"Gernikako arbola" Guernica y Luno by mikey_e

Guernica y Luno Travel Guide: 21 reviews and 54 photos

Infamous Town

Gernika (pronounced with a hard g, like in go, in Basque and Spanish - Guernica - not Jernika or Gwernica) is a town that far more famous that ints now streets or small population would lead one to believe. This was once the capital of the Basque peoples or Bizkaia who, although they did not possess a state in the modern sense of the word, did have various forms of established government centred here in Gernika. In 1937, the luftwaffe (Nazi airforce), on orders from the fascist forces of Gen. Franco, firebombed the city without warning, killing thousands of innocent civilians, including children, the elderly and women. Their crime was apparently being Basque and living in the city that symbolized Basque autonomy and culture. The German and Spanish butchery so enraged Pablo Picasso he painted the famous mural "Guernica" (which now hangs in Madrid, not in Euskadi). When asked by the Fascists if he painted it, Picasso firmly replied: "No, you did."

Ancient History

It is somewhat hard to believe that Gernika is in fact an old, old town with a long history of settlement. The Germans' firebombing of the town destroyed its beautiful cobblestone streets which twisted and wound about like the narrow lanes of any mediaeval village. When the fascists finally took the city and began rebuilding after 1939, they created an ugly futurist plan for the city, with straight streets at 90 degree angles - thereby erasing the architectural heritage of one of the oldest cities in Euskadi. Luckily, some of the more historic buildings do in fact remain in tact, including the Parliament buildings, which function as a legislature for Bizkaia (returning to Gernika some of its historic dignity). Although the capital of Euskadi is in Gasteiz-Vitoria, in the least Basque of all 7 Basque provinces, this is the nerve centre of the province that includes the industrial heart of Euskadi, Bilbo.

Firm roots

Gernika was chosen as a place for governance because of its oak tree, an ancient symbol of the quasi-democratic nature of Basque governance. The Basques, before their incorporation into the Spanish state, never had a monarchy, but groups of village elders and nobles would gather under the tree in Gernika to discuss the problems of the people and find solutions. In the late 1800s, when the modern Basque nationalist movement was born, this tree became a symbol of Basque autonomy and self-government and was incorporated into the unofficial anthem of the nationalist movement (Gernikako Arbola - The Tree of Gernika), written by the Bard Iparraguirre in Madrid. There isn't a lot here that has "name brand recognition" but it is a very poignant stop for anyone who wants to understand why the Basque nationalists defend their cause so fiercely, and why the Spanish Civil gained such infamy as the conflict that should have brought the world's attention to the horrors of fascism.

  • Last visit to Guernica y Luno: Aug 1998
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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