Monthly Archives: April 2007

Gernika 07/70



The small but infamous town of Gernika in Northern Spain, in the Basque country, has the sad task of remembering some even sadder events that took place seventy years ago today. 70 years in 2007 – hence ‘07/70’ as the motive for this year’s memorial acts.

The bombing of Gernika was an aerial attack on 26 April 1937 during the Spanish Civil War by planes of the German ‘Legion Condor’ and the subordinate Italian ‘Aviazione Legionaria’. Both air force units had been invited by Spain’s infamous General Franco. The air raid was called ‘Operation Rügen’ and resulted in widespread destruction and civilian deaths in the town held by the Republican side. The town, once the ancient capital of the Basques, at the time had a nominal population of around 5,000 and is thought to have also sheltered numerous refugees fleeing into this Republican safe haven. Also the raid was held on a Monday, which happened to be the market day in this small town. Over 1,600 civilians perished in this, the world’s first sustained aerial bombardment of a civilian population, with 889 wounded, according to official Basque government figures released at the time.

But whilst the images of Gernika’s destruction are etched indelibly into the world’s consciousness – and in the minds of a rapidly dwindling number of survivors – the 70th anniversary is causing barely a ripple in Spain itself. Little seems planned to mark the event on a national level, and no major Spanish politicians are expected to attend a church service, a concert and the wreath-laying ceremony for the dead in Gernika’s town cemetery.

Since 1983, Gernika is officially called Gernika-Lumo, perhaps to help ease the historic burden. Today Gernika-Lumo with some 16,000 inhabitants wants to see itself as a Capital of Peace. In 1988, the Basque artists Eduardo Chillida inaugurated his monumental sculpture ‘Gure Aitaren Etxea’ (‘The House of the Father’) in Gernika-Lumo, and in 1990, the sculpture ‘Large Figure in a Shelter’ by British artist Henry Moore was positioned next to it. Sometimes art may help heal the wounds of memory where political realities fall short.

Today, it is not war planes of the ‘Legion Condor’ that fly the skies over present day’s Gernika-Lumo but civil A320 Airbuses of ‘Air Berlin’ that bring German as well as tourists from other nations to the Museo Guggenheim in nearby Bilbao where, peace or no peace, the Pais Vasco is still waiting for Picasso’s famous ‘Guernica’ painting to finally come home to the land of the Basques.

A New World Order, ca. 1494



You may never have heard of a place called Tordesillas.


But you may occasionally have wondered why it is that the whole of the South American continent speaks Spanish with one exception, Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken. Well, Spain and Portugal were powerful colonial empires what with Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci (sorry, he was Italian. Of course I meant to say Vasco da Gama) discovering the New World in the XVth century. Soon it became necessary to sort out competing land claims in this New World. Pope Alexander VI took action to clear up any confusion that may have arisen over such territorial claims. He issued a decree which established an imaginary line running north and south through the mid-Atlantic, 100 leagues (480 km) west of the Cape Verde islands (off the west coast of Africa). That was about halfway between the Cape Verde islands (already Portuguese) and the islands discovered by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage (claimed for Spain), named in the treaty as Cipangu and Antilia (probably Cuba and Hispaniola). The lands east of the line would belong to Portugal and the lands to the West to Spain.


The Treaty of Tordesillas (Portuguese: Tratado de Tordesilhas, Spanish: Tratado de Tordesillas), was duly signed at Tordesillas (now in the Valladolid province, Spain), on 7 June 1494, and divided all newly discovered lands outside Europe into an exclusive duopoly between the Spanish and the Portuguese. The treaty was ratified by Spain (at the time, the Crowns of Castilla and Aragon), on 2 July 1494 and by Portugal, on 5 September 1494. The other side of the world would be divided a few decades later by the Treaty of Zaragoza, signed on 22 April 1529, which specified the anti-meridian to the line of demarcation specified in the Treaty of Tordesillas. 


Interesting, isn’t it? 


By the way, should you ever happen past Valladolid, you must go to Tordesillas and visit the Casas del Tratado, declared to be a site of Cultural Interest, which are two adjoining palaces that received this name because it was here that the Tordesillas Treaty was signed. The palaces are overlooking the Duero river. Also of interest there is the Monasterio Real de Santa Clara, a palace built by King Alfonso XI in 1350 and converted into a convent by his son, Pedro I the Cruel. Have some nice Ribera del Duero for lunch, but don’t drive after having had more than one copa.


Instead you could stay for the night there, for instance at the Parador de Tordesillas, from 110 € per room per night.