April 22-24, Hamilton College Academic Year in Spain (HCAYS) students visited the autonomous community of the Basque Country, or Euskadi in Basque, in the northeastern part of Spain, near the border with France.
With its three provinces – Araba, Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia – the Basque Country is culturally known today for its cuisine, rural sports (Herri Kirolak in Basque), agriculture and fishing. It is also known for its economic success – the region’s per capita income is Spain’s highest.
Basque, an ancestral language isolate to the people of the Basque Country and believed to be one of the few surviving pre-Indo-European languages in Europe, is spoken by 27% of the population. The origin of the language is not known.
The students’ visit started in Gipuzkoa in the town of Hondarribia, which holds an ancient old quarter with walls and a castle. They visited historic sites, watched the Basque sport jai alai (pelota vasca) and had the opportunity to learn to play.
The next stop was the capital of Gipuzkoa, San Sebastián (Donostia), a coastal city only 20 km from France. San Sebastián’s main economic activities are commerce and tourism – it is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Spain and the place Queen Isabel II visited for vacation and rest in the 19th century. Today it hosts the famous International Film Festival of San Sebastian.
The last stop was the city of Bilbao in the province of Biscay. A gritty port and an industrial center during the 19th and 20th centuries, Bilboa has experienced an ongoing social, economic and aesthetic revitalization in the last 20 years, starting with the building of the iconic Bilbao Guggenheim Museum and continued by infrastructure investments.
The students visited the museum and hiked to the San Juan de Gaztelugatxe hermitage located on an islet connected to the mainland by a man-made bridge. The hermitage, which dates from the 10th century (although discoveries indicate that the date might be the 9th century), is dedicated to John the Baptist. The consensus was that the views from the islet were worth the hike.