Note that the map above depicts the modern boundaries of the Autonomous Region of Navarre (close to those of the Kingdom of Navarre before it was integrated with the other iberian kingdoms to form Spain in the Middle Ages), not the "historical" boundary of Esukal Herria, which would encompass only the northern half of Navarre.
The French provinces lost their administrative meaning after the French Revolution. The Northern Basque Country forms part of the French département of Pyrénées Atlantiques with the former province of Bearn. The département is part of the region of Aquitaine.
According to some theories, Basques may be the least assimilated remnant of the Paleolithic inhabitants of Western Europe (specifically those of the Franco-Cantabrian region) to the Indo-European migrations. Basque tribes were mentioned by Roman writers Strabo and Pliny, including the Vascones, the Aquitani and others. There is some evidence to show that they already spoke Basque in that time (see Aquitanian language and Iruña-Veleia). All other tribes in the Iberian Peninsula had been linguistically and culturally assimilated by Roman culture and language to a great extent by the end of the Roman period. The Basques were also greatly influenced by Roman culture and language, and might have become fully assimilated in a few hundred years had the Roman world not collapsed.
In the Early Middle Ages, the territory between the Ebro and Garonne rivers, known as Vasconia, for very short periods partially under the control Dukes of Vasconia. After the Moorish invasions and the Frankish expansion under Charlemagne, the territory was again fragmented and eventually the Kingdom of Pamplona arose as the main state in the area in the 9th century.
This state, later known as Navarre, was partially annexed to the Kingdom of Castile in the 11th and 12th century and 1512-21. The remainder of Navarre was united to France. The three western provinces (Araba, Biscay, Gipuzkoa) had already joined through voluntary agreements the kingdom of Castile and helped to integrate Navarre into Castile.
Nevertheless the Basque provinces enjoyed a great deal of self-government until the French Revolution in the North, and until after the Carlist Wars in the South. Since then, a section of the Basque society has always been struggling to achieve independence as a sovereign nation-state (see Basque nationalism).
A significant majority of the population of the Basque country live inside the Basque Autonomous Community (about 2,100,000, that is 70% of the population) while about 600,000 live in Navarre (20% of the population) and about 250,000 (less than 10%) in Northern Basque Country.
José Aranda Aznar writes that 30% of the population in the Basque Country Autonomous Community were born in other regions of Spain and that 40% of the people living in that territory had not a single Basque parent.
Most of these peoples of Castilian and Galician stock arrived to the Basque Autonomous Community in the late 19th century and along the 20th century, as the region became more and more industrialized and prosperous and additional workers were needed to attend the economic growth. Siblings of immigrants from other parts of Spain have been since considered Basque for the most part.
Over the last 25 years, some 380,000 people have left the Basque Autonomous Community, from which some 230,000 moved to other parts of Spain. While certainly many of them are people returning to their hometowns when starting their retirement, there is also, according to some sources, a sizeable tract of Basque natives in this group who has moved due to a Basque nationalist political environment (including ETA's killings) which they regard increasingly hostile.
Both sides of the Pyrenees were home to a despised minority, the Agotes (also cagots). They were not a people apart, but lived as untouchables in Basque villages and were allowed to marry only among themselves. Their origin is hidden by legends and superstitions. In the modern society, they have mostly assimilated into the general society.
In the Middle Ages, many so-called Franks of Occitan language settled along the Way of Saint James in Navarre and Guipuscoa but were eventually assimilated. Navarre also held Jewish and Muslim minorities but these were expelled or forced to assimilate after the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. One of the most outstanding members of such minorities was Benjamin of Tudela.
Since the 1980s, the Basque Country –especially in its largest cities– has received an increasing number of overseas immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe, North Africa, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and China.
Several universities, originally teaching only in Spanish, were founded in the Basque region in the Franco era. One of those, the University of Bilbao, has now evolved into the University of the Basque Country with campuses in the three western provinces.
There are numerous other significant Basque cultural institutions in the Basque Country and elsewhere. Most Basque organizations in the United States are affiliated with NABO (North American Basque Organizations, Inc.).
In the historical process of forging themselves as nation-states, both Spanish and French governments have, at times, tried to suppress Basque linguistic identity. The language chosen for public education is the most obvious expression of this phenomenon.
In this regard, it must be noted that the current Batua standard of the Basque language was only introduced by the end of the 20th century, which helped this language being generally perceived until recently –also by its speakers– as a language not fit for educational purposes.
While the French Republics –the epitome of the nation-state– have a long history of attempting the complete cultural absorption of ethnic minority groups, Spain has, at most points in its history, granted some degree of linguistic, cultural, and political autonomy to its Basques, but under the regime of Francisco Franco, the Spanish government reversed the advances of Basque nationalism, as it had fought on the republican side of the Spanish Civil War in Guipúzcoa and Biscay. In general, during these years, cultural activity in Basque was limited to folkloric issues and the Roman Catholic Church, while a higher, yet still limited degree of tolerance was granted to Basque culture and language in Álava and Navarre, since both areas mostly supported Francoist troops during the war.
Nowadays, the Basque Country within Spain enjoys an extensive cultural and political autonomy and Basque is an official language along with Spanish. It is spoken by approximately a quarter of the total Basque Country, being its stronghold in the contiguous area formed by Guipúzcoa, northern Navarre and the pyrenean French valleys. It is not spoken in most of Álava, western Biscay and the southern half of Navarre. Of a total estimation of some 650,000 Basque speakers, approximately 550,000 live in the Spanish Basque country, the rest in the French.
The Basque education system in Spain has three types of schools differentiated by their linguistic teaching models: A, B and D. Model D, with education entirely in Basque, and Spanish as a compulsory subject, is the most widely chosen model by parents. In Navarre there is an additional G model, with education entirely in Spanish.
In Navarre the ruling conservative government of Unión del Pueblo Navarro opposes Basque nationalist attempts to provide education in Basque through all Navarre (which would include areas where it is not traditionally spoken). Basque language teaching in the public education network is therefore limited to the Basque speaking north and central regions. In the central region, Basque teaching in the public education network is fairly limited, and part of the existing demand is served via private schools or ikastolak. Spanish is spoken by the entire population, with few exceptions in remote rural areas.
The situation of the Basque language in the northern Basque Country is tenuous, where monolingual public schooling in French exert great pressure on the Basque language. Basque teaching is mainly in private schools, or ikastolak.
Since the 19th century, Basque nationalism has demanded the right of some kind of self-determination, which is supported by 60% of Basques in the Spanish Basque country autonomous community, and independence, which would be supported in this same territory, according to a poll, by approximately 25% of them, proving that the desire for independence is steadily decreasing as this is 5% less than in the previous poll. This desire for independence is particularly stressed among leftist Basque nationalists. The right of self-determination was asserted by the Basque Parliament in 1990, 2002 and 2006. Since self-determination is not recognized in the Spanish Constitution of 1978, some Basques abstained and some even voted against it in the referendum of December 6 of that year. However, it was approved by a clear majority at the Spanish level, and simple majority at Navarrese and Basque levels. The derived autonomous regimes for the BAC was approved in later referendum but the autonomy of Navarre (amejoramiento del fuero: "improvement of the charter") was never subject to referendum but just approved by the Navarrese Cortes (parliament). There are not many sources on the issue for the French Basque country.
Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) is recognized as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States. In 2006 ETA declared a "permanent ceasefire", after nearly 40 years fighting for independence from Spanish and French authorities. In June 2007 ETA officially ended the "permanent ceasefire".
The main sport in the Basque Country, as in the rest of Spain and much of France, is football. The top teams Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad,Osasuna, Eibar, Alavés and Barakaldo are a fixture in the Spanish national league. Athletic Bilbao has a policy of hiring only Basque players. This policy has been applied with variable flexibility.
Cycling as a sport is very popular in the Basque Country. Cycling races often see Basque fans lining the roads wearing orange, the corporate color of the telco Euskaltel, coining the term the orange crush during the Pyrenees stages of the Tour de France. Miguel Indurain was born in Atarrabia (Navarre), and he won 5 French Tours.
The Euskaltel-Euskadi cycling team is a commercial team. Present and former members of the team have been strong contenders in the Tour de France held annually in July and La Vuelta a España held in September. Team leaders have included riders such as Iban Mayo, Haimar Zubeldia and David Etxebarria.
In the north, rugby union is another popular sport with the Basque community. In Biarritz, the local club is Biarritz Olympique Pays Basque, the name referencing the club's Basque heritage. They wear red, white and green, and supporters wave the Basque flag in the stands. They also recognize 16 other clubs as "Basque-friendly". The most famous Biarritz & Basque player is the legendary French fullback Serge Blanco, whose mother was Basque. Michel Celaya captained both Biarritz and France. French number 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, currently battling injury problems, is also a Biarritz & Basque player. Before the banning of rugby league in 1940, a Basque club was the last to celebrate winning the cup.
Aviron Bayonnais is another top club with some Basque ties.
Pelota (Jai Alai) is the Basque version of the European game family that includes real tennis and squash. Basque players, playing for either the Spanish or the French teams, dominate international competitions.
Mountaineering is favoured by the mountainous character of Basque terrain and nearness of the Pyrenees. Juanito Oiarzabal (from Vitoria), holds the world record for number of climbs above 8,000 meters, with 21. There are also great sport climbers in the Basque Country, such as, Josune Bereziartu, the only female to have climbed the grade 9a/5.14d; and Iker Pou, one of the most versatile climbers in the world.