What (and Where) Is Basque Country?

Basque Country is a unique region in Europe with culture, cuisine, and language all its own. In fact, the origins of Basque Country are surrounded in mystery because the culture doesn’t seem to be influenced by any of its neighboring countries, which leaves researchers puzzled. So, what exactly is Basque Country and where can you find it?

Where Is Basque Country?

Aerial view of rolling hills in the Txakoli vineyards, Basque Country, Spain
Credit: Alberto Loyo/ Shutterstock

Basque Country is located on the northern coast of Spain. In some of the easternmost cities such as Hondarribia, you can walk across the border into France. Basque Country covers 2,793 square miles with coastline, mountains, and forests.

It's Not a Country

Although it has the word “country” in its name, Basque Country is not a country at all. It’s actually an autonomous community. Officially, it’s a part of Spain with a few regions over the French border, but it’s largely allowed to govern itself. There’s even a president and parliament of Basque Country that’s separate from the government of Spain.

After a long and hard separatist movement, Basque Country finally gained its autonomy in 1979. It’s allowed to create its own budget, taxes, and laws, but the Spanish government still holds power over several governmental aspects such employment, infrastructure, finance, and research. Those powers are supposed to be transferred over to the Basque government as well, but so far nothing has changed.

Geography

Aerial view of distant San Sebastian under cloudy skies in the Basque Country, Spain
Credit: Thomas Dutour/ Shutterstock

Unlike the famously arid regions of southern Spain, most of Basque Country features rainy weather, rivers, and lush greenery. Towards the southeast regions of Basque Country in the Mediterranean watershed, the climate tends to be drier like the rest of southern Spain.

Basque Country is surrounded by large, jagged mountains that separate the region from neighboring Spain and France. The pristine beaches and clear waters of the coastal regions are major attractions for tourists from all over the world.

Economy

Throughout history, the people of Basque Country have been avid sailors and fishermen — a tradition that continues today. Fishing and agriculture remain major industries in the region, although they are in decline. Industry is the largest source of economic income — especially in southern regions. Basque Country is known for its metallurgy. It’s also a major producer and exporter of paper, chemicals, and timber.

The industry that’s grown the most since the 20th century is the tourism and service industry. Travelers flock from all over the world to get a glimpse of the old-world cities, incredible beaches, towering mountains, and unique culture.

Unique Culture

Boats in harbor with colorful buildings in background
Credit: Jose Ignacio Soto/ Shutterstock

Despite being a part of Europe, the people of Basque Country have developed a culture all their own with no apparent influence from other European countries. They even have their own language called Basque, which is unlike any other Indo-European language. The lack of European influence in the region has puzzled researchers for decades.

It’s believed that the people of Basque Country are the most ancient group of people on the continent. The original inhabitants of the region settled on the Atlantic Coast over 6,000 years ago. When the Roman Empire took over the Iberian Peninsula between the first and third centuries C.E. and other Indo-European cultures began to move in, the mountains surrounding Basque Country made it hard for invading armies to enter the region — leaving the unique culture intact. While the rest of western Europe evolved into what it is today, Basque Country remained much the same.

Cultural Decline

Although the mountains might have hindered the decline of Basque Country culture in the past, they do little in the modern age of technology and air travel. Today, the Basque language, along with some of the traditional culture, has seen a steady decline due to the pressures of globalization and mass media.

Luckily, there have been several pushes to keep the unique culture alive. Basque is still the predominant language throughout the region, although many inhabitants are bilingual and also speak either Spanish, French, or English.

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