Category: Baiona (page 1 of 2)

The Basque Country in the 19th Century painted by the Feillet sisters

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Hélène Feillet (1812-1889), as painted by her sister Blanche. Image by TRAILERS MUSEUM, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hélène (1812-1889) and Blanche (1815-1886) Feillet were artists and lithographers of some renown in the mid-19th century. Although born in Paris, they had strong connections to Iparralde, where they lived (in Biarritz) from 1834 on. And they are best known for their many portrayals of the Basque people and landscape in the form of lithographs, watercolors, oil paintings, drawings, and sketches. Their principal focus of interest was the Basque coastline, from Baiona in Lapurdi to Bermeo in Bizkaia, by way of the many fishing towns and villages along the way.

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“Pêcheuses de St-Jean-de-Luz” (Fisherwomen of Donibane Lohizune), by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

They were the daughters of a famous lithographer, Pierre Jacques Feillet (1794-1855), who was also head of the School of Drawing and Painting in Baiona from 1844 until his death – on which Blanche took over the same position. Continuing with their father’s specialty, they gained particular fame as lithographers in their representations of the Basque Country, embracing the romanticist tendencies of the age in their lithographs and prints.

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“Costumes basques” (Basque dress) by Hélène Feillet. Part of the Fonds Ancely of the City library of Toulouse. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1844 Blanche married Charles-Henri Hennebutte, who ran a printing company in Baiona. His company would later publish well-known guides to the Basque Country, such as Guide du voyageur de Bayonne à St Sébastien and Description des environs de Bayonne et de Saint-Sébastien (France et Espagne: Album des deux frontières), beautifully illustrated by the Feillet sisters. Hélène also exhibited her work in both Paris and London.

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“Entrée du duc de Bayonne en 1839” (Entrance of the Duke of Baiona in 1839) by Hélène Feillet. A work commissioned by the French Ministry of the Interior. Image by Léna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Their art stands as a remarkable testament of the time and place in which they lived and worked, and serves as an invaluable resource for capturing the Basque Country on the cusp of major social change in the mid- and late-19th century.

500 Posts! What a pleasure to reach this milestone of sharing!

Yesterday witnessed the 500th post on the Center’s blog! And we think it entirely appropriate that we mark the occasion with a post looking toward the future of Basque Studies, with a roundup of what our young scholars here at the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies have been doing and hope to do in the future. Particularly exciting for us is the eclectic nature of our graduate students, who hail from all over the world. With such talented and committed young people, Basque Studies has a bright future!

Just like reaching the summit at Anboto, our CBS blog has reached a milestone, but we will continue to climb beyond

In honor of our milestone, today we are looking back, first at the posts that have most engaged you, our readers, over the past couple of years:

 

1. Our most read post, by a fairly long way, is the tragic case of Basque sheepherder Txomin Malasechevarria. This is a cautionary tale about just how hard it was for some people to cope with the extreme solitude of life in the mountains, the psychological effects of this loneliness, and the devastating effects this could have on not just their own lives but also those around them. There are no “winners” in this immigrant story. Check out the post here.

 

2. Next, we have a happier tale that celebrates the key role played by women in maintaining the foundations of Basque communities, through their work in Basque boardinghouses, part of the Basque immigrant experience in the United States.  Check out the post here.

 

3. Then we come to what was, for us at the time, a bit of a surprise, pleasant though it was! It’s a post reporting where the Basque Country ranks in the latest Human Development Index (HDI) league tables. The HDI is a United Nations statistical rating based on life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators that are used to measure human development. In short, it’s a means of measuring the health of a nation. Check out the post here.

 

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4.Coming in at number four is a post that continues to rise steadily in the rankings. It’s our post on the classic Basque song “Txoria txori” (The bird is a bird), a pivotal work in the Basque songbook that touches on quintessential themes in Basque culture, sung by folk, rock, and pop singers alike as well as sports fans and even reworked into an orchestral piece. Check out the post here.

5. Last in our top 5 is a post on the remarkable life and work of Juanita Mendiola Gabiola, the woman sheepherder who was winning races, age 92, at the Third Age Olympics and died a centenarian. Check out the post here.

And then, of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention some of our personal favorites over the years!

  • One of our favorite pieces of writing was this “post within a post,” if you will, dated June 8, 2015, a review of one our most cherished books, My Mama Marie by Joan Errea, which in its focus on the introduction to the work goes beyond mere review to actually engage with and write about the landscape that serves as the backdrop to the book. Check out the post here.
  • Who doesn’t like chocolate? We certainly do! And we like it so much, we wrote a post about it! Check out our rambling thoughts on Basque chocolate, culture, and history in this post, dating from November 2, 2015.

  • One of our most transcendent posts, dated February 12, 2016, concerns what came to be known as the infamous 1911 “Last Massacre” in Western Folklore. This was a major incident in the history of the American West in which Basques featured prominently and serves as proof, if needed, of how the Basque immigrant experience is an essential part of the fabric of this history. Check out the post here.

  • In another post that takes landscape as its primary focus, dated February 24, 2016, we explore how another Basque Country was “imagined” thousands of miles away from home in the remote Nevada mountains. For a great piece of original writing on the Basque experience in the American West check out the post here.

  • We’re especially proud at the Center to try whenever possible to emphasize the role of women in Basque culture and history. This post from March 8, 2016, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, served as a roundup of some of the many posts we had published in this regard.  Keep checking in with the blog because this year we will be doing special posts throughout the month of March to celebrate women’s history month.

  • A relatively recent post, dated December 12, 2016, and one that is dear to our hearts emerged out of a reader’s inquiry about native Basque sheep and pig breeds. It got us thinking so much that we wrote a post about it. Check it out here.

Thanks so much for reading and here’s to another 500 and more. It is all because of you, dear readers, so eskerrik asko once again for engaging with us and for sharing our love of Basqueness!

Sandra Ott: Faculty News Roundup

Our faculty here at the CBS sure is an inspiration when it comes to work ethic, and Professor Ott is no exception. This semester, she has taught the “Basque Culture” capstone course to 38 undergraduates and two graduate students, myself included. This course really helps to spread awareness of the Basques throughout our campus community, and the students are both engaged by the material and also participate actively. Dr. Ott is also supervising her graduate student, Kerri Lesh, and coordinating an independent study course with her on the anthropology of food.

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Stemming from her research interest in German POWs in postwar France, particularly the POW camp at Polo-Beyris in Baiona, Dr. Ott has been reading French sources on the POWs who were sent to Iparralde and neighboring Bearn from May 1945 onward, to work in local town halls, to clear German mines on the Basque coast, and to work on farms. She is interested in this episode of Franco-German relations in the postwar period, when many of these young Germans longed to escape across the Pyrenees into Spain and make their way back home. Next semester, she is planning to continue working on this research project, in preparation for archival research during the summer in both Pau and Baiona.

On top of these new interests, her manuscript, Living with the Enemy: German Occupation, Collaboration and Justice in the Western Pyrenees, 1940-1948, is now being proofread for publication by Cambridge University Press, which issued a contract for the book in November 2015. It is set to come out in 2017, in both paperback and cloth editions.

Professor Ott has also found the time to present and publish several papers during the past year. In November 2015, she presented a paper on “Creating a Realm of Memory for the ‘Swallows’ of Maule: Spanish Female Factory Workers in the Pyrenean Borderlands” in Chicago for the annual conference of the Western Society for French History.

In March, she talked about Basques in occupied France at the University of San Francisco, as well as presenting another paper, entitled “Double Think in Occupied and Liberated France: A Test Case from the Western Pyrenees,” for the annual conference of the Society for French Historical Studies in Nashville, at Vanderbilt University.

During the summer of 2016, to mark her 40th anniversary in the province of Xiberoa, Dr. Ott gave a public lecture in Maule on her early years of fieldwork in Santazi (1976-1977) and her current research interests (the trials of suspected collaborators in liberated Pau). More than eighty people attended the event, including three generations of one Santazi family and several people who had experienced the German occupation of Iparralde.

In September 2016, Oxford University’s journal, French History, published her article, “Cohabitation and Opportunistic Accommodation in Occupied France: A Test Case from the Western Pyrenees.”  She also had the chance to spend a wonderful weekend with members of the Chino Basque community—thanks to Advisory Board member Mike Bidart—and presented her 1985 documentary film, “The Basques of Santazi,” at the Chino Basque Club, alongside the screening of Amama. The event was attended by more than 50 spectators.

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Professor Ott with director Asier Altuna at the Chino Basque Club in September

In November 2016, Professor Ott’s presentation, “A Pro-Vichy Mayor and His Indiscreet Ladies: Cohabitation and Accommodation in a Basque Village under German Occupation,” was filmed for H-France in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the annual conference of the Western Society for French History.

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A view of Santazi

For those of you who have read Dr. Ott’s Circle of Mountains, an ethnography of a Basque sheepherding community in Santazi in the province of Xiberoa, you will appreciate the amount of fieldwork she carried out for the endeavor. Professor Ott has visited the community and her host families every year since 1976, as celebrated last summer. In October of this year, a terrible, rapid fire completely destroyed the farmhouse of her closest friends in Xiberoa, whom she had known for nearly forty years. Luckily the fire began in the evening and not in the middle of the night. Both family members and all livestock survived the blaze. The community and the province rallied behind the family in extraordinary ways that reflect core rural Basque values, especially mutual aid. Local people at once took food, clothing, and household items to the town hall for the family’s use. The community also opened a bank account for them to which many donations have been made. Local people also organized a kantaldi, or singing festival, for the family in a nearby village. The spirit of the lehen aizoa, first neighbors, endures!

Professor Ott is quite the inspiration for us all. We look forward to reading your new book and the fruits of your new endeavors.

For now, check out War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946,  edited by Dr. Ott: http://basquebooks.myshopify.com/collections/books-by-title/products/war-exile-justice-and-everyday-life-1936-1946

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December 2, 1856: Treaty of Baiona establishes border between North and South Basque Country

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The Basque Country, with Iparralde made up of Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea (Lower Navarre), and Zuberoa; and Hegoalde made up of Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Nafarroa Garaia (Upper Navarre or just Navarre). Image by Unai Fdz. de Betoño, based on User:Theklan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On December 2, 1856, the first in a series of four Treaties of Baiona (the others signed in 1862, 1866, and 1868 respectively) fixed the current border between the French Republic and the Kingdom of Spain, and thus between Iparralde and Hegoalde, the North and South Basque Country.  To that time the border was by no means a settled issue, with disagreements on the parts of both countries particularly over where to demarcate boundaries in Catalonia in the east and the Basque Country in the west.

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The mouth of the River Bidasoa separating Hendaia (top center) in Lapurdi from Hondarribia (bottom center) and Irun (top right) in Gipuzkoa. Photo by jmerelo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) represented a first attempt to address the matter formally. A treaty ending the long Franco-Spanish War of 1635-1659, this agreement was signed on traditional neutral ground: Konpantzia, or Pheasant Island, a small landmass of 73,410 square feet in the River Bidasoa between Hendaia (Lapurdi) and Irun (Gipuzkoa), today jointly administered between the two towns.

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Konpantzia, Pheasant Island, the small plot of neutral land between Irun (L) and Hendaia (R). Photo by Ignacio Gavira, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As regards the border, by the 1659 treaty France gained most of Northern Catalonia in the east. In the west, meanwhile, matters were somewhat more complicated due to disagreements over where to establish the frontier exactly between Iparralde and Hegoalde at three critical points: the Xareta district, made up of Ainhoa and Sara in Lapurdi and Urdazubi and Zugarramurdi in Navarre; Aldude, a wedge of terrain in Lower Navarre that cuts geographically into Navarre; and Luzaide (Valcarlos in Spanish), a wedge of terrain in Navarre that cuts geographically into Lower Navarre. While a working boundary was established in these areas, there would clearly have to be more negotiations before arriving at a definitive settlement. In the eighteenth century, further agreements refined the settlement in the east, while as regards the west, the Treaty of Elizondo (1785) fixed the border at both Aldude and Luzaide.

The 1856 Treaty of Baiona definitively established the far western extent of the Franco-Spanish border in the middle of the River Bidasoa’s current at low tide, which in turn demarcated fishing zones and local rights to control passage up and down the river. Moreover, the so-called Kintoa district (Le Pays Quint in French; Quinto Real in Spanish)–an area of grazing land between the two Navarres that had historically been hotly and sometimes bloodily disputed–was officially ceded to the Spanish Kingdom but would be administered by the French Republic: in other words, the land would be owned by the former but leased perpetually to the latter. Today, its approximately 30 inhabitants are French citizens by default but have the right to dual Franco-Spanish citizenship. Public education and health services are provided by the French Republic and they  pay income tax in France but they must pay property taxes in Spain. The postal and utilities services are French but policing is controlled by the Spanish Civil Guard.

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The Esnazu district of Aldude, showing some of the grazing pastures in this borderland area. Photo by Patrick.charpiat, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In sum, the 1856 treaty brought with it a definitive settlement of sorts regarding the border between the two countries. A total of 602 markers mark the division along the length of the border, from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, with marker no. 1 in the River Bidasoa. Border and customs posts were also more formally established in the wake of the four treaties as a whole, which in itself led to a growth in gau lana (night work) or the lucrative smuggling trade that was, until comparatively recently, such a feature of Basque culture in these borderland areas. More recent developments have included the transfer of a small plot of land (just under 30,000 square feet) in 1984 between the two countries as part of the construction project to build a road linking the Erronkari Valley in Navarre to Arrete (French)/Areta (Occitan)/Ereta (Basque) in Bearn; and the entry into force of the European Union’s Schengen Agreement (1995), by which border controls for people and goods were abolished and freedom of movement across the border ensured.

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International border marker no. 8 between Bera (Vera de Bidasoa) in Navarre and Biriatu (Biriatou) in Lapurdi. Photo by Pymouss44, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For many obvious reasons the muga or border exercises a powerful influence on the Basque imagination. Clearly, it has acted as a barrier to greater unity among Basques, but equally one could argue that its very existence has served to bring Basques together in numerous ways as a challenge to overcome.

Further Reading

Robert Laxalt, A Cup of Tea in Pamplona. This absorbing action-packed tale is an evocative portrait of the world of Basque smuggling in 1960s, and the importance of the border in Basque culture, as portrayed by the great Basque-American storyteller Robert Laxalt.

Zoe Bray, Living Boundaries: Frontiers and Identity in the Basque Country. This work explores how the international border shapes Basque identity on both sides of the frontier.

Aitzpea Leizaola, “Mugarik ez! Subverting the Border in the Basque Country,” in Ethnologia Europaea: Journal of European Ethnology 30, no. 2 (2000): 35-46. This article explores the multiple ways in which the international border that cuts through the Basque Country is still very much a contested site.

July 6, 1808: The Baiona Statute and the brief rule of Joseph I

On July 6, 1808, Baiona (Bayonne) in Lapurdi assumed center-stage once more in the dramatic events unfolding in Napoleonic Europe when the Baiona Statute was officially approved, paving the way for Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, to become Joseph I of Spain.

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Joseph Bonarparte, the brief Joseph I of Spain (1808-1813). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This agreement formed part of a wider strategy on the part of Napoleon to control Spain as yet another part of his satellite outposts in his enduring (and almost successful) quest to rule Europe as a whole. For the background context to these events, and the later consequences of Napoleon’s Iberian adventures, see an earlier post we did here.

In 1808 the Spanish Kingdom was officially in an alliance with the French Empire, but following the abdication of Charles IV of Spain and the brief rule of his son Ferdinand VII, Napoleon sought to install his brother on the Spanish throne as the best means of controlling the country.

In order to demonstrate that this was fully compliant with a due legal process, however, Napoleon convened a meeting of Spanish notables in Baiona to draft and approve the constitutional basis for the new regime. The resultant so-called Baiona Statute was duly approved on July 6 and promulgated on July 8. In effect, though, Joseph was a puppet ruler, with most decisions regarding Spain being taken by Napoleon and his military staff.

Joseph I of Spain abdicated after the French loss at the Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz in 1813. As Philippe Veyrin notes in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions,

in June 1813, the loss of the battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz obliged the French armies to fall back on our frontier. King Joseph was responsible for the defeat. He took refuge in a house in Senpere—Suhastia in the Elbarron (Helbarron) district—where, on July 11, he received the Emperor’s emissary bringing him notification that he had been stripped of his command, which was handed over to Marshal Soult, who turned up the very next day and took over straightaway.

 

Katalina de Erauso pastorala premieres in Baiona

Sunday, June 5, saw the premiere of the new pastorala, “Katalina de Erauso,” in Baiona.  The pastorala is a traditional form of outdoor theater in Zuberoa performed by amateurs, usually from the same town or area, in which the action is played out in repetitive sung verse. It harks back to the mystery and morality plays of the medieval era and frequently involves a tragic theme. Some modern interpretations of the pastorala, such as “Katalina de Erauso,” are also performed in theaters and outside Zuberoa.

The eponymously titled “Katalina de Erauso” tells the dashing story of the famed Lieutenant Nun, a women who fled a convent life in Donostia, Gipuzkoa, to embark on a series of swashbuckling adventures in the guise of a man in the Americas.

For more details about this spectacle, check out its website (in Basque, French, and Spanish) here.

If you’re interested in this major figure in Basque history, we cannot recommend highly enough the enthralling account of her life in Eva Mendieta’s In Search of Catalina de Erauso, which we discussed in detail in a previous post. What’s more, if you’re interested in different aspects of traditional Basque performance, check out Voicing the Moment, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika. This book is available free to download here

Herri Urrats, another step toward Basque-language schooling in Iparralde

Yesterday, May 8, Herri Urrats, the annual fundraising event in aid of ikastolak, Basque-language medium schools, in Iparralde took place in Senpere (Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle) in Lapurdi. The event, which has been held every year since 1984, takes the form of a festival held around the Senpere lake, 3 miles or so from the town center.  People typically stroll around the lake, generally hang out, have picnics or grab something to eat at a food stall, and attend one of the many shows on offer (music, dance, theater, etc.). Weather permitting, you can even take a dip in the lake (not really an option this year!), but all in all, a fun day out and all for a good cause.

This year’s event specifically sought to raise funds for renovating the site of the Bernat Etxepare high school in Baiona as well as toward developing a whole new section of the school that will offer, for the first time in Iparralde, vocational education or professional training in Basque.

Check out the official site for the event here, as well as pictures (and a short video) from yesterday, courtesy of Berria, here and below:

Check out, too, the clip for this year’s Herri Urrats song, “Jalgi” (Get out there) by Esne Beltza, which includes the participation of kids from the Bernat Etxepare and Oihana ikastolas.

On Basque education, see Equality, Equity, and Diversity: Educational Solutions in the Basque Country, edited by Alfonso Unceta and Concepción Medrano, available free to download here.

April 20, 1913: Aviron Bayonnais wins French rugby championship for first time

On April 20, 1913 Basque rugby team Aviron Bayonnais (Baionako Arrauna in Basque) defeated Paris-based SCUF (Sporting club universitaire de France rugby) 31-8 to be crowned champions of France for the 1912-13 season. It was the first time that the team–and indeed any Basque team–had won the championship, established in 1892. And it is still considered one of the great final championship deciders in the history of French rugby. See this ESPN article for a fuller account of the famous final.

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French rugby championship winning side Aviron Bayonnais, 1914.

What really marked this victory, and the team as a whole, was its spectacular playing style, known as the “Bayonnais way,” which revolutionized the rugby of that era. This was in the main down to Harry Owen Roe, a Welsh rugby player who had relocated to Baiona to work as a shipping clerk and join the ranks of the team. He introduced new methods of speed, offense, and “total rugby” (in which all members of the team, whatever their position, were encouraged to run at the opposition). This was copied from the Welsh style of rugby at that time and incorporated into the Aviron Bayonnais game, and this kind of play would have a huge impact on French rugby as a whole in the years to come. Indeed, for some it even represents the origins of what has been termed the “French flair” style of rugby.

Founded in 1904, Aviron Bayonnais subsequently finished runners-up in the championship two years in succession (1922 and 1923), losing out on both occasions to Stade Toulousain (still, today, one of the great forces in European rugby). However, the team went on to more success and indeed enjoyed its golden years during the 1930s and 1940s, winning the championship on a further two occasions, beating arch rivals Biarritz Olympique in 1934 and then, nearly a decade later, SU Agen in 1943. It contested two more championship finals, against USA Perpignan in 1944 and, most recently, against SU Agen in 1982, but was unsuccessful on both occasions.

If you’re interested in the topic, check out Alban David, Histoire du rugby au Pays Basque: De 1900 à aujourd hui. Éditions Sud Ouest, 2014.

See Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present for a general overview of sport (both traditional and modern) in Basque culture, including some discussion about the importance of rugby in Iparralde. This work is also available free to download here.

 

Basque terroir: The red chili peppers of Ezpeleta

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Red chili peppers dying on the facades of buildings in Ezpeleta. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Continuing with our occasional series on Basque terroir, today we’re celebrating Ezpeletako biperra, the red chili pepper of Ezpeleta, Lapurdi. Chili peppers, native of course to the Americas, were introduced into France in the 16th century, and chili pepper cultivation in and around Ezpeleta began in the mid-17th century. Although originally used for medicinal purposes, it was later embraced as a means of conserving meats, and later still as an ingredient in many different recipes. Today it enjoys both controlled designation and protection of origin status.

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Chili peppers being cultivated in Ezpeleta. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

These chili peppers are not just cultivated in Ezpeleta, but in nine other towns in the same area: Ainhoa, Haltsu, Itsasu, Jatsu, Kanbo, Larresoro, Senpere, Uztaritze, and Zuraide. They are harvested in late summer and hung outside, typically on the facades or balconies of buildings, to dry in the early fall. The annual Ezpeleta chili pepper festival, held during the last weekend of October, is a major event in Iparralde, attracting thousands of visitors every year.

Their protected status means that certain protocols must be followed in the cultivation process: there must be between 10-20,000 plants per hectare in the plots where the chili pepper is cultivated; watering is forbidden, except during the months immediately after planting (May-June) or in the event of a drought; the plants must be harvested by hand, and harvesting season runs from August until the first frost of the year.

According to Wikipedia, the Ezpeleta chili pepper attains only a maximum grade of 4,000 on the Scoville scale and is therefore considered only mildly hot. It can be purchased as festoons of fresh or dried peppers, as ground pepper, or pureed or pickled in jars.

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Sign to an “official” village on the Ezpeleta chili pepper route. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Nowadays, it is a key ingredient in the cuisine of Iparralde. Specifically, it is used to cure the famed Baiona ham, and is also the key ingredient in piperrada sauce, a blend of mild green chili peppers, the red Ezpeleta peppers, white onion, and tomatoes (forming the green, red, and white of the Basque flag). This base sauce can then be added to, for example, with minced beef (to make the dish known as axoa) or grilled or roast chicken; or it can be served separately as a starter or main dish with the addition of eggs, scrambled into the sauce, and/or slices of Baiona ham. And if all that were not enough, you can always finish up a meal with some Baiona chocolate infused with Ezpeleta chili pepper, as noted in a previous post here.

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Axoa, one of the classic dishes of Iparralde. Photo by Tangopaso, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For a great introduction to Basque food, check out Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute. You can download a free copy here.

April 14, 1808: Napoleon visits Basque Country

On April 14, 1808, the emperor of the French, Napoleon I or Napoleon Bonaparte, came to the Basque Country for the first time during his reign, taking up residence in Baiona, Lapurdi. The context of the visit was the outbreak of the Peninsular War in 1807, a conflict for control of the Iberian Peninsula.

In taking up a position so close to the unfolding events, Napoleon was attempting to provoke the abdication of Spain’s newly crowned King Ferdinand VII. Philippe Veyrin, in his classic study The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions (pp. 242-43):

The emperor arrived on April 14, took a dislike to the Hôtel de la Division, and went off to Marracq where he set up in the little château built a century earlier for Maria Anna of Neubourg. By a strange quirk, it was against this background (since ruined by a fire) that the historic scenes of the spoliation of the Bourbons of Spain took place. Napoleon lingered on in Baiona until July 20; he visited part of the country, taking a particular interest in the port of Baiona, La Barre, and the maritime arsenals that had once been so flourishing and whose activities he attempted to rekindle. Soon, more troops than had ever been seen in this part of the world were marching across our region. Baiona was filled with a feverish hubbub of activity.

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Seconde vue du port de Bayonne, prise de l’allée des Boufflers (1755) by Claude Joseph Vernet. View of the Port of Baiona in the mid-eighteenth century. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1808, Spain was in turmoil, beset by violent civil strife that had, in March, resulted in the abdication of King Charles IV in favor of his son Ferdinand VII. Indeed, by this time, Napoleon had already ordered the invasion of the peninsula to take advantage of Spain’s domestic woes. As Cameron Watson notes, in Modern Basque History (p. 74):

As the invasion took place, the French emperor sought the abdication of the Spanish monarch, in favor of a handpicked French candidate for the post: his brother, Joseph Bonaparte. During the summer of 1808, Napoleon called an assembly in Baiona (Bayonne), to which he invited several influential figures within the Spanish kingdom, including Basque representatives. His plan was to gain support for the creation of a new noble class supportive of the royal candidacy of his brother. At the meeting, the separate delegations of Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Nafarroa coordinated their efforts in an attempt to convince the French that the centralizing tendencies of their state had little chance of success in a political culture long used to specific rights and liberties. Amazingly, considering the nature of the French empire, not to mention events just a few years previously in Iparralde, Napoleon agreed to their demands. The new Spanish constitution of 1808 thus guaranteed the foruak of Hegoalde while at the same time installing Joseph Bonaparte as king.

The Peninsular War, which dragged on to 1814, marks a moment in European history when the Basque Country assumed center stage. French occupation of the provinces making up Hegoalde in the Spanish Kingdom moved Basque Senator Dominique-Joseph Garat in Iparralde to implore Napoleon, on several occasions, to create a Basque federation (in effect, a united Basque Country), a protectorate that would serve as a buffer state between France and the Iberian Peninsula. Garat even proposed naming it La Nouvelle Phénicie (The New Phoenicia)!

Battle_of_the_Pyrenees_1813_Map

Battle of the Pyrenees, 1813. Created by Djmaschek. this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

But these efforts were to no avail. A rearguard action on the part of Spain and Portugal, together with their ally Britain, saw allied forces sweep back up through the Basque Country, on both sides of the border. At the key battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Araba, in June 1813, a combined allied army led by General Wellington broke the French army, and that same summer witnessed key battles in Navarre, including those at Maya-Amaiur and Roncesvalles-Orreaga (July 25) as well as Sorauren (July 28 and 30). Wellington’s forces finally took Donostia-San Sebastián (September) and Iruñea-Pamplona (October) from the French, and eventually swept into Iparralde that same fall, with fighting taking place there right through the Winter and into the Spring of 1814. In April that same year, beset by multiple wars on many fronts, Napoleon abdicated effectively heralding the end of the Peninsular War.

Interestingly, then, the Basque Country–both Iparralde and Hegoalde–was a key stage on which Napoleon came to demonstrate both the zenith and nadir of his own personal power and influence.

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