The Basque Country

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When I mention Spain, most people think of two places – Madrid or Barcelona. Although these are both important cities within Spain, I thought I would talk a bit about a lesser known area – the region of the Basque Country.

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The Basque Country, also known as País Vasco is one of seventeen autonomous communities in the north of Spain. It is composed of about 2.1 million people which is about equivalent to the population of Houston Texas. The area is just bigger than Delaware. It is composed of three provinces Álava , Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya. The capital is Vitoria-Gasteiz.

The region experiences mild temperatures and is slightly rainy. In the coastal areas, the temperature averages 48°F in the winter and 66°F in the summer.

The Pyrenees Mountains divide the Basque Country into two microclimates. The Oceanic microclimate in the northern part of the community consists of the thin land overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Much of this area is where major cities and towns are located. The southern half of the community is characterized by a Mediterranean microclimate. There is less urban development and more agriculture. There are many small cities and isolated villages here.

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The Basque Country offers a variety of geographical areas; for example, there are mountains, cliffs, plains, waterfalls, woods, and eight nature reserves. The area consists of 157 miles of coastline.

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The region is relatively small with three major cities that include Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz and San Sebastián. Bilbao, which is where I will be living consists of a population of 354, 000 which is comparable to Florence Italy (my study abroad home). Almost half of Basque inhabitants live in Greater Bilbao.

It is interesting to note that not only is the Basque Country a region culturally distinct from the rest of Spain, but the Basques have their own language, called Euskara.  Euskara is spoken throughout the Basque Country but beyond its borders in Navarre as well. The language is spoken by over 700,000 people and has been preserved since 5000 -3000 B.C. making it one of the oldest languages in the world! The age of the language helps to explain why it is so distinct from other languages. Historians believe the language was spoken widely in Western Europe before the arrival of the Indo-European languages.

Interestingly, there is some evidence of Celtic influence. The Celts settled in central Europe and came into contact with the people of Western Europe who spoke Euskara. We can find evidence of this in the language itself. For example, the Basque number system differs from the decimal system used by the rest of Indo-Europeans but is shared by Celt languages. Here is a little preview of what the Basque numerical system is like:

EUSKARA                    LITERAL TRANSLATION       SPANISH   ENGLISH

HOGEI 20 veinte TWENTY
HOGEITA HAMAR  20 + 10 treinta THIRTY
BERROGEI Twice 20 cuarenta FORTY
BERROGEITA HAMAR Twice 20  + 10 cincuenta FIFTY
HIRUROGEI Three times 20 sesenta SIXTY
HIRUROGEITA HAMAR Three times 20  +10 setenta SEVENTY
LAUROGEI Four times 20 ochenta EIGHTY
LAUROGEITA HAMAR Four times 20 + 10 noventa NINETY

You can see that the language is quite systematic but it does not resemble English or Spanish. Take a look at this video which talks more about languages in Europe and shows the distinction of Euskara.

Hope you enjoyed this brief history of the community. I hope to pick up some Euskara and blog some more about it post-arrival. More about the city of Bilbao to come!

Gero arte! (that’s see you later in Euskara!)

 

Sources:

http://intactnature.com/forest-in-the-basque-country

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Spain

http://www.travelust.org/2012/12/waterfall-basque-country-spain.html

http://www.red2000.com/spain/region/r-vasc.html

http://www.kondaira.net/eng/Euskara0001.html

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