The ancient Basque culture has survived against the odds. Their ethnic group is located in a region between southwest France and northwest Spain. They call themselves Euskal Herria, but for outsiders, they are known as Basque people. They use a different language, have different genetic features and it is unclear where they came from. To our knowledge, there are at least six Basque dialects, however, there seems to be a standardized version developed around the 1960s that the majority speaks today.
The Basque community has been isolated because a large part of their region is from the coastline to the textured hills of the Western Pyrenees. Due to the nature of it being less accessible, they were able to establish their existence without any exterior influences. They lived in northern Spain when the Romans invaded in 196 B.C., but still manage to retain most of their traditions!
Their language and looks seemed to puzzle anthropologists for decades. There have been multiple studies about their origins and the latest study suggested that they are descendants from early farmers who mixed with local hunters before becoming isolated for millennia.
Being one of the oldest ethnic groups in Europe means they have developed a culture that could differ a lot to todays’ cultures. They have one of the oldest living languages, celebrate their own unique festivals, play their own national sport and brew their own unique drink. Did you know Basque Country is home to Spain’s most famous wine regions: La Rioja? One of the most famous drinks from the region is called txakoli. This is a slightly sparkling, dry white wine. They love to drink that alongside pintxos, Basque-style tapas. In fact, they love their food and wine culture so much, they are home to many Michelin-starred restaurants. Basques don’t eat to survive; eating is a national pastime.
Oh, and have you ever heard of pelote, or pelota? It is considered their own national sports. The game is something in between handball and squash, played at a high pace. Next to that, they also still play rural sports like stone-lifting and log-chopping. Want to see these happening with your own eyes? Visit one of their infamous festivals, and enjoy the competitive atmosphere.
All and all, it is really rare that a culture like this was able to withstand all of the cultural influences from over the past millennia and that should be celebrated! Due to the consistency of staying true to themselves, they created a world for themselves that many other cultures did not survive.
BBC News. (2015, September 7). DNA cracks puzzle of Basque origins. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34175224
Blakemore, E. (2019, October 24). How the Basques became an autonomous community within Spain. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/reference/people/how-basques-became-autonomous-community-spain/
Fox, E. (2017, March 3). 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Basque Culture. Culture Trip. https://theculturetrip.com/europe/spain/articles/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-basque-culture/
the Guardian. (2011, February 21). The mystery of the Basques [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9Fw82uYw14