Basque flag
The Basque Country / El País Vasco / Euskal Herria

Presented by Richard Scott
Map showing the location of the Basque Country


The Basque country is known as a region of cultural, ethnic and linguistic identity located in the Western Pyrenees in Northern Spain and Southern France. It is not considered to be its own nation-state: it is composed of the Spanish Autonomous communities of The Basque Country (Communidad Autonoma Vasco)--the provinces of Araba (Alava), Biskaia (Vizcaya), and Gipuzkoa (Guipúzcoa)--and Nafarroa (Navarra) in the south, plus the French department of Pyreenees Atlantiques in the north--Lapurdi (Labourd), Soule (Zuberoa), and Benafarroa (Basse-Navarre).The Basque Country has a population of 3,000,000 with the greater Bilbao metropolitan area holding over 1/3 the total population. All in all, 70% of the region's population lives within the C.A.V.(purple on map below), 20% in Nafarroa (green), and less than 10% in the Northern Basque Country in France (yellow).
Regions of the Basque Country
Regions of the Basque Country

The area was once known as a region of emigration due to a historically low-income and agrarian economy. This explains why there is a large diaspora consisting of about 10 million ethnic Basques spread across the globe. Recently, however, the economy has been industrialized and the region is now a destination for migrants from all other parts of Spain and the world.


The Basque people are thought of as being the oldest people on the continent and are often referred to as "Europe's aboriginees". It is known that this area has been inhabited for thousands of years, which is evident when looking at the Basque language and the resilience of its people. But trying to pinpoint exactly how long the Basques have lived in the area is of considerable debate-the origins of the Euskaldun (Basque people/speakers) has been a hot topic for the Basque nationalists, scientists and archaeologists for years.

A common myth states that the Basque people had been inhabiting northern Iberia since the time they were Cro-Magnons. This hypothesis was made in 1935 by Telesforo de Aranzadi and José Miguel Barandiaran, two anthropologists that discovered a skull they believed to be over 10,000 years old in a cave near Itziar in Guipúzcoa that was almost identical to its modern Basque counterpart. Little did the two excited anthropologists know, the layers of strata in the cave had shifted and modern dating technology put the skull at no earlier than 1500 BC. It has now been solidly proven that Basques (or at least the previous inhabitants of the area) created a number of well-preserved and high quality cave paintings in the region dating back to 12,500 BC:

The Basques have resisted all invaders starting with the Romans, who failed to assimilate them into the Empire efficiently, then the Muslims who found it impossible to penetrate Basque lands, then the Castille kingdom that tried to 'castilize' all Spainards after gaining the most power of the Christian Kingdoms starting in 1492 with the expulsion of the Muslims and the Jews, and in the last century they have resisted Franco and his brutal laws against the people who fought against him on the Republican side of the Civil War.


The Basque language, Euskara, is not related to any other indo-European language and shares no characteristics with any of the continent's languages. It is characterized as one of the 14 languages that Latin didn't destroy. While the lexicon and syntax of Euskara are seen as being completely different from any other language surrounding it, there has been considerable sharing of terms and constructions with the romance languages surrounding the Basques: Spanish, French, Galician, and Catalán.

There are eight different dialects of
Euskara spoken:
  • Gipuzkera
  • Alto Navarro Septentrional
  • Alto Navarro Meridional
  • Biscayan
  • Roncalese
  • Alavan
  • Navarro-Labourdin
  • Souletin

Mutual intelligebility exists between all of these dialects except for Souletin, but there are still large differences in lexicon and usage. Because of this, there is a strong desire for the use of the common dialect, Batua (Euskara word for unified), in written and educational situations.

An example of syntax:
The definite article takes the form of the suffix -a
Plural is the suffix -k

  • baserri is 'farmhouse'
  • baserria is 'the farmhouse' and
  • baserriak is ' the farmhouses'.

The number system is baffling to any non-Basque speakers, only bi (two) and sei (six) look similar to other languages, three is hiru and nine is even more befuddling as bederatzi. Many lexical items in the language have been borrowed from French and Spanish and not all inhabitants of the region speak Basque, there are few mono-lingual Basque speakers. Throughout its history, the language has been restricted from use by the government, especially under Franco were the nationalistic Basques repressed and denied public usage of their language. In 1978 after the fall of Franco 's regime and the signing of the Cortez constitution, Euskara became a co-official language in the newly created CAV, allowing it to be used in all situations and to be taught in all schools in the region, leading to the current flowering of the language. In some areas of the CAV, Basque is spoken by almost the entire population:
Map showing the percentage of speakers of Basque in the Basque Country
Map showing the percentage of speakers of Basque in the Basque Country


Ever since the rise of Franco, when the Basque region was known as his strongest enemy (leading to the bombing of Guernica ), there has been a growing independence movement from the Spanish Crown. It is from this movement that the Basques now enjoy a very high level of self-government and autonomy. Not all Basques are happy with the current connections their region maintains with the Spanish and French crowns--this is where the Euskadi Ta AskatasunaETA.jpg (E.T.A.), or "Basque Homeland and Liberty" group disagrees with the current governance policy. They are a terrorist group fighting for an independent Basque nation through bombings and assassinations. This radical group's ideology does not sit well with the majority of the Basques who view their actions as no better than Franco's--some want nothing to do with the group and must fear public assault because of their views. This leads many more Basques to leave their homelands, just as their countrymen have been doing for centuries--a situation Professor Gloria Zabala has first hand experience with:


Aldecoa, Ignacio. The Basque Country. Barcelona: Editorial Noguer, 1963.

Woodworth, Paddy.
The Basque Country: A Cultural History. Oxford: University Press, 2008.

"Basque language." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 08 Dec. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/55366/Basque-language>.

Images and Information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basque_Country_(greater_region)

image: Map of Basque speakers: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ac/Euskara.png

Print: The Ethnologue stats for Euskara: http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=eus

Video: Basque cave paintings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DO4biV46Jlo

Video: Interview with Prof. Zabala: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Z3My_8RQrU