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Frequently asked questions about the Basques

The most frequently asked questions about the Basques and their culture.
What does “Euskal Herria” mean?

Euskal Herria or Vasconia is the name given to a European cultural area or region, situated on both sides of the Pyrenees which is composed of territories from both the Spanish and French states. Therefore, Euskal Herria or Vasconia is known as the area in which the Basque culture is apparent in all its dimensions.

The northern part of the Pyrenees (commonly known as) is composed of Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea and Zuberoa, territories which in the French administrative organisation are part of the Department of the Atlantic Pyrenees.

The southern area (known as Hegoalde) is composed of Nafarroa, Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, where Nafarroa forms the Regional Community of Nafarroa and the last three make up the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country.

Euskal Herria or Vasconia covers a surface area of 20,664 km², and has a total population of around 3 million inhabitants.

Euskal Herria or Vasconia is limited to the north by the Cantabrian Sea, to the northeast by the French Department of Les Landes and to the east by the French region of Bearn. The other limits of the territory of Euskal Herria are bordered by the following Spanish autonomous communities: to the west by Cantabria and Castile-León, to the south by Castile-León, La Rioja and Aragon, and to the east by Aragon.

What does “Euskadi” mean?

“The Basque Country or Euskal Herria, as an expression of its nationality, and in order to access its self-government, was constituted in an Autonomous Community within the Spanish State under the name of Euskadi or the Basque Country, in accordance with the Constitution and with the present Statute, which is its basic institutional standard”. Article 1 of the Preliminary Qualification of the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country.

What is Iparralde?

It is the area of Euskal Herria to the north of the Pyrenees composed of Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea and Zuberoa; provinces which in the French administrative organisation are part of the Department of the Atlantic Pyrenees.

What is Hegoalde?

It is the area of Euskal Herria to the south of the Pyrenees composed of Nafarroa, Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa; where in the Spanish administrative organisation Nafarroa forms the Regional Community of Nafarroa and the last three form the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country.

Where is Nafarroa?

The Regional Community of Nafarroa is situated in the North of Spain, on the western side of the Pyrenees. It covers a surface area of 10,421 km² and it is flanked to the East by Aragón –Huesca and Zaragoza–, to the South by Aragón and La Rioja, to the North West by the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country –Araba and Gipuzkoa– and to the North East by Nafarroa Beherea, Zuberoa and the area of Béarn.

Where does Euskal Herria lie?

It is situated between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of the European continent. It is limited to the north by the Cantabrian Sea and to the north east by the French region of Les landes and to the east with the French region of Béarn. The others limits of the territory of Euskal Herria are in contact with the following Spanish autonomous communities: to west with Cantabria and Castile-León; to the south with Castile-León, La Rioja and Aragón; and to the east with Aragón.

What is surface area of Euskal Herria? How many inhabitants does Euskal Herria have?

It covers a surface area of 20,664 km² and has almost three million inhabitants.

How is Euskal Herria organised politically and administratively?

You can see information about the political-administrative systems in the Euskal Herria section on this site.

What type of Government does Euskadi have?

“The Basque Government is the official body which possesses the executive and administrative functions of the Basque Country”. Article 29 (Chapter II of Qualification II of the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country)

“The powers of the Government and its organisation, based on a President and their Councillors, as well as the Statute of its members, will be regulated by Parliament”. Article 30 (Chapter II of Qualification II of the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country)

What type of government does Iparralde have?

It forms a part, together with Bearn, of the Department of the Atlantic Pyrenees . In turn, it belongs to the region of Aquitaine. Iparralde does not have its own political personality.

What type of government does Nafarroa have?

The Regional Community of Nafarroa has its own government and parliament. Detailed information can be seen on its website.

What is the landscape and the climate like in Euskal Herria?

You can see information about geography in the Presentation of Euskal Herria on this site.

What is the tourism offer in Euskal Herria? How can you travel to Euskal Herria? What cultural offers are there in the main cities in Euskal Herria?

The tourism offer in Euskal Herria is extensive, with interesting, individual options in each of its seven territories. The options for travelling as regards transport are varied, tourists can travel by rail or by air.

The main cities of Euskal Herria have a varied cultural offer. You can consult the official sites of each city in order to discover it:

Donostia-San Sebastián: www.donostia.org

Bilbao: www.bilbao.net

Vitoria-Gasteiz: www.vitoria-gasteiz.org

Bayonne: www.ville-bayonne.fr

Pamplona: www.pamplona.net

You can get more information in our tourism section.

What currency is used in Euskal Herria?

The Euro is the valid currency in Euskal Herria since it came into force at the beginning of 2002.

What are the characteristics of the Basque economy?

You can find basic information and references in the Presentation of Euskal Herria, on this site.

What does “euskara” or "euskera" mean?

It refers to the Basque Language: euskara = Basque language = vascuence

What is the difference between “euskara”, “euskera” and “eskuara”?

The three words are different words for the Basque Language, they are synonyms of “vascuence”. However in a non general way, we can say that the first one is used when talking in Vascuence and the second in Spanish. Eskuara is the word used in different parts of Iparralde.

Euskaltzaindia - Academia of Euskara recommends the use of the term "euskara" as the most appropriate in any language.

Is Euskara an official language?

According to article 6 of the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country: “Euskara, the language of the Basque Country, will have, like Spanish, the nature of official language in Euskadi, and all its inhabitants have the right to know and use both languages”.

It is also considered the official language in the Basque-speaking area of the Regional Community of Nafarroa according to the Law of Vascuence.

Where can you study Euskara?

You can study Euskara in the Euskaltegis:

And in the Official Language Schools:

You can also study Euskara via the Internet.

What type of literature exists in Euskara?

From 1545 to 1957, Basque literature was basically religious. It was in 1545 when Etxepare published the first book in Euskara: “Linguae vasconum primitiae”. However, it was the author Txillardegi who wrote what was considered to be the first modern novel in Euskara: “Leturiaren egunkari ezkutua”(1957). Nowadays, you can read any literary style in Euskara.

Why did the Basques emigrate to America and other places?

You can see an article by José Manuel Azcona which covers the causes of the Basque emigration, in Euskonews. On the Euskomedia website you will find many more references on this subject.

In which countries are there Basque-Nafarroa communities?

There are many Basque-Nafarroa communities in numerous countries around the world. The most numerous ones are in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay; but there are also other important communities in the rest of Latin America, the United States, in different European countries, in Asia, Oceania and Africa. Some of these communities have an informal nature, however, most of them are organised and centred on an entity (mainly Basque centres). You can consult the EuskoSare database for more details.

What were the Carlist Wars?

First Carlist War (1833-1839):
The crisis of the Old Regime took place in Euskal Herria, and across the whole peninsula, slowly with advances and setbacks. The special characteristic lies in that Euskal Herria became the main location of the armed confrontation armada between absolutism and liberalism. This first Carlist War was a struggle between the pretender to the throne of Spain Carlos María Isidro, “Carlos V”, and Isabel II, daughter of Fernando VII and niece of Carlos.

The struggle was caused by the continuous attacks on the Basque fueros (provincial laws). This was ended with the so-called Bergara Embrace (31-08-1839), in which General Espartero (liberal) imposed his conditions on the defeated Carlist general Maroto. After this war, the liberal general Espartero limited the Basque regional law regimes in 1841, transferring the customs to the coast, although the fiscal, institutional and military special characteristics were still conserved. In Nafarroa, in 1841 a law was drawn up by which the Nafarroa regional powers were suppressed along with its condition as a kingdom, but it maintained a considerable administrative autonomy.

Second Carlist War (1846-1849):
It was practically reduced to Catalonia and was no more than a guerrilla struggle with scarce importance.

Third Carlist War (1872-1876):
The third Carlist War started in 1872 and was mainly held in Basque-Nafarroa lands and in Catalonia. The restoration of the Bourbons in Alfonso XII would shortly afterwards lead to a weakening of Carlism, and the war gradually declined until it finally ended in 1876. At the end of the third Carlist War, with the defeat of the Carlists-traditionalists, the Fueros (Provincial Laws) of Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa were nominally suppressed, and these territories became the same as the other provinces of the Spanish state.

What are the Basque Fueros (provincial laws)?

In the Modern Age, each territory had its own Fueros (provincial laws), which were local and provincial laws for the internal government of each Community. The Councils, Local Governments, Courts, Biltzar, General States governed in each territory together with the delegates of the monarch.

It was in 1876, at the end of the Third Carlist War (1872-1876) with the military defeat of the band of the Carlists, when the Fueros (provincial laws) of Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa were suppressed and they became the same as the other provinces of the Spanish state.

What is the “Tree of Gernika”? Why is it important for the Basques?

The Tree of Gernika is a symbol of Basque liberties, of the defence of the liberties and the rights of the Basque people. For this reason, the Statute of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country was given the name of this town.

A strongly rooted custom among the Basques was to congregate under a tree, normally an oak, to decide about the community’s interests, which was quite a generalised tradition in medieval Europe. As regards Bizkaia, each administrative territoriality (called a Merindad) had its own tree.

With the passing of the centuries the tree of Gernika was distinguished, and was located in the District of Lumo, where there was an area called Gernikazarra, with an oak wood and a chapel. In the shade of this tree the laws of Bizkaia were drawn up until the year 1876, under the auspices of all the towns, which sent two representatives (Junteros) to the sessions (Juntas Generales).

This incipient form of democracy and respect for freedom was annotated by the philosopher Rousseau, the poet William Wordsworth, the dramatist Tirso de Molina and the bard Iparraguirre with his Gernikako Arbola.

What is "Gernikako Arbola"?

Iparragirre wrote the song " Gernikako Arbola" and dedicated it to the Basque fueros (provincial laws), for which he was exiled from Euskal Herria in 1855. He spent many years in South America (Argentina, Uruguay) until his return in 1878.

On the Euskomedia website you will find the score of this work.

Does the Gernika painting by Picasso have anything to do with the Basques?

It is the painting which the Government of the Republic commissioned to Picasso and it refers to the horrors of the war. Due to the Civil War, the town of Gernika was totally destroyed on 26th April 1937 by the German aviation of the Condor Legion, sent by Hitler to collaborate with the French army. For approximately four hours, German planes reduced the whole city to rubble. This experimental act gave rise to the barbarities of later wars.

At the end of the Second World War the painting became the symbol of freedom and Picasso an artistic hero for both the communist block and for the western block. In his will he wrote that the Gernika should be returned to Spain when he had died. The painting is currently exhibited in the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid.

What is the lauburu? What meaning does it have?

The lauburu (lau buru = four heads) is a variation of one of the most ancient signs of humanity which is used in different cultures, one of which is the Basque culture. It is found in very ancient funeral wakes and is currently widely used as an identifying symbol of anything Basque.

It has been assigned different symbolic values: “to represent the four elements of creation: water, earth, air and fire”, to symbolise “the two sexes”, “the energies which make up the universe" or “the struggle of light against the shadows”.

What does “euskaldun” mean?

It is a word in euskara (Basque language) which means “Basque speaker”.

What is “Aberri Eguna”?

Aberri Eguna is a day the Basque nationalists established to demand their native land. It was first held in Bilbao on 27th March 1932. The annual celebration of Aberri Eguna was prohibited in the Spanish state during the Civil War (1936-1939) and during the Franco period. The Basque Government continued to celebrate it in exile.

In 1963, clandestinely due to the Franco years, the initiative was restarted and the left-wing independents had a very important weight. Nowadays, it is still celebrated on Easter Sunday.

What is the “ikurriña”? What meaning does it have?

The ikurriña was created in 1894 by Sabino Arana and its meaning has become synonymous with the Basque flag.

It was created only for Bizkaia, however, through the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party; founded by Sabino Arana) and during the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939) all the democratic parties accepted it. In 1936, the first Basque Autonomous Government was created (its Lehendakari [president] was José Antonio Aguirre) with the representation of all the democratic parties, and the Ikurriña was declared, by law, the flag of the Basque Country.

After the last Spanish dictatorship, and with the approval of the Basque autonomies, the ikurriña was declared once again by law as the official Basque flag.

In the continental Basque Country it was extended to the entire civil and political society, and after the Second World War it was used in the town halls along side the French flag, but unofficially.

What meaning does the Flag of Nafarroa have?

The shield, the flag and the hymn of Nafarroa constitute the official symbols of the Regional Community. The first two are defined in the LORAFNA, Regional Law 7/1986, of 28th May, approved by the Parliament of Nafarroa which establishes the official hymn and regulates the use of all the symbols of Nafarroa. “The shield of Nafarroa is formed by gold chains on a red background, with an emerald in the centre which joins the branches of links and on these, the royal crown, a symbol of the Ancient Kingdom of Nafarroa”.

The flag has its origin in the coat of arms which the King of Nafarroa Sancho VII el Fuerte adopted as his own in 1212, after the victory of the Christian Kings of Nafarroa, Castile and León, against the Muslim troops, which occurred in Navas de Tolosa (current province of Jaén), within the Reconquest of the peninsula.

The chains represent those which surrounded the tent of the Moorish King Miramamolín el Verde and which Sancho el Fuerte broke with his own sword, and the central emerald represents the stone the defeated Moorish King wore on his turban.

Is the “boina” or “txapela” a typical symbol of the Basques? Why?

It is not typical of the Basques because it is also worn in other cultures; however in many parts of the world the Basques have been distinguished for its use. Nowadays, the txapela or boina is not normally used in Euskal Herria, but it is used in the Diaspora as a symbol of Basque identity. In Argentina it is widely worn in rural areas and in areas linked to farming production, and its use goes way beyond the Basque community. However, the social memory of its origin is still kept as it is called the “boina vasca” (Basque beret).

By entering the Euskonews site you can read the article "La boina y los vascos" (the beret and the Basques) by Olga Macías.

What does “ikastola” mean?

The ikastolas are schools which provide education entirely in Euskara.

What does “bertsolari” mean?

It is the name in Euskara for an improvising poet who sings in public. The discipline is called bertsolarismo.

From the website of the Basque Government you can access a text as an introduction to bertsolarismo, which covers from basic definitions about bertsolarismo and bertso (the poems) to schools where it can be learnt.

At www.bertsozale.com you can also find detailed information on this subject.

What does "aurresku" mean?

The aurresku is a typical dance of Euskal Herria. It starts with a kind of slow representation, performed by the men alone. The women enter one by one, invited by the dantzaris (dancers), who successively occupy the chain. The dance accelerates more and more and ends with a Jota (Spanish dance).

The most well-known piece is the part which is danced by just one person and accompanied by the melody of the txistu and the danbolin. It is danced to show respect to someone.

What are some of the rural Sports of the Basques?

The traditional Basque sports are as follows:

  • Trunk cutters = Aizkolariak
  • Stone pulling with oxes= Idi dema
  • Runners and walkers = korrikalari eta ibiltariak
  • Tug of war = Sokatira
  • Stone lifting = Harri jasotzaileak
  • Pelota
  • Boat races = estropadak
  • Grass cutters = Segalariak

Nowadays, most of them are only practiced on particular dates, especially in fiestas.

Even so, cycling, Pelota and the boat races have the most followers.

What are some of the typical musical instruments of the Basques?

  • Txalaparta - Tamboril
  • Txistu - Pandero
  • Dultzaina - TrikiTixa
  • Alboka - Txilibito

In Euskal Herria the musical typology is as varied as in any other place.

The Higher Institute of Music of the Basque Country and Eresbil – Basque Archive of Music are reference points for information on this matter.

On this subject you can also read No. 10 of the magazine Euskonews.

What are the some of the traditional dances of the Basques?

Some of the dances which are performed wearing typical clothing, are:

For more information you can enter the Euskal Dantzarien Biltzarra website or dantzan.com.

What are the main media stations in Euskal Herria?

Television Channels

Basque Autonomous Community

Regional Community of Nafarroa

Iparralde

Radios

Press

Hegoalde

Iparralde

What are the main political parties in Euskal Herria?

Basque Autonomous Community

Regional Community of Nafarroa

Iparralde

When did ETA arise?

Around 1959 ETA was created, which stands for Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, an organisation to the left of the youth movements around the PNV (Basque Nationalist Party) and which with its actions would bring a substantial change to the way politics was understood, not only in Euskal Herria, but also throughout the whole Spanish state. ETA was distinguished from the very beginning for using the armed struggle, a method which is praised by some and condemned by others.

Who was Saint Francis Xavier?

Saint Francis Xavier of Navarre is considered to be one of the greatest saints in history by the Catholic Church along with his friend Saint Ignatious of Loyola. They were canonized (declared saints) together in 1622. For his great evangelist work, he has been called “The greatest missionary” and Pope Pio X named him the official patron of the missions. In addition, the patron of Navarre – together with Saint Fermin – is celebrated on the Day of Navarre. He was born on April 7, 1506, in the Castle of Xavier. At the age of 18, he went to study at the University of Paris, where he met Saint Ignatious of Loyola and other friends with whom he became the founders of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). In 1540, Saint Ignatious sent Francis Xavier to India for the Jesuit’s first mission and from then on he served an additional ten years evangelizing the rest of the Orient. He died on the 3rd of December near the Coast of China, one of his greatest missionary works. His remains are located in Goa, India at the Basilica of Bom Jesus. According to stories, he died speaking his maternal language of Euskara (Basque). To honor this, his saint day is December 3rd and International Basque Language day is celebrated on this day as well.

Who was Saint Ignatious of Loyola?

Ignatious of Loyola, whose name by birth was Iñigo of Loyola, is considered by the Catholic Church to be one of the greatest saints of all time. He was the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) along with his friend Saint Francis Xavier of Navarre and was the author of the “Spiritual Exercises.” In 1622 he was canonized (declared a saint) along with Saint Francis Xavier. He is the patron saint of Gipuzkoa and of Bizkaia and his saint day is celebrated on the 31st of July. Iñigo was born in 1491 in castle of Loiola in Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa. He was in the military and during the defense of Pamplona, besieged by the French troops, his foot was wounded. During his recuperation, he did lots of reading and decided to dedicate his life to God. Once recuperated, in 1522, he went to the Monastery of Montserrat and later retired to Manresa. During that time, Ignacio conceived and redacted the main ideas of the Spiritual Exercises. In 1528 he went to study in Paris and met his friends with whom he founded the Company of Jesus, among them St. Francis Xavier. He died at the age of 65 in Rome on July 31, 1556. The celebration of his saint day is a very important celebration that is extended throughout the entire Basque world.

Who was Sabino Arana?

Sabino de Arana was the founder of EAJ/PNV (Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea/Basque Nationalist Party) in Bilbao in 1895.

Who was José Antonio Aguirre?

José Antonio Aguirre was the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party and presided the first Basque autonomous government from 7th October 1936.

For more information you can consult a biographical summary drawn up by the Center for Basque Studies of Reno.

Who was José Miguel Barandiaran?

An anthropologist, ethnologist and researcher from Gipuzkoa (Ataun, 1889-1991). Barandiaran studied theology and philosophy at the Vitoria Seminary and at the Ecclesiastic University of Burgos he obtained a degree in theology (1915). In 1916, together with Telesforo Aranzadi and Enrike Eguren, he carried out ethnographic research; he created a research team and as well as carrying out archaeological excavations, he published scientific articles. He participated in the first Eusko Ikaskuntza-Society of Basque Studies congress, of which he was president from 1978-1991.

Who was Indalecio Prieto?

Indalecio Prieto was a political personality of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Worker’s Socialist Party). He was born in Oviedo in 1883 and he went to live in Bilbao from a very young age. When he was 18 he became part of the editorial staff at "El Liberal", a republican newspaper which at the end of 1920 would be owned by Prieto. The rise in his political career took place from his city of adoption, Bilbao, which he represented first in the Diputación Vizcaína (Bizkaia provincial council) (1911), and later, in the Spanish parliament. He died in Mexico on 12th February 1962.

Who was Arturo Campión?

Arturo Campión was a writer and a politician. He was born in Pamplona on 7th May 1854, years after the laws of the Spanish parliament in Madrid of 1837, 1839 and 1841 were put into practice, which suppressed the Kingdom of Nafarroa to convert it into a province. This event weighed heavily on the life of Campión, until his death in 1937.

Who was Miguel de Unamuno?

Miguel de Unamuno was a thinker and a man of letters. He is one of the most universal Basque writers, a profound poet, a tortured thinker, novelist with a bite and an avant-garde dramatist. He was born in Bilbao on 29th September 1864, a descendant of merchants with a liberal ideology. He died on 31st December 1936.

Who was José María Iribarren Rodríguez?

José María Iribarren Rodríguez was a writer from Nafarroa who was born in Tudela on 31st October 1906. He studied baccalaureate at the Jesuitas school of the same town, and then went to the University of Deusto (Bilbao) where he completed a Law degree. In Madrid he studied two years of Philosophy and Arts. He returned to Tudela and opened a lawyer’s office. In this same town he founded the "Nafarroa" seminary in 1932 where he would found his writer’s arms.

Who was Pío Baroja?

Pío Baroja was a famous novelist from Gipuzkoa, of universal projection; he was born in Donostia-San Sebastián on 28th December 1872 and died in Madrid on 30th October 1956.


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