Vagabrothers visit the Basque Country

Marko and Alex Ayling, vagabonds and brothers known online as the Vagabrothers, are two award-winning travel videographers, photographers, and writers. Since 2014 they have hosted their own YouTube show, Vagabrothers, which releases new travel videos every Tuesday. They were recently nominated among the “top 100 most influential travel bloggers worldwide” by the U.S. White House summit on global citizenship and cultural exchange.

They’ve already visited the Basque Country before (see the full list of Basque videos here), but check out these new videos, which offer a great outside take on the Basques, their land and their culture:

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Study suggests genetic link between Late Bronze and Iron Age inhabitants and current Basque population

LaHoya

A recent study published in the open access journal Plos One by the BIOMICs research group at the University of the Basque Country suggests a possible genetic link between people who lived in the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age settlement of La Hoya and the current population of Guardia/Laguardia in Araba.

In the words of the authors’ abstract:

La Hoya (Alava, Basque Country) was one of the most important villages of the Late Bronze and Iron Ages of the north of the Iberian Peninsula, until it was violently devastated around the 4th century and abandoned in the 3rd century B.C. Archaeological evidences suggest that descendants from La Hoya placed their new settlement in a nearby hill, which gave rise to the current village of Laguardia. In this study, we have traced the genetic imprints of the extinct inhabitants of La Hoya through the analysis of maternal lineages. In particular, we have analyzed the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region of 41 human remains recovered from the archaeological site for comparison with a sample of 51 individuals from the geographically close present-day population of Laguardia, as well as 56 individuals of the general population of the province of Alava, where the archaeological site and Laguardia village are located. MtDNA haplotypes were successfully obtained in 25 out of 41 ancient samples, and 14 different haplotypes were identified. The major mtDNA subhaplogroups observed in La Hoya were H1, H3, J1 and U5, which show a distinctive frequency pattern in the autochthonous populations of the north of the Iberian Peninsula. Approximate Bayesian Computation analysis was performed to test the most likely model for the local demographic history. The results did not sustain a genealogical continuity between Laguardia and La Hoya at the haplotype level, although factors such as sampling effects, recent admixture events, and genetic bottlenecks need to be considered. Likewise, the highly similar subhaplogroup composition detected between La Hoya and Laguardia and Alava populations do not allow us to reject a maternal genetic continuity in the human groups of the area since at least the Iron Age to present times. Broader analyses, based on a larger collection of samples and genetic markers, would be required to study fine-scale population events in these human groups.

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August 15, 778: The Battle of Orreaga

On August 15, 778 the rearguard section of Charlemagne’s retreating army was ambushed and annihilated by a Basque force at the Orreaga Pass in Navarre. The event has gone down in history as Charlemagne’s only defeat in an otherwise successful military career as well as being, interestingly, the source of two great epic poems: the eleventh-century La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland) in French–the oldest surviving work of French literature–and the sixteenth-century Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando) in Italian.

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Basque Country mentioned in Washington Post report on European innovation

Rick Noack of the Washington Post recently reported on European innovation levels in his article “Where Europe is most and least innovative, in 6 maps.”  Citing the recent European Union Innovation Scoreboard,  Noack notes that, “the Basque country — an autonomous region in Spain — is the country’s only area that is more innovative than the E.U. average.”

European innovation

Check out the full report here.

See, too, Javier Echeverria’s fascinating study of innovation at the European level: Innovation and Values: A European Perspective.

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Center mourns death of Juan Zelaia

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Juan Zelaia, photo via Euskal Kultura. 

Juan Zelaia, an honorary member of the Center’s Advisory Board, passed away on August 10 at the age of 95. Born in Oñati, Gipuzkoa, in 1920, Zelaia was a towering figure of the Basque business world, but also renowned for his many and varied philanthropic endeavors in support of Basque culture in general and the Basque language in particular.

After completing a doctorate in industrial engineering from Bilbao’s School of Engineering in 1947, Zelaia went on to head several different companies.The battery company Cegasa, founded in 1934 thanks to the technical inspiration of a Basque-Chilean relative, was the family starting point from which he developed his later industrial initiatives. These included Tuboplast Hispania (plastic packaging for cosmetics, chemists, etc.: Vitoria-Gasteiz and Vichy, 1964) and Hidronor (recuperation, treatment, and management of industrial waste, 1973). He was Executive President of all three, and actively participated in industries in other sectors such as food and drink, commercialization, cartridges, etc.

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The flower of the sun in Basque culture

In a previous post we discussed the importance of the solstice festival, St. John’s Eve, and today we’re going to talk about the seemingly humble sunflower–eguzki-lore (flower of the sun) or ekilore (flower of the east) in Basque. This is an important symbol in traditional Basque culture that, like the St.John’s Eve festivities, is rooted in a more general solar mythology that once extended across Europe as a whole.

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A sunflower, eguzki-lore or ekilore in Basque. Photo by Jon Sullivan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Clearly, as its name in English also suggests, the sunflower resembles the sun, but why is it so important in traditional Basque culture? First of all, it is important to comprehend just how important the sun was. Understandably, people venerated the rising sun as a giver of light, and life, the very means to their daily survival. Prehistoric dolmens generally face East, toward the rising sun, as do (where possible) most traditional houses and old tombs in the Basque Country. In the latter case, there is also a practical dimension to this because typically the cold and rain come from the North and West respectively.

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Basque terroir: The green chili peppers of Gernika and Ibarra

Continuing with our occasional series on terroir–a concept explaining the connection between a particular food or drink product and a particular location–in the Basque Country, today we’re going to look at the green chili peppers of Gernika (Bizkaia) and Ibarra (Gipuzkoa).

As noted in our previous post on the red chili peppers of Ezpeleta (Lapurdi), the chili pepper itself is a great example of the Columbian exchange. Whereas the red chili peppers of Ezpeleta retain much of their original heat, those of Gernika do not, although the Ibarra variety can be somewhat spicy.

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August 9, 1846: Famous pilota match held in Irun

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Errebotea match played in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, 1863. Painting by Gustave Colin (1828-1910), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 9, 1846, witnessed one of the most famous ever pilota or pelota matches, held in the border town of Irun, Gipuzkoa. It was the errebotea (rebound) form of the game, a long-style form in which the teams return the ball to each other directly without hitting it against any wall. Moreover, as in Jai-Alaia, xisterak or hand-held baskets are typically used to strike the ball.

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Jean Errachun, “Kaskoina” (1817-1859).

That August day, the match involved one team from Hegoalde competing against another from Iparralde. And the latter–the eventual winners–featured the greatest player of the day, Jean Errachun (Erratxun in modern Basque orthography), who also went by the surname Darritchon, from Hazparne, Lapurdi. Knicknamed “Gaskoi(n)a” or “Kaskoi(n)a” poetry was even composed in his honor:

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First stop on your Rioja Alavesa wine experience

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The main building, Villa Lucía. Picture taken from the center’s website.

If you are planning a trip to the Basque Country and one of your interests is the great Rioja wine of Araba, Rioja Alavesa, then an excellent starting point is the Villa Lucía Thematic Center of Wine. The center is located in Guardia/Laguardia, Araba, in a mansion that belongs to the family of the renowned neoclassical fabulist Félix María de Samaniego (1745–1801).

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The museum. Picture taken from the center’s website.

Visitors to the center can take an interactive tour of the wine-making process, visit the center’s museum and library, take part in an enogastronomic gymkhana–a fun way to find out more about food and drink by playing group-based games revolving around guessing the different aromas and characteristics of wine as well as trying to create your own pintxos–or just taste different grapes and take a crash course in wine tasting. There is also ample room on this country estate to stroll around its gardens (with over 200 plant and flower varieties) and have a drink and a meal or a snack while planning your visit to this fascinating and historic part of the Basque Country.

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Brown bear sighting near Garde in Nafarroa

There was a reported sighting of a rare brown bear near the village of Garde in the Erronkari/Roncal Valley of Nafarroa on August 6. Experts have confirmed it could be a male named Neré, born in 1997 to one of the Slovenian brown bears, Melba, introduced into the Central Pyrenees in 1996. This was part of a controlled program to repopulate the Pyrenees with Slovenian brown bears, genetically similar to the autochthonous but by then extinct Pyrenean bear (the last surviving wild bears in Western Europe). Neré has been recorded in this more western part of the Pyrenees since 2000.

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