The French Basque Country, or Northern Basque Country (Basque:
Iparralde (i.e. 'the Northern Region'), French: Pays basque français,
Spanish: País Vasco francés) is a region lying on the west of the
French department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Since 1 January 2017,
it constitutes the
Basque Municipal Community
Basque Municipal Community (Basque: Euskal Hirigune
Elkargoa; French: Communauté d'Agglomeration du Basque) presided over
by Jean-René Etchegaray.
It includes three former historic French provinces in the north-east
of the traditional Basque Country totalling 2,869 km²: Lower
Navarre (French: Basse-Navarre; Basque: Nafarroa Beherea), until 1789
nominally Kingdom of Navarre, with 1,284 km²;
Lapurdi), with 800 km²;
Soule (Basque: Zuberoa), with
785 km². The population included in the Basque Municipal
Community amounts to 295,970 inhabitants distributed in 158
It is delimited in the north by the department of Landes, in the west
by the Bay of Biscay, in the south by the
Southern Basque Country
Southern Basque Country and
in the east by
Béarn (although in the Béarnese village of Esquiule,
Basque is spoken), which is the eastern part of the department.
Biarritz (BAB) are its chief towns, included in the Basque
Eurocity Bayonne-San Sebastián Euroregion. It is a popular tourist
destination and is somewhat distinct from neighbouring parts of either
France or the southern Basque Country, since it was not industrialized
Gipuzkoa and remained agricultural and a beach
1.2 Middle Ages
1.3 Modern period
5 See also
Stone decoration in Armendarits, "This house was made by Betiri
Echarte and Aimia Iriarte"
French customs system in 1732, with
a fiscal system of its own
The present-day territory was inhabited by the
Tarbelli and the
Sibulates, tribal divisions of the Aquitani. When Caesar conquered
Gaul he found all the region south and west of the Garonne inhabited
by a people known as the Aquitani, who were not Celtic and are
modernly regarded as Basques (see Aquitanian language). In the early
Roman times, the region was first known as Aquitania, and later, when
the name Aquitania was extended until the Loire river, as
Novempopulania or Aquitania Tertia.
After the Basque rebellions against Roman feudalism in the late 4th
and 5th century, the area eventually formed part of the independent
Duchy of Vasconia, a blur ethnic polity stretching south of the
Garonne River that broke up from the 8th to 9th century following the
Carolingian expansion, the pressure of Norman raids and feudalism. The
County of Vasconia was created extending around the Adour River.
In this period northern Basques surely participated in the successive
battles of Roncevaux against the Franks, in 778, 812 and 824. Count
Sans Sancion detached from the Franks and became the independent
commander of Vasconia, but got involved in the Carolingian dynastic
wars over succession after taking over Bordeaux (844), supporting the
young Pepin II to the throne of Aquitaine. He became Duke of Vasconia
after submitting to Charles the Bald (851).
At this point,
Basque language was losing ground to vulgar and written
Latin and was increasingly confined to the lands around the
Pyrénées. Since 963, the town
Saint-Sever is mentioned as "caput
vasconiae", interpreted by some as "limit of Vasconia", while others
take it as "prominence of Vasconia" on account of its location on a
hill overlooking the plains of Vasconia.
The lands to the south of the Adour became Labourd, encompassing
initially a bigger region than the later territory around the Nive
(Errobi) and the coast. In 1020 Gascony ceded its juridsiction over
Labourd, then also including Lower Navarre, to Sancho the Great of
Pamplona. This monarch made it a
Viscounty in 1023. The area became
disputed by the Angevin Dukes of Aquitaine until 1191 when Sancho the
Wise and Richard Lionheart agreed to divide the country, Labourd
remaining under Angevin sovereignty and
Lower Navarre under Navarrese
Soule (Zuberoa) was constituted as an independent
viscounty, generally supported by
Navarre against the pretensions of
the Counts of Béarn, though at times also it admitted a certain
Angevin overlordship. With the end of the Hundred Years' War,
Soule passed to the Crown of
France as autonomous
provinces (pays d'êtat).
After the conquest of Upper
Navarre by Castile in 1512–21, the still
independent north-Pyrenean part of
Navarre took the lead of the
Huguenot party in the French Wars of Religion. In this time the Bible
was first translated into the Basque language. Eventually Henry III
Navarre became King of
France but kept
Navarre as a formally
independent state, until in 1620–24 this separation was suppressed.
In 1634, Axular gives in his literary work Gero a rough description of
the extent of Basque at the time, with the language comprising all the
provinces now known as Basque Country "and [in] so many other places".
After Axular's accomplished book, other Basque writing authors
followed suit, especially in Labourd, a district thriving on whale
hunting. In 1579 an important handbook for navigation was published by
Martin Oihartzabal, the Navigational pilot offering guidance and
useful landmarks found in Newfoundland and other Basque traditional
fisheries. In 1677 it was translated to Basque by Pierre Etxeberri.
However, during the 17 and 18th century that activity saw a gradual
decline as the English took over from the Basques.
Further information: End of Basque home rule in France
Biarritz converted into a seaside resort
Eskualduna announcing the outbreak of war and its enthusiast
allegiance to the French war effort
1928 memorial to the Basques fallen in World War I, (Aisne, France),
cited an explicit mention of the Basques is however omitted
The three Northern Basque provinces still enjoyed considerable
autonomy until the
French Revolution suppressed it radically, as it
did elsewhere in France, eventually creating the department of
Basses-Pyrénées, half Basque and half Gascon (Béarn, a former
sovereign territory). Third estate representatives of the Basques
provinces attending the
Estates-General of 1789
Estates-General of 1789 and the following
national assemblies in Paris rejected the imposition of an alien
political-administrative design, regarding the events with a blend of
disbelief and indignation. The brothers Garat, representatives of
Labourd, defended against a hostile audience the specificity of their
province and that of the Basques, putting forward instead the
establishment of a Basque department. However, eventually the
brothers Garat from
Labourd voted for the new design out of hopes to
get a say in future political decisions.
The three Basque provinces were then shaken by traumatic events after
the intervention of the French Convention army during the War of the
Pyrenees (1793–95). Besides prohibiting the native Basque language
for public use ("fanaticism speaks Basque"), an indiscriminate
mass-deportation of civilians followed resulting in the expulsion from
their homes of thousands and a death toll of approx. 1,600 in
The Basques started to be forcibly recruited for the French army, with
large numbers of youths in turn deciding to run away or defect among
allegations of mistreatment, so starting a trend of exile and
emigration to the Americas that was to last for more than a century.
It became a matter of concern discussed by
Napoleon Bonaparte and
Dominique Garat. As of 1814, traditional cross-Pyrenean trade fell
conspicuously, starting a period of economic stagnation. Eventually,
trade across the Pyrénées border was cut off after the First Carlist
War, with large numbers further departing to the Americas in search
for a better life. In Soule, the emigration trend was mitigated by the
establishment circa 1864 of a flourishing espadrille industry in
Mauleon that attracted workers from
Aragon too. Others took
to smuggling, a rising source of revenue.
The mid-1800s were years of decay and yearning for the good old times
before the French Revolution. The Basques divided into Republicans,
laicist Jacobins (but for a nuanced position held by Xaho), and
Royalists (traditional Catholics), with the latter prevailing among
the Basques. Shepherding and small mining and agricultural
exploitations were the main economic activities along with an
increased presence of customs officials, both local and non-Basques.
The railway arrived at
Hendaye in 1864 (Mauleon in 1880), increasing
the flow of freight and people from outside the Basque Country that
replaced especially on the coast native inhabitants by non-Basque
Biarritz as the most revealing case, in a colonie de
peuplement type of settlement (Manex Goihenetxe, Eneko Bidegain).
Elitist tourism gained momentum as of 1854 (Kanbo, Saint-Jean-de-Luz,
Biarritz, Hendaye, etc.), as the high nobility (e.g. Eugenie de
Montijo) chose to take healing baths in spa resorts and get close to
In 1851, the first Lore Jokoak took place in
Urruña (restored floral
games tradition) organized by the scholar of Basque-Irish origin
Antoine d'Abbadie (Anton Abbadia), followed by several more editions
up to 1897. Other political and cultural events in fellow Basque
districts to the south of the Pyrenees had an impact in the French
Basque Country, especially in church related circles (periodicals like
Eskualduna, 1887), the only institution that still spoke to the people
in their language. That could not prevent
Basque language from further
receding to local and domestic circles. In 1914, Basque ceased to be
the trading language with the local middle and higher class customers
at the Mauleon marketplace (Soule).
The Basques could not avoid getting entangled in
World War I
World War I when they
were drafted to the front. While across the border
Gipuzkoa and Biscay
thrived on their shipbuilding and steel processing industry supplying
the European war effort, continental Basques under the age of 49
were required to the front of north-east France. From the
beginning and as the slaughter of the trenches wore on, thousands of
Basques objected to military service, defected and fled to the south
or the Americas. However, war took a heavy toll, 6,000 died in the
front, a 3% of the French Basque population. It also produced the
idea in the Basque psyche of being a component part of the French
nation, fostered by the above weekly Eskualduna on the grounds that
"God champions France."s
In the last 200 years, the territory has shown a slow demographic
rise: 126,493 (in 1801); 162,365 (1851); 226,749 (1979) (79% in
Labourd, 13% in Lower Navarre, 8% in Soule); 259,850 (1990) (81%; 13%;
6% respectively); 262,000 (1999 census). On January 29, 1997, the area
was made an official pays of
France named Pays Basque, i.e. a
representative body promoting several activities, but without its own
Main article: Basque culture
See also: Music in the French Basque Country
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (March
Northern Basques continue to practice many Basque cultural traditions.
The town of
Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle (Basque Senpere) is well known for
Herri Urrats celebration.
According to an inquiry of 2006, 22.5% were bilinguals
(French-Basque), 8.6% were French-speakers who understand Basque, and
68.9% were not Basque-speakers. But the results were very different in
the three zones; in the inner land (Basse
Navarre and Soule) 66.2%
speak or understand Basque; in the coast (Labourd) the figure stands
at 36.9% ; and in the B.A.B. urban zone (Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz)
only 14.2% speak or understand Basque (20% of the B.A.B. people can
speak or understand the Gascon language). The proportion of
French-Basque bilingual speakers fell from 26.4% in 1996 to 22.5% in
There is a
Basque nationalist political movement going back to 1963
with the Embata movement (forbidden in 1974), followed up during the
Abertzaleen Batasuna and others. They seek a split of the
Pyrénées-Atlantiques into two French departments: Pays Basque and
Béarn. Some other nationalist parties are EAJ, and EA with a reduced,
almost symbolic presence, especially when compared to the southern
Basque Country across the border. Since 2007, they gather around the
Euskal Herria Bai
Euskal Herria Bai earning roughly 15% of the votes
in the district elections.
In the 1980s and 1990s, an armed group called
northerners) used violence to seek independence. It disbanded in the
The Northern Basque Country has 29,759 companies, 107 companies for
1,000 inhabitants and an annual growth of 4.5% (between 2004 and
66.2% of companies are in the tertiary sector (services), 14.5% in the
secondary sector (manufacturing) and 19.3% in the primary sector
(mainly agriculture, agribusiness, fishing and forestry). This
includes an AOC wine, Irouléguy AOC.
Although the Northern Basque Country is part of the
Pyrénées-Atlantiques for most administrative entities, it does have
its own Chamber of Commerce (the CCI Bayonne-Pays-Basque) and a
distinct economy with a pole of competences around the boardsports
industry including companies such as
Volcom based on
the Basque Coast.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Northern Basque Country.
Duchy of Vasconia
Izarra, a local liquor
Eusko, local currency
Kingdom of Navarre
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Traditional provinces of the Basque Country
Southern Basque Country
Basque Autonomous Community
French Basque Country