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Basque country

Euskadi, País Vasco, Pays basque

Last modified: 2024-05-11 by olivier touzeau
Keywords: basque country | pais vasco | euskadi | ikurrina | cross (white) | cross: saltire (green) | cross: saint andrew | iparralde | hegoalde | euskal her |
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[Basque Country]

Flag of the Basque country - image by Jaume Ollé, 5 Jan 2001

See also:

Presentation of the Basque country

The Basque Country is the name given to the home of the Basque people and is located in the western Pyrenees, straddling the border between France and Spain on the coast of the Bay of Biscay. The regions comprises:

  • the Autonomous Communities of the Basque Country (7,234 km², 2,177,000 inhabitants) and Navarre (10,391 km², 657,000 inhabitants) in Spain
  • and the Northern Basque Country (Basse-Navarre, Labourd, Soule) in France. The three former historic provinces in the north-east of the traditional Basque Country total 2,967 km²: Lower Navarre (French: Basse-Navarre; Basque: Nafarroa Beherea), until 1789 nominally Kingdom of Navarre, with 1,284 km²; Labourd (Lapurdi), with 800 km²; Soule (Zuberoa), with 785 km². They represent today 310,000 inhabitants distributed in 158 municipalities.
    By decree of January 29, 1997, the prefect of Pyrénées-Atlantiques recognized “Basque Country” as a "pays" (country in the sens of region/area in the so-called Pasqua law of 1995), whose territory roughly overlaps the part of the department populated by Basques. In the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, the creation of a specific "Basque department", with its own institutions, such as a general council or a chamber of agriculture, became a central demand, which brought together the majority of elected officials, locals and socio-professionals. It has now been overtaken by the formula of "the Basque Country territorial community" which the EAJ-PNV (Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea/Partido Nacionalista Vasco) was the first movement to propose in 2002, then in 2009. This idea was then taken up by the social platform Batera, before being taken up by elected officials. In 2015, a debate on an intercommunality of the Basque Country was held. The French government has proposed several development scenarios that could lead to the creation of an intermunicipal structure that would finally provide the Basque Country in France with an institutional framework in 2017. The Basque Country urban community was created on 1 January 2017; it is the first time that the French Basque Country corresponds to an official territorial administrative structure in France.

Olivier Touzeau, 4 June 2024

Euskadi vs. Euskal Herria

Euskadi is the Basque name used for the Basque Autonomous Community (Comunidad Autónoma Vasca), whereas the whole of the Basque lands in France and Spain are referred to as Euskal Herria (which means 'Basque Country'). The three Basque territories within Spain (Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa and Álava) constitute the Basque Autonomous Community. In Spain there's also Navarre, a region which Basque nationalists want to incorporate into Euskadi, but whose people want to continue being a separate entity. In the Middle Ages the three Basque territories were part of the Kingdom of Navarre; they left Navarre to become part of Castile. So, Navarre is not the fourth land of Euskadi.

José María Sánchez Galera, 24 Sep 1998

Juanjo González told me that Basques also call the territory of the Basque Autonomous Community Hiruak Bat (three in one: Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa), when it includes Nafarroa it is called Laurak Bat (four in one) and when all territories are included Zazpiak Bat (seven in one, because this includes also Laburdi, Zuberoa and Upper Nafarroa) or Seirak Bat (six in one, [considering just a single, joint Nafarroa]).

Jaume Ollé, 16 Oct 1998

May I insist that Euzkadi and Euzkalherria mean different things to different individuals (like for example "Rome" centuries ago), even when those individuals belong to the same political group or party or have the same ethnic/linguistic origin. I suggest taking only the information in the Basque Country Government Official Website as authoritative. By the way, the ~Bat names identify Basque coats-of-arms as well as territories.

Santiago Dotor, 21 Oct 1998

This table illustrates the current divisions of the Basque lands:
Historical province (herrialde) Spanish Autonomous Community Spanish province
(provincial capital)
Guipúzcoa / Gipuzkoa País Vasco / Euskadi
Provincias Vascongadas1
Guipúzcoa / Gipuzkoa
(San Sebastián / Donostia)
Álava / Araba Álava / Araba
(Vitoria / Gasteiz)
Biscay / Vizcaya / Bizkaia Vizcaya / Bizkaia
(Bilbao / Bilbo)
Navarre / Navarra / Nafarroa4 Navarra / Nafarroa Navarra / Nafarroa2
(Pamplona / Iruñea)
Pyrénées-Atlantiques3 Bayonne Basse Navarre / Behenafarroa4
(Donibane Garaz / St.Jean-Pied-de-Port)
Labourd / Lapurdi Labourd / Lapurdi
(Bayonne / Baiona)
Soule / Zuberoa4 Oloron – St. Marie Soule / Zuberoa4
(Maule / Mauleón-Licharre)
Historical province (herrialde) French department French arrondissement Unofficial subdivisions
of the French Basque Country
(subdivisional capital)


  1. Formerly official Spanish name, meaning Basque provinces.
  2. This is one of the Spanish autonomous communities consisting of only one province.
  3. Formerly, Basses Pyrénées. Only two of the three arrondissements encompass the French part of Basque country: the other one, Pau, is already in Bearn, Gascony. There is also no border matching between the two arrondissements and the three historical provinces.
  4. The forms "Nafarro", "Behenafarro" and "Zubero" are also frequent, they are just lacking the article (= "the").

António Martins and Santiago Dotor, 21 Oct 1998

The Basques have names for the "French" and the "Spanish" parts of their country: Iparralde (from Ipar, the North) for the "French" part; Hegoalde (from Hego, the South) for the "Spanish" part.

Joan-Francés Blanc, 08 Jul 1999

The name Euskadi is also a creation of Sabino Arana. As he did not speak Basque, this name has no clear meaning (it could mean something like forest of "euskos"). This is probably the reason the name Euskal Herria is preferred by some people. Source: Jon Juaristi, El Bucle Melancólico, about the birth of Basque nationalism.

Ismael Barba, 11 Jan 2000


Flag of the Basque country

History and Origins of the Ikurriña

The Basque flag was created in 1894 by Sabino Arana (founder of Basque nationalism), and the name of the flag is Ikurriña, although the meaning of this word is "flag." Actually, it is used only for the Basque flag: Basque people prefer to use the Spanish word bandera for the other flags when they are speaking in Basque.

The Ikurriña was created only for Bizkaia (Biscay, a region of Euskadi), but it became very popular and the rest of the Basque regions (4 in Spain and 3 in France) accepted it as the flag of the whole Euskadi. In the beginning only the Basque Nationalist Party (founded by Sabino Arana in 31 July 1895) used it, but during the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939) all democratic parties accepted it. In 1936 the Basque Autonomous Government (whose Lehendakari – president – was José Antonio Agirre) was created, with representation of all the democratic parties, and the Ikurriña was declared by law the Basque flag. After the Spanish war, the dictatorship (1936-1975) declared the Ikurriña to be illegal, and it was totally forbidden and declared a separatist symbol. During the Second World War, there was a Basque brigade in the French free army, and the Ikurriña of the brigade was condecorated (because of the battle of Point de Grave, near Bordeaux). After the dictatorship and with the approval of the Basque Autonomous Community, the Ikurriña was declared again by law as the official Basque flag. In the Basque areas of France it has always been allowed and after the Second World War has been officially used in the town halls together with the French flag.

Xabier Ormaetxea, 09 Aug 1995

The Ikurriña celebrated its centenary on 14 July 1994. The Ikurriña is the symbol of the Basques of Euskadi (under Spanish rule), Iparralde (under French rule), Navarre (under Spanish-French rule) and foreign residents in America, Europe and Australia (the Ikurriña is in the flag of Saint Pierre and Miquelon). The flag was hoisted for the first time by the Arana Goiri brothers and 56 friends, in the nationalist house named "Euskaldun Batzokija" in Bilbao on 14 July 1894. This was a great event for the Basque people, who had no flag tradition.

Source: Alderdi, no 55 (publication of the Basque Nationalist Party).

I found this page at the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (EAJ/PNV) website, with an image of the original notes and drawings [dead link] made by the Arana brothers when they designed the Ikurriña (as the flag of the Biscay branch of the Nationalist Basque Party alone), including a long version of the flag intended for hanging (on balconies etc.).

Santiago Dotor, 10 Dec 1999

The ikurriña was designed by the Biscay brothers Sabino and Luis Arana for the province of Biscay, and it derives from the Biscay coat-of-arms (the red field is from the ancient Biscay flag, the white cross from the argent cross of the coat-of-arms [which shows behind the tree] and the green saltire from the tree).

Antonio Gutiérrez, 14 Dec 1999

It seems the Basque flag was not designed by Sabino Arana, but by his brother Luis. He designed a different flag for every Basque province, and left for a while the Basque Nationalist Party when they decided to adopt the ikurriña as the single Basque flag, rejecting the other ones. Source: Jon Juaristi, El Bucle Melancólico, about the birth of Basque nationalism.

Ismael Barba, 11 Jan 2000

Meaning of the Flag

Historically the flag of Biscay was red. When Sabino Arana created the flag, he wanted to give it the meaning "Biscay, Independence and God," so the red color of the field means Biscay, the green St. Andrew's cross means the independence of the Basque Country, and it is green because it symbolizes the oak tree of Gernika, symbol of Basque freedom, as well. The white cross means God [and it appears on the Biscay arms].

About the green St. Andrew's cross: in 867, there was a battle between the people of Biscay, commanded by Lope Fortún (first lord of Biscay) and Sancho de Estigiz (lord of Durango) and Leonese King Ordoño II (son of Alfonso el Magno) in a place called Padura (or Arrigorriaga). This battle was on St. Andrew's day, and the stones of the place were stained of blood. Since that day, the place has been named Arrigorriaga (place of red stones). It is not clear whether this battle is historical or legendary, but St. Andrew's cross has been used often in Basque flags, like the one of the Consulate of Bilbao, the Naval flag of Biscay, and in some Carlist flags during the Carlist wars (1836-1876).

Xabier Ormaetxea, 09 August 1995 and Ismael Barba, 06 May 1998

Coat of arms of the Basque country

The ~Bat names (qv. Euskadi vs. Euskal Herria) identify Basque coats-of-arms as well as territories. The Zazpiak Bat consists of six quarters (representing seven territories - image):

  1. Navarre/Navarra (both Nafarroa/Navarra and Nafarroa Beherea / Basse Navarre)
  2. Gipuzkoa/Guipúzcoa
  3. Bizkaia/Vizcaya
  4. Araba/Álava
  5. Lapurdi/Labourd
  6. Zuberoa/Soule

The Laurak Bat officially used by the Comunidad Autónoma del País Vasco / Euskal Autonomia Erkidego can be seen at the Basque Country Government Official Website. The fourth quarter is plain red, "waiting" for Navarre to incorporate to the autonomous community.

Santiago Dotor, 21 October 1998

Zazpiak Bat (Basque expression meaning “the Seven [provinces are] One”) is a heraldic nickname for the Basque coat of arms which includes the arms of the seven provinces, stressing their unity. It was designed by the historian Jean de Jaurgain in 1897 for the Congrès et Fêtes de la Tradition basque celebrated at Saint-Jean-de-Luz.

The arms are the provinces of the northern basque country are blazonned:
- Soule: Gules a lion Or
- Lower-Navarre: Gules a cross, saltire, and orle of chains linked together Or and a centre point vert
- Labourd: Party, 1. Or a lion Gules holding in his dexter paw a harpoon dart of the same, set per bend senester, pointing upwards 2. Azure a fleur-de lis Or.

Olivier Touzeau, 4 June 2022