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Location of the Basque Country
Northern Basque Country in green

The French Basque Country or Northern Basque Country (French: Pays basque français, Basque: Iparralde) constitutes the North-Eastern part of the Basque Country and the Western part of the French department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques. With 2,869 km²., it is delimited in the north by the department of Landes, in the west by the Bay of Biscay, in the south by the southern Basque Country and in the east by Béarn (although in the Bearnese village of Esquiule Basque is spoken), which is the eastern part of the department. Bayonne and Biarritz (conglomeration BAB) are its most relevant towns. It is a popular tourist destination and is somewhat distinct from neighbouring parts of either France or the southern Basque Country, since it was not industrialized as Biscay or Guipuscoa and remained agricultural and a beach destination.

Basques describe the northern Basque Country as the union of three "French provinces" in the northeast of the traditional Basque Country:

  • Lower Navarre (Nafarroa Beherea in Basque, Basse-Navarre in French), until 1789 kingdom of Navarre (linked to the kings of France). 1,284 km¬≤.
  • Labourd (Lapurdi in Basque). 800 km¬≤.
  • Soule (Zuberoa in Basque). 785 km¬≤.

Its Basque name is Iparralde ("Northern side") while the part of the Basque Country located in Spain is called Hegoalde ("Southern side").

Its population has been: 126,493 (in 1801); 162,365 (1851); 226,749 (1979) (79% in Labourd, 13% in Lower Navarre, 8% in Soule); 259,850 (1990) (81%; 13%; 6% respectively); 262,000 (1999 census).

According to an inquiry of 2006[1], 22.5% were bilinguals (French-Basque), 8.6% were French-speakers who understand Basque, and 68.9% were not Basque-speakers. But the results were very different in the three zones; in the inner land (Basse Navarre and Soule) 66.2% speak or understand Basque; in the coast (Labourd) they are 36.9% ; and in the B.A.B. urban zone (Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz) only a 14.2% speak or understand Basque (according to another inquiry, 20% of the B.A.B. people can speak or understand the Gascon language). The proportion of French-Basque bilinguals has fallen by 3.9% from 26.4% in 1996 to 22.5% in 2006.

There is a Basque nationalist political movement, born in 1963 with the Enbata mouvement (forbidden in 1974) and now with Abertzaleen Batasuna and others, which seeks a split of Pyrénées-Atlantiques into two French departments: Pays Basque and Béarn; some other nationalist parties are EAJ, EA and Batasuna which have a reduced, almost symbolic presence, especially when compared to the southern Basque Country. These political parties historically take less than 15% of the votes in the district elections.

In the 1980s and 90s, there was a paramilitary group called Iparretarrak (the northerners) using violence to seek independence but it has been inactive for almost a decade now.

On January 29, 1997, the area was made an official "pays" of France under the name "Pays Basque", that is, a representative body promoting several activities, but without its own budget.



Bilingual French-Basque language signage in Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle.
Basque pelota courts are found in most villages.
Stone decoration in Armendarits.

The Northern Basque Country was for long largely undifferentiated from other areas of what is now Gascony. When Caesar conquered Gaul he found all the region south and west of the Garonne inhabited by a people known as the Aquitani, who were not Celtic and are modernly regarded as Basques (see Aquitanian language). In the early Roman times, the region was first known as Aquitania, and later, when the name Aquitania was extended until the Loire river, as Novempopulania or Aquitania Tertia.

After the Basque rebellions against Roman feudalism in the late 4th and 5th century, the area eventually formed part of the independent Duchy of Vasconia, being segregated as separate County of Vasconia in the early 9th century.

In this period Northern Basques surely participated in the successive battles of Roncevaux against the Franks, in 778, 812 and 824.

Count Sans Sancion fought against the Franks again between 848 and 858 eventually becoming Duke of Vasconia.

In 1020 Gascony ceded its juridsiction over Labourd, then also including Lower Navarre, to Sancho the Great of Pamplona. This monarch made it a Viscounty in 1023. The area became disputed by the Angevin Dukes of Aquitaine until 1191 when Sancho the Wise and Richard Lionheart agreed to divide the country, Labourd remaining under Angevin sovereignty and Lower Navarre under Navarrese control.

Meanwhile, Soule (Zuberoa) was constituted as an independent viscounty, generally supported by Navarre against the pretensions of the Counts of Béarn, though at times also it admitted a certain Angevin overlordship.[2]

With the end of the Hundred Years' War, Labourd and Soule passed to the Crown of France as autonomous provinces (pays d'êtat).

After the conquest of Upper Navarre by Castile in 1512‚Äď21, the still independent north-Pyrenean part of Navarre took the lead of the Huguenot party in the French Wars of Religion. In this time the Bible was first translated into the Basque language.[3] Eventually Henry III of Navarre became King of France but kept Navarre as a formally independent state, until in 1610 this separation was suppressed.

The three Northern Basque provinces still enjoyed great autonomy until the French Revolution suppressed it radically, as it did elsewhere in France, eventually creating the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, half Basque and half Gascon (Bearn, another sovereignty linked to the crown of France).


The Northern Basque Country has 29,759 companies, 107 companies for 1,000 inhabitants and an annual growth of 4.5% (between 2004 and 2006).[4]

66.2% of companies are in the tertiary sector (services), 14.5% in the secondary sector (manufacturing) and 19.3% in the primary sector (mainly agriculture, agribusiness, fishing and forestry).

Although the Northern Basque Country is part of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques for most administrative entities, it does have its own Chamber of Commerce ( the CCI Bayonne-Pays-Basque) and a distinct economy with a pole of competences around the boardsports industry including companies such as Quiksilver and Volcom based on the Basque Coast.

See also


  1. ^ Fourth Sociolinguistic Survey. 2006: Basque Autonomous Community, Northern Basque Country, Navarre, Basque Country, Basque Government, Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2008, ISBN 978-84-457-2777-5.
  2. ^ Baja Navarra y Zuberoa (La Historia y los Vascos -
  3. ^ "Joanes Leizarraga Vida Y Obra". Euskomedia. Retrieved 2008-01-28.   Article in Spanish
  4. ^ "Invest Pays Basque". CCI Bayonne. Retrieved 2008-06-05.


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