Tag: History of the Basque Country (page 1 of 23)

August 11, 1972: Birth of cyclist Joane Somarriba

Cycling is one of the most popular sports, both spectator and participation, in the Basque Country and one of its most successful and renowned  exponents is Joane Somarriba Arrola. Born in Gernika on August 11, 1972, she faced a tough start to her cycling career. While preparing to take part in the summer Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, she suffered complications from minor surgery, resulting in her missing the games and putting her budding career on hold. She fought back to fitness and was competing on the pro-circuit by the mid-1990s.

At the end of that decade she really hit her golden period, winning the Giro d’Italia (now known as the Giro Rosa), Italy’s premier road race, in 1999 and 2000, as well as the famed Tour de France in 2000, 2001, and 2003. Moreover, in 2003 she also won the World Time Trial Championship. She brought her illustrious career to a close in 2005 by winning the Trophée d’Or Féminin in France, one of the principal women’s stage races.

She was named best athlete of the year in Spain in 2003, and she was also honored with the Universal Basque Award in 2004, one of the most prestigious honors for Basque people, for her contributions to gender equality in Basque sports and for raising awareness of the Basque Country abroad.

If you’re interested in the topic of Basque sports, check out the CBS Press publication Playing Fields: Power, Practice, and Passion in Sport, edited by Mariann Vaczi, also available free to download here.

August 8, 1897: Assassination of Spanish Prime Minister in the Basque Country

Antonio Cánovas del Castillo (1828-1897). Portrait by Ricardo de Madrazo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Antonio Cánovas del Castillo (1828-1897). Portrait by Ricardo de Madrazo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Antonio Cánovas del Castillo was one of the most important Spanish politicians in the nineteenth century, serving a total of six terms as prime minister. He was the chief architect behind the implementation of the so-called Restoration Monarchy system after 1876, a transformation that included the abolishing of the fueros or charters that had guaranteed the Basque provinces major devolved decision-making powers to that date. On August 8, 1897, however, Cánovas was assasinated infamously in the Basque Country. In Basque Nationalism and Political Violence, Cameron J. Watson  describes the event thus (pp. 84-85):

That August Sunday, Cánovas, who had been spending the traditional vacation month in the Basque spa town of Santa Agueda (Gipuzkoa), was shot twice by an Italian anarchist, Michele Angiolillo. Cánovas died instantly. At the time, it was widely suspected that members of “colonial secret societies” had been involved in the assassination, but it subsequently came to light that Angiolillo had acted solely on behalf of the anarchists. “We’ve just heard the auspicious news of the death of the Spanish pig,” wrote [Sabino] Arana that same day in a private letter, “National Joy!”

While there was a genuine reaction of shock throughout Spain, in the Basque Country (at least in rural areas), this was not the case. The residents of Bergara (Gipuzkoa), where Angiolillo was being held pending trial, were reported as being “indifferent” to the commotion. And Joxe Manuel Lujanbio (popularly known as Txirrita), a bertsolari, or traditional Basque versifier, even composed a verse attacking Cánovas to record the event. That same month, after a military trial, Angiolillo was garroted in the Bergara prison.

Representation of the assassination by V. Ginés. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Representation of the assassination by V. Ginés. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

July 31, 1556: Death of Saint Ignatius of Loiola

It remains one of the key dates in the Basque calendar, July 31, the day Saint Ignatius of Loiola died in Rome as  a result of a form of malaria. Born in Azpeitia, Gipuzkoa, in 1491, at age eighteen he entered into the military service of the Duke of Nájera, who would subsequently  become Viceroy of Navarre after its capitulation to Castile in 1512. He demonstrated a keen military sense and became a key aide to the Duke, but was injured seriously at the Battle of Pamplona-Iruñea in 1521, while fighting for the Crown of Castile against a combined Navarrese-French force.

Saint Ignatius of Loiola (1491-1556). Painting by E. Salaberria. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Saint Ignatius of Loiola (1491-1556). Painting by E. Salaberria. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sent home to the family seat in Gipuzkoa, and his military career over, he went through an arduous recovery process, during which time he went through a famous spiritual conversion, formulating a method of meditation he termed the “spiritual exercises.” Once he had recovered sufficiently to walk, he undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, practising a strict form of asceticism along the way. On his return to Europe he began preaching in public, and eventually settling in Paris to continue his theological studies.

When Peter Faber and Francis Xavier (another Basque) founded the Society of Jesus in 1539, Loiola was chosen to be the order’s first Superior General. He subsequently helped establish the Jesuits as a dynamic order, organizing missions and creating a strong, disciplined centralized organization.

Loiola was beatified in 1609 and canonized in 1622. His feast day, July 31, is celebrated in both Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia, as well as being an important date for Basque Americans in Idaho. Indeed, next year’s celebration will coincide with Jaialdi, held every five years in Boise.

Today, the Sanctuary of Loiola is an important site in the Basque Country, and of course several important educational institutions bear his name in the US as does the town of St. Ignace in Michigan.

July 20, 1818: Birth of philanthropist Casilda Iturrizar

Some of you will have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to stroll through the Doña Casilda Park in Bilbao. But do you know after whom the park was named? Casilda Margarita de Iturrizar y Urquijo was one of he most important and influential women in the city in the nineteenth century, and it is her story we recount today.

Casilda Iturrizar (1818-1900). Image by Lole, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Casilda Iturrizar (1818-1900). Image by Lole, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Although born into a family of reasonable economic means, following the bankruptcy, jail, and eventual death of her father in 1833, Casilda Iturrizar was obliged to find work and obtained a position as a servant in the household of one of Bilbao’s richest entrepreneurs and a co-founder of the historic Bank of Bilbao, Tomás José Joaquín de Epalza y Zubaran. Although married, Epalza eventually went through a lengthy divorce process, stretching from 1849 to 1857. In 1859, Casilda and Tomás were married. After his death in 1873, she started signing her name “Epalza’s widow” and, with the couple not having had any children, proceeded gradually to donate most of the incredible fortune she had inherited to worthy causes and cultural initiatives. She herself died in 1900.

 

Monument to Iturrizar in the Doña Casilda Park. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Monument to Iturrizar in the Doña Casilda Park. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

She funded the building of schools and a hospital, sponsored operatic societies and religious bodies, and created grants for deserving students from poor backgrounds as well as funding part of the original institution that would become the University of Deusto and being a major investor in the construction of the Arriaga Theater. And what is more, she also donated a significant piece of land in central Bilbao to the City Council, which ultimately became the park named in her honor that was opened in 1920.

Doña Casilda Park today. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Doña Casilda Park today. Photo by Zarateman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Excluding maritime dedications, she is reputed to be the only person to have two public spaces named in her honor in Bilbao: the aforementioned park and  a street by the name of Epalza’s Widow.

July 15, 2003: Death of Luz Zalduegi, first woman veterinarian in the Basque Country

We try as much as possible here in our Flashback Friday post on the CBS blog to give a voice to overlooked figures in history. These are often women and they were invariably involved in day-to-day matters rather than major political events or wars or the like. That said, this is the essence of social history, and within the seemingly prosaic context, we have come across real treasures when it comes to individual life stories. Such is the case of Luz Zalduegi Gabilondo, born on the Osma baserri or farmstead in Mallabia, Bizkaia, on June 1, 1914.

Luz Zalduegi (1914-2003)

Luz Zalduegi (1914-2003)

Her parents encouraged all their children, two girls and two boys, to get a good education, and the family stuck together in their schooling. When the oldest of them, Miguel Félix, went to Madrid to study veterinary science in 1928, his siblings accompanied him. While both her other brother and sister ultimately decided on careers in education, Luz opted to follow in her eldest brother’s footsteps and train to be a vet (needless to say, in the 1930s this was a bold decision for a  young woman to make). She eventually graduated in 1935, only the third woman in the Spanish state to obtain the title of veterinarian, and the first Basque to do so.

As in so many of the stories we have covered here, the outbreak of the civil war in 1936 had a tremendous impact on her life. She returned to Mallabia, where she was in charge of food distribution in the town during the conflict until Franco’s troops ultimately invaded and occupied Bizkaia. She subsequently found work as a food inspector in both Bermeo (Bizkaia) and Eibar (Gipuzkoa). In 1940, she married a classmate from college, Leandro Carbonero Bravo, and the couple prepared to apply for veterinary positions in the Spanish protectorate of Morocco. However, while Leandro was accepted, she was turned down on account of her gender. The couple spent five years there, during which time she had two children and, in the event that Leandro was unavailable, carried out inspections in an unofficial capacity.

In 1945 the family moved to Madrid, where Luz found employment in the Institute of Animal Biology. In 1955, she moved to the Department of Agrarian Statistics in the Ministry of Agriculture, where she was president of the higher agrarian council between 1982 and 1984.  She never lost contact with the Basque Country and remained a qualified veterinarian in Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa as well as in Madrid. The family, moreover, spent most of its summers at the ancestral baserri in Mallabia. She died on July 15, 2003.

In 1995 the Veterinarian’s Association of Gipuzkoa honored her officially and and in 2014 the town councils of Mallabia and neighboring Zaldibar carried out a public act in recognition of her work and contributions.

For more information, check out Uxune Martinez Mazaga, “Luz Zalduegi, veterinaria con convicción (1914-2003),” at the blog Mujeres con ciencia.

The CBS is committed to Basque women’s studies. If you are interested in this topic, check out Feminist Challenges in the Social Sciences: Gender Studies in the Basque Country, edited by  Mari Luz Esteban and Mila Amurrio, free to download here.

See, too, Amatxi, Amuma, Amona: Writings in Honor of Basque Women, edited by Linda White and Cameron Watson.

 

 

July 10, 1904: Birth of Ticiana Iturri, first licensed woman doctor in Bizkaia and pioneer in women’s health issues

Anyone who studies women’s history invariably comes up against the wall of conventional tropes that underscore the significance of major public events in which, routinely, women have been excluded from the central narrative. When it comes to documenting and interpreting the lives of women in the past, then, one must frame the study within different sets of analytical parameters that emphasize an extra dimension that women have faced historically in stepping outside socially prescribed roles as wives, mothers, daughters, and so on. Ticiana Iturri Landajo, born in Portugalete, Bizkaia, on July 10, 1904, is one such example. Her story is, in many ways, modest, within the aforementioned terms of the “big” events in history; yet framed another way, her achievements and contributions to Basque society are inumerable.

Tician Iturri Landajo (1904-1969).

Tician Iturri Landajo (1904-1969).

Iturri was born into a middle-class family in Portugalete, one of the significant industrial and maritime centers flanking Bilbao during the city’s spectacular economic boom of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although the family moved to Seville when she was still very young on account of her father’s work, it retained close ties with Bizkaia, returning each summer to vacation there. After completing her medical studies in Madrid, she obtained an official post as a consultant doctor in Bizkaia. She was officially approved as member number 553 in the medical association of Bizkaia in 1932, the first woman member, and opened a clinic in Bilbao specializing in pediatrics, gynecology, and obstetrics.

As the first licensed woman doctor in Bizkaia, she faced significant opposition and criticism from the more traditionalist members of her profession. In general, though, she was supported by the medical association and most of her peers. A noted feminist, through the 1930s she worked intensively on many women’s issues, and was especially active in defending the rights of single mothers. She also collaborated in the Basque nationalist women’s group, Emakume Abertzale Batza, through which she organized nursing classes. After the war, she worked in the School of Pediatrics in Bilbao, where she helped to improve hygiene measures, and in 1955 she obtained a position as a gynecologist in  the official social welfare system of her home province.

She dedicated the rest of her life to her work and the reproductive rights of women, especially single mothers. She died in 1969.

In recognition of her contribution to women’s health issues in Bizkaia, the medical association of Bizkaia named the classrooms on the fourth floor of its headquarters the “Iturri classrooms.”

June 30, 1834: Deadly floods ravage Gipuzkoa

Although a land accustomed to used periods of intense, heavy rain, there have also been infamous examples of major flooding in the Basque Country. One such example occurred on June 30, 1834 in the Deba Valley of Gipuzkoa, and came to be known as the San Martzial Urak, the “Saint Martial Waters” (coinciding with the feast day of Saint Martial).

Source of the River Deba, near the Hermitage of Saint Columba, in Dorleta, Leintz Gatzaga. Photo by Javierme. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Source of the River Deba, near the Hermitage of Saint Columba, in Dorleta, Leintz Gatzaga. Photo by Javierme. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The River Deba forms one of the river valleys so typical of the maritime zone in the Basque Country. That June day, a major summer storm hit the valley, swelling the waters of the Deba and its tributaries to breaking levels. In the town of Antzuola, one of the worst affected places, water levels rose to nearly 15 feet in the main square and one whole neighborhood was completely flooded, uprooting 1,500 trees, destroying various homes, mills, the portico of the parish church,  and the public school, among other major damage.

Alongside Antzuola, the worst-affected towns were Leintz-Gatzaga, Eskoriatza, Aretxabaleta, Arrasate, Bergara, Soraluze, and Elgoibar. In sum, throughout the valley, nineteen mills, twenty-two bridges, seventy-six buildings, and three churches were completely destroyed and major damage done to many other edifices. As regards the human cost, many people took refuge in churches, pleading for clemency, although several of these sites were among the worst hit places.

"The water of the terrible flood of the River Deba, on June 30, 1834, reached this point." Inscription on the wall of the parish church of Santa Marina in Bergara.

“The water of the terrible flood of the River Deba, on June 30, 1834, reached this point.” Inscription on the wall of the parish church of Santa Marina in Bergara.

In the aftermath of the disaster, it was calculated that eighty-nine people had been killed by the floods–seventy-six of whom had been washed downstream and whose bodies appeared on the beach in the town of Deba itself.

Source: K.O., “La inundación más catastrófica se produjo el 30 de junio de 1834,” Diario Vasco, February 23, 2014.

 

June 23, 1944: Birth of Begoña Sopelana, pioneering aid worker

There is a long tradition in the Basque Country of international aid work.  Among the illustrious roll call of names through history that we could mention, today it’s time to remember the figure of Begoña Sopelana Basauri. Born in Iurreta, Bizkaia, on June 23, 1944, she studied education, graduating in 1962.

Begoña Sopelana

After working in an administrative capacity through the 1960s, in 1968 she took up a new challenge and spent two years in El Salvador on a volunteer program, teaching daycare techniques as well as working as a medical advisor. On her return to the Basque Country she went on to study sociology and in 1977 she returned to El Salvador, where she worked in the field of education for marginalized persons. It was there that she met, and worked with,  Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against the injustices of the regime in his homeland.

She worked in the violent unstable atmosphere of El Salvador through the early 1980s, principally in the field of providing a basic education for the children of the economically impoverished and socially excluded. In 1987, she was central to the construction of Las Vueltas, a purpose-built community in which she organized classes to train people to become teachers. She was especially interested in empowering women in this regard as well as in promoting community projects.

In 1993 she returned to Iurreta on account  of her failing health. She died in her home town in 1999.

On November 14, 2012, Las Vueltas was declared a city with zero illiteracy. This was officially communicated as the “Begoña Sopelana” declaration.

In 2015, a monument was erected in her honor in Las Vueltas.

If you’re interested in the topic of international aid work and Basque involvement therein, check out the CBS publication Development Cooperation: Facing the Challenges of Global Change, edited by Koldo Unceta and Amaia Arrinda. The book is  available free to download here.

 

June 19, 1920: Birth of famous bertsolari Xalbador

We have already come across one of the great bertsolariak, improvisers, Fernando Aire Etxart, better known as Xalbador, on a couple of other occasions here on the blog. He was present during the events surrounding the creation of the San Francisco Basque Club, as noted here,  and he was involved in one of the most (in)famous moments in the history of bertsolaritza or Basque improvised oral poetry, as recounted here.

A dedication to Xalbador in Urepele. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

A dedication to Xalbador in Urepele. Photo by Harrieta171. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Born on June 19, 1920 in Urepele, Lower Navarre, Aire took the name Xalbador from that of the family baserri or farmstead, “Xalbadorenea.” Interestingly, his mother had been born in Los Angeles, into a family from the same area, before returning to the Basque Country.  He remained in Urepele all his life, working as a shepherd, and from an early age discovered a talent for improvising verses. He married Leoni Etxebarren in 1943 and the couple had four children. In his bertsoak, verses, he was serious and at time melancholic, but also highly lyrical and poetic, and was at the top of his game in the 1960s. He died of a heart attack in his home village of Urepele in 1976.

For more information about bertsiolaritza in general and Xalbador, see Voicing the Moment, edited by Samuel G. Armistead and Joseba Zulaika, available free to download here.

June 14, 1931: First public call for Basque-Navarrese autonomy statute

Nowadays, a defining feature of political life in the Basque Country is the system of autonomy that allows for a significant amount of decentralized decision-making authority. Currently, there are two different statues of autonomy for the Basque Country and Navarre. In the early 1930s, however, prior to the passing of a constitution for the Second Spanish Republic, a project for joint statute for the four provinces in Hegoalde was agreed on at a meeting of Basque mayors at the Gayarre Theater in Pamplona-Iruñea.

The Gayarre Theater in Pamplona-Iruñea. Photo by Eaeaea. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Gayarre Theater in Pamplona-Iruñea. Photo by Eaeaea. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The draft Statute of Estella as it was known, drawn up by Eusko Ikaskuntza (the Society of Basque Studies), was approved on June 14, 1931 by a varied collective of mayors, with a Basque nationalist and traditionalist Carlist majority, from the four provinces of Hegoalde. One interesting feature of this draft proposal was to reserve the right for the projected Basque-Navarrese autonomous region to establish a separate and distinct relationship with the Vatican.

Ultimately, however, this draft proposal was never implemented and it was not until civil war broke out in 1936 that an autonomy statute was granted to the provinces of Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa.

To read more about the political development of Hegoalde, check out Modern Basque History by Cameron Watson, available free to download here. And see Basque Political Systems, edited by Pedro Ibarra and Xabier Irujo, free to download here.

 

 

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