Tag: Basque history (page 1 of 20)

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!

 

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.

 

October 7, 1936: First Basque Government Formed

The first Basque Government was created on October 7, 1936, shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The government was led by Jose Antonio Agirre and was based in Bilbao’s emblematic Hotel Carlton.

Agirre and other government members address crowd from balcony of Hotel Carlton

Given that holding elections was impossible on account of the outbreak of the civil war in July 1936, a transitional decree was approved whereby the councilmen of municipalities in territory not occupied by the military rebels would elect the first lehendakari or Basque president. They duly elected Jose Antonio Agirre unanimously at a meeting in the historic assembly hall in Gernika. Agirre subsequently formed the first Basque government from among his own Basque Nationalist Party as well as the other parties that formed part of the Popular Front, the democratically elected coalition governing the Second Spanish Republic that Franco’s military uprising was seeking to overthrow.

The importance of Agirre and the first Basque government were explored at a major international conference whose results were published in The International Legacy of the Lehendakari Jose A. Agirre’s Government, edited by Xabier Irujo and Mari Jose Olaziregi.

 

October 1, 1910: Pioneering Basque aviator Benito Loygorri crash-lands in Donostia-San Sebastián

Benito Loygorri Pimentel (1885-1976)

Born in Biarritz, Lapurdi, but raised in Gipuzkoa, Benito Loygorri Pimentel was an engineer and a pioneering Basque aviator. At the age of 18 he witnessed one of the early flights by the Wright brothers in France, specifically in Pau, near the Basque Country, and Le Mans, and was captivated by the idea of flying. He subsequently became the first person in Spain to achieve an international pilot’s license in August 1910. Shortly after this, on October 1, 1910, he set off from Biarritz airport to give a flying exhibition above the city of Donostia-San Sebastián. Some 35 minutes after taking off, and with his girlfriend by his side, he entered the city and circled the bay.  Conflicting accounts exist on what happened next, but whatever the case, he landed the aircraft right there in the middle of the city on Ondarreta Beach, either intentionally or not. In “Benito Loygorri, primer piloto español,” Alejandro Polanco Masa quotes an article in the journal of the time Vida Marítima that stated: “he landed without any incident at all.” A contrasting report is given by José Delfín Val in “Un aviador pionero y su hermano, el ilustrador de novelas ‘picantes‘,” who writes that the plane, “crashed into the water on account of the engine cutting out near Ondarreta Beach.” Loygorri went on to have a long and eventful life, abandoning the burgeoning world of aviation in the 1920s to concentrate on a career in industry, most notably becoming the head of General Motors in Spain and Portugal. He died at age 90 and a commemorative stamp was issue in his honor in Spain.

 

September 24, 1596: Royal Provision leads to 200-year-long dispute over mining rights in Bizkaia

On September 24, 1596, a Royal Provision (a measure or proclamation falling somewhat short of a law but more important than a mere regulation) awarded two individuals, Domigo Olabe and Santiago Madariaga, the exclusive right to exploit the whole territory of Bizkaia for the mining of gold, silver, lead, tin, and copper. The Seigniory of Bizkaia, through its own government, opposed the measure on the grounds that it breached the Fuero or Law of Bizkaia, the legal codification that established the basis on which the Seigniory retained jurisdiction over a wide range of matters and formed part of the Castilian political orbit. In turn, the Seigniory took legal action against the decision in a case that lasted just short of 200 years! In November 1791 the case was settled in Bizkaia’s favor.

Information taken from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos, p. 102.

For more information on the intricate system codified in the Fuero, check out Gregorio Monreal Zia, The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452): Introductory Study and Critical Edition.

September 22, 1588: Miguel de Oquendo’s ship catches fire and kills many in failed Armada expedition

In the late summer of 1588 one of the most important naval confrontations in European history took place.  On the orders of Philip II a fleet of 130 ships sailed from Spain, in principle to escort armed forces from the Spanish Netherlands that had been amassed with the purpose of invading England and overthrowing the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. Significant parts of the Armada were led by two prominent Basque admirals: Juan Martínez de Recalde Larrinaga from Bilbao and Miguel de Oquendo y Segura from Donostia-San Sebastián. However, the fleet delayed attacking the English, then became unstuck in unfavorable weather conditions. Harried by the counter-attacking English fleet, the ships of the Armada were forced away from the southern English coast.

Miguel de Oquendo y Segura (1534-1588)

One of the tactics used by the English and their Dutch allies was to set empty ships alight and send them into the anchored counterparts of the Armada, and in doing so numerous ships caught fire. One of those was the Capitana, Oquendo’s own ship, which fell victim to the attack, killing many of the crew. While it was claimed at the time that Oquendo managed to return to the port of Pasaia, Gipuzkoa, in another ship on September 24, it seems more likely that he died at sea on September 22. Recalde suffered a similar fate, although he did manage to return the port of A Coruña in Galicia, where he dies from wounds sustained at sea.

Basque involvement in global maritime history is discussed in some detail by William A. Douglass in his Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean.

 

September 13, 1936: Fall of Donostia-San Sebastián in Spanish Civil War

On September 13, 1936, five columns of Navarrese troops marched into Donostia-San Sebastián, meeting with no resistance, to take the city in the name of the military rebels who had risen up two months earlier against the democratically elected government of the Second Spanish Republic.

Map showing the frontline in Gipuzkoa until October 1936 in one-week intervals, as of late evening every Sunday, by Dd1495, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

That previous July, the garrison of Spanish troops stationed in Donostia had actually joined in the military uprising but it was put down by socialist and anarchist militiamen loyal to the republic. In August, however, Navarrese troops (the requetés or Carlist militias who sided with the military rebels during the war), aided by some Gipuzkoan Carlists, began a campaign to seal off the border at Irun, thereby cutting off a potential arms supply from France for the pro-Republic forces. After laying siege to the town, and with aerial support, the rebels took Irun on September 5,  effectively paving the way to march on toward Donostia. With the fall of Irun, a westward drift of refugees (those that did not manage to cross the border into Iparralde) began that would define much of the civilian experience of the civil war in the Basque Country.

Rebel troops entering Donostia

Having suffered bombardment from sea, and with rebel troops advancing into the city from both the east and inland Gipuzkoa, Donostia ultimately fell without resistance.

Be sure to check out War, Exile, Justice, and Everyday Life, 1936-1946, edited by Sandra Ott, a key work that among other themes examines the effects of war on ordinary people in the Basque Country. This book is available free to download here.

The Center has also recently published David Lyon’s Bitter Justice, an important study based on a wealth of primary material that examines the fate of Basque prisoners during the Spanish Civil War.

 

September 6, 1522: Elkano arrives back in Europe to complete first circumnavigation of world

September 6, 1522 marks the historic date on which Basque seafarer, Juan Sebastian Elkano (also spelled Elcano) set foot once more on European soil after successfully leading the first expedition to sail round the world (following the death of original expedition leader Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines in 1521).

The final voyage of the Victoria, the ship skippered by Elkano, was by no means without incident. William A. Douglass picks up the story in his Basque Explorers in the Pacific Ocean (p. 85), from the time the expedition left the Moluccas (or Maluku Islands, in present day Indonesia):

The Victoria set sail on December 21, 1521, with a contingent of sixty, including thirteen islanders from Tidore. They were negotiating hostile Portuguese waters as they skirted India and the Cape of Good Hope, never daring to land and therefore subject to great privations. By the time they arrived in the Cape Verde islands, on July 9, 1522, an additional twenty-eight men had perished. The Portuguese authorities managed to capture and imprison thirteen of the crew, including two Basques who had gone ashore in search of food and water. After it became evident that the governor would not release the captives, Elkano set sail, and on September 6, 1522, the Victoria reached the Spanish port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda with eighteen Europeans (three Basques, including himself) and four islanders on board, as well as a modest cargo of spices that was impounded immediately by Cristóbal de Haro to satisfy the expedition’s financial obligations.

In Selected Basque Writings (p. 53), the renowned philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt also makes mention of this feat, noting that Elkano “was thus the first to have really circumnavigated the world and Charles V gave him a coat of arms of a globe with the known engraving: ‘You are the first to have circled m’ (Primus me circumdedisti). The Victoria was kept as a holy remnant of this voyage until it fully disintegrated of age.”

In previous posts, we have discussed Elkano’s death on yet another expedition (see here) and new online documents that shed more light on his personality (see here).

August 31, 1813: Burning of Donostia-San Sebastián

“The Storming of San Sebastian” by Denis Dighton (c) The National Trust for Scotland, Leith Hall Garden & Estate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

August 31 is a key date in the history of Donostia-San Sebastián. It marks the day on which, during the Peninsular War (1807-1814), victorious British and Portuguese troops that had been involved in laying siege to the (French-controlled) city that summer ran amok, razing Donostia-San Sebastián to the ground.

Donostia stood as the last major outpost of French control and the prize target for the combined allied powers of Britain, Spain, and Portugal in their attempts to crush Napoleonic French influence in the Iberian Peninsula. It was, however, well fortified and the siege of the city by the advancing troops under British command had lasted all summer.

When, finally, the allied troops did break through the main lines of defence on August 31, they ran amok, looting and pillaging from the innocent inhabitants of the city, which had been occupied by French forces for the previous five years. Most of the city was razed to the ground as a result, kept burning for several days thereafter, and had to be built again, practically from scratch.

The awful events of are remembered annually in Donostia with a nighttime torchlight procession taking place along August 31 street on this date.

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.

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