Basque Country

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Location of the Basque Country
Division of the Basque Country:
  • Basque Country Autonomous Region
  • Autonomous Region of Navarre
  • French Basque Country
  • Megalithic zones in the Basque Country
    Basque-speaking area on the Bay of Biscay,
    light - low proportion of Basque speakers,
    dark blue - high proportion of Basque speakers
    The Pyrénées-Atlantiques department with the French Basque Country and the province of Béarn

    The Basque Country ( Basque Euskal Herria or Euskadi , Spanish País Vasco or Vasconia , French Pays Basque ) is a region on the southern tip of the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic Ocean on the territory of the modern states of Spain and France . The Spanish Basque Country comprises the three provinces of the Spanish Autonomous Community of the Basque Country ; In addition, depending on the ideological point of view, the Autonomous Community of Navarre (Basque Nafarroa ) is included in whole or in part as part of the Basque Country. The French Basque Country , called Iparralde ("Northern Basque Country") in the Basque region , forms the west of the French department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques .

    The expansion of the Basque Country is politically and socially controversial and is discussed in the area of ​​tension between Basque, Spanish and French nationalism . The main controversy is whether Navarra is part of the Basque Country, as the south of this province, which is historically closely interwoven with the rest of the Basque Country, has long ceased to be part of the Basque-speaking area. The Burgalesian enclave of Treviño , which for historical reasons belongs to Castile , has fewer than 1,500 inhabitants, a large majority of whom are in favor of including their territory in the Basque province of Álava ( Araba ), which is why the municipality is also included in the cultural landscape of the Basque Country.

    The Basque Country (Euskadi) is named after the people of the Basques ( Euskaldunak - "Basque-speakers"). The Basque language ( Euskara or Euskera ) after the repression of the 20th century, especially during the Franco dictatorship , now through targeted support at the regional level, particularly by baskischsprachige schools ( ikastola ), get back to proliferation.


    The Basque Country is bordered on the seaside by the Cantabrian Sea ( Bay of Biscay ) and on the south by the Ebro . In its parts of the Ebro lowlands, however, the Basque population is very small.

    In terms of landscape, the Basque Country essentially consists of the transition from the Pyrenees (Basque Pirinioak ) to the Cantabrian Mountains (Basque Cantauriar mendilerroa ). South of the Pyrenees, the land slopes slowly towards the Ebro Basin. On the north side, however, the valley level is only 100  msnm into the mountains . The highest peak in the Basque Country is the table of the three kings (Basque Hiru Erregeen Mahaia ) with 2444  msnm at the triangle ( 2421  m ) of Navarra (E), Aragón (E) and Béarn (F). This is followed by the 2007  m high Orhi on the border between Navarre and the French Basque Country (thus the highest mountain in the Basque Country) and the 1551  msnm high Aitxuri in Gipuzkoa . Numerous cities throng the valleys of the provinces of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, but outside of the winding old towns they are industrial.

    To the west and southwest, the Basque Country borders the Spanish autonomous communities of Cantabria and Castile-León , to the south to the Spanish autonomous community of La Rioja , to the southeast to the Spanish autonomous community of Aragon, to the north to the French department of Landes and to the northeast to the historical one Province of Béarn, with which the French part of the Basque Country today forms the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department .

    The climate on the north side of the Inner Iberian Mountains is mild in every season and clearly characterized by the nearby Atlantic Ocean and thus the humid maritime climate . For this reason, the Basque Country is very green and rich in vegetation compared to the interior. The Ebro Basin, on the other hand, is more of a continental part, with comparatively little rainfall and sometimes extremely hot in summer.

    Political structure

    Politically, the Basque Country today consists of three different areas :

    1. The Spanish Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (Basque Euskadi ) comprises the three provinces of Gipuzkoa (Spanish Guipúzcoa ), Biscay (Basque Bizkaia , Spanish Vizcaya ) and Álava (Basque Araba ). The capital of the autonomous region is Vitoria-Gasteiz . Other important cities are Bilbao and Donostia-San Sebastián , capitals of the provinces of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, respectively.
    2. The Spanish autonomous region of Navarre (Basque Nafarroa ) does not belong to the Basque Country Autonomous Community; In its northern part, Basque is a common colloquial and official language.
    3. The French part of the Basque Country (Basque Iparralde ) includes the three historical herrialdes (areas) Lapurdi (French Labourd ), Zuberoa (French Soule ) and Behenafarroa or Nafarroa Behera (French Basse-Navarre ).

    In today's Basque language, the entirety of the historical areas of the Basque Country, which now belong to Spain and France, is referred to as Euskal Herria , while the name Euskadi is mainly used for the Autonomous Region of the Basque Country. The southern (Spanish) areas of the Basque Country are also called Hegoalde in Basque , the northern (French) parts Iparralde .


    As far as can be determined, speakers of the - isolated - Basque language or its predecessors already inhabited today's Basque Country, when the Indo-European languages spread across Europe and branched out. See also Vasconic Hypothesis .

    Distribution of Basque speakers in the Spanish Basque Country and Navarre in 2001
    Proportion of Basque-speaking children and adolescents in the Basque Country and Navarre in the years 2000 to 2005
    Gray areas ( Parkeak ) = nature parks
    Red line ( Muga ) = national border Span./Frkr.

    Of the Basque Country’s 2.7 million inhabitants, only 700,000 to 800,000 speak the Basque language . In the small French part alone there are around 82,000 out of 246,000 inhabitants, in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country 27% of the 2,123,000 inhabitants. The number of Basque speakers in the three provinces differs considerably. While around 44% of the population in Gipuzkoa state that they speak Basque at home, it is just under 17% in Bizkaia and only around 6% in the province of Alava . In the Autonomous Community of Navarre it is around 12% of the 600,000 inhabitants. There is a strong north-south divide; in the north over 75% speak Basque, while in the center around 15-25% and in the south less than 5% speak Basque. The number of people who define themselves predominantly as Basques is a little higher.

    While the Basques are linguistically isolated, genetic studies suggest that three-quarters of the ancestors of today's European speakers of Indo-European languages ​​carried the gene variants that are common in today's Basques. One example is the blood group variant Rhesus -negative (D-), dominant among the Basques, common among other Europeans, extremely rare among non-Europeans. The phenotypic inconspicuousness of the Basques among the other Europeans corresponds to the biochemical findings .


    Demonstration of the Basque self-assertion in the street scene (Zarautz, 2003).

    The Basques are traditionally considered headstrong and traditional. Wilhelm von Humboldt's remark : “Even in recent times, torn into two very unequal parts and subordinated to two great and powerful nations, the Vasken have by no means given up their independence”, is still true today. Their self-confidence is expressed, among other things, in the solid construction of the farmhouses , which south of the Pyrenees often have a resemblance partly to alpine single roof courtyards , partly to those of the Jura .

    Seafaring has a centuries-old tradition among the Basques. As early as the 15th century, Basque whalers made extensive expeditions to Newfoundland . There the fishermen spent the summer catching fish and processing them on site. A specialty to this day is the bacalao , a stockfish that is a culinary specialty of the region and is not missing in any pintxo bar in San Sebastián, Bilbao or Vitoria. At the end of the 19th century there was a pronounced fishing movement on the coasts. Different boats were used, some of which were driven with sails, some with oars. The boats were made of oak and pine. These types of wood could be obtained from the rich forest in the mountainous coastal areas. In the late 19th century, fishing was concentrated in the coastal area. The fishing grounds could be fully exploited by different types of boats. Boats were used that had a crew of up to 18 men and were driven by both oars and sails. With the advent of steam and motorized shipping, many design concepts were lost. Because the fishermen built their boats themselves. The basis for this was their experience and the knowledge of their ancestors. With the professionalization of boat construction, shipyards emerged across the Basque Country. As a result, the ships were made more and more universal over the years. The result was that the appearance of the fishing boats has become similar to that in other coastal strips. Basque fishermen are now on all the world's seas and catch young tuna in particular . Real bonito (called Bonito del Norte ) is one of the preferred animals to be caught.

    Pelota players, Navarre

    The sporting tradition of the Basques includes archaic strength competitions such as tree trunk throwing and millstone chiselling, especially the ball game pelota . In almost every village there is a pelota square ( Frontón ) with the characteristic, very high stone wall. Rowing is also deeply rooted in the coastal areas, and rowing regattas are held in many places .

    Regarding the appearance of Basques in Bizkaia, Humboldt noted: “The real Vizcayer has his own clothes. Instead of shoes, he wears bull leather soles that have only a small bent edge and are tied with string […] The men wrap woolen cloths, usually with narrow black stripes, around their legs, which are tied with string of the abarca . The color of the trousers is mostly black, and the vest is red. [...] The place of the coat or skirt is taken by the longarina , a wide jacket with long laps and sleeves. Anyone who still wears them according to the old custom has only fastened the sleeves to the jacket with ribbons or buttons, so that, if necessary, they can be loosened and thrown on high at the back, and so be freer at work. […] They hold a long stick in their hand […] [which] takes the place of the sword for them. In this suit you can see them after church in the markets of the cities, where there are real small popular assemblies, since the mountain dwellers, in order not to lose any time during the week, do their little shopping on Sundays, are of all ages, soon alone and quietly with a stick put under his shoulders and legs crossed, soon in heaps in lively conversation [...] "

    One of the Basque Sunday activities after the ball game described by Humboldt is folk dance, which continues to be cultivated in many variations to this day: “You dance in public in the market, regardless of the stand, on all Sundays and festivals, at the expense of the whole community and in public Supervision, and different places differ just as well by different dances that belong exclusively to this or that, as by constitution and dialect. "

    Market day and the village square also offer the young Basques an opportunity to get to know each other. Since the firstborn of both sexes in the Basque Country are entitled to inherit the farm - a feature of the equality of women under civil law - court heirs also consider possible marriage candidates with regard to their suitability for farming activities. “From the day the married couple lives in the house, he loses his family name. From now on he is only called under the name of the house of which he has become lord. And so with the Basques the woman, if she is the heir, will give the man her name - not the man gives his wife the name. ”But little has been passed on about the Basque women and their historical role:“ As is almost everywhere in The world of patriarchy also applies in this case that history is male, made and written by men. When it comes to the Basque Country (Euskal Herria), things are even a tad more complicated, since this country was - if at all - regarded as an ethnic and cultural entity, but history and its writing belonged to the central states. The level of research is correspondingly low. "

    An old Basque specialty were the handcrafted espadrillas as footwear with their distribution area in southern France and Spain. The Basques with the seaside resorts of San Sebastián on the Spanish side and Biarritz on the French side are also regarded as co-inventors of seaside resorts . Gastronomically, they stand for the gâteau basque , a cake originally filled with cherry jam but now also with confectionery cream. Sea bream , which is already suspected in Stone Age cave paintings in the Basque Country, belong to the traditional Christmas meals. On Christmas Eve , a pate in the form of a bream is served.

    Basque play equipment in the Berlin Museum of European Cultures

    Basque literature


    The oldest human skeleton found in the Basque Country dates from around 7000 BC. Around 3500 BC. The Neolithic began there and around 2000 BC. With the early Bronze Age the age of metals. Around 900 BC Celts immigrated to the country. The Romans built fortified cities on the outskirts of the Basque Country. The Christianization of the Basque Country, which, like all cultural influences from outside, only progressed slowly here, dragged on until the late Middle Ages.

    1030: Leon (orange), Navarre (yellow), Caliphate of Córdoba (brown)

    Only at the beginning of the 11th century under Sancho the Great ( Sancho el Mayor ), the "King of all Basques", was the Basque Country on this side and on the other side of the Pyrenees once politically united. Important cities were founded on the Basque coast in the 13th and 14th centuries, including Bilbao in 1300. Labourd and Soule north of the Pyrenees, which were now under English rule, fell back to France in the mid-15th century.

    The 15th and 16th centuries were good economic times for the Basque Country, as Basque iron ore was in high demand in other European countries, Basque fishermen in the North Atlantic could avail themselves of rich fishing grounds and shipyards on the Basque coast drew on full resources. With the French Revolution , the northern Basque Country lost its unity and privileges and was subordinated to the Basses-Pyrénées department ("Lower Pyrenees", since 1969 Pyrénées Atlantiques ). The Spanish War of Independence against Napoleon I and the Carlist Wars in the 19th century challenged the political autonomy rights in the form of the Fueros , which were always highly valued in the Basque Country, and ultimately resulted in their end.

    While 6,000 Basque soldiers from the northern French Basque Country lost their lives in World War I , the southern Basque Country, benefiting from Spanish neutrality, experienced an economic boom. Conversely, this was the focus of events when it experienced, among other things, the extensive destruction of Gernika during the Spanish Civil War and, subsequently, the suppression in the Franco dictatorship . In the transition phase to the current Spanish democracy, the Basque claims to autonomy were revived and developed with the establishment of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country . Further demands for complete independence of the Basque Country, some of which were backed up by the terrorist means of the ETA , remained unfulfilled.

    Euskadi: Politics, Parties and Elections in the 21st Century

    Plaza Moyua, Bilbao city center

    On December 29, 2007, on the occasion of a friendly between Euskal Herria and Catalunya in the stadium of the first division club Athletic Bilbao, several thousand Basques and Catalans demonstrated for the official approval of the Basque and Catalan national football teams , and calls for independence for these regions were also expressed in many ways. Official representatives of the governments of Galicia , Catalonia and the Basque Country signed a declaration ( Declaración de San Mamés ) in which they advocate the official approval of their own national sports selections.

    On March 7, 2008, two days before the Spanish parliamentary elections , Isaias Carrasco, the local politician of the ruling socialists, was shot dead by an ETA bomber in his Basque hometown. Even after the elections, ETA continued the series of attacks. On May 27, 2008, the Basque Parliament decided on a non-binding referendum for October 25 of the same year, in which the population should express their opinion on a possible approach to conflict resolution. In response to the central government's judicial review action, on September 11, 2008, the Constitutional Court declared the Basque referendum law unconstitutional and null and void.

    For the first time since the end of the dictatorship, the Basque nationalists were replaced in the elections to the parliament of the Basque Autonomous Community (CAV) on March 1, 2009. During the following electoral period, a coalition of Spanish Socialists (PSOE) and the conservative People's Party (PP) Partido Popular ruled the region. With just under 31% of the validly counted votes, the PSOE remained well behind the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which received 39% of the validly counted votes. With the 14% of the PP, the coalition got 45% of the valid votes. The elections brought the following official result:

    Political party percent Seats 2009 Seats 2005
    EAJ / PNV 38.56 30th 22nd
    PSE-EE 30.71 25th 18th
    PP 14.09 13 15th
    PCTV EHAK - - 9
    EA 3.68 1 7th
    EB-IU 3.51 1 3
    Aralar 6.05 4th 1
    UPyD 2.14 1 -

    Thus, for the first time since the introduction of democracy, the Spanish-wide organized parties PP and PSE-EE together achieved a majority of seats in the Parliament of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country. The call to protest against the electoral exclusion of the left-wing separatists by casting invalid votes for the banned lists was followed by around 101,000 voters, representing 8.84% of the vote. The turnout was about 3.2% lower than in 2005. The electoral alliance of PSOE and PP elected the socialist Patxi López as Lehendakari (President of the Basque Parliament) on May 5, 2009 , which ended the three decades of the nationalists' reign for the time being.

    The left-wing nationalist party alliance Euskal Herria Bildu ran for the first time in the parliamentary elections in 2012 and was able to garner 25% of the votes straight away. The PNV emerged as the strongest party and from 2012 ruled the autonomous Basque Country again as a minority government under the Prime Minister ( lehendakari ) Iñigo Urkullu, tolerated by EH Bildu . The regional elections in 2016 brought heavy losses for the PSE-EE, which lost almost half of its seats (from 16 to 9) and only achieved just under 12%. Elkarrekin Podemos , a left-wing electoral alliance made up of Podemos Euskadi , Ezker Anitza and the Equo party , was able to win almost 15% of the vote and received 11 seats. The PNV was able to increase by approx. 3 percentage points and - now in a coalition with the PSE-EE - continues to provide the Lehendakari .

    The results of the elections were as follows:

    Political party be right percent Seats 2016 Seats 2012
    EAJ / PNV 398.168 37.36 28 27
    EH Bildu 225.172 21.13 18th 21st
    Elkarrekin Podemos 157.334 14.76 11 -
    PSE-EE 126,420 11.86 9 16
    PP 107,771 10.11 9 10
    Ciudadanos 21,477 2.02 0 -
    PACMA-ATTKA 8,589 0.81 0 -
    UPyD - - - 1

    See also

    Portal: Basques  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of Basques


    • Roger Collins : The Basques . 2nd ed. (The peoples of Europe). Oxford: Blackwell, 1990
    • Marianne Heiberg : The making of the Basque nation . Cambridge studies in social anthropology, 66. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
    • Patxi Xabier Lezama Perier : Basque Mythology . Royal Academy of the Basque Language Euskaltzaindia / Euskadi Public Reading Network, 2018
    • Mark Kurlansky: The Basques. A little world history. Munich 2000. (Original edition in English: New York 1999)
    • André Lecours: Basque nationalism and the Spanish state . (The Basque series). Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2007.
    • Ingo Niebel: The Basque Country. Past and present of a political conflict . Promedia, Vienna 2009, ISBN 978-3-85371-294-8 .
    • Jean-Baptiste Orpustan: 1789 et les Basques - histoire, langue et littérature . Presses univ. De Bordeaux, Bordeaux 1991, ISBN 2-86781-115-5 .
    • Antonio Elorza: Alsace, South Tyrol, Basque Country (Euskadi): Denationalization and Identity . In: Georg Grote , Hannes Obermair (Ed.): A Land on the Threshold. South Tyrolean Transformations, 1915-2015 . Peter Lang, Oxford-Bern-New York 2017, ISBN 978-3-0343-2240-9 , pp. 307-325 .
    • Gerd Schumann and Florence Hervé : Basque Country. Stories of women - faces of women. Berlin 2000.
    • Eguzki Urteaga: Les médias en Pays basque - histoire d'une mutation . Mare et Martin, Paris 2005.
    • Rainer Wandler (Hrsg.): EUSKADI: A reader on politics, history and culture of the Basque Country. Berlin 1999

    Series publication Towards a Basque State :


    • Julio Médem: “La Pelota vasca. La piel contra la piedra ”, 2004. Languages: Spanish, Basque, French, English. Subtitle: English. 107 min.
    • "The Basque Country in France", Arte 2015.
    • "The Basque Country in Spain", Arte 2015.

    Web links

    Wiktionary: Basque Country  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations
    Commons : Basque Country  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


    1. Archive link ( Memento from October 6, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
    2. The linguistic early history or: What was actually before "the Indo-Europeans"? ( Memento from October 12, 2004 in the Internet Archive ) In: Wolfgang Schindler: Introduction to the history of language . (PDF file; 295 kB)
    3. ^ Wilhelm von Humboldt: Works in five volumes. Edited by Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel, Darmstadt 1961, Volume 2: Writings on antiquity and aesthetics. The Vasken. P. 419.
    4. ^ Wilhelm von Humboldt: Works in five volumes. Edited by Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel, Darmstadt 1961, Volume 2: Writings on antiquity and aesthetics. The Vasken. P. 546 f.
    5. ^ Wilhelm von Humboldt: Works in five volumes. Edited by Andreas Flitner and Klaus Giel, Darmstadt 1961, Volume 2: Writings on antiquity and aesthetics. The Vasken. P. 553.
    6. “It is not the man who gives his wife his name”, from 'Causeries sur le pays basque' by Echauzego Andería . In: Gerd Schumann and Florence Hervé 2000, p. 19 f.
    7. Basque women - a historical search for traces. With Professor Teresa del Valle. In: Gerd Schumann and Florence Hervé 2000, p. 7.
    8. Kurlansky 2000, pp. 384-386.
    9. Kurlansky 2000, pp. 24 and 57.
    10. El Pais: Miles de personas piden en Bilbao la oficialidad de las selecciones deportivas vascas y catalanas (December 3, 2007)
    11. Basque Parliament for vote on independence on , June 28, 2008 (accessed on July 1, 2008)
    12. judgment 103/2008 of the Constitutional Court ( Memento of 23 November 2015, Internet Archive ) (PDF; 96 KB)
    13. ^ Gobierno Vasco: Elecciones Parlamento Europeo 2009 ( Memento of May 7, 2005 in the Internet Archive ). On:
    14. Archive of the election results of the Basque Autonomous Community ( Memento of 7 May 2005 in the Internet Archive ) (Spanish)
    15. See Michel Espagne : Review of: Niebel, Ingo: The Basque Country. Past and present of a political conflict. Vienna 2009 . In: H-Soz-u-Kult , February 19, 2010.
    16. The Basque Country in France ( Memento of April 23, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
    17. The Basque Country in Spain ( Memento of April 24, 2016 in the Internet Archive )

    Coordinates: 43 ° 2 ′ 46.8 "  N , 1 ° 26 ′ 28.3"  W.