Category: Gipuzkoa (page 1 of 3)

April 18, 1815: A Daring Basque Robbery

On April 18, 1815, a convoy including the Duke of Bourbon, the cousin of the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, was making its way over the Arlaban Pass that marks the border between Araba and Gipuzkoa. On the steep climb up the hill, the carriage containing the duke, which was being pulled by two oxen, became slightly separated from the convoy. Seizing the opportunity, five armed men appeared from out of the woods and proceeded to liberate the duke of all the equipment, treasures, and documents he was carrying.

Asalto al coche (Robbery of the coach), 1786-1787, by Francisco Goya. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Arlaban Pass had, it should be noted, gained an infamous reputation for such highway robbery. Indeed, many of the so-called highwaymen gained a kind of infamous notoriety, men like the guerrillas Espoz and Mina as well as Sebastián Fernández de Leceta or “Dos Pelos” (Two Hairs). 

Witnesses to the robbery said that the thieves were Basques, as could be discerned from their accents, which also led people to believe they came from an area between Tolosa and Hernani in Gipuzkoa. The main suspect was subsequently thought to be one N. de Lazkao, who was fairly identifiable because of his green eyes and red beard. But despite the dispatch of multiple search parties and an investigation that lasted ten years, no one was ever apprehended.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp. 167-68.

Wines of the Basque Country: “Springing” for a bottle of Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli

Spring time is approaching (believe it or not), and for me one of my favorite warm weather activities is sitting on a patio with a refreshing rosado or rosé wine.

As promised, I intend to share some of the benefits of doing fieldwork in a place that is world-renowned for their gastronomy.  I am excited to share that I had an interview with one of the most prominent txakolineros here in the Basque Country.

Txomin Etxaniz, as I have been told by many, is considered a founding father for the Getariako Txakolina Denominación de Origen.  I was therefore thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Mikel, who’s grandfather is the nephew of Txomin Extaniz himself.  Mikel’s father was one of the men responsible for starting the Denominación de Origen (Designation of origin) in 1989, which originally grew from the seven families that were involved.   It was much earlier, however, that the family was written into the history of viticulture in the region.  In 1649, the Gipuzkoa Protocol Archives mention Domingo de Etxaniz as being linked to growing vines in Getaria.  The family and team still produce this relic of Basque viticulture that started well before Basque gastronomy became world-famous.  From my personal experience, it is one of the most popular labels you can find in the United States for Getariako Txakolina D.O.   

I don’t know if there is anything better than drinking this rosado on a hot summer’s day.  This is the Basque version of the label, while it is translated into English in the United States.

(Txakolin Gorria, translates tored” txakoli, versus the txakolin beltza which means “black” txakoli-much like the French use of “noir” in Pinot Noir).  The acidity seems to be perfectly balanced by the fruitiness that results from mixing the hondarrabi beltza varietal with the better known white hondarrabi zuri (white varietal).  Take it a step further by pairing it with seafood, a creamy brie, or strawberries, and your tastebuds will jump for joy.

While this is a fairly easy find in the United States, which demands much of the rosado production, there’s nothing like drinking this beauty here, close to its roots in Euskalherria.  Did I mention this place comes with a view?

To find this young, zippy wine in the US, you can check out websites like: Wine Searcher

Check out the producer’s website: Txomin Etxaniz

Here is a line-up of all their delicious fermented grape products: 

Stay tuned for more wine and food recommendations fresh out of the Basque Country.  Still to come is this family’s espumoso and late harvest wine (pictured above)!

Cheers, or as they say in the Basque Country, “Topa!”

January 30, 1669: Irun and Hondarribia almost go to war over weights and measures!

Overview of the siege of the fortress of Hondarribia in 1638 with ground troops and French squadron at sea. German engraving. Irun can be seen to the top left of the engraving. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On January 30, 1669, following a traditional custom, the neighboring town councils of Irun and Hondarribia in Gipuzkoa were due to meet to undertake their annual inspection of each other’s weights and measures in this commercially important and geopolitically sensitive border area. That year, however, the Irun council members informed their counterparts in Hondarribia that the visiting inspection had already been carried out. Not deterred by this, the Hondarribia council members swore to attend the planned visit. When they arrived, the representatives of Irun greeted them with a show of arms, which prompted those of Hondarribia to withdraw back to their own town. The latter then complained to he Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, which mediated between the two, rescheduling the meeting for February 7.

View of Hondarribia. Painting by Luis Paret, 1786. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

February 7 arrived and the appointed Hondarribia commissioners began their inspection of Irun’s weights and measures, only to discover that the Hondarribia stamps there had been removed from the weights in question, with the name of Irun replacing them. On reporting this to the authorities, these weights were declared legally null and void. This provoked the ire of the people of Irun, leading to many taking to street with sticks, stones, swords, and firearms in protest. Worried that this could escalate into a full-blown violent conflict between the towns, the chief magistrate had no option but to restore the legal status of Irun’s weights.

Furious at the decision, the people of Hondarribia waited a few days and then sent a nocturnal expedition to attack Irun. Arriving at night in small barges traveling up the River Bidasoa, the expedition alighted near the Irun hospital, made its presence known by firing several shots and threatening the people there, an then withdrew back to the safety of Hondarribia. Thereafter, the Provincial Council made another attempt to mediate but this was in vain. The matter was then referred to the higher authority of the Castilian Royal Council, which subsequently threatened anyone who dared take up arms again in the matter with prison or even worse, namely the infamous galleys (where prisoners were sentenced o “work the oar” or become human chattel, virtual slaves). The warning appeared to work as no further incidents were reported, although neighborly relations can hardly have been too friendly!

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp.126-27.

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.

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.

November 3, 1968: Mountaineer Alberto Iñurrategi born

One of the world’s great mountaineers, Alberto Iñurrategi Iriarte, was born on November 3, 1968 in Aretxabaleta, Gipuzkoa. He became the tenth person–and the youngest to that date at thirty-three years of age–to complete all fourteen eight-thousander summits, the highest mountains on earth, in 2002 (see an earlier post we did on Juanito Oiarzabal climbing these peaks here).

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Alberto Iñurrategi Iriarte

He climbed twelve of those peaks with his brother, Felix, who tragically died on the descent of one of them, Gasherbrum II, in 2000. What’s more,  Iñurrategi climbed the peaks in an Alpine style using few lines or sherpas and no bottled oxygen, making him the fourth person to have climbed all fourteen peaks without bottled oxygen.

Here are the figures for his successful ascents of all fourteen eight-thousander summits with the years he did so in parentheses.

  1. Makalu (1991)
  2. Everest (1992)
  3. K2 (1994)
  4. Cho Oyu (1995)
  5. Lhotse (1995)
  6. Kangchenjunga (1996)
  7. Shishapangma (1996)
  8. Broad Peak (1997)
  9. Dhaulagiri I (1998)
  10. Nanga Parbat (1999)
  11. Manaslu (2000)
  12. Gasherbrum II (2000)
  13. Gasherbrum I (aka Hidden Peak) (2001)
  14. Annapurna I (2002)

Iñurrategi thus joins a long line of distinguished Basque mountaineers and today stands, alongside Juanito Oiarzabal and Edurne Pasaban (the latter of whom we have also posted about here), as the most famous member of this intrepid group of Basques.

Game of Thrones in Euskadi

As noted in a previous post, the location scouts for HBO’s award-winning and widely-acclaimed show Game of Thrones have chosen three sites on the Basque coast to film the upcoming 7th season. Filming on Muriola Beach (Barrika) and around San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Bermeo), both in Bizkaia, has already wrapped up but Zumaia (Gipuzkoa) is busy, especially on Itzurun Beach. Fans are delighted to have the cast in their home towns and newspapers are buzzing with news about the filming every day, not to mention the sightings of the show’s actors.

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Muriola Beach, Barrika

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San Juan de Gaztelugatxe

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Acantilados del Flysch,

As you can see from these pictures, the locations are stunningly beautiful, perfect backdrops to the show’s drama. Although the three locations are on the coast, filming is taking place both on land and at sea.

Picking the Basque Country as one of its many locations, Game of Thrones‘ filming not only helps to boost tourism and awareness of the area at a global scale, but also creates jobs in these areas. People have lined up to be cast as extras, and the crew has tried to provide as many jobs to locals as possible. Wish I was there to get a sneak peak!

Be sure to watch season 7, which will be released in summer 2017, and keep a look out for the Basque Country! If you haven’t visited these places already, put them on your list!

Great new video to accompany this weekend’s Kilometroak fundraiser in Bergara

Every year, throughout the Basque Country, a special day is set aside to raise funds for a particular ikastola (a school in which instruction takes place predominantly in Basque) on which the main goal is to complete a walk (often sponsored) around a set circuit, with refreshment stands along the way and other associated activities, including concerts and the like, all in aid of raising money for Basque-language education: in Araba this is known as Araba Euskaraz (meaning “Araba in Basque”); in Bizkaia, Ibilialdia (the trek, hike, walk, etc.); in Iparralde, Herri Urats (“a people’s step”); in Nafarroa, Nafarroa Oinez (Nafarroa on foot); and in Gipuzkoa, Kilometroak (kilometers).

This year’s Kilometroak, which takes place on October 2, is being organized by the Aranzadi Ikastola in Bergara and its theme is demasa (tremendous, humongous), linked to the notion of aniztasuna (diversity). A great part of all these events in recent years has been the introduction of a specially composed song for the day with an accompanying video, and we’d like to share this year’s song with you. Enjoy!

 

September 11, 2008: Ekainberri replica cave site opens

 

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Exact replica paintings, based on the originals in Ekain, in Ekainberri. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On September 11, 2008, the Ekainberri replica cave site in Zestoa, Gipuzkoa, opened to the public for the first time. It is a replica of the Ekain cave in Deba, Gipuzkoa, which is included in UNESCO’s “Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain” World Heritage Site.

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Outside view of Ekainberri, from the museum website.

Ekain was discovered in 1969 by Rafael Rezabal and Andoni Albizuri, who on entering the cave came across intricate paintings–33 horses, 10 bison, 2 bears, 2 deer, 4 goats, and 2 fish as well as other nonfigurative marks–that would eventually be dated back to between 10,000 and 14,500 BCE. That same year, José Miguel de Barandiarán and Jesús Altuna began work on excavating the site, a task that lasted until 1975. Their findings were published in 1978 and updated in 1984. In short, they revealed one of the finest examples of cave paintings associated with the Magdalenian culture of the Upper Paleolithic period, on a level equal to that of the renowned paintings of Altamira and Lascaux.

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Exhibition hall in Ekainberri, from the museum website.

Given the obviously delicate nature of the original site it was impossible to allow full public access to these marvelous paintings. The various public authorities involved therefore decided to create a replica site, Ekainberri (“new Ekain”) as near as possible to the original, which would serve as a museum and information center about the people who inhabited these caves and the natural environment in which they lived. Although relatively new, Ekainberri has quickly become a landmark destination for visitors to the Basque Country.

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The actual replica of the Ekain cave in Ekainberri, from the museum website.

See the official Ekainberri site here.

The Basque Country is blessed with numerous cave sites. If you do get the chance to visit and are interested in these remarkable testaments to the remote human past, as well as Ekainberri be sure to set some time aside for a trip to the Cave of Zugarramurdi in Nafarroa and/or the Caves of Sara in Lapurdi.

If you’re interested in the topic, check out the Selected Writings of José Miguel de Barandiarán: Basque Prehistory and Ethnography, with an introduction by Jesús Altuna.

Our very own Joseba Zulaika, who grew up near Ekain, also talks about the cave and its resonance in Basque culture in his classic study, Basque Violence: Metaphor and Sacrament.

 

 

Irun and Hendaia commemorate bridges linking the two towns

A series of acts were held over the weekend of September 2 to 4 on and around the Avenida and Santiago/Saint-Jacques bridges that link Irun (Gipuzkoa) to Hendaia (Lapurdi). The acts were held in commemoration of both the people that used these bridges to flee the horrors of war, but also in celebration of these vital points of connection between the two towns.

On September 2 the two mayors of the respective towns took part, on the Avenida bridge (also known as the International bridge) and on the occasion of its hundredth anniversary, in an act remembering all the people who had crossed the bridge–in both directions–to flee war and save their lives.

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American prisoners who had fought as volunteers on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War released by Franco’s forces via the Avenida bridge, walking from Irun to Hendaia (1938). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On September 4, meanwhile, another act was held to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the burning of Irun at the outset of he Spanish Civil War, a specific occasion on which people used the bridges en masse to escape the conflict.

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The Santiago/Saint-Jacques bridge today.

A plaque will be installed at some point this year on the Avenida bridge to remember all the people who crossed the bridge to save their lives.

The impact of war on ordinary people’s lives, and particularly in the intense period between the Spanish Civil War and World War II, is explored in War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott.

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