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Country: Spain

Distance: 2,150 km

Travel time:  28 days

On postcard: Basque Country

The Basque Country (Basque: Euskal Herria) is the name given to the home of the Basque people in the western Pyrenees that spans the border between France and Spain on the Atlantic coast.

It comprises the Autonomous Communities of the Basque Country and Navarre in Spain and the Northern Basque Country in France.

Even though they are not necessarily synonyms, the concept of a single culturally Basque area spanning various regions and countries has been closely associated since its inception with the politics of Basque nationalism. As such, the region is considered home to theBasque people (Basque: Euskaldunak), their language (Basque: Euskara), culture and traditions. Nevertheless the area is neither linguistically nor culturally homogeneous, and the very Basqueness of parts of it, such as southern Navarre, remains contentious.

Territorial extent

The modern claim for the extent of the Basque Country, coined in the nineteenth century, is seven traditional regions. Some Basques refer to the seven regions collectively as Zazpiak Bat, meaning "The Seven [are] One".

Spanish Basque Country

The Spanish Basque Country (Spanish: País Vasco y Navarra, Basque: Hegoalde) includes two main regions: the Basque Autonomous Community (capital: Vitoria-Gasteiz) and the Chartered Community of Navarre (capital: Pamplona).

The Basque Autonomous Community (7,234 km²) consists of three provinces, specifically designated "historical territories":

In addition, some sources consider two enclaves as part of the Basque Autonomous Community:

The Chartered Community of Navarre (10,391 km²) is a uniprovincial autonomous community. Its name refers to the medieval charters, the Fueros of Navarre. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 states that Navarre may become a part of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country if it was so decided by its people and institutions. To date, the results of regional elections have shown a clear rejection of this option. The ruling Navarrese People's Union has repeatedly asked for an amendment to the Constitution to remove this clause.


According to some theories, Basques may be the least assimilated remnant of the Paleolithic inhabitants of Western Europe (specifically those of the Franco-Cantabrian region known asAzilian) to the Indo-European migrations. Basque tribes were mentioned by Greek writer Strabo and Roman writer Pliny, including the Vascones, the Aquitani and others. There is considerable evidence to show their Basque ethnicity in Roman times in the form of place-names, Caesar's reference to their customs and physical make-up, the so-called Aquitanian inscriptions recording names of people and gods (approx. 1st century, see Aquitanian language), etc.

Geographically, the Basque Country was inhabited in Roman times by several tribes: the Vascones, the Varduli, the Caristi, the Autrigones, the Berones, the Tarbelli and the Sibulates. Many believe that except for the Berones and Autrigones they were non-Indo-European peoples, the ethnic background of the most westerly tribes is not clear due to lack of information. Some ancient place-names, such as Deba, Butrón, Nervión, Zegama, suggest the presence of non-Basque peoples at some point in protohistory. The ancient tribes are last cited in the 5th century, after which track of them is lost, with only Vascones still being accounted for, while extending far beyond their former boundaries, e.g. in the current lands of Álava and most conspicuously around the Pyrenees and Novempopulania.

The Cantabri, encompassing probably present-day Biscay, Cantabria, Burgos and at least part of Álava and La Rioja, lived to the west of Vascon territory in the Early Middle Ages, but the ethnic nature of this people, often at odds with and finally overcome by the Visigoths, is not certain. The Vascones around Pamplona, after much fighting against Franks and Visigoths, founded the Kingdom of Pamplona (824), inextricably linked to their kinsmen the Banu Qasi. All other tribes in the Iberian Peninsula had been, to a great extent, assimilated by Roman culture and language by the end of the Roman period or early period of the Early Middle Ages (though ethnic Basques extended well east into the lands around the Pyrenees until the 9-11th centuries).

In the Early Middle Ages (up to the 9-10th centuries) the territory between the Ebro and Garonne rivers was known as Vasconia, a blurred ethnic area and polity struggling to fend off the pressure of the Iberian Visigothic kingdom and Muslim rule from the south and the Frankishpush from the north. By the turn of the millennium, after Muslim invasions and Frankish expansion under Charlemagne, the territory of Vasconia (to become Gascony) fragmented into different feudal regions, e.g. the viscountcies of Soule and Labourd out of former tribal systems and minor realms (County of Vasconia), while south of the Pyrenees, besides the above Kingdom of Pamplona, Gipuzkoa, Álava and Biscay arose in the current lands of the Southern Basque Country from the 9th century onward.

These westerly territories pledged intermittent allegiance to Navarre in their early stages, but were annexed to the Kingdom of Castile at the end of the 12th century, so depriving the Kingdom of Navarre of direct access to the ocean. In the Late Middle Ages, important families dotting the whole Basque territory came to prominence, often quarreling with each other for power and unleashing the bloody War of the Bands, only stopped by royal intervention and the gradual shift of power from the countryside to the towns by the 16th century. Meanwhile, the viscountcies of Labourd and Soule under English suzerainty were finally annexed to France after the Hundred Years' War at the defeat of Bayonne in 1451.

In Navarre, the civil wars between the Agramontese and the Beaumontese paved the way for the Spanish conquest of the bulk of Navarre from 1512 to 1521. The Navarrese territory north of the Pyrenees remaining out of Spanish rule was formally absorbed by France in 1620. In the decades after the Spanish annexation, the Basque Country suffered attempts at religious, ideological and national homogenization, coming to a head in the 1609-1611 Basque witch trials at either side of the border of the kingdoms.

Nevertheless, the Basque provinces still enjoyed a great deal of self-government until the French Revolution in the Northern Basque Country, when the traditional provinces were reshaped to form the current Pyrénées-Atlantiques department along with Béarn. On the Southern Basque Country, the Charters were upheld up to the civil wars known as the Carlist Wars, when the Basques supported heir apparent Carlos and his descendants to the cry of "God, Fatherland, King" (the Charters finally abolished in 1876). The ensuing centralised status quo bred dissent and frustration in the region, giving rise to Basque nationalism by the end of the 19th century, influenced by European Romantic nationalism.

Since then, attempts were made to find a new framework for self-empowerment. The occasion seemed to have arrived on the proclamation of the 2nd Spanish Republic in 1931, when a draft statute was drawn up for the Southern Basque Country (Statute of Estella), but was discarded in 1932. In 1936 a short-lived statute of autonomy was approved for the Gipuzkoa, Álava and Biscay provinces, but war foiled any progress. After Franco´s dictatorship, a new statute was designed that resulted in the creation of the current Basque Autonomous Community and Navarre, with a limited self-governing status, as settled by the Spanish Constitution. However, a significant part of Basque society is still attempting higher degrees of self-empowerment (see Basque nationalism), sometimes by acts of violence. The French Basque Country, meanwhile, lacks any political or administrative recognition whatsoever, while a large number of regional representatives have lobbied to create a Basque department, to no avail.



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