Month: August 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Atharratze to join Association of Bastides


Town Council Square in Bastida-Arberoa/La Bastide-Clairence. Photo by Asp, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Bastides are a particular urban feature of South-West France: new fortified towns built in the medieval era, between 1230 and 1350, which were located on or near sensitive border areas and which served as more robust defensive mechanisms against potential attackers.

These were planned towns, with a central square and church surrounded by a well organized street layout. People were encouraged to settle in  these new towns and cultivate the land around them with incentives such as being granted a “free” status, meaning they would no longer be considered vassals of local lords. Today, they are a special feature of the region and an important destination for architecture enthusiasts as well as visitors more generally.

Bastides64 is an association of these bastides in the département of the Atlantic Pyrenees, incorporating Iparralde. It was established to protect and promote these historic sites. To date, Bastida-Arberoa (La Bastide-Clairence in French; La Bastida de Clarença in Gascon) in Lower Navarre has been the only Basque member of the association. As Philippe Veyrin comments in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre, “Bastida (Labastide-Clairence) and Izura (Ostabat) are a case—here exceptional, though very widespread in Gascony—of towns created all of a piece to a preconceived plan. Baiona and Donibane Garazi were almost from the start fortified towns built on a key position.”

It has, however, just been announced that Atharratze (Tardets) in Zuberoa will also join as a full member in 2017.


A panoramic view of Bastida, Araba. Photo by Imamon, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Interestingly, there is also a Bastida, (Labastida in Spanish) in Araba, which is also a fortified medieval town.

In his classic study The Basques, Julio Caro Baroja also discusses the history and architecture of Basque settlements.

Three Basque producers make 2016 Winners List in Great Taste Awards

The Great Taste Awards, organized by the Guild of Fine Food, is the acknowledged benchmark for fine food and drink and has been described as the ‘Oscars’ of the food world. In 2016 over 400 judges, including specially trained food writers inputting judges’ comments, came together at 49 judging days from March through early July. The judges, from all corners of the food world, blind-taste in teams of 3 or 4 ensuring they get a balance of expertise, age, and gender.

Over 10,000 products were entered for the 2016 awards, with only 141 foods achieving the highest and most coveted rating, three stars; 878 foods received 2 stars and 2,520 were awarded a 1-star rating. That means only 35% of entries were accredited.The Golden Forks (the big winners) will be announced at a celebration dinner at the Royal Garden Hotel, London on the September 5.

In the sheep’s cheese category, there were 21 awards, 3 of which (including the only 3-star rating) went to Basque producers.


The famed Idiazabal cheese. Photo by Xavigivax, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The coveted 3-star rating was awarded to the smoked Idiazabal sheeps’ milk cheese of the Mausitxa baserri in Elgoibar, Gipuzkoa.  This means that it made the prestigious top 50 foods list, which for the organizers “quite simply are the best fifty foods in the world each year.” As regards the Mausitxa smoked Idiazabal, in the judges opinion, “Although smoky on the nose and in the mouth, the flavour of the cheese is never overpowered and those who try it will be rewarded with a fresh, crumbly and slightly sweet finish.” Mausitxa also received a 2-star rating for its regular Idiazabal sheeps’ milk cheese.

The La Leze baserri in Ilarduia, Araba, received 2-star ratings for both its normal and its smoked Idiazabal sheeps’ milk cheeses, while the Etxetxipia baserri in Elizondo, Nafarroa was awarded a 2-star rating for its regular sheeps’ milk cheese.

Check out the Basque sheeps’ milk association here. What’s more, if you haven’t yet done so, you can download Hasier Etxeberria’s great introduction to Basque gastronomy, On Basque Cuisine, free here.

Emotional Artzai Eguna held in Nafarroa

The 49th Artzai Eguna (Shepherds’ Day) of Nafarroa, was held yesterday, August 28, in Uharte Arakil; a day-long celebration of the shepherding world that includes gastronomic activities such as a cheese-making contest and that culminates in sheepdog trials in which the ability of shepherds and their dogs to herd sheep is tested. It was an emotional occasion in many ways.

The shepherding competition was won by 51-year-old Joxe Mari Ixtilart–who first competed in the event some 39 years ago–from Amaiur and his dog Lagun (the oldest dog in the competition at the age of 10), but the occasion was also marked by an emotional tribute to Ixtilart’s recently deceased mother: María Pilar Elizalde Jaimerena, the first woman to ever compete at these same championships.

There were also tributes for the recently deceased Benigno Mendia from Urdiain, a local man involved in many different cultural activities, including previous editions of the Artzai Eguna; and another award was given to Patxi Uriz from Gares, winner of a 2015 Goya Prize (the Spanish equivalent to the Oscars) for his documentary Hijos de la tierra (Sons of the Earth).

Read a full report on the day in Noticias de Navarra (in Spanish) here.

For more information on the event as a whole, click here.

August 20, 1915: Basque scholar Koldo Mitxelena born

On August 20, 1915, Koldo Mitxelena (Luis Michelena) was born in Errenteria, Gipuzkoa. His work is still unquestionably the central reference point for anyone interested in all aspects of the Basque language and his intellectual influence survives down to this day. Yet his own personal story is not that of the archetypal ivory-towered academic; throughout his fascinating life he knew war, imprisonment, and repression first-hand.


Reproduction of a portrait of Koldo Mitxelena (an oil painting by A. Valverde). By Juan San Martib, derivative work by Xabier Armendaritz, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mitxelena was born into a humble artisan family in the small Gipuzkoan town on the cusp of experiencing a dramatic social, economic and demographic change with the coming of industrialization in the early twentieth century. The young Mitxelena was raised in a Basque-speaking and Basque nationalist household. As a child he was bedridden for three years due to a tumor in his leg, and this forced confinement sparked an early interest in reading. On leaving school, he joined in the family artisan work, while at the same time taking an active interest in both the flowering of Basque literary movements and Basque nationalist politics in the 1930s; but when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936 he immediately volunteered to fight Franco’s military rebels.

He was subsequently captured and sentenced to death in 1937, although the sentence was overturned and commuted to a thirty-year prison sentence instead. In Burgos prison he met several incarcerated Spanish intellectuals, professors, and students, and this contact led him to coming across his true vocation for the study of language. He was eventually released in 1943. He returned to Errenteria at the age of twenty-seven and in poor health. He accepted the offer of an accounting job in Madrid, from where he began engaging in clandestine activities against the Franco dictatorship. Yet this resulted in his arrest once more in 1946, for which he served a two-year sentence and was released in 1948.

Now thirty-two years old, he enrolled as part-time student of humanities at the University of Madrid, living modestly and funding his studies as best he could in the circumstances. In 1949, moreover, he married Matilde Martínez de Ilarduya and they would go on to have two children. Mitxelena carried on with his studies through the 1950s at the University of Salamanca, teaching courses in Basque language and literature, and eventually achieving a doctorate in 1959 with a dissertation on the topic of Basque historical phonetics (a text that is still relevant to this day).

Thereafter Mitxelena, perhaps making up for lost time, embarked on a prodigious research and publishing academic career. He continued in Salamanca, although was prevented from applying for many positions because of his prison record, but through much lobbying on the part of friends and colleagues,  a chair of Indo-European Linguistics was eventually created for him in the late 1960s. During this time, as well as attracting a number of Basque students around him who would ultimately go on to lead the study of Basque langue and linguistics, he also gained more international renown, teaching at the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris for example.


Mitxelena, back row, far left, at the 1968 Arantzazu Congress. Photo by Juan San Martin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If that was all not enough, Mitxelena was one of the driving forces behind the move toward designing and implementing Euskara Batua, Unified or Standard Basque. He played a prominent role in the key Arantzazu Congress, held in 1968, which first set down the principles by which this unified version of the language–now the standard used in education, the media, and a variety of other fields–was first agreed on by Euskaltzaindia, the Royal Academy of the Basque Language.

Following Franco’s death in 1975 and the restructuring of the Spanish university system, Mitxelena was asked to come back to the Basque Country in the late 1970s and help in the design and implementation of a Basque language program at the nascent University of the Basque Country. And there he continued to teach for a few more years until his retirement. Shortly afterward, he died in 1987.

Today there is a chair named in his honor at the University of Chicago and the main library and cultural center in Donostia bears the name Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea.

In the words of Pello Salaburu, who compiled the the work Koldo Mitxelena: Selected Writings of a Basque Scholar cited below:

Thanks to Koldo Mitxelena, to his total dedication and vast intellectual contributions, Basque language studies eventually took a giant step forward and moved into their rightful place as a professional field of academic research. Mitxelena’s proposals were also crucial for the development of euskara batua, or unified literary Basque, which was to become the much-needed standard for this ancient language. These two contributions—his rigorous analysis and intellectual authorship of the standardization of the language—were vital not only for our knowledge and understanding of Basque, but also for bringing it to the forefront in education and the mass media in the Basque Country today . . . The debt that Basque linguistics owes him is unpayable. It is not just the fact that he was able to turn Basque philology into a science. That would have been merit enough. But on top of that, Koldo Mitxelena was graced with tremendous common sense, and this is what made it possible, following his death, for the Basque language to prosper. Thanks to him, it had the minimum resources necessary to survive and flourish in a modern, changing society. Koldo Mitxelena showed us all the road to knowledge, erudition, and critical thinking.

Check out the Center’s publication of some of Mitxelena’s key texts in Koldo Mitxelena: Selected Writings of a Basque Scholar, with chapters on (among many other things), the history and antiquity of Basque, its contact with Romanization, and Basque literature as well as his thoughts on the structure, phonetics, and orthography of the language.

See, too, Pello Salaburu’s survey of the how Basque came to be standardized, a process in which Mitxelena was front and center, in Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque.



Great mountain biking video from Iparralde

Short, sweet, and fast today! The Arrosa Crew recently uploaded a great mountain biking video showcasing its skills in Lower Navarre. As well as some action-packed downhill scenes in several upland locations, the video also shows mountain bikers contending with the old city streets and walls in Donibane Garazi. Check it out here:

Basque pig gets prized AOC status in France

Last week the revered appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), or “controlled designation of origin” status in France, was awarded to the Basque black pig breed, from which Kintoa pork (named after a valley in the Aldude area of Lower Navarre) comes. The decision marked a fifteen-year long struggle on the part of pig farmers in Iparralde to gain recognition for the quality of the pork associated with the Kintoa breed, pigs that are still raised on small-scale family farms.


Basque pigs in Ureple, Aldude Valley, Lower Navarre. Photo by O. Morand, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the 1990s the Kintoa breeders’ association that has been lobbying for the designation since 2001 had less than a dozen members, a figure that rose to around 30 at the turn of the century, and now stands at around 80.  A Kintoa pork festival has already been planned for October 2017 in honor of this major recognition, and the award will enable producers to preserve the breed and market their pork more easily at the European level as well as ensuring a level of quality and control for consumers.

Read more on this (in French) in Sud-Ouest here and (in Basque) in Gara here.

For more information on the Basque pig, check out this introductory explanation here at the site of renowned breeder and butcher Pierre Oteiza.

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:

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


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.

Read the full article here.

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.


Monument commemorating the Battle of Orreaga. Photo by Cruccone, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Muslim rulers of the northern Iberian areas of Zaragoza and Huesca had risen up against Abd ar-Rahman I, the Emir of Cordoba in southern and central Iberia, and appealed to Charlemagne–King of the Franks and later crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800–for support in return for submitting to his rule. Sensing an opportunity to extend Frankish rule into the Iberian Peninsula, Charlemagne duly accepted the offer, mustered up as large a force as he could, and marched across the Pyrenees in 778. On arriving in Zaragoza, however, the Muslim leaders changed their mind and engaged in battle with Charlemagne’s force instead. The Franks lay siege to the city and captured key prisoners.

But the siege dragged on and Charlemagne, wary of getting stuck in a futile struggle, accepted a tribute of gold from the Muslim rulers, returned the prisoners, and decided to retreat from Iberia, leading his forces away from Zaragoza back toward the the Pyrenees via Navarre. On his way back, though, his forces sacked Pamplona-Iruñea, destroying the Basque city as well as several nearby towns, brutally subduing the local population. Part of the reasons for doing so may have been because many Pagan Basques had proven to be a constant thorn in the side of the Christian Frankish Kingdom south of the Garonne River. Whatever the case, as Charlemagne crossed the Pyrenees at Orreaga (Roncesvalles in Spanish; Roncevaux in French) in northern Navarre, the Basques took their revenge.


The death of Roland. illustration by Jean Fouquet, Tours, c. 1455-1460, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On the evening of August 15, 778, a surprise attack caught the rearguard of Charlemagne’s forces by surprise. This part of the army was cut off and isolated from the main body of the army. Though not as well armed, the Basques knew the terrain much better and used this local knowledge to their advantage. The entire rearguard, including Charlemagne’s nephew Roland and several other Frankish lords, was massacred. The Basques then disappeared into the night, leaving no trace for the Franks to follow the next day.

According to Philippe Veyrin in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre (pp.119-20):

This episode had an unprecedented echo; the memory of it endured long enough to inspire, three centuries later, a prodigious flowering of legends, of a luxuriance quite out of proportion to the event itself. In it, the Basques appear, quite misleadingly, as Saracens. Despite a host of other anachronisms, the local topography of the Chanson de Roland is in some respects quite accurate. The old epic poet and several of his imitators had certainly gained a precise knowledge of the places involved, and were able to turn them into a grandiose setting. Nonetheless, most historians agree that the real site of the defeat was on the Roman road, on the wooded sides of the Astobizkar, rather than on the open plain of Orreaga (Roncesvalles/Roncevaux) where, following the rules of chivalry, most of the legendary epic victoriously unfolds.

Interestingly, the Spanish name for Luzaide, near the site of these events, is Valcarlos, “the valley of Charles” or Charlemagne.




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.

Likewise, the Center has published two books specifically on innovation–in all its guises–in the Basque Country: Implications of Current Research on Social Innovation in the Basque Country, edited by Ander Gurrutxaga Abad and Antonio Rivera, free to download here; and Innovation: Economic, Social, and Cultural Aspects, edited by Mikel Gómez Uranga and Juan Carlos Miguel de Bustos, free to download here.


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