What is exactly the Basque Country ?
Oh! That is a difficult question to answer, because you might get different answers, each one of them linked to a specific sensibility, and each one of them is valid.
The Basque Country or Euskal Herria (land of the Basque language) spills beyond the French-Spanish border along the western Pyrenees. Around 3 million people live in this geographical and cultural area. 300.000 in the French side and 2,7 million in the Spanish side. Euskara, the Basque ancient mother tongue, truly unites these people culturally but nowadays less than half of the population can fluently speak it due to the historical and political events of the last centuries.
Known, unfortunately, for decades as a land of terrorism and instability, the Basque Country is now a land of increasing tourism since the armed Basque separatist group ETA declared a permanent ceasefire in 2011.
The visit to the Basque Country is amazing, because of its beautiful landscapes, world-class wineries, delicious gastronomy, rich cultural heritage, dynamic cities and authentic lifestyle. You can have a first visual bite of it on this promotional video of the Basque Autonomous Government.
The Basque Autonomous Region is in Spain. Historically and culturally, however, the Basque Country is much bigger. Nowadays the Basque cultural area is divided into three different political administrations.
Two in Northern Spain:
– The Basque Autonomous Region, also called Euskadi or País Vasco. Its capital is Vitoria-Gasteiz. The cities of Bibao (Bilbo in Basque) and San Sebastián (Donostia in Basque) are also parts of it.
– The region of Navarra (Nafarroa in Basque). Its capital is Pamplona (Iruña in Basque) . It is the city known for the popular running with the bulls during San Fermín festival. It inspired Ernest Hemingway to write the book “The sun also rises” ,
– The Basque Country in Southern France is included in the region of Aquitaine. Its biggest city is Bayonne (Baiona) but others like Biarritz, Saint Jean de Luz (Donibane Lohitzune) or Saint Jean de Pied de Port (Donibane Garazi) are also in that basque area.
The video below can help you figure it better.
Because of our misterious origins and our authenticity, the American filmmaker Orson Welles visited us in 1955 and made an anthropologic documentary, “The Land of the Basques”. Check it out.
Of course, things have changed since then. But the root, the Basque language, remains the same.
Euskara is the oldest language in Europe, spoken by more than 1.000.000 people, more than 1/3 of the citizens of the Basque cultural area. It was spoken in the Basque Country 5.000 years ago, before the Indo-Europeans arrived and spread out across the continent. Euskara has been official for the last 40 years in Spain and nowadays it is not only a school but also a university language. You can read and hear it as well in the media such as EITB, the Basque public TV and Radio group, where I have been working since year 2000. Euskara is recovering slowly after four decades of ban during the dictatorship of Franco in Spain. The situation of our language is weaker in France because the French state doesn´t recognize other languages than French, even though things are improving.
Nowadays, the Basque Autonomous region is one of the most prosperous regions of Europe, which makes it very accesible and very easy and pleasant to visit, without any lack of authenticity because of the strong attachment of the Basques to their roots. So, what are you waiting for?
Take a Walk on the Basque Side !