1. Discover Basque Country
  3. About Basque Country
  5. Culture


A country of culture

Image of Loiola

An enormous mixture of music, cinema, dance, theatre. The Basque Country simply oozes with culture thanks to a number of high-ranking festivals. If international stars and new directors come together at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, Bilbao is the meeting place for bel canto voices during its opera season and Vitoria-Gasteiz for the best jazz musicians, who also visit Getxo and Donostia-San Sebastián.

The Basque Country offers an interesting selection of aesthetic styles ranging from cave paintings to state-of-the-art constructions. The Romanesque stonework of the Basilica de Estibalitz, the great Gothic temples and towers, the impressive Baroque style of the Loyola Sanctuary, the joint work of the Basque avant-garde artists at Arantzazu or the international modernity of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and Artium are only some of the features on the long road through the Basque Country's artistic heritage.

Festivals, traditions and gastronomy

Image of basque sports

Farmhouse culture is yet to be found behind most of the typical sports, festivals and traditions that have adapted to modern times without losing any of their original spirit. Basques have converted farm chores into competitive sports and a way of having fun. Grass cutting, stone lifting, and even the sheepdog trials where farmers and their quick-witted dogs lead sheep round a circuit, are now institutionalised rural sports or herri kirolak.

Some of these sports went beyond Euskadi and Europe's borders, as happens with Basque pelota and its different modalities. Herri kirolak, which survive as lively events attracting hordes of local enthusiasts, are present at all agricultural fairs, religious processions or rural fiestas worth their salt. Other examples of Basque idiosyncrasy are: traditional music and dance, proof of a wealthy folkloric heritage and bertsolaris, those highly admired performers of improvised oral literature who have had such an influence on the transmission of Euskera, the millenary language of the Basques.

Eating means much more than simply covering a basic need. Gastronomy forms an important part of the everyday life for Basques, who discuss, negotiate and get to know each other better over a meal. Excellent traditional cuisine, based on only the best of ingredients, and the innovating author cuisine now well known beyond our borders, mean that the visitor can and must choose from a variety as wide as it is delicious.


Basque, or Euskara, is a language of unknown origin, with no known relationship to Indo-European, Uralic or European families of languages. Although the exact date of its origin is unknown, most specialists agree that it is probably the oldest language on the European continent. It has been influenced by other languages, like Celtic, Latin, Romance, Gascon and Castilian, to which it has in turn made interesting contributions. The history of the Basque language, until well into the 20th century, is the history of a language which is gradually losing part of its territory from the south to the north as a result of a number of different historic factors (mainly political and economic). Today it is spoken in the provinces of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia, Alava and Navarra, as well as in the French Basque provinces of Labourd, Basse-Navarre and Soule.

The first written literary work dates from 1545, although the first written words in Basque appear for the first time in the 10th century Emilianense annotations, written in Castilian Romance. This is mainly due to the fact that literature and popular tradition have been orally transmitted.

The recovery of Basque initially started in the 20th century with the creation of the first Basque school, or ikastola (1914), the foundation of the Basque Academy, Euskaltzaindia (1918), and the subsequent ikastola movement. It was in this same century that the bases of unified Basque were established (1968).

The revival of the 60s was consolidated in the 80s and 90s, when Basque was added to Castilian as one of the two official languages of the Basque Autonomous Community, and the Basque public institutions began adopting policies aimed at standardising and promoting the language. This means that, over the last twenty years, Basque has experienced the gradual increase in the number of new speakers, and an extension in the social and cultural areas in which it is used: education, university, administration, the media, etc., thus giving shape to an increasingly growing offer.