati was an independent city. Until the middle of the nineteenth century this area did not join Gipuzkoa. This isolation made Oñati self-dependent, and the result is a unique subculture within the province and unique traditions that are only celebrated here such as the mysterious masquerade parade and Corpus Christi dances celebrated here for over five hundred years.
Coming from San Sebatian or Bilbao, Oñati is a perfect day trip for architecture and history lovers. Several famous local artists have also used this area as the subject of their paintings including Ignacio Zuloaga who recreated many rural Basque scenes. Oñati is filled with interesting landmarks and monuments, it is one of the largest municipalities in Gipuzkoa – the area has benefited from several important industries and has the lowest unemployment rate in Spain.
You can find many types of diverse architectural styles in this small but influential enclave. Part of the area’s cultural heritage includes the University of Sancti Spiritus and Sanctuary of Arantzazu, gothic parish of San Miguel, monastery of Bidaurreta, the palaces of Santa Marina Plaza and Rococo City Hall all represent the regions rich history and a wealth of architectural styles.
The University of Santi Spiritus is the first university in the Basque Country and was open from 1542 to 1901, offering degrees in Theology, Canons, Law and (sporadically) Medicine. It was a center for culture and learning since the sixteenth century, the serene renaissance building is built around a cloister and the elaborate façade depicts many scenes and symbolic messages.
Nine kilometers away is the Sanctuary of Arantzazu, at the foot of the Aizkorri mountain range and part of an impressive natural park. The first building was constructed here 500 years ago based on the appearance of the Virgin Mary. The new basilica and artistic complex that greets you today was completed in 1951, a work of Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza and Luis Laorga.