Guernica is a small town located in the Basque Country, located around a half-hour drive from the city of Bilbao. It’s well known because it was the scene of one of the worst bombings in Spanish history, which occurred on April 26, 1937. The event was immortalised in one of Pablo Picasso’s most famous paintings – Guernica – which became world famous. While most of the sights here have to do with the events of that fateful day, there are also Basque cultural museums, churches, nature reserves and markets to discover.
Take a look at the sacred Guernica Tree
One of the most important sites in Guernica is actually a tree. The Guernica Tree represents Basque identity and freedom, and became a symbol of the independence movement here. During medieval times, Basque communities and its leaders used to meet here to discuss and create laws. The Lord of Biscay established a set of laws called the fueros, which granted the Basques autonomous rule. The fueros were given to the Basques all the way up until the 19th century, although, today the Basque Country still has some autonomous rule. A tree has stood on this spot since the 14th century; however, the current one was only planted in 2015.
One of the most important museums in the town is the Euskal Herria Museum. It is housed in the old Alegría Palace, which was one of the few buildings that survived the Guernica bombing. Today it’s an ethnographic museum, where you can learn everything about Basque culture and history. There are exhibits on everything from Basque games and music to dancing, history and politics. The Biscayan Assembly building sits right next to the Guernica Tree and is where the Basque government meets. The neoclassical building was designed by the architect Antonio de Etxebarria and was built between 1826 and 1833.
After experiencing one of the worst bomb attacks in Spanish history, the town decided create the Museo de la Paz (Peace Museum). The museum first opened in 1998 and features an array of interactive exhibits, audiovisual presentations and photographs about the history of Guernica, world peace, and how we can achieve it.
Picasso’s original Guernica painting can be found in the Reina Sofia art museum in Madrid, but there is a tiled replica of it found in the town. Picasso created the painting just four months after the bombing of the town in 1937, and created it as a reaction and political message against the Nazis who attacked the town.
It was a Monday, during the town’s weekly market, when the bombing of Guernica occurred. Instead of letting those terrible events stop this, however, the Monday Market has become a symbol of defiance. Every Monday, the whole town comes alive and heads out to sell their produce, shop and eat. There are even sporting games and cultural displays to watch, too. Today, the market is one of the most important markets in the Basque Country.
The Parque de los Pueblos de Europa opened in 1991 and is the perfect spot to relax or go for a stroll. The park also acts like an outdoor gallery, with works by Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida and British artist Henry Moore. Chillida’s piece (see below) is called Gure Aitaren Etxea, which roughly translates as ‘The house of our father’ in Basque, and was created for the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica.
One of the prettiest churches in the town is Santa Maria. It was built between 1418 and 1715 and is a beautiful example of both Gothic and Renaissance architecture. It miraculously survived the bombing; however, part of it was damaged in a fire during later years.
Jai alai, a form of Basque pelota, is said to be the fastest sport in the world, with balls being hit at speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour. It is like a combination of handball and squash, and is played with glove-like baskets called cestas. The game is played on a court called a fronton, and Guernica is home to the second-largest fronton in the world. The residents here are big fans of the sport.
Take a day trip to the nearby Urdaibai – a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, located in the Mundaka estuary. It’s a great place for bird spotting and is home to species such as fish eagles, spoonbills and Eurasian bittern.