The historic quarter of Villasana de Mena has been declared a Historic Area. This refers to the old medieval village formed by a central street, Calle del Medio, following a secondary route of the Camino de Santiago, and along which the village buildings ranged in a formation typical of towns on the Jacobean route.
Other villages in the area with mediaeval links
Irús, Arceo, Vallejo, Caniego, Vivanco y Lezana.
The Menes Cubic House
This is the typical Menes house, which evolved in the second half of the eighteenth century. On the exterior the main facade has nine windows shared among the three storeys that make up the building i.e. ground, first and attic floors. Inside, the family living area occupies the first floor and includes everything necessary for the conduct of daily life: a main room, bedrooms, kitchen and pantry; the ground floor housed the animals and cellar, while the attic was reserved for storage of field and garden produce. These solid constructions built from stone and with square-gabled roofs can still be seen in all the Mena villages.
Magnificent examples of Indiano residential architecture exist in the valley, so-called for their connection to Latin America through those Menes people forced to emigrate to the New World to seek their fortune and who later returned to their birthplace made rich from the sugar, coffee and tobacco trades in various places in South America. The most important Indiano family is that of Gómez-Mena, natives of Cadagua, a small village where their palace, built between the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, still stands although now converted into a country inn and guest house.
Industrial Archeology: foundries and power stations.
Between the second half of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century new foundries were built in the valley along the length of the most abundant river in the territory, the Cadagua. These proto-industries smelted iron ore from Somorrostro (Vizcaya) using charcoal-driven combustion with fuel brought from the Ordunte Mountains, the Sierra de la Costera and the mountains of La Peña. The end result was a supply of iron bars to the predominantly agricultural community for the construction and repair of farm implements.
The mid-nineteenth century saw a crisis for these ironworks as better quality, and more competitive, products from English and Belgian foundries broke into the market. Capital that had previously sustained the industries in Mena was diverted to safer business markets in urban centres like Madrid or Bilbao.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the valley was once again the scene of industrial development, this time in relation to the production of electrical energy. In 1900 three hydro-electric stations were set up in Maltrana, Nava and Ahedillo to take advantage of the hydraulic energy of the river Cadagua transforming it into electricity to supply the industries of Vizcaya. Over the next decade these first three centres, born of the business iniciative Electra Mena, would be joined by two more, those of Villasana and Villasuso both belonging to The Menes Industrial Society and also installed in the course of the river Cadagua. However, the latter two were use for the supply of local market demands.
Of all five, the only one in active service today is that in Nava, now called Cadagua Hydro-Electric.
Other Traditional Constructions
In each and every one of the villages that make up the Valle de Mena numerous traditional buildings can be seen such as mills, drinking fountains, troughs, wash-houses, and smithies, all related to the prevailing traditional local economy up until the mid-twentieth century. They are witness to a true peasant culture, founded in communitarianism and in the essential solidarity made necessary by the precarious nature of the times, difficult times when cultivating grain for bread and pasturing the wide variety of livestock that constituted family smallholdings was insufficient to support the growing population, hence the appearance of trades and complementary activities such as mule transportation, tailoring and charcoal burning, together with the appearance of other traditional structures like bowls lawns and ‘fronton’ courts bear silent testimony to a popular culture inherent in peasant country life, allowing us to understand the evolution of the countryside and the economy of this valley over the centuries, from early Medieval times through to the first half of the twentieth century.
In addition, in the environs of Angulo and Cadagua there are other remains which, while from an administrative point of view do not strictly speaking belong to Menes territory, in ethnographic terms shed further light on our ancestors and their way of life, since many communities from both Losa and Mena participated in their construction, maintenance and use. These are the ‘loberas’ of San Miguel and Castrobarto, huge traps for catching wolves, placed high in the mountains on paths frequented by these animals.