John Alejandro Ricaurte Cartagena

John Alejandro Ricaurte is a doctor in International Studies who is a historian at the University of Antioquia.  He obtained his degree in History and his Doctorate in International Studies at the University of the Basque Country.  He has been fully dedicated to discovering the history of the Department of Antioquia.  He is the author of publications and studies on the Basque presence and mark in that part of Colombia, including “Vascos-Navarros en Antioquia 1890-1970. Una aproximación a la historia de migrantes, religiosos y exiliados”,  “Los vascos en Antioquia durante el reinado de los Austrias (1510-1700)”, and “Los vascos en Antioquia durante el reinado de los Borbón”.

We’ve mentioned the Colombian department of Antioquia on several occasions, exploring its relationships with the Basques, and the work being done by the very active Basque Center and the Center for Basque Studies of Antioquia, which has recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.

And we’re discussing these Basques in Colombia again today because they’ve just shared a documentary covering the mark left by 20 influential Basques in that area, starting with Eibar-born Governor Miguel de Aguinaga y Mendigoitia, who, in 1675, founded Medellín, the current capital of Antioquia; and his predecessor, Fernando de Montoya y Salazar, who was born in Berantevilla, Alava and who started the groundwork on founding the city.

The authors of the work are historians John Alejandro Ricaurte and Daniel Ramírez.  This matter seems so interesting to us because it explores a part of the history of our country that most of us didn’t know.  That’s why, once again, we’ve asked John Alejandro Ricaurte to write an article to present to us the documentary and the work they’ve done.

The Basque Legacy in Antioquia

John Alejandro Ricaurte

The Gure Mendietakoak Basque Center has continued carrying out its work on sharing the Basque culture of Antioquia during the quarantine, which why it is using digital platforms, which have become so popular during the confinement period, to support and share its cultural research and dissemination projects.  That was the genesis of this documentary, to help share the research on the presence and legacy (tangible and intangible) of the Basque immigrants that has been carried out by historians John Alejandro Ricaurte and Daniel Ramírez.

Therefore, the goal of this documentary is to rescue the historical memory and heritage of the Basque immigrants who were present in the region and left behind their contributions in Antioquia in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Twenty people were chosen who best represent the presence, marks, and impact of the Basques in Antioquia in this modern era, starting with Eibar-born governor Miguel de Aguinaga y Mendigoitia, who founded Medellín in 1675, and his predecessor, Berantevilla, Alava-born Fernando de Montoya y Salazar, was the one who started laying the groundwork for this important city to be founded.

After that was Ms. Mercedes Zuláibar Santamaría, the daughter of Biscayan businessman and miner José María Zuláibar, descendant of Burgos-born Manuel de Santamaría Fernández de Salazar, native of the Mena Valley, and related to the Basques who settled in the region.  This was one of the richest families in the region, and Ms. Mercedes was the one who would carry out important charity work for the people of 19th-century Antioquia, and who would leave her love for her Basque ancestors behind to her descendants, as told by one of her grandchildren, Estanislao Barrientos at the start of the 20th century, when she told the stories of this town in talks she would give in her home; it is thanks to this that she could be considered the founder of the first Basque association in the Americas, even if informally so, in the 1820s.

Moreover, among this group of Basques, of whom we have photographic records, we can also highlight the legacy those immigrants had in the construction of sacred buildings, including such important cathedrals as that of the Lord of Compassion Church in Manrique (designed by Navarrese Carmelite architect Andrés Lorenzo Huarte) and the Crypt and Temple of Jesus of Nazareth, located on Juan de Corral Avenue in Medellín, which was built by Claretian architect Vicente Flumencio Galicia Arrue, born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa in 1901.

Also interesting is the work left to us by Biscayan Jesús Arriola (born in Elorrio), including his home, designed by Belgian architect Agustín Govaters, and the Palace of Fine Arts, designed by the same architect, which used to be the academy which Arriola founded.

Likewise, another of the interesting places that helps us understand the modern legacy of the Basques in Antioquia is St. Ignatius Square.  There we find the Jesuit school, which was founded and re-founded three times in the 19th century, between expulsions and returns, by three Basques: Egaña, Legarra y Jauregui.  One of those schools, re-founded in the middle of the century by Biscayan Jesuit Fausto Legarra, is the current University of Antioquia, which Legarra was the first dean of in 1847.  Next door is another Jesuit school, founded as such by Biscayan Luis Jauregui in 1885.

Then there was the work of Mundaka, Biscay-born engineer Juan Andrés Ormaechea, who started the construction company that built the San Fernando Hippodrome in 1948, the foundations of the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor, and many other buildings in Medellín and the El Prado neighborhood.

We can also find contributions by Basques to education, art, and culture in the area, and to the formation of the idea (or identity myth) that the people of Antioquia come from the Basques due to the high frequency of Basque surnames in the region.

We’d now like to invite you to watch and share this video, as it is part of the tangible and intangible cultural legacy of this group in Antioquia as well as in the Basque Country and Navarre.

Documentary Transcript

Antioquia, Colombia, and Latin America in general are vast areas with huge diversity in culture and peoples.  Its inhabitants are the result of the encounter between people who were native and people who came from faraway places and were of different ethnic groups, from Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias, Valencia, Andalusia, and Castile in Spain, other ethnic groups from Africa, and immigrants from all over the world.

If we focus on one of these peoples in particular, the Basques, a community in the north of Spain and the South of France, we find that in the specific case of Antioquia, they left a tangible and intangible legacy of great importance, which is part of our history and our present.

From colonial times, this people starting leaving its mark in the Antioquia region.  Perhaps the best known of them is MIGUEL DE AGUINAGA Y MENDIGOITIA (Eibar, Gipuzkoa 1634 – Seville, Andalusia 1693), the governor of Antioquia in 1675 who is named as the founder of the city of Medellín.  This was after the death of the former leader, Basque Francisco de Montoya y Salazar, who had laid the groundwork for founding the town of Candelaria de Medellín, which then, on November 2, 1675, received the title of City from Queen Mariana of Austria and her son, King Charles II.

Later, in the 19th century, once Independence had been won, the Basques began to migrate en mass to the Americas.  But these large waves of migrants did not reach Colombia.  Curiously, at that same time, the idea began to spread that the Basques had left a legacy in the region, especially thanks to 19th-century figures with Basque surnames, such as Manuel Uribe Ángel (1822-1904), Camilo Antonio Echeverri (1828-1887), Rafael Uribe Uribe (1859-1914), and Eduardo Zuleta Gaviria (1864-1937).

They planted the seed of the idea that those of us from Antioquia are Basques thanks to how Basque these surnames are, and also because of how common they are in the region, including: Aguirre, Álzate, Arbeláez, Aristizábal, Arteaga, Arroyave, Arrubla, Atehortúa, Castañeda, Chavarriaga, Echavarría, Echeverri, Elejalde, Gaviria, Isaza, Londoño, Marulanda, Mondragón, Montoya, Ochoa, Orozco, Ospina, Ossa, Palacio, Saldarriaga, Taborda, Upegui, Uribe, Urreta, Zabala, and Zuloaga, among many others.

Similarly, Basque origins were seen in some very typically Antioquia families, such as the Zuláibar family, especially thanks to Ms. MERCEDES ZULÁIBAR SANTAMARÍA (Medellín, Antioquia 1793 – Medellín, Antioquia 1875), daughter of Biscayan businessman and miner José María Zuláibar.  This lady was an important intellectual and philanthropist from 19th-century Antioquia.  In Santa Rosa de Osos in 1806, she married businessman and miner Manuel Barrientos.  Their daughters, Marcelina Barrientos Zuláibar and María Del Rosario Barrientos Zuláibar, both would go on to marry, in succession, politician and author Mariano Ospina Rodríguez.  We know so much about the stories of these Basques because she told them to her descendants, the Ospina y Barrientos, who would then go on to share them throughout the region.

But the Basques did not leave their mark only on the surnames and families in these mountains, but also on more recent times, since after Independence was won, they came with label of foreigner and left behind large projects throughout the region that must be highlighted, as they are a part of our memory and heritage, as a department and as a country.


If we’re going to talk about the Basque architectural legacy of Antioquia, we have to cover three of the great introducers of the Spanish Gothic style in sacred buildings.  We’re talking about Lorenzo Huarte, from Navarre; Flumencio Galicia Arrue, from Gipuzkoa; and Juan Andrés Ormaechea, from Biscay.

The first of them, Mr. Huarte, was born in the heart of the Navarrese Pyrenees.  He was a decorated religious who came to the region with fifty Basques of the Carmelite order and left architectural marvels of great value wherever he went: Medellín, Frontino, Sonsón, and Urabá, among others.  These included cathedrals, schools, neighborhoods, homes, monasteries, and other places dedicated to his proselytizing work.

Mr. Huarte was responsible for the design and construction of the Minor Basilica of Our Lade of Carmel in Fontino, Antioquia.  Likewise, he designed the Carmelite temples in Sonsón, Antioquia, as well as Our Lady of Compassion church in the Manrique neighborhood of Medellín.

Then we have Mr. Galicia Arrue (San Sebastián, 1901—Barranquilla, 1992).  Like Mr. Huarte, he was a missionary, but he was Claretian, and left an important architectural legacy in Colombia, especially in the department of Choco and the cities of Barranquilla and Medellín.  In the latter, his most important work was the Church of Jesus of Nazareth.

Finally, we have Mr. Ormaechea, born in Munaka, who came to the country as a refugee from the Spanish Civil War, and as he was an engineer, he founded construction companies like Ormaechea, Mesa, Isaza, & Co. along with several associates from Antioquia.  This company was notable for building Medellín when the city was experiencing a high rate of growth.  They built working class neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and public and private buildings.

Perhaps his greatest work is the Neogothic Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Carmel in La Ceja, as well as the San Fernando Hippodrome in 1948, and the beginnings of the church of OUr Lady of Perpetual Succor in Medellín, which would eventually be finished by José Félix Mejía Arango.

Communities, Education, and Culture

The arrival of these Basque immigrants also provided for the foundation of communities, for faith, for the arts, and for great works whose impact even today is to be remembered, as it part of our heritage and our history.

  1. ANTONIO AGUIRREBEITÍA ARRIAGA (Fray Severino) (Bérriz, Biscay 1885 – Amorebieta, Biscay 1962).  Superior of the Carmelite Foundation in Frontino, Prefect of Urabá between 1918 and 1943 and pastor of the Church of Manrique in Medellín until 1946.  He was a promoter, together with this religious community, of the development and colonization of Urabá, founded towns, neighborhoods, and churches in Urabá and Frontinus.
  2. JESÚS ARRIOLA BESOITIA Y ORMAECHEA (Villa de Elorrio, Biscay 1873 – Medellín, Antioquia 1931). Composer, performer, and music teacher in Medellín.  He taught at the Santa Cecilia Academy of Music, the Institute of Fine Arts, the Normal School for Young Ladies, the Departmental College for Young Ladies, the San Ignacio de Loyola School, and the Convent of Teaching.  He created several outstanding musical groups, such as La Lira Antioqueña, and composed several works.
  3. JOSÉ ANTONIO DE IRAZUSTA MUNOA (Tolosa, Gipuzkoa 1884 – Lima, Perú 1952).  He was a lawyer, politician, and writer. He wrote in several magazines and newspapers in Euskera (Basque) under the pseudonym “Jon Andoni”.  After the Civil War, he went into exile in Bagre, Antioquia, where he worked with mining companies.  He wrote two novels in Basque: Joañixio [Juan Ignacio] and Bizia garratza da [Life is hard], published in Buenos Aires, the former in 1946 and the latter in 1950. Bizia garratza da, which has not been translated, even into Spanish, is inspired by the Antioquia landscape, since it takes place in the northeast of Antioquia, in te Urabá and in the capital, Medellín.
  4. LUÍS JÁUREGUI (Zenauri, Biscay – 1862 – Bogotá, Cundinamarca 1935).  This priest arrived in Medellín in 1886.  He participated in the foundation of the San Ignacio de Loyola School, where he was a teacher and rector.  He remained in this institution until 1899, before moving to Bogotá to serve as rector of the San Bartolomé school.
  5. AGAPITO CLAVERÍA. He came to Antioquia at the beginning of the 20th century to work with the American Pato Gold Mines mining company, but then he got sick and went to Barranquilla, where, with his nephew who came from Navarre with the last name Díaz, he founded a stationery store that became the multinational called Productos el Cid.
  6. MANUEL ALZATE VIZCARGUENAGA. From San Sebastian, Gipuzkoa, he came to Antioquia in exile in the 1940s, in his 20s, after losing his whole family in the Spanish Civil War.  In Antioquia, he worked in agriculture.
  7. JOSÉ MARÍA BERRIO IRIARTE (Lumbier, Navarre 1923 – Medellín, Antioquia 1995).  He came to Antioquia in 1962 with the Benedictine community.  He served as host, master of novices and ceremonies, sacristan, and sub-prior.  He founded the José María Berrio School in Sabaneta,to which he was dedicated until April 21, 1995, when he died while on duty.
  8. RUDESINDO LIZARRAGA.  A Basque Jesuit, he was one of the first rectors of the San Ignacio de Loyola School in Medellín.  He was born in the late nineteenth century and was a journalist and writer for the magazine Los Estudios.
  9. RUFINO SAN VICENTE NAVARRO (Begoña, Biscay 1880 – Medellín, Antioquia 1973).  He made his debut in Medellín in the Spain Circus, located on the El Palo Road.  He married and went on to live in Fredonia, where he worked in the cultivation of coffee.
  10. KEPA MIRENA AMUCHASTEGUI ELOIZAGA (Bogotá, Cundinamarca 1941)  Actor and director of Basque origin, son of Pedro Amuchastegui and Pilar Eloizaga, two Basque immigrants exiled in the country.  He is remembered in Antioquia for directing productions such as the TV shows “La Casa de las Dos Palmas” (1991) and “Aprendí a Quererme” (2013).
  11. REBECA URIBE BONE (Guatemala City, Guatemala 1917 – Bilbao, Biscay 2017). Daughter of Guillermo Uribe Echevarría, from Bilbao, and Guatemalan María Teresa Bone, Rebeca is listed as the first female engineer to graduate in the country upon obtaining the degree of chemical and industrial engineer, on October 19, 1945, at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana de Medellín.
  12. FAUSTO LEGARRA (Biscay 1822 – ?).  Jesuit, first founding rector of the Jesuit College (today the University of Antioquia) between 1845 and 1846, at which time he retired due to the opposition to and the subsequent expulsion of the Society of Jesus from the country.
  13. NARCISO LARREA LÓPEZ DE LUZURIAGA (Vitoria, Álava 1947 – Medellín, Antioquia 2001).  He arrived in 1967 as a teacher at the Corazonista School in Medellín.  In 1988, he founded the Euskadi School in Envigado and Medellín, at which time he retired from religious life to marry and continue his vocation as an educator.
  14. JOSÉ JOAQUÍN ARTEAGA Y SAN JULIÁN. (Estella, Navarre 1878 – Frontino, Antioquia 1926).  He was Apostolic Prefect of Urabá.  He traveled throughout the Urabá area, through jungles and rivers, helping the indigenous people. He was a standard-bearer for the construction of the Highway to the Sea, and he delivered a speech in Medellín in March 1926 to promote play work at the Junín Theater, an act for which he was hailed as the redeemer of Antioquia.  His remains rest in the cemetery of this municipality.  Thirteen days after his death on June 1, 1926, the construction of the highway to Turbo began in Medellín.
  15. Juan GURUCHAGA.  Basque Jesuit who is listed as one of the first rectors of the San Ignacio de Loyola School.
  16. PRUDENCIO LLONA. (Munguía, Biscay).  He was a professor at the San Ignacio de Loyola School in Medellín, a great intellectual and historian, a founding member of the Academy of History of Antioquia.
  17. MARÍA VICTORIA ARAMENDIA AZANZA.  Basque painter, born in Irún in 1924.  In the 1950s, she came to live in Medellín, and died there in 2015.  She was director of the Santa Clara Museum in Bogotá and president of the National Association of Museums.


This is our way of showing and recognizing the great legacy left by one of the sister peoples of the Antioquñeos.  Understanding these people from the past allows us to get a better perspective of our present, and give value and sense to our environment.

Documental Legado Vasco en Antioquia
Documental Legado Vasco en Antioquia

Last Updated on Dec 20, 2020 by About Basque Country

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