Our first stop in the Basque Country was Guernica. It was quite a strange experience as obviously there was a fiesta going on. There was a huge fair at the end of the town and most of the people were wearing a blue and white scarf around their necks. When I asked about it in the tourist office I was told that it’s the fiesta of San Roke.
We saw that they were making food in huge pots on the main square and wherever you went there were big tables set up for the people of Guernica.
While the cooking was going on nothing much happened so we decided to look around. Away from the city centre the town was all quiet.
The town’s name is connected forever with the bombing that occurred here in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The place was not directly involved in the war however it did house some of the republican troops and was a retreat post for them to Bilbao. It was famously a playground for Hitler’s Luftwaffe who wanted to test the air force before the main event, World War II. They destroyed one third of the town’s buildings and many civilians although the number is disputable.
Franco did everything to keep it a secret from the world but Picasso’s famous painting that bears the same name as the town, made sure it didn’t happen. At first the painter was accused of using his talent as propaganda but later Guernica was declared a masterpiece. Although the original Picasso painting is in Madrid in the Sofia Reina Museum there is a life-size copy of it made of ceramics on one of the city’s wall. I have to admit I wasn’t able to look at it for long.
Maybe you remember that just like Catalonia, the Basque Country wants independence from Spain as well, but unlike Catalonia, they were asking for this with violence. Nowadays the violence has disappeared but the desire to be separated from the main country is still alive.
The town is also famous for an oak tree, the Tree of Guernica. During the middle ages, the local representatives would assemble under big trees. Later this role was taken over by the Tree of Guernica and from about 1512 it gave place to the General Assembly of Bizkaia. The original tree was planted in the 14th century and lived for 450 years. The tree´s trunk that can be seen today is the third generation of the original and miraculously was not damaged by the heavy bombing of the town. It later died of fungus but the government kept a few spare trees from it just in case. It can be visited in front of the Casa de Juntas (Meeting House).
I was desperate to go inside the Casa de Juntas as I wanted to know more about the history and there’s a beautiful ceiling painting that I really wanted to see but that day it was not open, probably because of the fiesta.
We also visited the Park of the European Nations. It’s a lovely green space just above the city that offers four different routes you can try around the city, you just have to follow the signs. We were conscious of the time so couldn’t try any of them but did have a little stroll around the park. Amongst other things we discovered a statue by Henry Moore, the ‘Large Figure in a shelter’.
A few more photos of the city.
Later when all the food was eaten there was music and dancing on the main streets of the town.
In many places there were small stages or spontaneous orchestras set up. We found this one man band (the guy wearing a green top) who managed to make a huge crowd dance.
At 6pm my favourite part of the Spanish fiestas happened: they brought out the giants! The giants themselves weren’t that interesting however there were some guys running around in front of them wearing only a giant’s head.
They had a soft ball in their hands that was hanging off what looked like long socks. Suddenly all the children from the surrounding squares gathered around them. I knew something was about to happen, something more than a procession. Well, those guys wearing the giant’s heads used the soft balls to chase the children and whack them on their behinds! It was hilarious to see how the children crept closer and closer to the guys from every direction until suddenly one giant head turned around and started chasing them and all the children ran off into one of the side streets. Here’s a little video about it.
When they stopped to have a little rest I sneaked a quick look inside the giant lady.
I also spotted a little orchestra playing music. As this was the first Basque music I heard I was eager to listen in.
Everybody in the town was there. They were dancing or sitting at the tables after the food was all cleared away. The whole place had a happy, content atmosphere where all was about the fiesta, the music and the community.
With this our time in Guernica came to end. Yes, bombing did happen here and changed the course of history forever but it’s in the past and now Guernica is town like any other having their saint’s feast day. For many people Guernica is a place where the bombing happened. For us it’s the first place we experienced a real Basque fiesta and this is the memory I choose to keep about it. We said good bye with a smile.