Gernika, origin of the “Guernica”
Gernika is one of the most iconic places of Bizkaia and the Basque Country. This town brimming with symbolism is home to the General Assemblies of Bizkaia and inspired the famous “Guernica”, the painting by Pablo Picasso.
Gernika, 35 minutes from Bilbao and 40 minutes from Getxo, is a forward-looking town that does not forget its past. Since time immemorial, it has been and is an iconic place for Basque society, as it the symbol of democracy and of the historical rights of the Basque Country. Gernika is in the Busturialdea supramunicipal district, in the River Oka valley, and is the heart of the Urdaibai Biosophere Reserve.
The municipality’s official name is Gernika-Lumo. In the Middle Ages, Gernika was merely a neighbourhood of the port of Lumo. After years of disputes, both sides joined together on 8 January 1882 to form what is now Gernika-Lumo.
The bombing of Gernika
On 26 April 1937, a Monday and market day in Gernika, the town was bombed as a large-scale military experiment and as part of a plan of attack that would be later copied at other European locations during World War II.
The main target was to destroy the Rentería Bridge in order to stop the Basque troops retreating to Bilbao. However, the huge scale of the attack showed that it had another purpose: to demoralise the troops and the local residents and cause the Northern Front to fall.
Over 85% of the town was destroyed.
Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973), born in Malaga, was a painter, sculptor and engraver. He created Cubism along with Georges Braque. Since the early 20th century, Picasso has been considered one of the most influential painters who was part of different artistic movements and influenced many artists of the time.
As a result of the bombing, on 12 July 1937, Picasso unveiled the “Guernica” at the Paris International Exhibition. This oil on canvas embodied the painter’s horror of warfare and the dictatorships emerging at that time.
The “Guernica” did not initially cause the stir that it would generate years later. It was seen as a painting where war was reflected by incomprehensible figures in black and white. Neither was it welcomed by critics as a momentous work. The painting was exhibited in Europe and the United States. It has been on display at the Reina Sofía Museum (Madrid) since 1992.
Given those events and context, Gernika has the following points of interest:
Reproduction of Picasso’s “Guernica”
Gernika is home to the reproduction of Picasso’s “Guernica” made of tiles. The inscription under this mosaic reads “Guernica Gernikara”. It is the town’s call for the original canvas to be moved to the town after which it is named.
The Tree of Gernika and the Assembly House
Prior to the founding of the town, all the territory now known as a Gernika was a large oak grove with a chapel as the main feature. Over the years, that building became the Church of Santa María la Antigua, where oaths would be sworn, on the site where the Assembly House now stands.
The oak grove also shrank over time until only one tree was and is left, the Tree of Gernika.
At the time of the Seigneury of Biscay, the representatives of the villages in that feudal domain would gather together under the shade of the oak trees, until the custom was established to meet under the Tree of Gernika. The laws of Biscay were drawn up there and they would subsequently play an important role in the province of Bizkaia.
Political and religious ceremonies were held in the chapel and currently it is noted for being the place where the people would pledge the Oath to the Charter Laws, which were abolished in 1876.
The current Assembly House, opposite the Tree of Gernika, is the venue for such important ceremonies in the Basque Country as the swearing in of the Lehendakari, the Basque Premier.
Gernika farmers’ market
The Gernika farmers’ market is held every Monday.
As the refrain goes: “Lunes gernikes, kolperik ez”, which means in English “On Mondays in Guernica, you don’t lift a finger”, in other words, that day of the week is a day off.
The Gernika market was held outdoors until the day of the Bombing, which happened on a Monday. The Directorate for Devastated Regions and Repairs decided it should be rebuilt in an enclosed area.
It is one of the few traditional markets held in the Basque Country and it is more than a place just to buy and sell. The Gernika farmers’ market has always been a gathering point for the residents of Busturialdea, the supramunicipal district of Bizkaia to which the municipality belongs.
Jai Alai Basque Pelota Court
Gernika’s Jai Alai Basque Pelota Court is one of the largest in the world for cesta punta, a variety of traditional Basque Pelota using a basket worn by the players to throw the ball. In fact, the pelotaris or players themselves say it is one of the best in the world given its characteristics.
Games are played after the traditional market every Monday.
Air raid shelters
The Basque Government ordered air raid shelters to be built at different points of the Basque Country as the result of the raids there prior to the bombing of Gernika.
Two out of three built can now be visited:
- Pasaleku shelter: 10.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m.
- Astra shelter: 10.00 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. from Monday to Friday and 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. on Saturdays from April to October (both inclusive).
At the Peace Museum, audio-visual and photographic exhibitions, along with accounts of survivors of the attack, cover the events of the bombing on 26 April 1937.
Euskal Herria Musem
The Euskal Herria Museum in Gernika aims to showcase Basque culture and everything that is specific to Basque society.
- Ground floor. Displays on the specific local features that condition the Basque lifestyle.
- First floor. Basque history and political evolution to understand the path to the current situation.
- Second floor. Sports, festivities, music… Everything relating to Basque culture.
- Upper floor. Temporary exhibitions.
The Monday farmers’ market sells traditional products of Gernika, including:
Beans are a staple of Basque food. They have been grown on the farmsteads for more than five years and are rated “very good” or “excellent” by professional tasters. The production techniques are noted for being environmentally friendly.
These peppers have always been highly appreciated in Bizkaia and their look and flavour have even triumphed in the Spanish catering industry.
Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”, the town’s historical events and culture make Gernika one of the most iconic places in the Basque Country.
You can take the following route to reach Gernika from Getxo:
The Gernika shuttle service will get you there in just 45 minutes.
Before or after visiting Gernika, we recommend the 5 Getxo routes to discover the essence of our town. We also recommend the route along the Basque Coast’s towns to discover the charm of this beautiful area along the Bay of Biscay.
Go to Gernika Tourist Information Office website