Balmaseda, capital of the Las Encartaciones region, was founded in 1199 by Lópe Sánchez de Mena, Lord of Bortedo. It is the oldest documented urban foundation in Bizkaia. It has always been a place for stopping en route. In the Roman era there was a already a road here that linked the Spanish Meseta with the ports of Cantabria, so before it was founded as a town it had already seen considerable commercial activity. Commercial transit promoted urban growth and development which favoured the creation of a Jewish settlement in a peripheral area of the town. It also became an important milestone along the pilgrim's route connecting the coast to the great road to Santiago.
Balmaseda was an en route town with a wall that delimited a space dominated by the castle and urbanised only in the lower area, next to the river bank. Today it conserves the original mediaeval layout consisting of four streets with three crossroads.
The predominant construction typology is mainly from the 19th century: terraced houses with a ground floor and two or three storeys high, some of which present formal neo-classical and eclectic architectural models. At the so-called
Puente Viejo (Old Bridge), the emblem of Balmaseda, one of the old entrance gates to the town is conserved. This mediaeval bridge has three arches and a turret, and constitutes, together with the
church of San Severino, the most ancient and outstanding historical and artistic element of this old quarter.
The church of San Severino, presumably built on the site of a previous church adjoining the wall, is located next to the Plaza Mayor. It dates back to the 14th century and is a magnificent gothic-baroque construction. Balmaseda also has some unique buildings such as the classicist
palace of Urrutia and the 18th century
town hall which is commonly known as "the Balmaseda mosque".