Tag: Nafarroa (page 1 of 2)

February 7, 1842: A controversial marriage, or two

A pandero-jotzaile (tambourine player) and txistulariak (pipe players) lead a traditional Basque wedding procession. Marriage was a key social and economic event because it signified that those joined in union would become the etxekoandre and etxekojaun, the mistress and master of a baserri or farmstead; in sum, the sole proprietors of the central socioeconomic unit of Basque culture and life. Whoever was marrying into the property, man or woman, would bring with them certain possessions: material goods, animals, and even land. Hence the all important wedding procession, typically headed by an ox-drawn cart, which showed off these worldly goods.

On February 7, 1842 Jean Bonepelts married Marie Etxeberri, of the Behorlegi baserri (farmstead) in the Ondarrola district of Arnegi, Lower Navarre. Not untypically in such border areas of the Basque Country, although administratively Ondarrola was part of Arnegi (Arnéguy) and therefore subject to French civil law, in church matters it was part of the neighboring town of Luzaide (Valcarlos) in Navarre. However, the couple were married in the parish church of Arnegi by Father Jean Baptiste Errecart. Again not untypically, the couple were blood relations, on two levels, within the third and fourth degrees of consanguinity. Accordingly, they had been obliged to seek church permission prior to getting married, which they did from the Bishop of Baiona in Lapurdi. However, when word reached the curia (church council) in Pamplona-Iruñea, which as noted had religious jurisdiction over the district of Ondarrola, a formal complaint was lodged with the bishopric of Baiona and, receiving no response to its protest, it declared that, “the wrongly married couple should separate and make up for the error committed.”

That same year, on May 17, there was another marriage between two residents of Ondarrola, Jean Etxeberri and Catalina Caminondo, which also took place in the parish church of Arnegi. This time, the church authorities took stricter measures, with the Bishop of Pamplona-Iruñea excommunicating both couples and prohibiting entry into any church for their respective parents while “their children should remain in that state of concubinage.” In the end, both marriages had to be held again, this time in Luzaide and with the blessing of the Bishop of Pamplona-Iruñea. Etxeberri  and Caminondo went through the nuptial ceremony again in June 1843 while Bonepelts and Etxeberri did so once more much later, in April 1845. Only following these “second” marriages was the excommunication order withdrawn.

Information sourced from Iñaki Egaña, Mil noticias insólitas del país de los vascos (Tafalla: Txalaparta, 2001), p.185.

With respect to traditional Basque marriage customs, Philippe Veyrin’s wonderful The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre is worth quoting at some length (pp. 328-29):

Once the date of the wedding has been fixed (usually a Tuesday), everyone proceeds, a few days beforehand (generally two), to perform what is called hatüka. This is a matter of transporting to the house where the future couple will live the furniture and the trousseau brought by the newly arrived spouse, male or female. The father leads the first wagon harnessed with oxen in full livery: bells, thick fleeces to conceal the yoke, cloth mantles with wide blue or red stripes embroidered with giant initials. The artfully arranged trousseau is covered with a counterpane with a cushion on top. On a chair tied behind the wagon are placed clogs decorated with copper nails in the shape of an ace of hearts or of spades; there are also a broom, a pick-axe, and a rake. Previously, in the case of the bride, the distaff, the spindles, and the reels were prominently displayed, and these symbolic objects were often finely carved and decorated. On other wagons, more or less numerous depending on the wealth of the bridegroom, pride of place was given to the mattresses and the furnishings, all displayed to their greatest advantage. The seamstress and the joiner, the authors of all these treasures, formed part of the procession; it was they who, on arrival, arranged the bedroom of the newlyweds. Often in the same parade, but sometimes separately, the godfather led a magnificent plump sheep with ribbons and gilded horns to be eaten at the wedding feast—escorted by a whole crowd of ewes with tinkling bells, the tzintzarrada. Not long ago, the procession also included several girls carrying on their heads big baskets furnished with napkins and filled with chicken, loaves of bread, bottles of wine and liqueur, big “spit-baked cakes” decorated with flowers , and so on—all food provided by the guests themselves. A good meal is of course given to all these visitors, and it can be said that the wedding really begins on that day. Two days later, everyone gathers at the square once more: the best men will go to fetch the bride, who gives each of them a fine cambric handkerchief. And, to the sound of a merry zinkha or irrintzina, everyone jostles and bustles to the town hall, and then, with more ceremony, to the church.

A few superstitions, now vanished, used to be in evidence at the nuptial blessing. This was supposed to have the power to sanctify the clothes worn on that particular day; so the bride would apparently cover herself in several dresses, one on top of the other—later, these would be very useful for her, affording her long-term shelter from spells. On his side, if the bridegroom feared the evil spell known as esteka, “physical deficiency,” he had to keep a fold of his future wife’s dress on his knees during the mass.

In several villages, there is a touching custom: after the wedding mass, the newlyweds, slipping away for a few moments from their entourage, go alone to the cemetery and pray at the tomb of the house that they will perpetuate. Husband or wife—whichever of the couple was until then a stranger to the estate—is thus, so to speak, solemnly associated on that day with the cult of the dead of the new family.

 

January 9, 1844: Opera singer Julián Gayarre born

Julián Gayarre (1844-1890), the great Basque tenor. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On January 9, 1844 Sebastián Julián Gayarre Garjón, known more popularly as just Julián Gayarre, was born into a humble family in Erronkari (Roncal), the principal nucleus of the remote valley of the same name in the far northeast of Navarre. From these humble beginnings he would go on to a have a successful career as an opera singer, gaining international renown as the greatest Italianate tenor of his generation and one of the most famous tenors of all time in the history of opera.

Leaving school at 13 he was immediately put to work as a shepherd, one of the principal means of earning a living in his natal Pyrenean surroundings. A couple of year’s later his father found him work in a notions store in Pamplona-Iruñea. It was in the capital city of Navarre that he first came across professional musicians, and he was even fired from his job for leaving the store one day to follow a band parading in the street outside. He then moved back to his native Erronkari Valley to work in a blacksmith shop in Irunberri (Urunberri in the Eastern Navarrese dialect of Basque,  Lumbier in Spanish). Sticking with the blacksmith trade he found work once more in Pamplona-Iruñea, where he relocated in 1863. Hearing him singing one day, a coworker encouraged him to apply to join the newly founded Orfeón Pamplonés, the city choir, a decision that changed his life.

His rise to fame was in many ways meteoric. Making an immediate impact on the city’s musical elite with the beautiful natural timbre of his voice, a scholarship was arranged to send him to Madrid Royal Conservatory and train properly for a career in professional music. He finished his studies in Madrid in 1868 and was awarded a grant by the Provincial Council of Navarre to continue studying his craft in Milan. Shortly after beginning his studies in Milan, he made his operatic debut in 1869 and thrilled critics with both his voice and commanding stage presence. As a result of his performances throughout Italy in the 1870s he was soon in demand in the great opera capitals of Europe, Paris and London, traveling widely across the continent as a whole as well as to Brazil and Argentina, although his home stage remained the legendary La Scala opera house in Milan.

Gayarre on his debut performance at La Scala, Milan, in 1876. Image from Mundo Gráfico 38 (July 17, 1912), page 5. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gayarre continued to enthrall audiences across Europe with his wide repertoire, ranging from bel canto works to Wagner’s earlier music-dramas. In the words of Karlos Sánchez Ekiza, in his Basque Classical Music (free to download here): “He was noted for his intense recitals, with a voice capable of incredible range in colour and intensity, all in a clarity of textual performance and perfect diction.” Between the mid-1870s and mid-1880s he consolidated his reputation as the greatest tenor of the age., but thereafter he began to suffer a serious respiratory illness that caused his voice to deteriorate. At what would turn out to be his final performance, at the Royal Theater in Madrid on December 8, 1889, he broke down mid-performance, retiring from the stage claiming he could sing no more. Just a few weeks later, on January 2, 1890, he died in Madrid. His body was thereafter taken back to his beloved Erronkari, to be buried near the very house in which he was born.

Today the principal theater in Pamplona-Iruñea, the Gayarre Theater, bears his name, as does a prestigious biennial international competition in the city, the Julián Gayarre Singing Competition. Moreover, the house where he was born is now the Julián Gayarre Museum-House, and well worth a visit to this beautiful part of Navarre.

Just an additional point of interest to the short but intense life of Julián Gayarre, it is worth underscoring the fact that his first language was Basque, and specifically the Eastern Navarrese dialect of Basque (a dialect that was sadly lost in the twentieth century but for which efforts are being made to revive). Gayarre is reputed to have often closed his solo performances, whether in Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, or any of the numerous Italian cities he toured in, with a performance of the great Basque anthem “Gernikako arbola” (The Tree of Gernika), on which see previous post here and here. Interestingly, too, from his global travels he would write home to his family in Basque, in the Eastern Navarrese dialect, and his letters are preserved to this day as an eloquent testimony to this beautiful, but lost, dialect. The following (somewhat rakish in places) letter, written in 1884, is one such example:

Barcelona 19 Diciembre 1884

        Ene tia Juana maitia

        Eugenia sin da [etorri da] arro[nt] ongui. Quemen gaude anisco ongui guciac eta ori [berori] nola dago?

        Nain din [nahi dun] sin [rin, jin, etorri] [xin]cona [honat, hona] ichasoaren ecustra? Anisco andia da, tia Juana.

        Nai badu nic dud anisco deiru orentaco vidagearen pagateco quemengo ostatiaren pagateco. Eztu eguiten quemen ozic batrere, chaten [xaten, jaten] dugu quemen anisco ongui eta güero artan [artzen, hartzen] dugu iror nescache postretaco eta gazte eta pollit.

        Ha cer vizia! tia Juana maitia, amar urte chiquiago bagunu…

        Gorainzi guzientaco eta piyco bat nescachi pollit erroncarico guziat.

Julian.

In English:

Barcelona, December 19, 1884

My dear aunt Juana,

Eugenia arrived safely. We’re all well here, and you?

Would you like to come and see the sea? It’s enormous, aunt Juana.

If you like, I have enough money to pay for your journey and pay for your hotel here. It’s not cold at all here, we eat very well and three pretty young girls for dessert.

Heavens, what a life!  Dear aunt Juana, if we were ten years younger…

Regards to everyone and a pinch for all the pretty Erronkari girls.

Julian

For more information check out the foundation in his name here.

December 2, 1856: Treaty of Baiona establishes border between North and South Basque Country

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The Basque Country, with Iparralde made up of Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea (Lower Navarre), and Zuberoa; and Hegoalde made up of Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Nafarroa Garaia (Upper Navarre or just Navarre). Image by Unai Fdz. de Betoño, based on User:Theklan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On December 2, 1856, the first in a series of four Treaties of Baiona (the others signed in 1862, 1866, and 1868 respectively) fixed the current border between the French Republic and the Kingdom of Spain, and thus between Iparralde and Hegoalde, the North and South Basque Country.  To that time the border was by no means a settled issue, with disagreements on the parts of both countries particularly over where to demarcate boundaries in Catalonia in the east and the Basque Country in the west.

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The mouth of the River Bidasoa separating Hendaia (top center) in Lapurdi from Hondarribia (bottom center) and Irun (top right) in Gipuzkoa. Photo by jmerelo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) represented a first attempt to address the matter formally. A treaty ending the long Franco-Spanish War of 1635-1659, this agreement was signed on traditional neutral ground: Konpantzia, or Pheasant Island, a small landmass of 73,410 square feet in the River Bidasoa between Hendaia (Lapurdi) and Irun (Gipuzkoa), today jointly administered between the two towns.

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Konpantzia, Pheasant Island, the small plot of neutral land between Irun (L) and Hendaia (R). Photo by Ignacio Gavira, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As regards the border, by the 1659 treaty France gained most of Northern Catalonia in the east. In the west, meanwhile, matters were somewhat more complicated due to disagreements over where to establish the frontier exactly between Iparralde and Hegoalde at three critical points: the Xareta district, made up of Ainhoa and Sara in Lapurdi and Urdazubi and Zugarramurdi in Navarre; Aldude, a wedge of terrain in Lower Navarre that cuts geographically into Navarre; and Luzaide (Valcarlos in Spanish), a wedge of terrain in Navarre that cuts geographically into Lower Navarre. While a working boundary was established in these areas, there would clearly have to be more negotiations before arriving at a definitive settlement. In the eighteenth century, further agreements refined the settlement in the east, while as regards the west, the Treaty of Elizondo (1785) fixed the border at both Aldude and Luzaide.

The 1856 Treaty of Baiona definitively established the far western extent of the Franco-Spanish border in the middle of the River Bidasoa’s current at low tide, which in turn demarcated fishing zones and local rights to control passage up and down the river. Moreover, the so-called Kintoa district (Le Pays Quint in French; Quinto Real in Spanish)–an area of grazing land between the two Navarres that had historically been hotly and sometimes bloodily disputed–was officially ceded to the Spanish Kingdom but would be administered by the French Republic: in other words, the land would be owned by the former but leased perpetually to the latter. Today, its approximately 30 inhabitants are French citizens by default but have the right to dual Franco-Spanish citizenship. Public education and health services are provided by the French Republic and they  pay income tax in France but they must pay property taxes in Spain. The postal and utilities services are French but policing is controlled by the Spanish Civil Guard.

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The Esnazu district of Aldude, showing some of the grazing pastures in this borderland area. Photo by Patrick.charpiat, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In sum, the 1856 treaty brought with it a definitive settlement of sorts regarding the border between the two countries. A total of 602 markers mark the division along the length of the border, from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, with marker no. 1 in the River Bidasoa. Border and customs posts were also more formally established in the wake of the four treaties as a whole, which in itself led to a growth in gau lana (night work) or the lucrative smuggling trade that was, until comparatively recently, such a feature of Basque culture in these borderland areas. More recent developments have included the transfer of a small plot of land (just under 30,000 square feet) in 1984 between the two countries as part of the construction project to build a road linking the Erronkari Valley in Navarre to Arrete (French)/Areta (Occitan)/Ereta (Basque) in Bearn; and the entry into force of the European Union’s Schengen Agreement (1995), by which border controls for people and goods were abolished and freedom of movement across the border ensured.

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International border marker no. 8 between Bera (Vera de Bidasoa) in Navarre and Biriatu (Biriatou) in Lapurdi. Photo by Pymouss44, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For many obvious reasons the muga or border exercises a powerful influence on the Basque imagination. Clearly, it has acted as a barrier to greater unity among Basques, but equally one could argue that its very existence has served to bring Basques together in numerous ways as a challenge to overcome.

Further Reading

Robert Laxalt, A Cup of Tea in Pamplona. This absorbing action-packed tale is an evocative portrait of the world of Basque smuggling in 1960s, and the importance of the border in Basque culture, as portrayed by the great Basque-American storyteller Robert Laxalt.

Zoe Bray, Living Boundaries: Frontiers and Identity in the Basque Country. This work explores how the international border shapes Basque identity on both sides of the frontier.

Aitzpea Leizaola, “Mugarik ez! Subverting the Border in the Basque Country,” in Ethnologia Europaea: Journal of European Ethnology 30, no. 2 (2000): 35-46. This article explores the multiple ways in which the international border that cuts through the Basque Country is still very much a contested site.

November 16, 1528: Birth of Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre

Born on November 16, 1528, to Marguerite of Angoulême and King Henry II of Navarre, Jeanne d’Albret would eventually become not only an important historical figure in general in her role as the spiritual and political leader of the Protestant Huguenots but also a major personality in Basque history for introducing the Protestant faith into the Basque Country and sponsoring the publication of a key text in the Basque language. Besides all this, she also stands out for being a strong, forthright woman leader of a significant sixteenth-century European power, the Kingdom of Navarre.

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Jeanne d’Albert (1528-1572), Queen of Navarre, c. late-16th century. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Jeanne married Antoine de Bourbon, the Duke of Vendôme, in 1548 and, on Henry II’s death in 1555, they were crowned joint rulers of Navarre. Influenced by her mother, she had taken an early interest in humanism and individual liberty, which led ultimately to her conversion to Calvinism in 1560. Jeanne d’Albert was a hands-on ruler, with a sharp intellect and a conviction in her beliefs. As Queen of Navarre between 1555 and 1572 (and Queen Regnant on the death of her husband in 1562), as well as carrying out a series of important economic and judicial reforms, she made Calvinism the official religion of her territories. To this end, she commissioned the priest and Protestant-convert Joannes Leizarraga (1506-1601), himself a central figure in Basque letters and one of the first people to attempt to create a standardized version of the Basque language, to translate the New Testament into Basque. This was eventually published under the title Iesus Christ Gure Iaunaren Testamentu Berria (The New Testament of Jesus Christ our Lord) in 1571.

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The New Testament, as translated into Basque by Joannes Leizarraga (1571). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Her attempts to instill Calvinism in her lands led to a series of religious wars throughout the 1560s, during which her husband Antoine was fatally wounded in 1562, with pressure applied on her by the surrounding Catholic monarchs, Charles IX of France and Philip II of Spain. These wars culminated in the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1570), whereby hostilities would end, Jeanne’s son,  Henry, would marry the French King Charles IX’s Catholic sister Marguerite, and the Protestant Huguenots would have the right to hold public office in France, a privilege which they had previously been denied. Jeanne died in June 1572, two months before her son’s marriage. On her death, he became King Henry III of Navarre; and in 1589 he ascended the French throne as Henry IV, founding the Bourbon royal house that came to dominate both France and, ultimately, Spain.

Jeanne d’Albret left her mark on Basque history in many ways. She ranks as a strong-willed ruler with a clear vision of how she wanted to reform the society over which she ruled. She held strong humanist values that championed individual freedom and she did all she could to try and instill those values on those around her. And, it should be remembered, she was responsible for commissioning one of the most important historical publications in and contributions to the development of the Basque language.

Further reading:

http://womenshistory.about.com/od/protestant/a/jeanne_dalbret.htm

http://www.reformed.org/webfiles/antithesis/index.html?mainframe=/webfiles/antithesis/v1n2/ant_v1n2_royalty.html

In The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditions, Philippe Veyrin discusses the impact of Jeanne d’Albret, especially with regard to her religious reform, at length.

Nafarroa Oinez 2016 video: Check it out!

A few weeks ago we posted the video for the ikastola fundraiser day in Gipuzkoa (click here to see that). This weekend, October 16, it’s the turn of Nafarroa to host its own fundraiser; this year, Nafarroa Oinez will be held in Viana and will be raising funds for the ikastolas of Viana and Lodosa.

The slogan for this year’s event is “Hartu, tenka, tira!” (Pick up the rope, take the strain, pull!) and refers to the referee’s commands in a tug-of-war contest. It was chosen to represent all the effort and commitment required in disseminating Basque-language education. So come on everyone, let’s all pull in favor of Basque! Check out the video!

 

 

September 23, 1956: Stone lifter Iñaki Perurena born

Iñaki Perurena Gartziarena, arguably the most emblematic of all contemporary harri-jasotzaileak or Basque stone lifters, was born in Leitza, Nafarroa, on September 23, 1956. Despite making his name in the world of traditional Basque sports, though, Perurena is also an all-round cultural icon in the Basque Country, having been an actor, poet, sculptor, and bertsolari or improvised oral versifier as well as vociferous defender of the Basque language and culture. Despite all this activity, he still runs his family butcher shop in Leitza, and if that were not enough, in 2009 he opened the Peru-Harri Museum, a site devoted to the material of stone itself and traditional Basque sports as well as Basque culture and history in general.

Stone lifting remains one one of the most iconic of traditional Basque sports (check out a previous post here with a video showing just what it entails).  Its roots lie in the grueling work of quarries, and the challenges that emerged out of such work as to who could lift the heaviest stones (for gambling purposes of course). These challenges eventually became more organized affairs, often taking place during annual village festivals, with locals cheering on different competitors and betting on their own particular favorites. By the late twentieth century such sports were televised in the Basque Country and the participants became major public figures.

Perurena’s own personal best in the straight two-handed weight-lifting category is 320 kg (just over 705 pounds), which was a world record mark when he established it in 1994 and is still the second best ever mark today. He is also the world record-holder for the best one-handed lift, at 267 kg (just under 589 pounds). When it comes to stone lifting nowadays, however, he limits himself to carrying out exhibitions.

In many ways, Perurena has been the most media savvy exponent of traditional Basque sports. A natural showman comfortable in front of the camera, he appeared in the role of “Imanol” in Basque TV’s long-running soap opera Goenkale. And he even made a memorable appearance demonstrating stone lifting on the hit US show LIve with Regis and Kathie Lee (if you search online you may even find some images of Regis Philbin wearing a Basque beret!).

He was awarded the gold medal for sporting merit by the Government of Nafarroa in 1999 and in 2011 received the Manuel Irujo Award by the Irujo Etxea Elkartea foundation.

Check out a fascinating report by The New York Times on Iñaki Perurena and Basque stone lifting here.

 

A flamenco aurresku

Check out this great video of a highly innovative, flamenco-style interpretation of the traditional Basque aurresku dance.

This was originally the idea of saxophonist Josetxo Goia-Aribe, who was seeking to break down the conventional barriers of musical styles and interpretations. This is just one of five video dance performances, all interpreting the aurresku in different and challenging ways.

See more on how this came about through this article (in Spanish) at the website of the newspaper Noticias de Navarra.

Three Basque producers make 2016 Winners List in Great Taste Awards

The Great Taste Awards, organized by the Guild of Fine Food, is the acknowledged benchmark for fine food and drink and has been described as the ‘Oscars’ of the food world. In 2016 over 400 judges, including specially trained food writers inputting judges’ comments, came together at 49 judging days from March through early July. The judges, from all corners of the food world, blind-taste in teams of 3 or 4 ensuring they get a balance of expertise, age, and gender.

Over 10,000 products were entered for the 2016 awards, with only 141 foods achieving the highest and most coveted rating, three stars; 878 foods received 2 stars and 2,520 were awarded a 1-star rating. That means only 35% of entries were accredited.The Golden Forks (the big winners) will be announced at a celebration dinner at the Royal Garden Hotel, London on the September 5.

In the sheep’s cheese category, there were 21 awards, 3 of which (including the only 3-star rating) went to Basque producers.

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The famed Idiazabal cheese. Photo by Xavigivax, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The coveted 3-star rating was awarded to the smoked Idiazabal sheeps’ milk cheese of the Mausitxa baserri in Elgoibar, Gipuzkoa.  This means that it made the prestigious top 50 foods list, which for the organizers “quite simply are the best fifty foods in the world each year.” As regards the Mausitxa smoked Idiazabal, in the judges opinion, “Although smoky on the nose and in the mouth, the flavour of the cheese is never overpowered and those who try it will be rewarded with a fresh, crumbly and slightly sweet finish.” Mausitxa also received a 2-star rating for its regular Idiazabal sheeps’ milk cheese.

The La Leze baserri in Ilarduia, Araba, received 2-star ratings for both its normal and its smoked Idiazabal sheeps’ milk cheeses, while the Etxetxipia baserri in Elizondo, Nafarroa was awarded a 2-star rating for its regular sheeps’ milk cheese.

Check out the Basque sheeps’ milk association here. What’s more, if you haven’t yet done so, you can download Hasier Etxeberria’s great introduction to Basque gastronomy, On Basque Cuisine, free here.

Emotional Artzai Eguna held in Nafarroa

The 49th Artzai Eguna (Shepherds’ Day) of Nafarroa, was held yesterday, August 28, in Uharte Arakil; a day-long celebration of the shepherding world that includes gastronomic activities such as a cheese-making contest and that culminates in sheepdog trials in which the ability of shepherds and their dogs to herd sheep is tested. It was an emotional occasion in many ways.

The shepherding competition was won by 51-year-old Joxe Mari Ixtilart–who first competed in the event some 39 years ago–from Amaiur and his dog Lagun (the oldest dog in the competition at the age of 10), but the occasion was also marked by an emotional tribute to Ixtilart’s recently deceased mother: María Pilar Elizalde Jaimerena, the first woman to ever compete at these same championships.

There were also tributes for the recently deceased Benigno Mendia from Urdiain, a local man involved in many different cultural activities, including previous editions of the Artzai Eguna; and another award was given to Patxi Uriz from Gares, winner of a 2015 Goya Prize (the Spanish equivalent to the Oscars) for his documentary Hijos de la tierra (Sons of the Earth).

Read a full report on the day in Noticias de Navarra (in Spanish) here.

For more information on the event as a whole, click here.

August 15, 778: The Battle of Orreaga

On August 15, 778 the rearguard section of Charlemagne’s retreating army was ambushed and annihilated by a Basque force at the Orreaga Pass in Navarre. The event has gone down in history as Charlemagne’s only defeat in an otherwise successful military career as well as being, interestingly, the source of two great epic poems: the eleventh-century La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland) in French–the oldest surviving work of French literature–and the sixteenth-century Orlando Furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando) in Italian.

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Monument commemorating the Battle of Orreaga. Photo by Cruccone, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Muslim rulers of the northern Iberian areas of Zaragoza and Huesca had risen up against Abd ar-Rahman I, the Emir of Cordoba in southern and central Iberia, and appealed to Charlemagne–King of the Franks and later crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800–for support in return for submitting to his rule. Sensing an opportunity to extend Frankish rule into the Iberian Peninsula, Charlemagne duly accepted the offer, mustered up as large a force as he could, and marched across the Pyrenees in 778. On arriving in Zaragoza, however, the Muslim leaders changed their mind and engaged in battle with Charlemagne’s force instead. The Franks lay siege to the city and captured key prisoners.

But the siege dragged on and Charlemagne, wary of getting stuck in a futile struggle, accepted a tribute of gold from the Muslim rulers, returned the prisoners, and decided to retreat from Iberia, leading his forces away from Zaragoza back toward the the Pyrenees via Navarre. On his way back, though, his forces sacked Pamplona-Iruñea, destroying the Basque city as well as several nearby towns, brutally subduing the local population. Part of the reasons for doing so may have been because many Pagan Basques had proven to be a constant thorn in the side of the Christian Frankish Kingdom south of the Garonne River. Whatever the case, as Charlemagne crossed the Pyrenees at Orreaga (Roncesvalles in Spanish; Roncevaux in French) in northern Navarre, the Basques took their revenge.

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The death of Roland. illustration by Jean Fouquet, Tours, c. 1455-1460, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On the evening of August 15, 778, a surprise attack caught the rearguard of Charlemagne’s forces by surprise. This part of the army was cut off and isolated from the main body of the army. Though not as well armed, the Basques knew the terrain much better and used this local knowledge to their advantage. The entire rearguard, including Charlemagne’s nephew Roland and several other Frankish lords, was massacred. The Basques then disappeared into the night, leaving no trace for the Franks to follow the next day.

According to Philippe Veyrin in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre (pp.119-20):

This episode had an unprecedented echo; the memory of it endured long enough to inspire, three centuries later, a prodigious flowering of legends, of a luxuriance quite out of proportion to the event itself. In it, the Basques appear, quite misleadingly, as Saracens. Despite a host of other anachronisms, the local topography of the Chanson de Roland is in some respects quite accurate. The old epic poet and several of his imitators had certainly gained a precise knowledge of the places involved, and were able to turn them into a grandiose setting. Nonetheless, most historians agree that the real site of the defeat was on the Roman road, on the wooded sides of the Astobizkar, rather than on the open plain of Orreaga (Roncesvalles/Roncevaux) where, following the rules of chivalry, most of the legendary epic victoriously unfolds.

Interestingly, the Spanish name for Luzaide, near the site of these events, is Valcarlos, “the valley of Charles” or Charlemagne.

 

 

 

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