With eyes and ears open, we have encountered a weird and wonderful land of extraordinary and enigmatic people conversing in a melodic and mysterious tongue. It is here that we have met and observed the baffling Basques, some of the earliest inhabitants of Europe, who possess unique physical characteristics, and speak a language with no connection to any other.
Even though the Basque Country has its own language and official flag, it is not technically a country with representation in the United Nations or Olympic Games. Instead, it is the name given to the home of the Basque people, straddling the border between France and Spain on the Bay of Biscay.
The Basques have inhabited this area continuously for millennia, and now remain the sole surviving relic of western Europe’s pre-Indo-European past. Based on old skull fragments, the Basques may even be the last surviving representatives of Cro-Magnon Man, Europe’s first human population.
Despite the profusely hairy backs we have observed on local beaches, a direct link between the Basques and Cro-Magnon Man has recently been called into question. DNA from ancient remains now suggest that the original Basques arose after Neolithic farmers from Asia Minor came to the area and coupled up with local hunter-gatherers some 7,000 years ago.
Since that time, the wild Basque tribes resisted conquest by the Romans, Visigoths, Franks, and Moors. Despite numerous invasions from these formidable adversaries, the Basques have preserved their autonomy, culture, and original language.
The Basques possess an atypical blood group that is unlike any other. They are built short and sturdy, with handsome faces distinguished by long straight noses, thick eyebrows, strong chins, and long earlobes, all capped by floppy black wool berets.
The Basques are a hard-working people thriving upon the fertile rolling hills and bountiful seas. They even participate in sporting events derived from everyday chores, such as rowing regatta, wood chopping, log sawing, and stone block lifting.
In search of some answers about the Basque Country and its people, we visited the town of Guernica and the traditional heart of Basque nationalism. Guernica is home to the two most important political symbols of the Basque Country: the Assembly House where the autonomous Basques established their own set of laws, and the Tree of Guernica symbolizing the traditional freedoms of the Basque people.
We came to Guernica on a Monday to shop at its weekly market, and to remember the infamous aerial bombing that occurred here during the Spanish Civil War. On a busy Monday market day in April 1937, Nazi Germany in support of Franco’s Nationalist Army conducted the first saturation bombing raid on a residential center. Hitler’s horrific military experiment resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths and the destruction of 85% of the town’s buildings.
During Franco’s 36-year dictatorship, he attempted to snuff out the Basque culture, outlawing their flag and ancient language. As they have always done, the people fought back, resisted this invasion, and are now enjoying a local resurgence befitting of the baffling Basques.