Basque Country (el Pais Vasco in Spanish) is small enclave country located in the heart of Pyrenees Mountains, which divide Spain and France from each other, the northern coastline of the Country lies in the Bay of Biscay on the Cantabrian sea.
The Basque Country is made up of 6 traditional regions. The three regions to the south, within Spain forms Hegoalde (”south zone”), while the three to the northeast, within France, form Iparralde (”north zone”). The three provinces in Spain side are Vizcaya, Alava and Guipuzcoa centered around the cities of Bilbao, Vitoria and San Sebastian. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the capital of community is Vitoria, even though it is only just over half the size of the somewhat better known Bilbao city.
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In some resources it shows that there are four provinces in ‘south zone’. The fourth province is called Navarre, a region which Basque nationalists want to incorporate into Euskadi, but whose people want to continue being a separate entity. Navarre is just one of the territories that the Basque nationalist parties claim as Basque territory; there are also two enclaves surrounded by Basque territory – Trevino and Valle de Villaverde, which belong to fellow neighboring communities of Castile de Leon and Cantabria.
In French side there are three provinces: Labourd, Basse-Navarre, and Soule. Basques call these territories collectively, Euskal- Herria (Land of the Basques) or Euskadi.
The region covers nearly 21.000 square kilometers, of which about 3,000 lie on French side. The 18.000 square kilometers on the Spanish side constitute about 3.6 percent of Spain’s total land area. Basque region has a wonderful mild climate with few extremes of temperature or weather conditions when the seasons changes. The climate, the influence of the sea, and an attractive mixture of village, mountains, hills and abundant greenery, all makes Basque Country a place of natural surprises.
Around 3 million people live in this community. Almost all Basques are Roman Catholic. Traditionally, an unusually high percentage chooses to become priests and nuns. The region operates as an autonomous region; today region has its own parliament and police force, controls education and collects its own taxes.
The Basque Autonomous Community is currently the wealthiest region in Spain. About 20 percent of population is engaged in agriculture. Fishing is a significant Basque industry. The Basque country has long been known as a center of Spanish industry especially the city Bilbao. The region’s history as the nation’s iron and steel capital has led to the development of automobile and machine tool manufacturing. Shipbuilding is another profitable industry. One constant tradition that has always been strong in the Basque country is the wine-making. The area’s wineries produce some of the riches wines in the world for example Rioja or Alava wines.
The Basque people have preserved unique culture, the jewel of which is its language, Euskera, a pre Indo-European tongue whose mysterious origin has never been established. The fact that it is not and Indo-European language, and shows no resemblance to languages in neighboring countries has led to formulation of varieties of hypotheses to explain its existence. Owing to some similarities with the Georgian language, some linguists think it could be it could be related to languages from the Caucasus. Other relates the language to non-Arabic languages from the north of Africa.
Throughout history, the Basque language has taken up words not only from French, Latin and Castilian, but also from Celtic and Arabic. On the other hand some of the words in Castilian, French and English come from Basque language. Rural communities have kept the language alive for centuries. It is estimated, nowadays, that more than 600.000 people speak Basque in seven provinces. There are 520.000 Basque speaking people in the Basque provinces in Spain, which is 25% of their total population. The Basque language is extremely difficult and complex .In addition there are number of different dialects.
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The Basque language was not written until the 16th century .Things has not been easy for the Basque language. Apart from having to compete with two powerful neighboring languages like French and Castilian, Basque was forbidden language during the dictatorship that followed by Civil War. For decades children had to study in an unfamiliar language and were severely punished when they spoke in Basque, even at play time. At that time an important movement to open Basque schools started. And these schools are the only ones which provide teaching in Basque.
Through centuries of storytelling, the Basques have evolved a rich and colorful mythology. Basque folklore also encompasses various rituals and dances.
The Basques maybe are the oldest ethnic group in Europe. They are thought to have inhabited the southwestern corner of the continent since before Indo-European peoples came to the area approximately 5.000 years ago. Surviving invasions by the Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, French and Spanish, they resisted domination by outsiders until the Middle Ages (AD 476-1450). At that time much of their territory was seized by Spaniards, Gascons and Catalans. In 1516 the Basques on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees Mountains agreed to Castilian rules but won the rights to keep degree of self-government. By the 1876 all Basque land were divided between the France and Spain.
During the regime of General Francisco Franco (1939 – 75) the Basque language was banned and culture in the Spain provinces were ruthlessly suppressed, the Basque activists and intellectuals imprisoned and tortured for their political and cultural belief. By the 1950s, resistance groups had formed, most notably the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) – Basque Homeland and Liberty.
ETA was founded in 1959 by young national activists. ETA is a Basque separatist organization. Since the creation of ETA in the Franco dictatorship, for fifty years ETA has tried achieve full independence from the Spanish country for the four Basque provinces Vizcaya, Guipuzcoa, Alava and Navarra in the eastern area of Spain and the south western areas of France of Labourd, Basse-Navarra, and Soule. ETA has been trying to become an independent state through their tactics of bombing and assassinations. Since 1959 the group has been held responsible for a number of bombings, shootings and kidnappings or killings of high – profile European government figures, and its activities have claimed over 800 lives in four decades. Though believed to be a small terrorist group (with approximately 20 main activists and several hundred supporters), in December 2001, the European Union declared ETA a ” terrorist organization”. ETA members are believed to have received training in Lebanon, Libya, South Yemen, Nicaragua and as well as to have fled to Cuba. The group also allegedly maintains close ties with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) through the both group’s political wings.
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