Tag: basque culture (page 1 of 25)

February 19, 1999: Inauguration of Euskalduna Conference Centre

Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera.

On February 19, 1999, the newly completed Euskalduna Conference Centre was inaugurated in Bilbao. Designed by architects Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios to resemble a ship under construction, because it stands on the site formerly occupied by the Euskalduna shipyard, the building won the Enric Miralles award for architecture at the 6th Spanish Architecture Biennial in 2001 and in 2003 the International Congress Palace Association declared it to be the world’s best congress center. It is without doubt one of the key emblematic sites–historical, cultural, and architectural–of Bilbao and a “must see” building for any visitor to the capital of Bizkaia.

Photo by Tim Tregenza.

The Euskalduna was a shipyard located in the heart of Bilbao that also came to specialize in the construction of rail and road vehicles. It operated between 1900 and 1988, when it closed in controversial circumstances due to downsizing. The famous “Carola” Crane, a symbol of the shipyard in its heyday, still stands and now forms part of the Ria de Bilbao Maritime Museum, which is located alongside the Euskalduna Conference Centre.

Photo by Tim Tregenza.

The Euskalduna is today home to both the city’s opera season and the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, as well as serving as a multipurpose conference and event center with a 2000-seat auditorium, a 600-seat theater, conference rooms, meeting rooms, a press room, restaurants, an exhibition hall, an a commercial gallery.

Photo by Asier Sarasua Aranberri.

Check out the Euskalduna website here.

The Center has published several books on the transformation of Bilbao (and the Basque Country in general), a story in which the Euskalduna is prominent. See, for example, Joseba Zulaika’s award-winning That Old Bilbao Moon: The Passion and Resurrection of  a City as well as 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.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.



February 3, 1910: Bishop José Cadena y Eleta bans use of Basque names in christenings

On February 3, 1910, José Cadena y Eleta, Bishop of the Diocese of Vitoria-Gasteiz (comprising Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa), issued a pastoral exhortation demanding that both priests and parishioners decease from baptizing children with Basque first names. He argued that the official language of the Church was Latin, and that Spanish was also used in parish documents and records within Spain. He then went on to warn all priests in his diocese to observe Church norms in this regard, especially those younger members who, he suggested, were treading on dangerous ground by sanctioning the use of such names; a move, he contended, that only brought disunion and discord among Basques.

José Cadena y Eleta (1855-1918)

Cadena’s initiative was then submitted for Vatican approval, which responded that baptisms should ideally be carried out in Latin and transcribed in Spanish.  However, the Vatican ruling also acknowledged that, in the final instance, if the parents insisted on giving their children Basque names, these wishes should be respected, stating the name in both Basque and Latin during the service, and transcribing it in Basque and Spanish for the parish records. On receiving the Vatican instructions, Cadena informed the clergy in his diocese and instructed them to do everything in their power to avoid arriving at that final instance.

This ruling lasted until 1938, when, still during the Spanish Civil War (but with the Basque Country having fallen to the military rebels), the nascent Franco regime banned the use of Basque names outright.

January 27, 1806: Birth of composer Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga

On January 27, 1806 Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola was born in Bilbao. A child musical prodigy and accomplished composer who died young, he was christened “the Spanish Mozart” after his death.

Juan Crisóstomo Arriagha (1806-1826). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Born in Bilbao into a musical family–his father Juan Simón had been the church organist in Berriatua, Bizkaia, although he later earned a living as a merchant in Bilbao–the young Arriaga showed a great aptitude for music at an early age.  Juan Crisóstomo was duly sent to study music in Paris at age fifteen, where he made an immediate impact. Indeed, his progress was such that he soon became a teaching assistant at the Paris Conservatory, where he was especially renowned for  a natural talent for musically sophisticated harmonies, counterpoint, and related techniques. Within four years he composed numerous works and was a well-known figure in the cultural world of Paris, the musical capital of the world at that time.  However, this intense activity would also take its toll on the young Basque, and he ten days short of his twentieth birthday he died, possibly due to a lung ailment like tuberculosis, or possibly even from sheer exhaustion.

“Perhaps,” argues Barbara Rosen (Arriaga, p. 33) , “Arriaga’s predilection for dramatic, austere, and somber laments for voice and orchestra (Medea, Agar, Erminia) can be traced to this characteristic of the songs originating in the Basque areas of northern Spain.”

Today, Bilbao’s principal theater, the Arriaga Theater, is named in his honor.

Check out Barbara Rosen, Arriaga, The Forgotten Genius: The Short Life Of A Basque Composer (Reno: Basque Studies Program,  University of Nevada, Reno, 1988).

And listen to one of his compositions, Quartet No. 2 in A major: III. Menuetto, below:


Urte berri on! The CBS is back for Spring 2018

After taking a few weeks off during the holiday season, the Center for Basque Studies Blog is back, and so are the faculty, staff, and students at UNR. It is bound to be a busy semester, as usual, but we’ll be here to provide you with unique stories on Basque culture and news from around the world.

When it comes to the CBS, Dr. Vaczi will be teaching “Basque Culture” while I will be embarking on my first teaching experience at UNR, trying to live up to Dr. Ott’s “War, Judgment, and Memory in the Basque Borderlands” course.  And, of course, Kate Camino will continue teaching Basque language courses. Horohito Norhatan will also be teaching, but in the Political Science department. Sorte on to us all!

In grad student news, Horohito and Ziortza Gandarias will be defending their dissertations in just a few months. Time does fly! Kerri Lesh is back from her year of field work, and Marsha Hunter continues in her second semester at the Center.

In the following weeks, we will hear more from all of us at the CBS, and look forward to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko in just a few weeks. Stay tuned!

Dr. Xabier Irujo presents at the 52. Durangoko Azoka

While wrapping up my fieldwork after spending a year here in the Basque Country, I took a day to travel from Bilbao to Durango to see the famous Durango Book Fair. Aside from getting to travel with a friend to this happening scene, with numerous publishers, book stores, and new media, I was able to see a familiar face. Professor Xabier Irujo was presenting his book titled “The Verdad Alternativa“, which discusses the lies and propaganda regarding the catastrophic effects of the bombing of Gernika.  The session was well attended with standing room only, with several from the audience providing follow-up questions.

Congratulations Professor Irujo!  Look forward to seeing you and everyone else at the Center for Basque Studies in January!


Multiple acts commemorate 20 years of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

“Bilbao became the name in the architecture world of the turn of the 21 century.” Joseba Zuaika

There have been a series of acts during the last few weeks in Bilbao to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Guggenheim Reflections was a spectacular light show that lit up the Bilbao waterfront nightly between October 11 and 14.

Then on October 18, the twentieth anniversary of the museum’s inauguration, a gala dinner was held in the building itself, whose 525 guests included Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Wendy Fisher, William L. Mack, Karole Vail, and Alberto Vitole, representing the same foundation, the Lehendakari or Basque president, Iñigo Urkullu, as well as Unai Rementeria, the head of the Bizkaian Provincial Council and Juan Mari Aburto, the Mayor of Bilbao.  Guests emjoyed musical accompaniment from the renowned Orfeón Donostiarra-Donostiako Orfeoia and a special dinner menu created by the Basque Country’s leading chefs, including Eneko Atxa, Bittor Arginzoniz, Juan Mari Arzak, Elena Arzak, and Andoni Luis Aduriz.

To commemorate the occasion, too, every resident of Bizkaia has received a free invitation to the museum, and the weekend of October 21-22 it was free to visit.

CBS professor Joseba Zulaika, who has published extensively about the Guggenheim Museum, said this about the anniversary:

The twenty years history of the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum presents a complex diversity of contrasting stories. The most spectacular one is obviously architecture. Bilbao became the name in the architecture world of the turn of the 21 century. It presents the paradigm to measure how architecture could transform a city’s urban fabric. With the iconic architecture came the awareness of the singular relevance of image for a struggling city. The news was no longer Bilbao’s post-industrial ruin and terrorism, and this meant more tourism and more foreign investment. The psychology of the city revived, its multi secular can-do spirit restored. These have been great stories for Bilbao and for Basque society in general. But there is no historical process without its shadows. There was initially a widespread opposition to the idea of a New York museum’s satellite in Bilbao. There were solid arguments to oppose it: the secretiveness and opacity of the agreement, the asymmetries in the sharing of the costs and power structures, the very model of a transnational franchise museum. What nobody knew was that Gehry would produce such an spectacular building hailed as a masterpiece worldwide, and that Bilbao would become the model for other cities to be transformed by architecture. The imposition of urban renewal by spectacular architecture left aside other less grandiose but more participative projects such as Gorordo-Oteiza’s Cultural Center. Nor did it resolve the tension between the strategic investment in the internationalization of arts versus the need to promote local arts, or the conflict between maintaining downtown flagship facilities versus the neglect of marginalized neighborhoods. Parodying Magritte’s pipe photograph with the caption “This is not a pipe,” you could say of the Bilbao Guggenheim that “This is not a museum.” But it is also a museum. And on most accounts, even if you dislike some of the trends it brought in art as commodity and spectacle, it is the best thing that happened to Bilbao during these twenty years.

One of the Center’s flagship publications is Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim, edited by Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika. This multiple-authored work, representing the reflections of a conference held at the CBS in 2004, seeks to address the initial impact of the Guggenheim on the social, economic, political, and cultural landscape of Bilbao, the Basque Country, and beyond. The book is also available free to download here.  

Check out, too, some of the Center’s related works:

Beyond Guernica and the Guggenheim: Art and Politics from a Comparative Perspective, edited by Zoe Bray. Free to download here

Building Time: The Relatus in Frank Gehry’s Architecture by Iñaki Begiristain.

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

Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa: Museums, Architecture, and City Renewal, by Joseba Zulaika. Free to download here

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.



October 14, 1933: Birth of poet Gabriel Aresti

Gabriel Aresti, arguably the most important poet in the Basque language still to this day, was born in Bilbao on October 14, 1933. Although his father was a Basque speaker, the family did not transmit this language to the young Aresti and he learned it on his own as a young man. After studying business at university, he went on to become an accountant in his home city, but it was in the field of Basque culture in general, and more specifically poetry, that he really made his name.

Gabriel Aresti (1933-1975)

In general terms, he was in the 1960s and 1970s, along with several other writers and artists, one of the leading champions and exponents of modernizing Basque culture and the Basque language. As regards the former, he promoted the idea of poetry as a vehicle for social awareness, as a means of exposing social problems and a medium in which regular, everyday speech could be incorporated; all this at a time of growing social ferment during the latter years of the Franco dictatorship. In terms of the latter, he was one of the most prominent defenders of creating a standardized Basque–known as Euskara Batua or Unified Basque–amid the heated debates over the topic in the 1960s.

In the words of Joseba Zulaika (in his preface to Downhill and Rock & Core):

Gabriel Aresti was the essential poet for my Basque generation of the 1960s. “If you want to write me/You know where I am,” he wrote, “In this most slippery hell/In the mouth of the devil.” It was the hell of Franco’s repressive regime, the endless darkness of his city, Bilbao, turned into an industrial and cultural wasteland. Aresti was the crucified Bilbao writer howling for justice and truth, the vulnerable man of eternal downfall who created a new poetics and a new subjectivity.

Gabriel Aresti died in June 1975.

Aresti’s poetry was published for the first time in English this year by the Center. Downhill and Rock & Core, translated by Amaia Gabantxo and with an introduction by Jon Kortazar, brings together two of Aresti’s key works: Maldan behera (1959) and Harri eta herri (1964). The poems appear in both Basque and English.

Check out, too, Pello Salaburu’s fascinating study of how standard Basque was created in Writing Words. Here, Salaburu talks at length about Aresti’s involvement in establishing this new language.


Kerri Lesh posts on Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition blog

Kerri Lesh, a PhD candidate at the Center in sociolinguistics and anthropology, recently posted on the Society for the Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) blog. In “Size Matters: How Semiotics is Making History in the World of Wine,” Lesh discusses the recent agreement on the part of Rioja winemakers to accept a separate designation whereby the Rioja wines of the Basque province of Araba/Álava are clearly demarcated from other wines within the overall Rioja brand.

What’s more, as noted in the post, Lesh has also co-organized, alongside Anne Lally, and will chair the panel “Taste and Terroir as Anthropological Matter” at the forthcoming annual American Anthropological Association meeting, to be held this November in Washington D.C.

Read the full post here.

New documents about Juan Sebastian Elkano available online

Juan Sebastian Elkano (1476-1526)

As we noted in a previous post, Juan Sebastian Elkano (also spelled Elcano) led the first circumnavigation of the world in 1522. Yet as a recent report in El Diario Vasco suggests, the figure of Elkano remains very a mystery. Two serious fires in 1597 and 1836 the archives of Getaria, his home town, destroyed much of the information about Elkano. Last year, however, eight important documents were discovered that have come to shed more light on this major Basque historical figure.

These documents were discovered during an initiative to reorganize the archive of the Lardizabal family, the owners for centuries of the Laurgain Palace in Aia. They are administrative in nature and provide an insight into Elkano the person, his preoccupations and interests. They also include a key letter written by Elkano to King Carlos I following his return to Europe.

See the full report (in Spanish) here.

These documents have been digitalized and are now available online via the Basque National Archive here.

Elkano is a key figure in Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean by William A. Douglass.

What’s in a Song? Agur Xiberoa

Agur Xiberoa (Farewell Xiberoa) is one of the canonical songs in the Basque songbook, simultaneously a lament to the impact of enforced displacement as well as a testament to the powerful connection between people and place.

It was written in 1946 by Pierre Bordazaharre, also known as Etxahun-Iruri (1908-1979), from Iruri in Xiberoa (today known as Zuberoa). During his compulsory schooling (through age 13) Etxahun-Iruri was a good student and displayed a special interest in literature, becoming an avid reader for the rest of his life. Opportunities for humble rural people, however, to develop such interests further beyond the end of their school years were few and far between at the time and having finished his formal education he carried on the family farming tradition.

This did not prevent him, though, from taking an active part in Basque culture: he was involved in both the maskaradak and pastoralak, two key expressions of Basque culture in Zuberoa. Additionally, he also authored and helped to revolutionize the pastorala in the twentieth century, introducing more specifically Basque themes into the art form; and he was an accomplished xirulari or pipe player, wrote poetry, and was a bertsolari or improvising oral poet.

Agur Xiberua is a lament, the story of the enforced displacement many inhabitants of the province were forced to undertake in search of work and better opportunities than their homeland could offer. It stands as a testament to the cultural importance of Basque exile more generally, although its cheery tune also serves to celebrate the memory of homeland, family, and friends.

The chorus captures all of this perfectly:

Agur Xiberoa                                                            Farewell Zuberoa,

bazter güzietako xokhorik eijerrena          the most beautiful place on earth;

agur sor lekhia                                                         farewell, native land,

zuri ditit ene ametsik goxuenak                    my sweetest dreams go to you

bihotzan erditik                                                      from the bottom of my heart;

bostetan elki deitadazüt hasperena          I have often heaved a sigh,

zü ützi geroztik                                                       since I left you;

bizi niz trixterik                                                       I live in sorrow,

abandonatürik                                                         abandoned,

ez beita herririk                                                      for there is no city,

Parisez besterik,                                                    except Paris,

zü bezalakorik.                                                       which is your equal.

Some of the themes mentioned here, such as the new emphasis on Basque instead of more generically religious or French themes in the cultural expression of the pastorala as well as the impact of emigration from Zuberoa, are discussed in detail by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.

*Information sourced for this post from Orhipean, The Country of Basque.

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