“Lunes gerniqués, ni golpe des” (“On Mondays in Guernica, you don’t lift a finger”), a popular refrain says of Guernica, which hosts one of the Basque Country’s greatest street markets.
On the last Monday in October, more than 100,000 visitors from the surrounding area and towns in northern Spain arrive in Guernica to attend a festival where nearly 300 local producers sell their wares.
For as long as anyone can remember, Monday has been the day when peasants (baserritarras) from the comarca of Busturialdea and other parts of Biscay travel to Guernica to sell their products. The Monday market has hardly changed over time, except for the advances in transportation. The festival was described by the first Lehendakari (president of the Basque government), José Antonio de Aguirre y Lecube, in his book From Guernica to New York, Passing Through Berlin:
“Every Monday of the year Guernica held its famous festival, picturesque gatherings of villagers, with an age-old essence that exemplifies the civility and joy of Basque celebrations. All the products from the gardens and home businesses near Guernica were exhibited in the plaza and, while transactions were carried out with commercial seriousness, the mules and oxen that had transported the products passed the time under the lime trees, awaiting the return of their owners. Once the important part of the day—the business part—was over, the crowds poured into the restaurants which bring Guernica gastronomic renown to satisfy one of the principal commandments of Basque life: eating and drinking well, with calm, excess, and animated conversation. And in a euphoric state that is the direct consequence of the culinary ritual, the people spill over into the fronton where the famous pelota games take place, or they head to the plaza to dance along to the sounds of the txistu and the tabor. When the church bells rang out the toque de ánimas, the visitors began their procession back home and Guernica regained the calm of an old, traditional city.”
All that activity played out the first day of every week of the year, reaching its peak on the last Monday in October, which has become the most important festival of gastronomy, agriculture, livestock, and crafts in Biscay and one of the most popular festivals in all of the Basque Country. Visitors are advised to use public transportation (bus or train) to travel to Guernica.
The festival is spread out throughout the entire city center, with baserritarras and artisans occupying the nearly 300 stands set up on the streets of San Juan Ibarra, Paseleku, Artekale, and Juan Calzada. The festival’s main event is the contests in various categories including vegetables, fruit, flowers, cheese, txakolí (a kind of wine), and honey.
The panel of judges ranks the products first thing in the morning, and then the participants can start selling their products. At noon, prizes are awarded in front of the fountain of Mercury. The Idiazabal cheese (which is made using milk from the Latxa sheep) competition culminates in the auction of the winning cheese with proceeds going to charity. Several restaurants bid on the cheese, and in 2010 the winning bid reached 7,700 Euros.
When the afternoon arrives, the festival grounds are packed up and visitors head to Guernica’s restaurants, preparing to enjoy a wide variety of traditional Basque activities that continue until the nighttime: parades, bertsolaris (composers, singers, and improvisers of musical verses in the Basque language), trikitilaris (performers playing the trikitixa, a type of diatonic accordion), dragging games, rural sports, and games of jai alai and pelota at the town’s huge fronton. With their purchases and the satisfaction of an exciting day, visitors return to their hometowns around northern Spain.
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