Ongi etorri, #BasqueLovers!
Welcome to Biscay, the land of myths and legends, ‘herri kirolak’, the Basque language, traditional dances and folklore.
Here in Biscay, we maintain our traditions alive. We walk into the future, investing in newness and innovation, but always keeping our origins in mind. Our roots, as well as the legacy our ancestors left us, are always present in the way we understand the world, intrinsically linked to both the sea and the countryside, which have forged our identity.
All over the territory we can explore magical places: forests, caves, or summits inhabited by mythological creatures such as lamias, gentiles, galtzagorris or memorable characters like Basajaun, Olentzero or Mari, to name a few. In addition to that, festivals and celebrations are periodically held throughout Biscay to preserve our ancestral culture.
Plenty of agricultural fairs take place year after year. In them, you can find and buy local products (made in traditional country homes called baserris), which are essential in our renowned gastronomy. The traces of our history can still be found at emblematic places like the Casa de Juntas or the Tree of Gernika, at the top of the so-called montes bocineros (or 'horn mountains'), at the vestiges of the smithies, the old mines and the steel factories, all of them witnesses of a formidable past forged in the iron that was mined from Biscayan soil.
However, the most significant emblem of our cultural inheritance is probably our native tongue, the Basque language, which after thousands of years of history is still used today – a true sign of identity. Its origin is unknown but the language continues to evolve, adapting itself to change, enriched by the nuances of the dialects spoken in the different Biscayan regions.
Herri kirolak is the name given to the sports emerged from the rural lifestyle – certainly another of our distinctive signatures. Most of the tasks that used to be carried out in the countryside in the past were turned into little competitions among the people who lived in baserris, until they eventually became the impressive sports we know today and that require a good deal of skill, strength and stamina.
During the exhibitions and tournaments celebrated all over Biscay to support these traditional games, we can find modalities to suit all tastes. One of the most characteristic ones is aizkolaritza, a sport which consists in chopping a log – either horizontally or vertically, individually, in pairs or in teams – in the shortest time possible.
Harrijasotzailes are capable of lifting heavy rocks, up to over 300 kilos, from the ground to their shoulders. The aim of segalaris at sega jokoa is to cut as much grass as they can within a set period of time by using a sickle, while at lasto botatzea an lasto altxatzea competitions sheaves are tossed up, and at sokatira (or tug-of-war) two teams pull on opposite ends of a rope to try to make their opponents cross a halfway point mark to win.
There are quite a few other modalities, each of them more surprising than the last. Contestants drag large rocks in giza probak, they lift anvils in ingude altxatzea or ox carts in orga jokoak, they race while carrying weights in zaku eramatea and txinga erutea, they gather cobs in lokotx biltzea or they make holes in the stones with a drilling stick in harrizulatzaile probak in the same way it was done in the old iron mines to put dynamite in olden days.
Our traditional dances, euskal dantzak, are also a key feature in Biscayan folklore. There is a wide variety of them – including solo, partner and group dances. Each region or town have their own personal style, so dances and folk costumes differ from one place to another. One of the most recognisable dances is the aurresku, which is generally performed as a tribute during festivities accompanied by a txistu and a tabor.
The kaixarranka is a folk dance performed in Lekeitio, in which a dantzari (a Basque dancer), wearing a tailcoat and a top hat, dances on a chest held by a group of fishermen on St Peter’s Day. The andrazkoen aurreskua is similar to the aurresku dance mentioned before, but performed only by women, who wear shawls of diverse colours, to celebrate the summer solstice. In the zinta dantza (maypole), typical of rural areas, dancers circle around a central pole hung with ribbons that are woven on it. The dantzari dantza is a series of traditional folk dances in Durangaldea. In the agintariarena, one of the most popular of them, the ikurriña (the Basque flag) flutters over the heads of the dancers. The makil jokoa and ezpata dantza are characterised by the banging of sticks and swords respectively.
As you can see Biscay looks to the future but it never forgets its essence, always maintaining and valuing customs and traditions. Discover your Basque Lover side in Bilbao, Biscay.