Tag: Basque history (page 1 of 22)

May 13, 1890: First major general strike in Bizkaia

On May 13, 1890, two hundred miners at the Orconera Iron Ore Company Limited walked out in protest over the firing of five colleagues (and socialist activists) for their part in organizing protests over working conditions to coincide with international May Day that year. News of the walk out spread quickly to other mines and thousands more eventually went on strike. It was the first major strike in the “new” industrial Bizkaia, and set a pattern for labor protest that would extend until well into the twentieth century.

Nineteenth-century miners.

By midday on May 13, the ranks of the miners had swelled to some 4-5,000 men. gathering in the hilly terrain rising up from the left bank of Greater Bilbao in which they plied their trade, the miners then descended to the industrial satellite towns of Ortuella and Gallarta, where they were joined by a further 2-3,000 factory workers. By day’s end, production throughout the whole left-bank mining zone–the area at the heart of Bilbao’s spectacular industrial transformation process in the nineteenth century–had come to a complete standstill.

Mine workers in Gallarta, Bizkaia.

The strikers then planned to march on Bilbao itself the following day, with the addition of thousands of other workers from the riverside cities of Barakaldo and Sestao. By some estimates, some 20-30,000 were now on strike from both mines and factories and they were intent intent on marching toward Bilbao. The authorities in turn perceived this as a real threat and by the afternoon of May 14 placed the army on standby to counter any such march. What’s more, the activists coordinating the protest were arrested.

By May 15, there was a stalemate: production had been dramatically reduced in the principal mining and manufacturing area of Bizkaia, yet the strikers were unwilling to confront the armed forces. This in turn encouraged some mines and factories to return to work. That day, too, the jailed strike leaders issued a series of demands that were flatly refused by the collective mine and factory owners–for them, nothing short of complete defeat and humiliation of the striking workers would be acceptable.

General José María Loma Arguelles (1822-1893).

Yet just at that moment, a conciliatory figured appeared in the shape of one General José María de Loma–a native of Araba and head of the armed forces controlling the situation. He actually threatened to withdraw his troops if the owners did not sit down and negotiate the demands of the workers. This they were forced to do, and the result was the so-called Loma Pact in which many of the original demands, regarding basic working hours for example, were met. By May 17, the industrial zone of Bilbao was back to normal and a larger-scale crisis had been averted.

For a more detailed account of the strike, see Ricardo Miralles, “La Gran Huelga Minera de 1890. En los Orígines del Movimiento Obrero en el País Vasco,” Historia Contemporánea, 3 (1990): 15-44. Free to download here.

May 6, 1463: Jacob Gaon, king’s tax collector, killed in Tolosa

On May 6, 1463, Jacob Gaon, a tax collector for King Henry IV of Castile, was killed in Tolosa (Gipuzkoa) over a dispute involving rights relating to the foruak/fueros (the charters governing Basque fiscal and institutional relations with central political authority).

Gaon came from a prominent Jewish family in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Araba) and like several relatives worked as a tax collector for the Kings of Castile, to which the province of Gipuzkoa belonged. Indeed, since 1256, Tolosa had enjoyed its own foru/fuero regulating its independent fiscal status within the Castilian political orbit (the result of its strategically important position on the border with the rival Kingdom of Navarre); an agreement that was amended in both 1282 and 1290 to exempt inhabitants from numerous royal tributes.

Henry IV of Castile (1463). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In May 1463 Gaon went to Tolosa with the aim of demanding the so-called pedido tax, which, the locals claimed, they had never paid before on account of their foral privileges. After threatening them, several inhabitants killed Gaon, beheaded him, and put his head  on top of a pillory for all to see. On hearing the news, Henry IV, who was at the time in Hondarribia, also in Gipuzkoa, stopped at Tolosa on his way back to Castile in search of the culprits. Unable to locate them, having been informed that they had taken refuge in a nearby mountain “on the other side of the river,” he settled instead for demolishing the house in which the crime had taken place.

Subsequently, however, on receiving documents demonstrating that the inhabitants of Tolosa had never paid the pedido tax on account of foral law,  Henry acknowledged the exemption and issued a pardon.

For an excellent introduction to the Basque foral system, see The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452): A Critical Edition, edited and annotated by Gregorio Monreal.

April 29, 1784: Death of Basque soldier and New World politician Agustín de Jáuregui

Agustín de Jáuregui (1711-1784). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On April 29, 1784, shortly after leaving his post as viceroy of Peru, the Basque soldier and politician Agustín de Jáuregui y Aldecoa died in an accident in Lima.

Born in Lekaroz in the Baztan Valley of Navarre in 1711, he entered into the military at the age of twenty-five and crossed the Atlantic to , fighting at the British siege of Cartagena de las Indias in 1740, and rising to the rank of lieutenant general. Later, he also saw active service against the British in Cuba and Honduras and in Spain’s siege of the Portuguese city of Almeida in 1762.

In 1772 he was appointed governor of what was termed at the time the Captaincy General of Chile. While governor, he promulgated a series of administrative reforms, including establishing a postal service and overseeing the first census there. He also carried out reforms related to public order, reorganized the tax-collection system, and created a militia to serve as a kind of rural police force as well as a reserve military unit.

In 1780 he was appointed viceroy of the Viceroyalty of Peru. Almost immediately, he had to deal with the Túpac Amaru rebellion of 1780, an uprising of native and mestizo people against the so-called Bourbon reforms in Peru: changes designed to strengthen Spanish royal power there by giving more power to royal officials. Jáuregui succeeded in defeating the leader of the revolt, Túpac Amaru II (José Gabriel Condorcanqui) in 1781, and he was subsequently executed. Other rebel leaders were killed or executed in the period 1781 to 1783.

Shortly after leaving his post in April 1784, Jáuregui died in an accident in Lima. There were rumors that he had been poisoned beforehand as revenge for crushing the Túpac Amaru rebellion so brutally, but these remain unsubstantiated.

 

April 23, 1911: Inauguration of “El Irati” railroad

On April 23, 1911, what came to be known popularly as the “El Irati” railroad in Navarre–a 36-mile-long railroad connecting Pamplona-Iruñea to Zangoza and Agoitz (Aioz)–was inaugurated. It was the first electrified railroad in Spain, and indeed among the first in Europe, and it would operate until 1955.

It was conceived originally as a means of aiding development of the lumber industry in the Irati Forest (today a major tourist destination in Navarre) and in particular the major sawmill in Ekai de Lónguida/Ekai-Longida. However, it also became an important passenger line, especially for people traveling between Zangoza and Agoitz. Although plans to develop a railroad in the area went back as far as 1868, it was not until 1900 that they were taken up again seriously–this time concerning an electrified railroad–by local entrepreneur Domingo Elizondo, the principal developer of the lumber industry in the Irati Forest. With the support of the Provincial Council of Navarre, Spanish government approval was conceded to the project in the years 1907-8, and the El Irati company was created to oversee the project. The railroad itself was subsequently constructed between 1909 and 1911.

Domingo Elizondo (1848-1929)

For the next thirty years it functioned successfully. A 1941 study calculated that the railroad transported an average of over 240,000 people and 46,000 tonnes of goods a year. At about this time, it began to decline in terms of passenger numbers as buses became a more and more typical site in rural Navarre. By the mid-1950s, its losses were significant enough to force the El Irati company to write all the city councils of the towns through which it passed asking for financial aid to keep the railroad running. Failing to get the sufficient financial support, though, the line was closed definitively on December 31, 1955.

Nowadays, where part of the railroad once ran there is the Greenway of the Gorge at Lumbier-Irunberri, a 4-mile trail for hikers and bicyclists to enjoy. Since 2013, however, work has been ongoing in developing this track further to encompass much of the original length of the railroad in a trail measuring over 28 miles in total and running from Uztarrotz  to Zangoza.

Check out numerous historical images of the railroad here.

And there is an interesting and detailed article on the history of the railroad, “Ferrocaril del Irati – de Pamplona a Sangüesa y ramal a Aoiz,” here.

 

 

April 19, 2004: Inauguration of Bilbao Exhibition Centre

BEC entrance. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On April 19, 2004 the Bilbao Exhibition Centre (known as BEC) was inaugurated in Barakaldo. Jointly owned by the Basque Government, the Provincial Council of Bizkaia, Bilbao City Council, Barakaldo City Council, and the Bilbao Chamber Of Commerce, it is the premier convention center in the Basque Country, with around 160 events and 1 million visitors annually.

It boasts six exhibition halls, a conference center, a multi-purpose arena–the Bizkaia Arena, used for concerts, basketball games, and movies–as well as an atrium and restaurants, office space, open areas, and a parking lot. In November this year, the Bizkaia Arena will host the MTV Europe Music Award, known as the EMAs, an event we’ll be sure to post on, so watch this space for more news on who’ll be walking up the red carpet this fall!

Check out the BEC website here.

And see a previous CBS post on BEC from August 2016 that discusses its history and impact.

April 9, 1914: Birth of Feminist Anarchist Militant “Kaxilda”

On April 9, 1914, Soledad Casilda Hernáez Vargas was born to a single mother in Zizurkil, Gipuzkoa. In the 1930s she became a well-known feminist political activist and anarchist militant in Gipuzkoa, taking an active part in fighting at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War as well as later in the French Resistance against the Nazi occupation of France.

Kasilda (1914-1992)

Subsequently known as Kasilda, Kaxilda, Kasi, or “la Miliciana,” she was raised in  Donostia-San Sebastián in a Bohemian family with strong connections to the anarchist movement. As a young woman in the early 1930s she caused a scandal by bathing nude on the Zurriola Beach in Donostia. Becoming an activist in the anarchist movement, she was arrested in 1934 for distributing propaganda and possessing explosives during the revolutionary strike of October that year.  She was, though, released in 1936 as part of a general amnesty conceded by the newly elected Popular Front coalition government in Madrid. On leaving prison prison, she met fellow Basque anarchist activist Felix Likiano (1909-1982), her partner for the rest of her life.

When the Civil War broke out in July 1936, she joined Likiano in the anarchist militia formed to defend Donostia against the attack of the rebel troops, seeing active service in the Battle of Irun (Aug. 27 – Sep. 5, 1936) and, later, after the fall of her home city, also as part of the Hilario-Zamora Column on the Aragon and Ebro Fronts in 1938. With the triumph of the rebels, however, she and Likiano fled to France, where they were subsequently arrested and sent to the Argelès-sur-Mer and Gurs concentration camps. Released in 1940, the couple then moved first to Baiona in Lapurdi, but ultimately settled in Bordeaux, where their home–nicknamed the “Basque Consulate”–became a well-known meeting place for exiled Spanish Republicans. With the Nazi occupation of France they collaborated actively with the French Resistance.

After a spell in Paris, they returned to the Basque Country, settling in Biarritz. She died in 1992 and on her gravestone one can read the inscription “Andra! Zu zera bukatzen ez den sua!” (Woman! You’re the fire that never goes out!).

April 3, 1942: Birth of Basque language and culture activist Argitxu Noblia

Argitxu Noblia in 2010. Photo by Adrar, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On April 3, 1942, Claire “Argitxu” Noblia was born in Angelu, Lapurdi, at the height of the Nazi occupation of Iparralde or the Northern Basque Country in World War II.  She would go on to found the first ikastola or Basque-medium school in Iparralde in 1969 as well as being a prominent figure in the world of politics and Basque culture in the north.

After studying medicine in Bordeaux she returned to the Basque Country where she worked as an anesthetist in Baiona until retiring in 2002. Outside of work, however, she became active in Basque culture and politics. In 1969, at the head of a group of parents working on their own initiative and together with Libe Goñi, she established a proto-ikastola in her own home in Baiona–just prior to creating the first specific school premises in Arrangoitze–and served as the first director of Seaska, the organization overseeing ikastolas in the north, for six years. She was also part of a group of people that founded the Elkar publishing house in Baiona in 1971 and was involved in the association promoting the creation of the Basque-language radio station Gure Irratia in 1981.

She took an early interest in politics while still at university and stood as a candidate for one of the first Basque nationalist formations in Iparralde, Enbata, in the 1960s. She served on the Baiona city council between 1989 and 1995, and was then briefly head of the Iparralde section of the Basque Nationalist Party before later joining Eusko Alkartasuna.

If all that were not enough, she has also been an advocate of public health, peace, and women’s issues, serving in numerous associations to this end. In 1995 she received the Grand Prix Humanitaire from the French government and in 2009 the Femmes 3000 federation awarded her with a prize for her voluntary work.

One of the Center’s publications, The Transformation of National Identity in he Basque Country of France, 1789-2006 by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga, discusses the social, political, and cultural context in which Argitxu Noblia has been such an influential figure in Iparralde.

March 27, 1944: Bombing of Biarritz by US Air Force

At 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday, March 27, 1944, toward then end of World War II, the Basque towns of Biarritz and Angelu in Lapurdi was bombed by 44 Consolidated B-24 Liberators in the 458th and 466th Bomb Groups.  In eight minutes they dropped 44 tonnes of bombs on the Nazi-occupied town, resulting in 117 casualties and around 250 injuries.

The official aim of the mission that day–according to the archives–was to destroy the nearby Parma airfield and the Latécoère aircraft company factory, although it is also likely that it included the target of a German base there storing V-1 doodlebugs and V-2 rockets. Moreover, the Nazis had constructed a major command center in bunkers beneath Biarritz. The mission was part of the conclusion of a more general strategy to bomb occupied France on the part of the Allies between June 1940 and May 1945; and served as a prelude to the D-Day landings of June 1944 in Normandy. However, lacking the necessary precision technology, many devices went astray in the carpet bombing and hit the civilian population as well as the Nazi occupiers, with approximately one hundred German soldiers among the dead, and destroying 375 residential homes in the process too.

See “Les mystères du bombardement de Biarritz” in Sud-Ouest, March 26, 2013 (in French) and “70 urte, AEBko hegazkinek Biarritz eta Angelu bonbardatu zituztela” at EITB, March 27, 2014 (in Basque). Check out a video report on the bombing by ETB, the Basque public broadcaster, here (in Basque) and listen to a fascinating piece of oral history in this first-hand account by people who experienced the bombing (in Basque).

The Center’s own Sandra Ott has written extensively on the German occupation of the Basque Country during World War II. Check out her War, Judgment, And Memory In The Basque Borderlands, 1914-1945 and Living With the Enemy: German Occupation, Collaboration and Justice in the Western Pyrenees, 1940–1948as well as her edited work, War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946.

Note (from Wikipedia): At the end of World War II in Europe, the U.S. Army’s Information and Educational Branch was ordered to establish an overseas university campus for demobilized American service men and women in Biarritz. Under General Samuel L. McCroskey, the hotels and casinos of Biarritz were converted into quarters, labs, and class spaces for U.S. service personnel. The University opened August 10, 1945 and about 10,000 students attended an eight-week term. This campus was set up to provide a transition between army life and subsequent attendance at a university in the US, so students attended for just one term. After three successful terms, the G.I. University closed in March 1946.

March 19, 1367: The Battle of Inglesmendi, the English Mount

On March 19, 1367, what came to be known as the Battle of Inglesmendi (the English Mount) near Ariñez/Ariñiz in Araba took place. Here, once again in history, the Basque Country was the site of a broader conflict that even drew in European powers. Araba had been part of the Kingdom of Castile since 1199 and this was an episode in the Castilian Civil War, a war of succession in the period 1351-1369 that ultimately became part of a larger conflict then raging between England and France, the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). Basically, England supported the succession to the Castilian throne of the reigning monarch, King Peter, the Cruel, while France supported (tacitly rather than officially) the candidacy of his illegitimate brother Count Henry of Trastámara.

Edward, the Black Prince. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout March, Henry’s forces, including significant Aragonese noblemen and French free companies led by the Breton knight Betrand du Guesclin, engaged their counterparts on the side of Peter, a similar mercenary force made up principally of English and Gascons and led by Edward of Woodstock, the so-called Black Prince, the eldest son of Edward III, King of England.  Henry’s forces were adept at the use of guerrilla tactics against the superior numbers of the Black Prince.

Henry II of Castile, from La Virgen de Tobed by Jaume Serra. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the Inglesmendi encounter, a vanguard of Henry’s army formed by jinetes (Castilian light cavalry) had wiped out a detachment of the Black Prince’s army and then headed back to their base. On their way, they met with an exploration detachment of the Black Prince’s army. After suffering many casualties, the Black Prince’s troops entrenched in a nearby mountain, where English longbowmen resisted Henry’s Castilian light cavalry. The cavalry then changed tactics; its French and Aragonese horsemen dismounted and attacked as infantry, winning the battle, and taking many prisoners. Thereafter, the mountain would be known as Inglesmendi (the English Mount, in Basque).

Battle of Nájera with the Black Prince and Peter the Cruel allied (to the left of the image) against Henry II of Castile and the French. 15th century Jean Froissart’s Chronicles (Bib. Nat. Fr., FR 2643, fol. 312v). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It was a surprise defeat for the Black Prince, hitherto considered invincible. However, while his forces were temporarily demoralized by the setback, he ultimately recovered, and with broader political events favoring King Peter, he ultimately defeated Henry’s troops at the Battle of Nájera in La Rioja on April 3. That said, Henry himself managed to escape across the Pyrenees and continued to fight Peter. Moreover, Peter lost the support of England on account of his non-payment of dues for the assistance offered, was isolated internationally, and was eventually killed by Henry at the Battle of Montiel in 1369, resulting in Henry II assuming the throne of Castile.

March 10, 1784: Birth of Basque Enlightenment Figure Maria del Pilar Acedo Sarria

Maria del Pilar de Acedo y Sarria, Countess of Echauz, Countess of Vado, Marchioness of Montehermoso (1784-1869). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On March 10, 1784, Maria del Pilar Acedo y Sarria was born in Tolosa, Gipuzkoa, to José María Manuel Acedo y Atodo, Count of Echauz and Luisa de Sarria y Villafañe, Countess of Vado. Her father was a member of the renowned Royal Basque Society of Friends of the Country, an important eighteenth-century Enlightenment institution that fostered scientific, cultural, and economic learning with the aim of contributing to the improvement of Basque society. Raised in an Enlightened aristocratic environment, she spent most of her early years being educated in Vitoria-Gasteiz. In 1800 she married a nobleman, Ortuño María de Aguirre y del Corral, Marquis of Montehermoso, the head of the Provincial Council of Araba and also a member of the Royal Basque Society. They settled in a family palace in Vitoria-Gasteiz and would go on to have one daughter, Maria Amalia, in 1801. Domestic life, as befitted an aristocratic family so connected to the Royal Basque Society, was one of education, learning, debate, and numerous social gatherings. Maria del Pilar Acedo was fluent in several languages, wrote poetry, and played the guitar as well as being an enthusiastic participant in these gatherings with similarly Enlightened company.

The Sixteenth-Century Montehermoso Palace, Vitoria-Gasteiz. Today, the Montehermoso Cultural Center. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1807, Vitoria-Gasteiz was occupied by French troops as part of the Peninsular War (1807-1814), Napoleon’s campaign to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. And in 1808, Napoleon named his older brother, Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain. On a trip to Madrid that year, Acedo met the elder Bonaparte and he in turn visited Vitoria-Gasteiz, where he stayed at her palace.  The two became lovers and she accompanied him when he returned to Madrid, where she “officially” became his mistress. At the same time, her husband was also welcomed in the king’s trusted circle. But his rule was not a happy one. He was unpopular and had no influence in the ongoing Peninsular War. He ultimately abdicated and returned to France after the French defeat at the Battle of Vitoria-Gasteiz in 1813. He was accompanied once more, by Acedo, whose husband had died (while accompanying King Joseph on a trip to France) in 1811. However, shortly after arriving in France, their relationship ended.

Having inherited lands, wealth, and titles from both her parents, Acedo was free to live indepedently in France. She lived temporarily in several places there, including Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz) in Lapurdi. In 1816, she remarried a French noble military officer Jacques Amádée de Carabène, and they settled in Carresse Castle in Bearn, where she lived off the income from her estates in Spain and spent the rest of her life carrying out charitable works. She lived a long and full life and died there in 1869.

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