Category: Donostia (page 1 of 2)

Women chefs and their influence on Basque gastronomy: Part 2

In a previous post we spoke about the increasing public face of women chefs and their contribution to the Basque gastronomic scene.  But did you know that women played a prominent role in establishing the Basque restaurant world in the first place? In what follows, I gratefully acknowledge the information offered by both Olga Macias Muñoz and food blogger Biscayenne (aka Ana Vega) in the articles cited below. Eskerrik asko!

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Women take a stroll on the beach in Donostia-San Sebastián in 1915. Photo by Ricardo Martín. The picture captures something of the vigor and arguably even empowerment that women could increasingly express in turn-of-the-century Basque society. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Azcaray Sisters

Vicenta, Úrsula, and Sira Azcaray Eguileor were born in 1866, 1870,  and 1870 respectively, into a comfortable middle-class family from what is today the Abando neighborhood of Bilbao. Their mother, the redoubtable Felipa Eguileor (1831-1898), was already a successful restaurateur-businesswoman who had married Sebastián Azcaray, vice chairman of the Bank of Bilbao. In 1886 the couple founded what would become a thriving restaurant, El Amparo, in Bilbao, in which Felipa prepared traditional Basque dishes, but on Sebastián’s death, she was left widowed with four children to look after (the youngest, a son Enrique). The girls were thus sent to study cooking in France and prepare for careers in the restaurant business. On their return, they helped their mother at El Amparo and the resulting fusion cuisine–between what they learned from the traditional Basque cooking of their mother and their studies in France–led to the restaurant occupying a distinguished place at the vanguard of Basque gastronomy in turn-of-the-century Bilbao, a golden age for the city that was experiencing a major industrial boom and significant economic growth. The restaurant closed its doors in 1918 on the death of Vicenta Azcaray, although her sisters continued to operate a catering business thereafter. After the death of his last sister, Sira, Enrique gathered together all the notes and recipes written down by the siblings and published them in book form in 1933; a work that remains a classic today in Bilbao and beyond.

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A 1949 edition of the recipe book by the Azcaray Eguileor sisters. From Biscayenne’s food blogging site.

Maria Mestayer de Echagüe: The “Marquess of Parabere”

Maria Manuela Eugenia Carolina Mestayer Jaquet was born in 1878 in Bilbao, the daughter of Eugenio Mestayer Demelier (the French consul in the city) and his local wife, María Jacquet la Salle, the daughter of a well-known Bilbao banker also of French origin. Maria enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending the best schools and traveling across Europe, where here parents also took her to the most famous restaurants of the day (including that of Auguste Escoffier, the renowned French chef and writer who revolutionized and popularized French cuisine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). In 1901 she married Ramón Echagüe y Churruca, a wealthy lawyer from Donostia-San Sebastián, and the couple settled in Bilbao.

Early on in her marriage, on realizing that her husband was finding excuses not to come home for lunch, she found out that it was on account of the food being prepared by the domestic staff the couple employed. She therefore decided to study gastronomy and prepare her husband’s meals herself. This she did by a voracious diet of reading everything she could about the history and culture of food. What’s more, the self-taught Maritxu, as she was affectionately known at home, found time to do all this while giving birth to eight children in the process!

Passionate about writing, she began publishing articles about food for newspapers and magazines. She also began giving cooking classes and by the 1920s she was a well-known figure in her own right in Bilbao; famously, she is reputed to have been gifted the first refrigerator to arrive in Bilbao around this time. By the end of the decade she began to use the pseudonym the “Marquess of Parabere” and published the first of her many books on gastronomy, including a work on Basque cuisine in 1935. The following year she embarked on yet another groundbreaking venture, opening her own restaurant (financed with her own money), the Parabere, in Madrid, where she settled while her husband remained in Bilbao.

An initial success, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War that same year resulted in the Parabere being requisitioned for use by the anarchist CNT labor union, with Maritxu still at the helm. There followed a somewhat crazy period of Casablanca-like intrigues in the restaurant, which was frequented by spies and agents as well as well-known figures like Ernest Hemingway in his capacity as war correspondent during the conflict.  It was while in Madrid, too, that she received news of the death of her husband Ramón during the war. With the triumph of Franco, the restaurant closed and her children moved to Madrid. There she eventually died in 1949.

Nicolasa Pradera

Nicolasa Pradera Mendibe was born in Markina-Xemein, Bizkaia, in 1870. as a young woman she entered into domestic service for the well-to-do Gaitán de Ayala family. When one of the family’s daughters married and settled in Donostia-San Sebastián, Nicolasa moved there with the woman in question to take charge of kitchen duties. There she met and married Narciso Dolhagaray, a well-known butcher in the city. In 1912 the couple opened a restaurant, the Casa Nicolasa, which also introduced a French touch into traditional Basque cuisine and quickly attracted the attention of the city’s high society. In 1932 she sold the Casa Nicolasa to Maria Urrestarazuri and opened another establishment together with her children, Andia, in the city. And in 1933 a book of her recipes was published that still sells today. Following the civil war she moved to Madrid where she opened another restaurant, Nicolasa. She died in Madrid in 1959.

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Nicolasa Pradera’s emblematic work.

Note: Casa Nicolasa, founded by Nicolasa Pradera in 1912, continued to be one of the main reference points of the Donostia-San Sebastián restaurant scene through much of the 20th century. In 1996 the renowned Basque chef José Juan Castillo took over the restaurant, which he ran until his retirement in 2010. The site, an emblematic feature of the city center, was subsequently converted into the Casa Nicolasa guesthouse.

Publications

All these women were connected not just in the innovative techniques they introduced and the prominent roles they occupied in championing and developing Basque cuisine–one could even say in laying the foundations for the international reputation of Basque cooking–but also in their didactic or instructive influence on the gastronomy of the country.  The recipes of the Azcaray sisters were first published posthumously in 1930 as El Amparo, sus 685 platos clásicos (El Amparo, its 685 favorite recipes). Likewise, Maria Mestayer was a prolific author who published many works, among them La Enciclopedia Culinaria: la cocina completa (The culinary encyclopedia: Complete cooking) in 1933 and Platos escogidos de la cocina vasca, Entremeses, aperitivos y ensaladas (Selected dishes of Basque cuisine, appetizers, snacks, and salads) in 1934. Finally, as noted, Nicolasa Pradera’s La cocina de Nicolasa (Nicolasa’s kitchen), first published in 1933, is still a well-loved book today.

A Long List

These are just some of the important women in the history of Basque gastronomy, but they are by no means the only ones, so I list here a few more names by way of at least recognizing their contribution as well (all the establishments named here were in Bilbao): (María) Dolores Vedia de Uhagón (b. 1809) from Bilbao, author of Libro de Cocina a propósito para La Mesa Vizcaína (1892); Brígida de Murua Izaguirre, owner of and head chef at the Hotel Boulevard; Elvira Arias de Apraiz (1856-1922) from Vitoria-Gasteiz, author of Libro de cocina (1912); Pura Iturralde Gorostiaga (1898-1984), who owned and ran the famed Shanti El Marinero restaurant; Antonia Idígoras, owner of the Hotel Antonia (the first Bilbao hotel to be included in the Michelin Guide, in 1927); Josefa Aloa Ugarte, chef at the hotel-restaurant Ocerinjaúregui inn; Clarita de Armendáriz, joint owner and chef at the Armendáriz; Tomasa de Asúa, chef at the Chacolí de Zoilo restaurant; and the sisters Luisa and Escolástica Goikoetxea who ran the Las Navarras inn.

By way of conclusion, I’ll cite part of the prologue to the first edition of La cocina de Nicolasa, written by Gregorio Marañón–one of the towering figures of Spanish intellectual life in the 20th century–who wrote of Basque women’s influence on their national cuisine:

attentive and intelligent cooking dates back, without any doubt, hundreds of years in these provinces; because one does not improvise in just a few generations the profound disposition, almost specific to these people, toward the gastronomic art that Bizkaian, Gipuzkoan, and Navarrese women have, women made of ancient noble attributes, among whom I place this admirable culinary aptitude.

 

Further Reading

Biscayenne, “Bilbainas&Cocineras: las hermanas Azcaray y El Amparo.”

Biscayenne, “Bilbainas&Cocineras: Maritxu, la marquesa de Parabere,” part I and part II.

Olga Macías Muñoz, “Cocineras vascas: tradición e innovación en las postrimerías del siglo XIX y comienzos del siglo XX,” in Euskonews no. 525, March 19-26, 2010.

The Marquise of Parabere website, dedicated to the history of this fascinating woman and including photos, articles, and recipes.

 

Basques get ready for San Sebastian Day

Tomorrow, January 20, is a key date on the calendar for some Basques at least: San Sebastian Day, celebrated above all in Donostia-San Sebastián and Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa. The central event in this exuberant, 24-hour party is the danborrada, a loud and proud drum festival in which everyone who can takes part. The festival kicks off at exactly midnight on January 20 and goes on for the next 24 hours, nonstop.

In Donostia, at midnight the mayor hoists the flag of the city in Constitution Square, a central hub of the city’s old quarter that is jam-packed for the celebrations. Meanwhile, participants dressed up as cooks or in old fashioned military uniforms beat out a nonstop rhythmic (and almost deafening) sound as the city well and truly lets its hair down. With carnival season just around the corner, there is more than just a hint of he carnivalesque in all this. The origins of this unique celebration are said to date back to the military occupation of the city by Napoleon’s troops toward the end of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), when some women, whose daily chores included fetching and carrying water from public fountains, began to mock the French soldiers’ drumming by banging on their water pails. Thereafter, in the 1830s local residents began mocking the daily changing of the guard by soldiers stationed in the city. Probably in connection with the carnival season, a traditional time to mock authority, some locals began a raucous custom–like those women a generation before–of using buckets and hardware to mimic the solemnity of these daily military parades.

With time, various clubs and associations–mot famously, gastronomic societies such as the famous Gaztelube (hence the dressing up as cooks)–began to get involved in the celebrations, and this is the tradition that lasts to this day, with members of these associations taking the event very seriously indeed, practicing their drumming until the big day arrives. And even kids get involved, with school groups performing their own danborrada during the daytime on January 20. A traditional repertoire of musical compositions accompany all this drumming, most famously “The March of San Sebastian” (1861), with music by Raimundo Sarriegui (1838-1913) and lyrics by Serafin Baroja (1840-1912)

Modern Basque version 

Bagera!
gu (e)re bai
gu beti pozez, beti alai!

Sebastian bat bada zeruan
Donosti(a) bat bakarra munduan
hura da santua ta hau da herria
horra zer den gure Donostia!

Irutxuloko, Gaztelupeko
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
Joxemaritar zahar eta gazte
kalerik kale danborra joaz
umore ona zabaltzen hor dihoaz
Joxemari!

Gaurtandik gerora penak zokora
Festara! Dantzara!
Donostiarrei oihu egitera gatoz
pozaldiz!
Inauteriak datoz!

English translation

Here we are!
us too
we’re always happy, always cheerful!

There’s a Sebastian in the sky
one unique San Sebastián in the world
that’s the saint and this is the town
That’s what our San Sebastián is!

From Irutxulo, from Gaztelupe
The Joxemaritarras old and young
The Joxemaritarras old and young
from street to street playing the drum
there they go spreading good cheer
Joxemari!

From now on away with any hardships
Let’s party! Dance!
Shouting out to all the people of Donostia
Joyful!
The carnival is coming!

And don’t forget, the great town of Azpeitia also celebrates San Sebastian Day in its own unique way…

USA Men’s Eagles National Rugby Team face Tonga in Basque Country

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Every Fall rugby fans in Europe are treated to a series of great rugby matches known as the Autumn Internationals, in which the best teams from north and south hemispheres compete. As part of this series of games, USA Rugby’s Men’s Eagles are in Europe right now and on Saturday, November 19, are poised to take on Tonga in Anoeta Stadium, Donostia-San Sebastián.

The Men’s Eagles arrived in the Basque Country on Sunday, November 13, to a warm reception by a group of dantzaris at Loiu Airport.  Check out the Facebook site of Rugby Challenge Donostia-San Sebastián, the organization behind this historic match.

This is a major event for rugby fans in the Basque Country, pitting the world’s 15th and 17th ranked teams against each other. The organizers hope it will serve as a springboard to both promote rugby union in Hegoalde or the Southern Basque Country and showcase Donostia-San Sebastián as a potential venue for future international games. The game, which will be broadcast by the Rugby Channel, kicks off at 5 pm local time (8 am PST; 11 am EST) on November 19. And if you do watch the game, whether in the Basque Country or from afar, you may even see the traditional Tonga war dance, performed before each match – the Sipi Tau (here below in compeitition with the New Zealand Haka):

Just out of interest for this site, Basque-American Iñaki Basauri, a loose forward who plays professionally in France, did play for the Men’s Eagles although he is not part of the current lineup.

See also: https://www.youtube.com/user/USARugbyTV

Say Cheese!

The prestigious International Cheese Festival starts tomorrow, November 16,  in Donostia-San Sebastián and runs until November 18. The Artzai Gazta association, an organization comprised of 110 local small-scale craft producers, played a central role in bringing the festival to the Basque Country. The festival is seen as both a platform to showcase Basque products and a forum to exchange knowledge with other small-scale cheese producers from all over the world. Moreover, at the festival the World Cheese Awards organization will be awarding prizes to its 2016 winners. You can even follow the prize-giving via live online steaming. Check out the details here.

Check out the full program for the festival here.

Important classical music and dance festival begins tomorrow in Donostia

One of the major events on the calendar for classical music fans in the Basque Country is Hamabostaldia, an August festival made up of both music and dance performances that gets underway tomorrow, and runs through the end of the month.

Dating originally from 1939, the festival was reorganized in the late 1970s when the city council took control of the event. It subsequently got the backing of both the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa and the Basque government and is now the premier occasion of its kind in the Basque Country. Quoting the festival website:

Opera, ballet, the great symphonic orchestras, the small chamber groups, the romantic organ, the choral groups, contemporary composers, local promises, the great names of the international scene, the shows for children… all of them have a place in this Festival that beyond its main headquarters at the Kursaal Palace and the Victoria Eugenia Theatre resounds in many and singular spaces, not only in Donostia but also in Gipuzkoan territory.

Besides concerts and performances of many kinds, there are also spin-offs such as courses and musical summer camps, all designed to encourage and promote the enjoyment and appreciation of classical music in all its forms.

Among this year’s highlights (and check out the full program here) will be a performance of Wagner’s ballet Tristan and Isolda by the Grand Théâtre de Genève Ballet Company, as well as a rendition of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, with a cast including Christopher Maltman, Nicole Cabell, Irina Lungu, Daniel Giulianini, José Faldilha, Miren Urbieta-Vega, and Jose Manuel Díaz, music by the Basque National Orchestra conducted by Manuel Hernández Silva, and the accompaniment of the Easo Choir.

Finally, a spectacular finale to the event will witness the first ever joint performance of the Basque National Orchestra and the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, who will be joined by the Orfeón Donostiarra-Donostiako Orfeoia and the Orfeón Pamplonés-Iruñeko Orfeoia, to perform “Te Deum” by Hector Berlioz, “The Lord’s Prayer” by Francisco de Medina, and “Gernika” by Pablo Sorozabal.

Be sure to check out Karlos Sánchez Ekiza’s Basque Classical Music, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute free to download here.

July 22, 1795: Basque territory included in Peace of Basel

The Peace of Basel, signed on July 22, 1795 between Revolutionary France and the Kingdom of Spain, ended the War of the Pyrenees (1793-1795). During that war, French troops had occupied much of Hegoalde and there was even support among certain groups in Gipuzkoa for the province being fully annexed by France.

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War of the Pyrenees, 1793-1795. Created by Djmaschek, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

In the negotiations leading up to the signing of the Peace of Basel in 1795 the French enjoyed the upper hand and seriously considered holding on to Gipuzkoa, but ultimately the wider global context–and especially the offer of economically appealing terrain in the Caribbean–meant that Gipuzkoa would be returned to the Kingdom of Spain.

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Map of Hispaniola by Nicolas de Fer. Original in The John Carter Brown Library, Brown University. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A century earlier, by the Treaty of Ryswick (1697), the western part of the Spanish-controlled island of Hispaniola had been ceded to the French, who were eager to expand their own power and influence in the Caribbean. Indeed, this was a feature of both pre- and post-revolutionary France. During the negotiations over the 1795 peace treaty, Spain was desperate to recover its lost “national” territory (and punish those people in in Gipuzkoa who had sided with the French), so much so that it offered France complete control of Hispaniola in exchange for the return of the occupied Basque lands (and other territory in Catalonia).

Additionally, there was an annex to the treaty by which any Basques in Hegoalde (and specifically Gipuzkoa) who had shown sympathies for the occupying French were given guarantees of receiving no reprisals from Spanish authorities. Yet the immediate effects of the treaty for Gipuzkoa, and Donostia-San Sebastián in particular, were severe: many of the political and military leaders who had attempted to broker a deal with the French invaders were arrested, along with ordinary citizens, and sentenced to jail sentences, exile, and even in one case–that of José Javier Urbiztondo–death by hanging.

Across the Atlantic, France found it increasingly difficult to hold the island and its forces were withdrawn in 1803. Following a successful slave revolt, the independent Republic of Haiti (in the western part of the island marking the original territory of French settlement) was proclaimed in 1804. In the eastern part of the island, meanwhile, a more tortuous path eventually resulted in a lasting independence (following previous attempts in 1821 and 1844) for the Dominican Republic in 1865.

Henry Moore sculptures grace seafront promenade in Donostia

As part of the activities being held in conjunction with Donostia-San Sebastián being named European Capital of Culture for 2016, six sculptures by Henry Moore (1898-1986) were installed on Tuesday, June 21 in the city’s Zurriola Promenade in a “Street Art” initiative, and will remain in place, free for all to view, until September 4.

Moore is considered to be one of the great 20th-century sculptors and in bringing the six pieces to Donostia, the organizers–Obra Social “La Caixa” Foundation, the Henry Moore Foundation, and the Donostia City Council–are seeking to encourage a posthumous artistic dialogue between Moore and the equally renowned two towering figures of 20th-century Basque sculpture, Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002) and Jorge Oteiza (1908-2003), whose works also adorn the city.

This is a unique opportunity to see works by these three masters in the same outdoor setting.

See a video report (in Spanish) on the inauguration of these visiting sculptures here.

There are numerous references to Moore’s work in Oteiza’s Selected Writings, edited by Joseba Zulaika.

Hidden Mountains in Donostia, Basque Country

Gabriel Urza recently wrote an interesting travel piece for The Guardian on what for some may be a little-known part of Donostia-San Sebastián: the three hills surrounding the city.

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Mount Ulia in the foreground, with Urgull and Igeldo in the background. Photo by Etor – Entziklopedia Enblematikoa, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In many ways, Igeldo, Urgull, and Ulia serve as the frame for the dramatic setting of Donostia next to the bay of Biscay. Igeldo is the most accessible of the three. At the base of this westernmost peak one can find Eduardo Chillida’s famed “Wind Comb” sculpture and an old amusement park. Urgull, meanwhile, is located near the old part of the town and close to San Telmo Cathedral. This is the site of a huge statue of Jesus, looming over the old fishing boats in the harbor. Ulia, the eastern bookend to the city, is the smallest of the three mounts and the least ‘developed’. according to the article, some effort is required to find your way up there, from Gros Beach, but interesting sights certainly await the intrepid traveler. See the full article here.

 

 

EMUSIK, the European Music School Festival, comes to Donostia

EMUSIK, the European Music School Festival came to Donostia and surrounding towns this past May 4-7. The festival, involving 8,500 pupils of music schools from all over Europe and 120 concerts, was part of the ongoing series of events associated with Donostia’s position as European Capital of Culture 2016.

The city was transformed for a few days into a lively hubbub of sound and color from all corners of Europe.

 

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)!

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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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