The Basque Country is a land rich in culture and history, its origins go back in time.
It is currently one of the most dynamic regions in Spain, both economically and culturally, full of very interesting traditions that will delight anyone who gets to know them.
From sports fans to lovers of good food or good local folklore, everyone will be able to enjoy a land which, day after day, continues to show that it still has a lot to say and a lot to offer.
Here we will see several of the most important Basque traditionshe explained briefly.
7 of the most important Basque traditions
In the following lines you will find the Basque traditions classified into different categories.
1. The Basque ball
It is one of the most famous sports in the Basque Country and one of the most international Basque traditions.. The rule is simple: a pair of players or riders (or two pairs) stand in front of a pediment, against which they bounce a ball to earn points.
It seems that the origin of the game has its roots in medieval Spain, when the so-called palm game was played, of French origin (Jeu de paumme).
Ball games were very common among European nobility, Which had their own “pediments” in the courtyards of their palaces. From there, it evolved into the different events that we know today: the Basque ball, the Valencian ball and even tennis.
2. The Vitoria lantern procession
A beautiful and moving celebration that brings together all Victorians every evening of August 4, on the eve of the feast of the White Virgin, and which fills the capital with lights and colors.
The procession dates back to the 17th century, When the candlesticks of Vitoria gathered in a brotherhood favored by the White Virgin and established this procession in her honor.
The lanterns that fill Vitoria’s night with light are linked to divine mysteries. First, the Joyful Mysteries show, the representative color is blue; later, the Sorrowful Mysteries, with purple as the standard. The last to pass are the glorious mysteries, the lanterns are flooded with red.
Each part of the procession follows the same structure. Each group of Mysteries opens the Our Father lantern / cross, followed by the Hail Mary lanterns. Each part closes a last lantern, representing the Glory of the Father.
The procession ends on the steps of the Church of Sant Miquel and in the Plaza de la Verge Blanca. It is without a doubt one of the most mystical and emotional celebrations in the capital of Alava., And one of the most beautiful processions in the Basque Country.
3. Basque dances
Basque culture is full of music and dance. There are countless popular demonstrations in this regard, so we will limit ourselves to reviewing the most well-known.
One of the most famous and widespread dances, which has made Basque culture internationally famous. It’s a contained and sober dance, Of a marvelous elegance, which plays with the positions of the feet and the legs and the balancing of the body. It is a very old traditional dance, generally used as a tribute and closely related to solemn ceremonies such as weddings or official ceremonies.
The dancers dance to the rhythm of a very characteristic instrument, the txistu and the tambourine. The performer of the txistu is called the txistulari, while the dancer is the aurreskulari.
Usually the performance of the aurresku follows a defined pattern: First, the dancers go around the square, and finally stop in front of the town hall. Then the first of the dancers, the aurresku (front hand in Basque), performs his stunts.
The azesku (back hand) or last dancer is the one who dances last. Usually, special importance is inserted between their numbers, the so-called Aurrez-Aurre or Challenge, in which the two dancers stand face to face and perform their particularly difficult dance steps.
There is also the invitation to dance from the two most important ladies of the place, usually the mayor’s wife and another woman from his family. The aurresku performs an individual dance in front of the first, while the atzesku does the same later with the second guest.
Although in the beginning the dance was choral, nowadays it is more common than the aurresku dancer or the front hand dance.So the dance is only known by name.
The Fandango and the Arin-Arin
These are the two most popular dances of Basque culture, present at all festivals and celebrations. Many experts relate them to the Spanish jota, for its fast pace and vehement movements.
It seems that fandango came to northern Spain in the 18th century, from the south of the peninsula. Considered at the time as an amoral and “sinful” dance, it gradually consolidated itself as one of the most appreciated and popular dances of the Basque tradition. Its rhythm is ternary (that is, of), and usually consists of three stages, although in Navarre it is common to add a fourth.
The Arin-Arin shares many features with the Fandango. Its rhythm is also fast and the movements of the dancers, enthusiastic and passionate. Some experts claim that this type of dance can come from the so-called medieval dances, characterized by dynamic and energetic steps. Their counterpart would be the Low Dances, the evolutions were much calmer and more solemn.
In the Basque tradition, carnivals are lived with passion. These ancient celebrations still retain some pagan vestiges, and are more common in rural areas. One of the best known is the Zalduondo Carnival.
The central figure of the Zalduondo carnival is Markitos, a rag doll who is “blamed” for all the evils of the community. The archaic origin of this tradition is obvious, because it must be remembered that the Carnival served, in the Middle Ages, to give the people a few days of flattery and disinhibition before the arrival of Lent.
Poor Markitos is subjected to a kind of public trial, And finally he is burned in the square to purify by his “death” the sins of the community. In the past, her “death” was perpetrated with a bullet in the head which detonated the doll.
Markitos is the king of Zalduondo carnivals, however there are many other rural carnivals in the Alava region, Like those of Ilarduia, Salcedo, Kuartango … the main character varies according to the city: thus, for example, in Kuartango the party revolves around the Bear, while in the carnivals of Ilarduia, it is the straw man the featured character.
Despite the differences, all these Basque carnivals they represent one of the most beautiful representations of what could have been carnival in medieval times, When men and women were carried away by their appetites, and even caused occasional misunderstandings.
5. The axes
These short trunk competitions are very popular in the Basque tradition. They also have medieval (or perhaps much older) origins, when loggers challenged themselves to see who was able to chop the most logs. however, official exhibitions date only from the 19th century.
The Aizkolari is the one who cuts the trunks (of Aizkolari, person who uses an ax). He must be in excellent physical condition, as short, strong logs require strength, precision and endurance. Although it has always been a male activity, few women today have dared to take the ax and participate in these competitions.
Typical construction of the Basque countryside, the origin of the farm (baserri in Basque) dates back to medieval centuries. Linked to the Catalan farm, it is an isolated building, surrounded by agricultural land and pastures, autonomous and able to provide for the needs of an entire family and its day laborers.
The construction is in stone, with a gable roof. On the lower floor were used to find stables, barns, etc., while the first floor was intended for family accommodation. Also as happened in Catalonia, it was the elder baron who inherited the property, which caused many conflicts and social problems, As the seconds passed way to support.
The farm is the ultimate symbol of Basque rurality. Today, many of them have been converted into tourist farms or restaurants, thus adapting to new times.
When it comes to Basque traditions related to gastronomy, the following stand out.
Dish par excellence of Basque cuisine, Basque or Basque cod is prepared with previously desalted cod and the famous Biscayan sauce, the main ingredients are garlic, onion and nyoras. The result is a very tasty and not at all heavy dish that delights the table.
Mushrooms and snails from San Prudencio
Very typical of Vitoria for the feast of this saint, patron saint of the region of Álava. Perretxitkos are the mushrooms par excellence of the Basque Country and Navarre; they are served in a tasty sauce mixed with snails, previously “scared” to come out of the shell.
The grilled medium
Meat from the North has a huge reputation, and anyone who enjoys Basque cuisine should try the succulent and hearty ribs, drizzled with good artisanal cider and topped with exquisite Basque cheese accompanied by walnuts.
Cod omelette with guipúzcoa
The typical “cider menu”, characteristic of the Guipúzcoa region, Would consist of this delicious omelet, grilled meat and fish and a good cider.
We have already mentioned the typical cider, but we should not forget the traditional xacoli from Biscay, usually white and made from green grapes, and the wines from Rioja Alavesa.
- Special collaboration with Hugo García, art historian, specialist in the history of Álava and its tradition.
- Pages of interest: