Facts About The Basque Country


Map of The Basque Country.

1. The Basque Country straddles in two different countries – northwest Spain and southwest France.  Though called a country, it’s not an independent territory.  The inhabitants are an entirely different ethnic group and are thought to be the oldest ethnic group in Europe. There are approximately 3 million inhabitants in an area which covers roughly 2,700 square miles. By comparison, Colorado is just over 104,000 miles with a population of just over 5.6 million.

2. Euskera is the name of the Basque language and it is Europe’s oldest living language. Despite the land being part of Spain and France, the language is unrelated to not only to Spanish and French, but to any Romance language.  In fact, it belongs to no other known language family.  As late as the end of the nineteenth century (1800s) it had no written literary tradition. 

3. In rural communities, a special relationship developed between families and their neighbors. People often lived in individual farms in relative isolation and they referred to their nearest neighbor as lehen auzo or “first neighbor.”  These people were often called upon to be best man or maid of honor at weddings and were the first to be informed of serious illness or impending death – even before the person’s family.  The lehen auzo would also take over running their neighbor’s farm temporarily in an emergency. 

4. Typical rural living quarters are large stone farm houses called baserriak and they are often as high as three stories.  The animals are kept on the ground floor, the family on the second, and on the third they store hay and other crops.  Urban dwellers live in apartment buildings like in many other cities around the world.

5. Most of the Basque cuisine involves seafood and include specialties such as bouillabaisse (fish stew) and fresh tuna with garlic, tomatoes, and spices.  Red peppers are dietary staple and can be found in many recipes and are even strung across the walls of Basque houses as decoration.

6. Roughly 20 percent of the Basque population works in agriculture.  Each family raises its own crops and livestock, but certain resources including pasture land and fuel wood are held in common by each village. Fishing is also a common industry in communities on the water.  The Spanish region is known as the capital of iron and steel and manufactures automobiles and machine tools. 

7. Woodcarving and stone engraving are traditional Basque decorative arts.  They are practiced primarily on decorative door frames and tombstones.  They also have a tradition of oral storytelling, which was one of their main forms of entertainment before TV came along.  

Basque flag. Photo by Joanes Andueza.

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

8. Many Basque people settled in the United States during the silver rush – becoming miners in the western states of Idaho and Oregon while in search of wealth.  The ones who didn’t strike it rich became shepherds or ran boarding houses for shepherds.  Today there are large populations of Basque-Americans in those states as well as Nevada and California.  The largest concentration of these peoples can be found in Boise, Idaho, which is home to the Basque Museum and Cultural Center.

9.. Pelota is the Basque national sport.  It’s like a cross between handball and squash and is a very fast-paced game.  It was traditionally played on outdoor courts but today is played indoors as well. Additionally, they have rural sports such as log-chopping and stone-lifting which are often seen in competitions during festivals and holidays.  

10. One of artist Pablo Picasso’s most famous pieces is a mural titled Guernica, which he painted in response to a bombing of the area in Basque country know by that name.  The painting is over eleven feet tall and more than twenty-five feet wide and depicts the suffering of people and animals effected by the bombing of that town by Nazi Germany and Italian warplanes.