Tag: History of the Basque Country (page 1 of 14)

June 23, 1448: The Burning of Arrasate-Mondragón

On June 23, 1448 an infamous conflict–the Burning of Arradsate-Mondragón–took place in Gipuzkoa. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Basque Country was the setting for what came to be known as the factional struggles or wars. In the words of Gregorio Monreal Zia, in The Old Law of Bizkaia (1452) (p. 36):

Among the Basques, as elsewhere in Europe, the Late Middle Ages witnessed violent social confrontations. In the Basque case, initially, it was a conflict between the leaders of lineages (the great traditional lineages–not unlike Scottish clans–were primarily based in the rural districts) and subsequently a rural aristocracy with the inhabitants of the recently-founded urban nuclei or villas.

The two main factions were the Gamboinos (incorporating the families Gamboa, Guevara, Balda, Olaso, Abendaño, Salazar, Ayala, Leguizamones, and allies) and the Oñacinos (made up of the families Oñaz, Mendoza, Lazcano, Mújica, Butrón, Calleja, Zurbarán, and allies).

Like other areas of the Basque Country the town of Arrasate-Mondragón was divided across these factional lines with the Bañez family part of the Gamboinos and the Guraia family belonging to the Oñacinos. In the mid-fifteenth century the town was, in fact, clearly divided between these two factions, with two mayors and two governing councils. On June 23, 1448, in an attempt to take control of the whole town, the Bañez family (with the help of forces loyal to the jauntxo or squire of nearby Oñati) invaded the Guraia neighborhood. Th Guraia family immediately enlisted its own support from Bizkaian allies and managed to repel the attack.  But the incident did not end there. The Oñacinos regrouped and tried once more. However, seeing the impossibility of their objective they instead decided to raze the town to the ground, with the ensuing fire leaving just two houses standing.

The ruling monarch at the time, Juan II of Castile and León, was so incensed by these events that he exiled those behind the plan, eventually forcing the families to sign a peace treaty.

*Image: La pacificación de los bandos en el banco de Vizcaya de la Plaza de España de Sevilla, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

The Bilbao connection of Rafael Padilla, the first major black entertainer in France

Thanks to Iñaki Azkarraga, a friend of the Center and authority on all things Bilbao, we recently came across the remarkable story of Rafael Padilla, who, under the stage name Chocolat, was the first major black entertainer in France.

Padilla was born into slavery in Cuba in 1868 and raised in the slums of Havana. He was “purchased” for 18 ounces of gold by businessman Patricio Castaño Capetillo, declared a “servant” to circumvent the newly introduced slavery abolition laws, and brought to Sopuerta, Bizkaia to do menial chores for the family. However, he managed to escape this environment in his early adolescence and found work (and freedom) in several of the many Basque quarries around Bilbao, before moving into the heart of the city itself to work in the docks in the early 1880s.  It was in Bilbao that he met Tony Grice, a traveling English clown, who, noting his strength and dexterity, hired him as an assistant and domestic servant, and out of this connection he gradually entered the entertainment world, acting as a stuntman in Grice’s act. Indeed, it was Grice who gave him the stage name Chocolat, and the duo found fame in the vibrant circus industry in France. Later, Padilla teamed up with another British clown, George Foottit, to form one of the most famous slapstick acts in France at the turn of the century; gaining great renown, he was filmed by the pioneering Lumière brothers and painted by Toulouse-Latrec (see video report below). The duo split up in 1910 and Padilla subsequently died in 1917.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article on his life here. And check out this report by Basque public television (in Spanish).

In 2016 a French movie was released about his life, titled Chocolat.

The main sponsor of the above plaque, which can be found on the Bilbao waterfront, on the Martzana Dock, near the San Anton Bridge, was Jesús Ahedo, who runs the Kalao gallery specializing in African art.

*Image of Chocolat courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

June 14, 1959: Famous Basque woodchopper Latasa achieves major feat

Ramon Latasa Elizondo (1930-1991)

On June 14, 1959, in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, the renowned Basque aizkolari (woodchopper) Ramon Latasa achieved one of his most memorable feats: that day, on the basis of major betting on the outcome, he cut through the trunk of a Eucalyptus tree with a girth of just under 17 feet (!) within 4 hours; specifically, in 3 hours and 17 minutes, and with 5,259 ax blows.

 

Ramon Latasa Elizondo was born on the Aguria baserri in Sunbilla, Nafarroa, in 1930 into a poor family. At age 17 he began working in the logging industry, gaining special fame among his coworkers for his woodchopping prowess. His most famous feat took place on April 26, 1959, when he won a legendary challenge in competition with Luxia (Juan Jose Narbaiza Ibarbia), from Azkoitia, Gipuzkoa.  In this “challenge of the century” (as it was termed at the time), the humble woodchopper from Sunbilla finished a whopping 5 minutes before his rival, leaving onlookers stunned at the feat.  Latasa continued taking part in thee challenges through the 1960s and even into the 1970s, retiring at age 47. Remembered by many as the greatest aizkolari of all time, he died in 1991.

New exhibition celebrates Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 visit to the Basque Country

We’ve already discussed in a previous post how a lot of Hollywood royalty, like Charlie Chaplin for example, spent time in the Basque Country (and we’ve still to tell the tale of Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn’s time there…but for that, watch this space!). Now it has come to our attention that the Didam art gallery in Baiona recently premiered an exhibition (running through September 3) celebrating Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 visit to promote the movie Vertigo at the Donostia-San Sebastián international film festival that year.

Hitchcock in the Basque Country, from the Bayonne website.

After arriving at Biarritz airport, “Hitch” and his wife, Alma Reville, spent four and a half days taking in the sights of Donostia and Pasai Donibane in Hegoalde (dining in the famous Camara restaurant in the latter) as well as Hendaia, Biarritz, and Baiona in Iparralde, all accompanied, perhaps not unsurprisingly given that this was a promotional visit, by numerous (and prolific) photographers. The exhibition curator, photographer Pedro Usabiaga, researched the project for five years, checking out different archives and sources. Some of the photos, such as Hitchcock posing in the pulpit of Baiona Cathedral, reveal a playful side to the master of suspense but would most likely have been banned from appearing in any publication in Franco’s Spain at the time.

Read the exhibition program (and see some of the pictures) here.

See a report on the exhibition (in French) in Sud-Ouest here.

June 4, 1873: Basque rebel priest’s squad of soldiers execute 37 border guards

On June 4, 1873, a squad of volunteer soldiers, under the command of the rebel priest Manuel Santa Cruz Loidi (pictured above), executed 37 border guards on the Endarlatza bridge between Gipuzkoa and Navarre during the Carlist War of 1872-1876. From that moment on the civil and military authorities in Gipuzkoa held annual remembrance services for those executed until the entry of Carlist forces into the province during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, when the service was suspended (despite the fact that during the nineteenth-century war Santa Cruz himself had been condemned to death on account of his sanguinary exploits by the very Carlist forces he purported to support). During that same Carlist War Sant Cruz’s squad carried a black flag with a skull and the inscription “Battle to the Death.”

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos(Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), pp. 193.

The Carlist Wars are discussed in Cameron Watson’s Modern Basque History: Eighteenth Century to the Present, available free to download here.

Santurtzi honors Basque refugee children on 80th anniversary of their evacuation

May 24 saw an emotional act marking the 80th anniversary (May 23) of the evacuation of more than 4,000 Basque children from the port of Santurtzi in Bizkaia as a result of the impending fall of Bilbao to Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War.  The act was organized by the Santurtzi City Council and Gogora: The Institute for Remembrance, Coexistence and Human Rights.

At around 1 pm the sirens of war once again symbolically sounded out in Santurtzi, as official representatives and the general public awaited the arrival of a group of people, all in their 80s and 90s and all former niños de la guerra,  aboard the Txinbito boat. As the senior citizens stepped ashore, local schoolchildren released a sea of white balloons as the public applauded.

Check out the BCA ’37 UK website, an organization dedicated to preserving the memory of those children evacuated from the Basque Country.

Images courtesy of the BCA ’37 UK website.

See, too the following articles:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/22/the-reception-of-basque-refugees-in-1937-showed-britain-at-its-best-and-worst

https://theconversation.com/the-blockade-running-british-women-at-the-forefront-of-basque-evacuations-77676

May 22, 1938: The San Cristóbal Prison Break

On May 22, 1938, some 792 prisoners escaped from Fort San Cristóbal, on Mount Ezkaba, about 2.5 miles outside Pamplona-Iruñea, in what is estimated to be one of the numerically biggest prison breaks in history.  These inmates were prisoners of war who had been detained by Franco’s rebel forces during the Spanish Civil War. There were 2,487 inmates in total in 1938, most of them Republican sympathizers arrested during the war. Condition were brutal, with prisoners suffering torture, starvation, and death.

The escape was planned by around 30 inmates, who used Esperanto to communicate among each other. It started during dinner, when the guards were most dispersed, and different groups of prisoners managed to overpower them within a half hour. Thereafter, they began their escape, but, unbeknownst to them, a soldier had witnessed the events and rushed to Pamplona-Iruñea to inform the authorities there. Ultimately, it was not so difficult to capture the escapees. They were poorly dressed, malnourished, and without any specific plan beyond just breaking out of Fort San Cristóbal. Within a matter of days, of the 795 who originally escaped, 585 were captured, 207 died or were killed, and just 3 made it to the French border and safety. Of those recaptured, 14 were sentenced to death after being singled out as ringleaders.

*Image: Monument to those who escaped from Fort San Cristóbal on the southern slope of Mount Ezkaba. Photo by Jorab, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

May 17, 1837: The Battle of Irun

On May 14, 1837, around 20,000 Liberal troops under the command of General Sir George de Lacy Evans, head of the British Legion that was assisting the forces of Isabella II during the First Carlist War, rendezvoused in Donostia-San Sebastián before setting out with the aim of taking the corridor of towns toward the French border. Taking Hernani swiftly, their Carlist opponents retreated to the border town of Irun, the ultimate goal for the Liberals. Around 12,000 of the original 20,000 took part in the assault on Irun (including 5,000 soldiers of the British Legion). The Carlists, meanwhile, were hopelessly outnumbered, with many of their number having been committed elsewhere to the so-called Royal Expedition, an attempt to attack Madrid directly and try and wrest control of the throne away from Isabella II. On May 16, the British forces began bombarding Irun and the following day, May 17, they attacked the city. The Carlist forces there, though as mentioned much less in number, defended their position stoically. Following this desperate resistance by the Carlists, though, the Liberals triumphed, pillaging Irun and carrying out widespread reprisals against their enemy. Despite efforts by de Lacy Evans to precvent such reprisals, British troops, too, took part in the pots-battle retaliations, probably due to having been humiliated by Carlist forces at the Battle of Oriamendi on March 16 that same year.  The following day Hondarribia, too, fell to the Liberal forces, who were ultimately successful in their attempt to seal the corridor to the French border.

*Image: Attack on the Behobia Gate, Irun, by the British Auxiliary Legion, during the Battle of Irun. From Twelve Views in the Basque Provinces illustrating several of the actions in which the British Legion was engaged with Carlist Troops, by Thomas Lyde Hornbrook. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

May 6, 1542: Francis Xavier arrives in Goa

On May 6, 1542, Francis Xavier, the first Jesuit missionary, arrived in Goa as part of a Portuguese mission to spread the faith in its new territories in the East Indies.  His primary goal was to  restore Christianity among European settlers in Goa, which had been a Portuguese possession for some thirty years. But ultimately, he extended his mission in attempts to convert the local population as well.

A Japanese depiction of Francis Xavier, dated to the 17th century. From the Kobe City Museum collection. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Francis Xavier–Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta–was born in Xabier (Javier) in the Kingdom of Navarre in 1506. The son of the seneschal (steward) of Xabier Castle and a high-ranking official at the royal court, he had a privileged upbringing. But ruin befell the family after the conquest of Navarre by Castile in 1512. Remaining loyal to an independent Navarre, his older brothers were involved in a failed plot to oust the Castilians. In retribution, the family lands were confiscated, the outer wall, gates, and two towers of the family castle destroyed, and its moat filled in.  Too young to participate in these events, Francis was sent to Paris to study. There he encountered Ignatius of Loyola and ultimately the two of them, along with five others, would take the famous vows of poverty and chastity as well as loyalty to the Pope at Montmartre, Paris in 1534 (the forerunner act to the establishment of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit order). Francis was ultimately ordained in 1537 and, following a request in 1540 by King John of Portugal for Christian missionaries to go to Asia, was chosen by Loyola to undertake the task.

Xabier Castle in Navarre. Photo by Jsanchezes, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He enjoyed mixed fortunes in his quest.  Starting in Goa and Portuguese India more broadly, he subsequently traveled further east, evangelizing in Malacca, the Maluku Islands, and Japan. Returning to Malacca and Goa in late 1551 and early 1552, he then set out on a new mission to China. Reaching  the island of Shangchuan in August 1552, he set about making plans to travel across to the mainland, but he was subsequently taken ill and died from a fever on December 3 that same year.

Body of Saint Francis Xavier in a silver casket of Basilica of Bom Jésus in Goa. Photo by Gaius Cornelius, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

He was beatified by Paul V in 1619 and canonized by Gregory XV in 1622 (at the same time as fellow Basque Ignatius Loyola).  Pius XI proclaimed him the “Patron of Catholic Missions” and his feast day is December 3. His relics are kept in a silver casket, elevated inside the Bom Jesus Basilica in Goa.

The story of Bilbao and salt cod

While in other parts of the world, including the US, fresh cod is a typical part of the cuisine, in the Basque Country, and especially Bilbao, it is dried and salted or just salt cod that reigns supreme. Produced for hundreds of years, the drying and salting of cod was an effective way of preserving the cod caught in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland before being transported across the Atlantic for sale in Europe.

The much prized salt cod. Picture by IanH1944, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

But the story of how salt cod came to be so popular in Bilbao is particularly illuminating. In 1824 the Spanish government established state control of this important food source with all imports subject to strict controls. Smaller dealers, in turn, tried to get around the new controls by only making modest orders in an attempt to keep under the government radar, so to speak. In 1835, one such dealer, Simón Gurtubay Zubero–not, as some sources claim, his son José María (who was four-years-old at the time)–sent one of these orders to his supplier in Great Britain. However, a clerical error along the line meant that the order, which was made for “100 o 120” (as in “100 or 120” in English), was interpreted as being for 1,000,120 salted cods. With a flourish of Bizkaian self-assurance (Simón himself, though resident in Bilbao, had been born in Igorre), the intrepid Gurtubay accepted the order and began making arrangements to offload his rather large order wherever he could. Just at that very moment, though, with the First Carlist War (1833-39) already underway, Carlist troops laid siege to Bilbao in 1836, provoking a major shortage of provisions in the city. Suddenly Gurtubay became the savior of the city, with his warehouses full of this now almost priceless commodity.  The city withstood the siege, Gurtubay went on to establish one of the biggest fortunes in the country, using a lot of that wealth and influence to establish the Bank of Bilbao and the Bilbao Chamber of Commerce, as well as to build the hospitals of Basurto and Igorre, his birthplace.

See this short TV report on the Gurtubay family, cod, and Bilbao (in Spanish) here.

Cod Pil-Pil. Picture by jlastras, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

And Bilbao came to be the city of salt cod, which is served typically in two ways: in the white pil-pil sauce (really, the natural oils of the fish plus olive oil and garlic) or in the red Bizkaian sauce (made from onions and sweet dried red pepper). Check out the late Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, free to download here from the Etxepare Basque Institute, for a discussion of and recipes for both sauces. See, too, of course, Mark Kurlansky’s wonderful Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.

Salt Cod in Bizkaian Sauce. Picture by Tamorlan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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