From Eating Asturias, the Encyclopedia of Asturian Gastronomy


Just as fabada and Cabrales cheese are the most well-known tastes of Asturias, the hórreo is the most well-known image of Asturias. Much like the barn is the image of the American farm, the hórreo is the enduring symbol of rural Asturias. It is the most visible expression of the unique rural nature of Asturias, and of the food culture that comes from it.

Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” and it’s modern derivation “you are what you eat” hint at, but do not quite reach, a truth about how intimately food and culture are intertwined. [1] Food creates culture, and provides a uniquely honest lens into both the material and immaterial nature of a place. This is particularly true in rural communities. The closer one lives to the growing and making of food, the more completely the food culture describes the wider culture. So, perhaps we can use the hórreo to interrogate Asturian foodways.

hórreo with carts
Carts resting under an hórreo in the village of Güeñu / Bueño

What is An Hórreo and why does it matter

One of the most identifiable expressions of Asturian culture is the hórreo. This raised granary is next to almost every traditional house. The Asturian government estimates that there are still 30,000 of them in use today.[2] Almost 15,000 of those have received protected status as of 2021.[3] Obviously Asturians still love and use their hórreos, regardless of how urbanized the region has become in the last 60 years.

An hórreo is simply a four sided, raised granary. It is a design common not only in the northern reaches of Spain, but around the world. In any climate in which damp ground and cool temperatures prevail, the same issue of rotting crops needs addressing. And in most places, the solution is similar. Raise the barn off the ground. Allow cool winds to keep temperatures as low or lower than a root cellar would. Get everything away from the seeping rot from the damp ground underneath. And then make it harder for mice, rats, and other pests to get into the stored food. In most places with a climate similar to Asturias, you find the same basic design. Thus in each place, that basic design adapts to local preferences and tastes.

A rectangular panera

The Panera

Closely related, and functionally interchangeable, is the panera. While there is some scholarly disagreement as to how to define one or the other term, it is widely understood within Asturias that a panera is an hórreo of a rectangular shape.

While you will hear the general rule of thumb that if it has more than four legs it is a panera, this is not quite true. It is very easy to construct a perfect square with eight legs. You just need an additional support at the midpoint of each side. So, a better rule is: if it is square, it is an hórreo but if it is a rectangle, it is a panera.

Other than this naming convention, they are interchangeable. The function of both is the same. As far as anyone can tell, the only determining factor in choosing one over the other is the amount of storage space you need.

parts of the hórreo
The Parts of the Hórreo – courtesy of the Ayuntamiento de Ribera de Arriba

How is An Hórreo constructed?

Hórreos are traditionally constructed exclusively through joinery, with no nails used. The unique features of the construction are the legs, with large flat stones on top to serve as barrier to rodents, and the disconnected staircase, also as a barrier to rodents.

Once the stone pillars had been erected, and the muela stones set atop them, the wooden building could be assembled. Four sturdy sill beams (trabes) support between one and three sleeper beams (also trabes). On top of those lay chestnut or oak floor boards (pontes). The sill beams can extend beyond the walls. If so built, the walkway (corrdedor) is the same material as the interior flooring of the hórreo.

The tops of the sill beams are scribed. This allows the wall panels (colondres) to fit into them directly. Similarly, the tops of the wall panels fit into scribed lintel beams (liños). These tightly fitted panels are remarkably rigid.

The lintels are then reinforced with cross beams (vigas del quesu). How great is it to have a building part called a “cheese beam”?

Curved supports go on top of these cross beams to hold up the roof. With them, the roof comes to a point in the center (puntal). There, the curved supports slot into notches on the puntal and support the exterior roof material. That material is slate, tile, hay or grass, depending on location and era of construction. There are no windows traditionally.[4]

hórreo bins
Grain and bean bins in an hórreo

What Is an Hórreo Used For?

An Asturian farmstead (quintana or casería) traditionally included a main house, barns (cuadras), hórreo or panera, fields, and orchards. Those cuadras were for animals, and hórreos for plants, roughly. Additionally, most families arranged their farmstead in such a way as to create an area of private space between house, barn(s), granary, and field walls, called an antoxana in Asturian.

First and foremost, an hórreo is a granary, a corn crib, a curing attic, and a root cellar, all rolled together. That means it served as the storehouse for all of the finished products of the farm. Dried beans and grains, sausages hung to dry and cure, cheeses, all of these things found a home in the hórreo.

Additionally, the hórreo served as the attic and / or basement storage for the farm. Chests of clothes, important papers (including the deed to the farm and birth records), keepsakes, and occasionally extra furniture, was all kept in the hórreo.

The outside of the hórreo was just as widely used as the inside. Tools hung from pegs on the outer walls. The walkway that is now common began as a small shelf for beehives (colmenas), and later as a space for drying the year’s corn. It is common these days to see them drying more laundry than corn.

Underneath the hórreo (solhorru) is also used as a multi-function space. Variously used as a woodshed, tool or cart storage, carpentry workshop space, corral (sometimes with stone walls built up to the base), as well as a base for communal activities. Cornshuckings (esfoyaces), weaving parties (filandones), neighborhood get-togethers (espichas), and fair weather meals all took (and take) place under the hórreo. These are all common “frolics” or “bees” in rural areas around the world. These days it is very common to use an hórreo as a carport of sorts, or to hang laundry underneath.

Hórreo Decoration

hórreo style map
Geographic Distribution of the Main Decorative Styles of Hórreo – courtesy of the Centro de Interpretación del Hórreo de Güeñu / Bueño

The hórreo comes in three distinct styles with regards to decoration, each named for a representative town. The oldest and plainest is the Villaviciosa style, with minimal decoration. The Carreño style is quite elaborate, and influenced more by maritime motifs. The western Ayande style is very geometric and bold.[5]

Estilu Villaviciosa

hórreo carvings
Common designs in the Villaviciosa style

The oldest and most widespread style of hórreo decoration is ithe Villaviciosa style. Almost austere in it’s plainness, it is an honest and understated style. Triskelion and angular carvings reminiscent of the Ongham script from Ireland make up the majority of the decoration on these hórreos. Additional motifs include six armed star and flower motifs, sun symbols, and occasionally figurative works.

The carvings are mostly confined to the upper lintels, though there are examples of the carvings, especially of crosses and other magical symbols on doors.[6]

hórreo lintel
a Villaviciosa style lintel with heavy carving

Estilu Carreño

hórreo panel
a typical 18th century Carreño style hórreo might have the entire front wall carved and painted

The Carreño style is much more elaborate than the Villaviciosa style. Whole colondra panels are carved or painted. The motifs are varied. Plants, animals, seashells, and Maltese crosses abound. Geometric designs are less common in this style than in either of the others. It is also more common in the Carreño style to inscribe writing on the hórreo. Usually this was the year of construction, or an invocation of Jesus and/or Mary.[7]

The overall effect of this style is very striking. Often white paint was used as a base for an entire wall, or for alternating panels. Then colored designs are added.

carved face in the Allande style

Estilu Allande

This style predominates in the western regions of Asturias. Here the style is much more symbolic. Individual elements are placed according to personal preference. Whereas the previous styles were more or less designed as a whole, in the Allande style, strong individual symbols are the rule. The Triskelion and the Tetraskelion is very widespread here, as are other Celtic symbols such as knotwork.[5]

Primarily the symbols are confined to the doors, but are occasionally found throughout the hórreo. In addition to the Celtic motifs, other religious icons are popular. Rosettas, ruler and compass, and clocks are all also popular. Stylized carved faces, many wearing fanciful hats, are also popular.

Where Can I see Them?

Hórreos can be found throughout the Asturian countryside. This is obviously the best place to see them. There’s a vast and varied selection of hórreos right across the Principality in both mountainous and coastal areas. The following places have the greatest concentrations of hórreos and paneras:[8]

  • Tuña: This parish in the concejo of Tineo has more than 50 hórreos and paneras, as well as some striking palatial houses.
  • Güeñu / Bueño: This rural area is just over 10 km from Oviedo and has an Hórreo Interpretation Center, which is a great place for discovering the history and features of the granaries. The town of Güeñu also has a large number of incredibly well-preserved hórreos and paneras to visit. I highly recommend visiting it as well.
  • Barcia and Leiján: There are around 80 hórreos in these communities, situated near Luarca. Many are still used for their original purpose.
  1. Brillat-Savarin. Physiologie du goût, ou, Méditations de gastronomie transcendante, ouvrage théorique, historique et à l’ordre du jour, dédié aux gastronomes parisiens. Lavigne, libraire-éditeur, rue de Paon Saint-André, N. 1., 1841.
  2. V, L. Á. “Hasta 30.000 hórreos en Asturias, buena parte de ellos en riesgo de derrumbe por dejadez.” La Nueva España, 7 Dec. 2018, https://www.lne.es/sucesos/2018/12/07/30-000-horreos-asturias-buena-18622837.html.
  3. “Asturias tiene más de 14.500 hórreos, paneras y cabazos protegidos.” El Comercio, 27 May 2021, https://www.elcomercio.es/asturias/asturias-14500-horreos-cabazos-paneras-protegidos-20210527192229-nt.html.
  4. Alvárez, V., et al. “Desarrollo de una guía metodológica sobre criterios generales para los proyectos de rehabilitacion de hórreos.” XII Congreso internacional de ingeniería de proyectos 12th International conference on project engineering: Zaragoza, 9, 10 y 11 de julio 2008, edited by Congreso Internacional de Ingeniería de Proyectos et al., AEIPRO, 2008, pp. 1736–48.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Graña García, Armando, and Joaquin López Álvarez. “Aproximación a Los Estilos Decorativos de Los Hórreos y Paneras Asturianos.” Astura: Nuevos Cartafueyos d’Asturies, vol. 1, no. 4, 1985, pp. 55–73.
  6. Graña García, Armando, and Joaquin López Álvarez. Arte y artistas populares en los hórreos y las paneras de Asturias: hórreos con decoración tallada del estilo Villaviciosa. 1987, pp. 241–320.
  7. Graña García, Armando, and Joaquin López Álvarez. “Dos nuevas vías para el estudio del hórreo asturiano: Una hipótesis sobre su origen y una clasificación de sus decoraciones.” Hórreos Y Palafitos De La Península Ibérica, edited by Eugeniusz Frankowski, Istmo, 1986, pp. 455–509.
  8. A special thanks to La Asociación de Amigos del Hórreo Asturiano for their work in cataloging and helping preserve these hórreos.