Commonwealth Lea Ibarra - Munitibar - Aulesti - Gizaburuaga - Amoroto - Mendexa

Lea Ibilbidea - Beside the River Lea
History of Lea Ibarra
History of Lea Ibarra

Lea Valley - History in Lea Ibarra


Although there are earlier vestiges, we hardly find any exact data till the Middle Ages.
From that period till around 1850, agriculture, cattle breeding and forestry were the basis of the valley´s society and economy. There was hardly any commerce (although there was more in Munitibar than in the rest of towns) or artisanry. We may say that the inhabitants were self-sufficient, as they made the elements they needed (clothes, shoes, tools...) themselves, without having to go anywhere.

Economy and Work Activity

  • - Agriculture: Undoubtedly, corn provoked a great revolution in the XVIth century. This plant adapted much better to the characteristics of Lea Ibarra than the others, and as harvests were better than those obtained with wheat, corn became dominant in a few years: corn crops became more important than wheat crops in the XVIIth century.
    Seemingly, corn was initially used to feed domestic animals, until bad crops and hunger forced families to turn it into their staple diet. Corn brought another two significant changes: firstly, the ploughing up of fields; initially, only neglected lands used to be used to grow corn, but soon the cultivation spread to grazing fields and woods. Secondly, it allowed farmers to work all year round.
  • - Cattle breeding: although it was slightly neglected when grazing fields were transformed into corn fields, cattle breeding was fundamental in the society of that time: besides providing people with meat, milk and leather, it was an important source of income. Added to that, animals constituted an essential work power and a source of compost.
  • - Forestry: this activity complemented the profits brought by agriculture and cattle breeding, and at the same time helped to ease the effects of a bad harvest, as chestnuts and walnuts could be used to feed both people and animals. Chestnut and oak trees were the most spread trees at that time. Nevertheless, trees were used above all in construction, to warm up houses and as a combustible material in forges. As centuries passed, the common lands were sold to pay up municipal debts, and eventually they all became private.
  • - Forges: they originated in the Middle Ages, but they were especially significant in the Old Regime (1600-1850). They were built at the edges of rivers and close to woods-the power of coal and water was essential to start the machines-.
    The local rich used to own the forges, and in most cases they rented them to tenants. After many crises, by the time the Old Regime ended, the forges of the valley started to decline. Forges were more important in some towns than in others, but nevertheless the local production was not big, as the valley had poor communications and little commerce.
  • - Mills: this kind of industry was born out of the necessity to turn wheat and corn into flour, and as such it has always been subordinate to agriculture. It had a special significance during the Old Regime.
    Mills were more spread than forges in Lea Ibarra, and also more necessary, as all farmers had to grind their wheat and corn. As a result of this direct link, bad crops and crises affected the miller as much as the farmer.


Most of the times, all properties were in the hands of a few families.

They had control over the economy and politics (industrial properties, forges and mills), and the rest of the population in the valley was their tenant, as they lived in their lands.

At the end of the Old Regime, the number of owners decreased and the number of tenants increased dramatically, due to three reasons: firstly, the old laws did not allow for a distribution of the property among the sons, and thus all the siblings except the heir became tenants or emigrated; secondly, small owners lost their properties as they could not face the crises, and thirdly, the ploughing up of lands allowed the spread of rented lands. Most tenants had a very difficult life. They had to work hard in order to pay the rent, and often, as a result of crises, they could not even afford to pay it, and so had to ask for loans.

If they could not pay the loans back, the consequences were terrible. In the case of small owners, they would lose all their property and become tenants. The poorest ones, on the other hand, would have to hand over next year´s harvest. If the crops were bad that year, that would mean the end of them.

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