Category: Bilbao (page 1 of 3)

January 25, 1853: Birth of pioneering Basque photographer and ethnographer Eulalia Abaitua

Eulalia Abaitua (1853-1943), a pioneering photographer whose work remains a key historical and ethnographic record of the Basque Country. Image by Kurt Reutlinger, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Born Maria Elvira Juliana Abaitua Allende-Salazar on January 25, 1853 into a wealthy Bilbao family, she was renamed in honor of her deceased mother (who died soon after she was born) and thereafter known as Eulalia Abaitua. She would go on to become a renowned photographer and one of the first people to record nineteenth-century Basque culture at a key transitional time in Basque history, taking her camera outside into the real world to capture images of fiestas, traditions, and working practices–and at the same time breaking with the convention of the time centered around studio-based montages–and paying special attention to the everyday lives of Basque women. In short, she remains one of the most important, if unsung, Basque ethnographers of the nineteenth century.

Mother and child, by Eulalia Abaitua (c. 1890). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Her father, Luis Allende-Salazar, had business interests in the growing trade operating between Bilbao and Liverpool in England and, with the deepening political crisis of the 1860s that would eventually result in the outbreak of the Second Carlist War, the family relocated to the vibrant English port city, “the New York of Europe” whose wealth for a time exceeded that of London. As noted in a previous post, the multicultural port city of Liverpool was already home to many Basques, and even though from the more economically comfortable echelons of society, the family continued in a time-honored Basque tradition of settling in a place in which they already had family connections. Once settled in Liverpool, Eulalia took photography lessons and discovered a passion for the newly emerging art form.

River Nervion scene, by Eulalia Abaitua. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On May 16th 1871, Eulalia married her cousin Juan Narciso de Olano (of the Liverpool-based Basque shipping firm Olano, Larrinaga & Co), at the church of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool, and the couple would go on to have four children. Following the end of the Second Carlist War in 1876, they returned to Bilbao, where would live there for the rest of their lives the Palacio del Pino, near the Basilica of Begoña, a home custom-built to resemble the red-brick Victorian merchant houses the family had seen in Liverpool. On her return to the Basque Country, Eulalia fully realized her passion for both photography and her homeland, setting up a studio in the basement of he family home and traversing Bilbao and Bizkaia in search of her subject matter.

 

The arrival of the sardines (1900), by Eulalia Abaitua. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

She worked wherever possible in natural light and sought out spontaneous rather than staged images. Among her most evocative works are images of the legendary sardineras, the women who transported sardines from the port of Santurtzi to the center of Bilbao on foot, selling their wares in the city center; the washerwomen of Bilbao, whose daily grind consisted of doing laundry on the banks of the River Nervion in Bilbao; and the rural Basque milk maids who also came to the Bizkaian capital to ply their trade.

Women selling their wares in Bilbao (c. 1890), by Eulalia Abaitua. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In A Collection of Prints (see below) Miren Jaio describes her work in the following terms (pages 11, 13, 17):

Eulalia Abaitua reflected the day-to-day life of the Bizkaian proletariat on glass plates. The insurmountable social inequality between the portrait photographer and those portrayed would also pervade the photographs of this high bourgeois woman who depicted normal people, especially women . . .  In a series of portraits of old people in the Arratia Valley, she recorded the physical types and dress and hairstyles that were on the verge of disappearing along with those who served as her models. This series demonstrated her curiosity in ethnography . . . In other prints, Abaitua collected work scenes. Images of women working the soil with laiak (two-pronged forks), water-carriers, housemaids, nannies and female stevedores reveal the process of change which Basque society was going through . . . Although she belongs to the social group of those who “represent,” she, like all of her gender, would have been denied the right to do so. This explains her choice of topic, one which she had easy access to, the working woman, a female other. Whatever the case, one should ask to what extent her photographs, in the mutual recognition of the portrayer and the portrayed they seem to reveal, do not transcend the hierarchy imposed by the social order and that of the camera.

Group of women (c. 1900), by Eulalia Abaitua. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Naturally, she also took many pictures of her own family as well, and she also traveled extensively throughout her life, recording her travels to Crete, Italy, Venice, Morocco, Lourdes (France), Malaga, Madrid, and the Holy Land. She lived a long and productive life, and died in her beloved Bilbao in 1943.

Further Reading

Eulalia de Abaitua at the Hispanic Liverpool Project.

A Collection of Prints by Miren Jaio. Free to download here.

Bilbao transformation discussed in BBC report

Early morning view of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Photo by PA, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Arts section of the online BBC news site recently published an interesting article by William Cook on the changes experienced by Bilbao in the last twenty years. Cited in the article, Sir Norman Foster, the world famous architect behind the iconic metro system in the city, recalls: “Of all my memories as an architect, going to sites and seeing buildings, nothing compares with my experience in Bilbao.” He continues: “There was something almost religious about my experience in Bilbao, and I will never forget it.”

Check out the full article here.

When it comes to Bilbao, it goes without saying that we can’t recommend our very own Joseba Zulaika’s award-winning book, That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, highly enough.  But the CBS has also published other works that explore the impact of the Bilbao transformation and related issues in many different ways. See, for example, Building Time: The Relatus in Frank Gehry’s Architecture by Iñaki Begiristain,  Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi, and Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

The 2016 Bilbao Mendi Film Festival

This year’s Bilbao Mendi Film Festival kicked off on December 9 and runs through December 18. This is an annual festival that celebrates cinematic representations of mountains, mountaineering, hiking, climbing, skiing, adventure, exploration, extreme sports, and the great outdoors in general. Check out the trailer on the main website to get a flavor of what it’s all about.

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Basque-themed work appearing at the festival this year includes Akabuko Martxea, a documentary directed by Aitor Gisasola and Fredi Paia about efforts to recreate the tradition of sheep transhumance in herding sheep from the Urbia Mountains to the Uribe Kosta coastal district.

In the fall of 2015 two Gipuzkoan shepherds, Mikel Etxezarreta and Eli Arrillaga, spent five days herding 250 sheep from Zegama in Gipuzkoa to Getxo in Bizkaia. Their aim was to recreate the tradition of transhumance, a way of life that came to an end in the early 1980s. Indeed, Etxezarreta himself last carried out such a trek in 1982.

The Basque-made documentary, Kurssuaq. La exploración del Río Grande, will also be shown. We covered this amazing kayak expedition in a previous post here. Similarly, Humla, produced and directed by Mikel Sarasola, charts the adventures of four kayakers as they attempt to negotiate the mighty Humla Karnali, the longest river in Nepal.

The documentary Common Ground, meanwhile, charts the expedition of a group of climbers, including the brothers Iker and Eneko Pou from Vitoria-Gasteiz, to the remote Chukotka region of Siberia. In a similar vein, Eñaut Izagirre’s Incognita Patagonia, produced for National Geographic, covers a climbing expedition to the Cloue Icefield on Hoste Island, at the southern tip of Latin America.

Elsewhere, Jon Herranz directs Mar Alvarez No Logo, a documentary about woman firefighter and part-time climber, Mar Alvarez.

In somewhat of a different direction, Iker Elorrieta’s film I Forgot Myself Somewhere examines the challenges faced by women in northern Pakistan to get an education.

And Xabier Zabala’s Imaginador is a biography of photographer Santi Yaniz, famed for his work in the Basque Country and the Pyrenees.

See a full list of the films on show here.

October 18, 1997: Inauguration of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

October 18, 1997 marked the inauguration of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao – today one of the most emblematic sites in the Basque Country.

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The Guggenheim by night. Photo by PA. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Hailed as a masterpiece and one of the most important buildings of the 20th century, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by architect Frank Gehry,  came to redefine the Basque Country as a whole and the city of Bilbao in particular: it was the “miracle” of Bilbao.

The “miracle” referred of course to Frank Gehry’s Bilbao masterpiece. Hailed as an “instant landmark,” it brought a new sense of relevance to architecture in the transformation of urban landscapes. It was the story of the architect as hero and, as the Greeks believed, of architecture as the first art—arché. Bilbao was doing for the Basques what the Sidney Opera House had done for Australia. Gehry, while complaining of being “geniused to death,” became not only the master architect, but the master artist.

These observations come from the introduction to Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika. This book is available free to download here.

The Center also publishes other books on the social, cultural, and urban transformation of Bilbao and the Basque Country, for which the Guggenheim served in many respects as a springboard:

That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, by Joseba Zulaika.

Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.

Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

 

New Exhibition at the Bizkaia Aretoa: “Amerikanuak. From North to South: Artists in residence in America by students from the Fine Arts Department of the University of the Basque Country”

An exhibition on the American experience by students of the University of the Basque Country began on September 19 and will take place until the 26th of the same month in Bilbao. The central theme of these artists is cultural understanding and we are happy to have been a part of it.

flyerThree students have spent time at the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies during the past two years, thanks to the collaboration between our institution and the University of the Basque Country. Manuel Diego Sánchez, Leire Baztarrica, and Oihane Sánchez Duro brought their different projects and perspectives to Reno, taking part in courses offered by the Fine Arts Department as well as networking. Their work varies in its medium, but focuses on the migration of Basques in the West and images of Nevada.

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Sánchez (Madrid, 1993) compiled a photographic archive through the lens of historic memory and the uprooting experienced by migrants. His contemporary interpretations help shed new light on this experience.

Baztarrica (Vitoria-Gasteiz, 1992) focused her work on images of Reno, with help from Will Durham, contrasting the kitsch of the casino world with her own photographic portraits of the people she came across on her visit.

Sánchez Duro (Sestao, 1991) researched the representation by migrants to recreate familiar spaces, reminiscent of their homelands. She presents this as an architecture of memory signified by the dualism between the local and the global.

This exhibit also features the work of Teresa Jareño Querejeta (Donostia, 1987) who spent time in Antarctica. She wishes to recreate the experience through a multimedia form of visuals and sound.

We look forward to having more students come and be a part of the CBS, as their artistic residencies help broaden our views of Basques through artistic contemplations.

For more information about the exhibit, please read their flyer, available here:  http://www.ehu.eus/ehusfera/bbaa/files/2016/09/AMERIKANUAK-DIPTICO.pdf

Center publications that explore art-related themes include Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray; and Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika, which can be downloaded for free here.

September 3, 1902: Euskalduna company launches first ship

On September 3, 1902, the Euskalduna company launched its first ship, the “Portu,” a barge for use by the important Altos Hornos de Vizcaya foundry. Euskalduna, a marine engineering company whose full name was Euskalduna de Construcción y Reparación de Buques de Bilbao, would go on to become one of the most renowned features of the Basque industrial landscape with its headquarters in the heart of Bilbao. It opened for business in 1900 and finally closed in 1988 after a four-year period of severe confrontations  between workers and police over the decision to close the shipyard.

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Aerial view of Bilbao in the 1950s during a new era of expansion for Euskalduna, shown here top left in the picture beside the bridge. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

During that time, the company enjoyed mixed fortunes: a boom in the World War I era and beyond that tailed off by the 1930s; growth again in the 1950s and 1960s, with Euskalduna contributing 50% of the capital to a new statewide conglomerate, Astilleros Españoles, which by the late 1960s would be one of the largest shipbuilding companies in Europe; and, ultimately, decline again in the 1970s following the 1973 oil crisis and increasing competition from East Asia. When the decision was taken to close the shipyard in 1984, the workers there engaged in direct confrontation in an effort to maintain their jobs. These confrontations, as well as many negotiations including labor unions, management, and the public administration, went on for four years and this intense period came to define much of Bilbao’s social history in the 1980s.

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Central Bilbao today, with the Euskalduna Conference Centre, the reddish building, to the far right of the picture and the Bilbao maritime Museum behind that. Picture by Ben Bore (Rhys), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Following the closure of the shipyard, the emblematic site that had been so important in the industrial history and legacy of Bilbao was converted into a leisure area: today it houses both the Euskalduna Conference Centre and the Bilbao Maritime Museum. The site itself, then, continues to form a central part of the Bilbao economy, although now in a postindustrial and leisure-oriented framework.

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The “Carola” crane, installed in 1957 in the Euskalduna shipyard, it was and still is an important part of the cityscape. Today, though,  it forms part of the Bilbao Maritime Museum. Photo by Txo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of a City, Joseba Zulika shares a very personal view of Bilbao and its historical transformations. And for more on Bilbao and the urban changes associated with the city through time, check out Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.

 

 

Recent article spotlights impact of Bilbao Exhibition Centre (BEC)

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An aerial view of BEC. Image courtesy of Mikel Arrazola, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Bilbao Exhibition Centre–more commonly referred to as BEC–is spotlighted in a recent article by journalist Mikel Mujika for Basque Tribune. As its name implies, BEC is the site for a number of emblematic events that take place in the Basque Country. Built on the site of what was once arguably the most famous Basque industrial company of its time, Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, in Barakaldo, it is interesting to see how the shift to a service-based economy in the Basque Country is reflected directly in this change.

Mujika takes a retrospective look at the life of BEC and highlights the wide range of events held there. A special point is made about the variety of these events: from, for example, its globally important International Machine-Tool Exhibition to concerts by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, sporting encounters such as the FIBA Basketball World Cup, and cultural events like the national bertsolaritza championships.

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An image of the Euskal Encounter, an annual meeting of information technology enthusiasts, held in BEC, and an opportunity to exchange knowledge and take part in multiple IT activities. Image by Iñigo Sendino, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A cursory glance at the upcoming program of events at BEC suggests that this diversity is still a major feature of the center, with meetings like Biocultura Bilbao, a fair of organic products and responsible consumption, and Intergune 2016, designed to aid Basque businesses in the field of their international outreach. For many observers, the health of BEC is synonymous with the pulse of the Basque economy as a whole.

Read the full article here.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Basque economy, check out the introductory text Basque Economy: From Industrialization to Globalization, by Mikel Gómez Uranga, free to download here.

See, too, Innovation: Economic, Social, and Cultural Aspects, edited by Mikel Gómez Uranga and Juan Carlos Miguel de Bustos, which looks at the most recent changes in the Basque economy, free to download here.

For a provocative case study of how such changes are affecting Basque society, check out Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

Tales from Basques in the United States: Gregorio de Ajuria’s Role in Nineteenth-Century Mexican History

Today’s story from our series of snapshot biographies of immigrant Basques in the US is taken from vol. 1 of Basques in the United States. It would be misleading to call this a minor anecdote in the history of Basque immigration in the US; we think this more approximates a significant slice of US and Mexican political and economic history in the nineteenth century, in which our Basque immigrant to the US took a center-stage role.

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Rafaela Cota de Temple, Gregorio de Ajuria, and Jonathan Temple, c. 1855

Born in Bilbao in 1818, Gregorio (Francisco Lorenzo) de Ajuria Arria emigrated first to Mexico in 1838 and then later to California in 1845, living initially in Monterey and later in LA, where he set up as a successful merchant. It was there, too, that he met and married California-born Francisca Borja de Jesus Temple in the City of Angels in 1848. This alone could have served as the basis for our story today, with de Ajuria becoming a key figure in the early development of LA, but we’re going to focus on another side of his own fascinating story.

Francisca was the daughter of Jonathan Temple (1796-1866), the first member of the Temple and Workman families to live in LA and after whom present-day Temple Street in the city is named. He had left his native Reading, MA, sometime in the first half of the 1820s and relocated to Hawaii, which had, in 1819, been opened up to American missionaries and merchants from Massachusetts. Temple’s stay in the Islands as a merchant was brief, however, and in 1827 he moved to California, arriving in San Diego that summer. The following year he became the second American or European (after Joseph Chapman) to settle in LA and opened the pueblo’s first store. Temple’s success in LA was rapid and he became the owner of a significant section of the pueblo that would later become downtown LA and what is now the site of City Hall. He also owned the 27,000-acre Rancho Los Cerritos, encompassing most of Long Beach and surrounding areas, and amassed other significant landholdings. Intriguingly, however, through his contact with de Ajuria, Temple would also lease the national mint of the Republic of Mexico, which he obtained in 1856. The story melds with a larger one of the seemingly annual parade of revolutionary movements and political and military strife that engulfed Mexico in that period; and interestingly for our purposes here, it directly involves Temple’s son-in-law, Gregorio de Ajuria.

Temple and his wife, Rafaela Cota, a Santa Barbara native, had one child, Francisca (b. 1831), who, as noted, married Gregorio, an up-and-coming merchant with many contacts in Mexico, in 1848. While the couple remained in LA, living with the Temples through at least the 1850 census (actually taken in early 1851), the de Ajurias moved to Mexico City and then relocated to NYC and Paris several times over the years. They had five children and de Ajuria’s personal wealth, estimated be $10,000 in the 1860 census, was not insignificant.

Indeed, it was his financial position that brought him into contact with Ignacio Comonfort, a military officer and politician from Puebla, Mexico, who had designs on the presidency of the Republic of Mexico. Comonfort was a military commander in the state of Guerrero in the 1830s who was elected to the Mexican Congress in 1842 and 1846, though both times the body was dissolved by the federal government. After fighting against the US in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Comonfort was elected as a senator and appointed the customs administrator for Acapulco. In 1854, he joined the Revolution of Ayutla, an attempt by Juan Álvarez to unseat Gen. Antonio de Santa Anna as president of Mexico. Comonfort traveled to SF and then NYC seeking funds for the revolution and had little luck until he landed in the latter and met with de Ajuria.

De Ajuria was not only a friend of Álvarez but his mercantile company had an office in Acapulco when Comonfort was the city’s administrator (incidentally, Jonathan Temple also held significant land interests between Acapulco and Mazatlán, perhaps due to the assistance of his son-in-law). For a loan of 60,000 pesos, which came in the form of cash and weapons, de Ajuria was promised 250,000 pesos in return if the revolution was a success. With the cache of weapons that Comonfort obtained, thanks to de Ajuria, the revolt moved forward and Santa Anna resigned his office in early Aug. 1855. Álvarez then assumed the presidency of Mexico and Comonfort became the Minister of War, though within months Álvarez resigned and Comonfort took his place as the leader of the country.

Upon assuming power, Comonfort issued a manifesto the Mexican nation noting that, among the debts that had been contracted in service to the revolution, the first repayment was to be sent to D. Gregorio de Ajuria, who had provided funds for the revolutionary movement in the South. While it is true that this business had been significantly beneficial to the lender, Comonfort noted, it was important to underscore the fact that, without the assistance he provided, it would have been impossible to sustain the revolution, which was in immediate danger of losing capital. Comonfort, however, went on to state that while he was on principle opposed to leasing the country’s mint, the government lacked the funds to manage it itself, and had succumbed in this case, as in some others, to the law of imperative necessity.

The “imperative necessity” was arranging for Jonathan Temple to assume the lease by a cash payment, said to have been $500,000, an enormous sum for the era, especially from a small-town merchant. There was a precedent, however, because from 1847 on the Mexico City mint had been leased to foreigners. as a result, in addition to the advance payment, de Ajuria (and, perhaps, Temple) made loans of almost $270,000 in 1856 to the government. Temple’s lease of the mint was on a 10- year contract and was managed initially by Alejandro Bellangé, another supporter of the Alvarez-Comonfort coup, and then by José Mendizabal. Ultimately, Comonfort was unseated in yet another revolt in early 1858 and fled to the US (he did, though, return to Mexico as a general in the fight against the French invasion and died in the fall of 1863).

Meanwhile, de Ajuria also became an exile in Paris, where he died in 1864. Although the French Empire in Mexico sought to annul the lease, Temple was able to override this by more loans to the new government. After Jonathan Temple died in the spring 1866, an
extension was signed with his daughter and de Ajuria’s widow, Francisca, as the leaseholder. The Mexican government rescinded the contract a couple of years later, but chronic financial shortages led it to reverse its policy after Francisca Temple de Ajuria came up, in 1871, with a substantial loan of $130,000 to the government. For two decades, the lease stood, presumably on 10-year agreements, but Mexican president Porfirio Diaz finally stepped in and demanded the return of the mint to the government.

In 1892–93, Antonio de Ajuria, Franciscoaand Gregorio’s son and Jonathan Temple’s grandson, acted as the agent on behalf of his mother, then living in Paris, and worked out an indemnity of some $75,000. With this, the mint reverted to Mexican government ownership in Feb. 1893 after almost forty years in the hands of the Ajuria Family. Francisca passed away in Paris in 1893.

We intend for Basques in the United States to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

 

Boise and Bilbao: Two Boomtowns

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A recent report by the Idaho Statesman looks at the links between two boomtowns, Boise and Bilbao. The visit of a Basque delegation, led by Basque President Iñigo Urkullu, to Idaho last year enhanced the historic connection between the two regions. There have been economic ties between the city of Boise and the Basque Country since the nineteenth century, when the burgeoning sheep industry in Idaho increased the need for talented sheepherders from the Basque Country. A century later, these connections were still evident through cultural events such as the Basque Soccer Friendly and Jaialdi in 2016, celebrating the Basque heritage and culture. These events only served to take the exisitng economic and cultural exchange to new heights.
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This year, a business delegation from the Basque province of Bizkaia visited Boise to renew the economic and cultural partnership between Boise and Bilbao. According to Asier Alea Castaños, General Manager of Trade Promotion for the Bizkaian Government, at present over a million people reside in Greater Bilbao with a GDP per capita reaching 122 percent of the European Union (EU) average. Bizkaia’s economic competitive advantage is backed by higher education institutions that rank higher than the rest of Europe in terms of research and development. And this Bizkaian economic and technological edge, coupled with the existing links between the two cities, provides the Boise business community with huge opportunities.
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Boise has itself experienced technological booms in recent years with high-tech projects such as Trailgead poised to attract investment from the Basque Country. With a cost of doing business only one-third of that in California or Washington, Boise can be an attractive investment option for Basque investors.

Boise has extensive business clusters in software, environmental technology, advanced energy, hi-tech manufacturing, hardware assembly, national call centers, and agricultural technology. And Boise’s comprehensive business cluster complements that of some of the main industries in and around Bilbao such as the aeronautic, automotive, electronic, information technology, energy, and maritime sectors. It would appear, then, that there are multiple opportunities for new links to be developed between these two Basque boomtowns.

Read the full article here.

The Center has published several books on the Basque economy. For a general introduction, see Basque Economy from Industrialization to Globalization by Mikel Uranga, free to download here.

Tow other works address innovation policies 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, available free to download here.

For some general historical background on the particular tax and finance system that so defines the particularity of the Basque Country, see Basque Fiscal Systems: History, Current Status, and Future Perspectives, edited by Joseba Agirreazkuenaga and Eduardo Alonso Olea.

Another key feature of the Basque economy in recent years has been its urban transformation. This process is examined in Transforming Cities: Opportunities and Challenges of Urban Regeneration in the Basque Country, edited by Arantxa Rodríguez and Joseba Juaristi.

And for a wonderful monograph of one of the most controversial economic issues in the Basque Country today, namely the plans for a new high-speed rail network to create a single interconnected “Basque city,” check out Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building, by Nagore Calvo Mendizabal.

 

June 10, 1835: Beginning of the Siege of Bilbao during First Carlist War

June 10, 1835 marks the start date of the famous siege of Bilbao by Carlist forces during the First Carlist War (1833-1839). The nineteenth-century Carlist Wars (with later conflicts taking place in the 1840s and 1870s) are somewhat under the radar of most general European history narratives but they were crucial in defining the political and administrative direction that modern Spain took. Interestingly for the purposes of this blog they also played a major role in shaping the fortunes of the Basque Country, which served as a principal theater of war in the 1830s and 1870s. In short, the outcome of these two civil wars established not just the Basque Country’s modern legal relationship with Spain but also played a big part in the decision of many Basques to leave their homeland in search of a better life on the other side of the Atlantic.

Although ostensibly the result of a dynastic struggle between different pretenders to the Spanish throne, the Carlist Wars were more complex civil confrontations that reflected different visions of how Spain should be organized politically. Most Basques were on the Carlist side (supporters of the pretender Don Carlos), among other reasons because they believed it guaranteed them the continuation of a political system that safeguarded Basque rights when it came to decision-making authority. On the other side, the Liberals (supporters of the regent  Mar’ía Cristina on behalf of the infant princess Mar’ía Isabel) sought to modernize Spain, centralizing decision-making authority and removing or lessening where possible those specific Basque rights.

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Carlist plans of the city for the siege of Bilbao in 1835. By Antonio de Goycoechea. In the Zumalakarregi Museum. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

During the First Carlist War, while most of the rural Basque Country supported the Carlist cause, larger urban enclaves tended to favor the modernizing ambitions of the Liberal side. The Carlist forces there were led by a brilliant and charismatic Basque general, Toma‡s Zumalacarregui (also spelled Zumalakarregi), who argued for a strike on Madrid from the Carlist bastion in Navarre, via Vitoria-Gasteiz, in sweeping fashion down from the Basque Country. He was overruled, however, by Don Carlos and was instead ordered to capture the Liberal bastion of Bilbao as an emblematic prize for the Carlist cause. Carlist forces thus laid siege to the city on June 10, but during the siege Zumalacarregui was shot and wounded, and subsequently died from his wounds. The siege formally ended on July 1, with the Carlists unsuccessful in their attempts to take the city.

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Tomas Zumalacarregui, the charismatic Carlist leader. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

Thereafter, the Carlists, bereft of their charismatic leader, plagued by internal divisions and grave tactical errors, and confronted with a following increasingly tired of battle, slid toward defeat. In 1839, the Carlist leader Rafael Maroto signed the Treaty of Bergara with his Liberal adversary Baldomero Espartero. This ended the war and set Spain on a path toward an administrative reshaping that gradually eroded Basque political rights.

The Zumalakarregi Museum in Ormaiztegi, Gipuzkoa (his birthplace) is a great source of information for this period in Basque history in general.

For a general introduction to the Carlist Wars and their impact on the fortunes of the Basque Country, see Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History, available free to download here.  

The political and administrative implications of the Carlist Wars for the Basque Country are discussed in detail by Joseba Agirreazkuenaga in The Making of the Basque Question: Experiencing Self-Government, 1793-1877.

And for a riveting first-hand account of the Carlist offensive in the Basque Country during the first war, including an account of the siege of Bilbao, check out The Most Striking Events of a Twelvemonth’s Campaign with Zumalacarregui in Navarre and the Basque Provinces by C.F. Henningsen.

 

 

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