Guernica (town)

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Guernica (Spanish pronunciation: [ɡerˈnika]; official and Basque: Gernika) is a town in the province of Biscay, in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, Spain. The town of Guernica is united in one municipality with neighbouring Luno ("Lumo" in Basque), Gernika-Lumo. The population of the municipality is 16,224 as of 2009.

Outside of the Basque lands, Guernica is best known as the scene of the April 26, 1937 Bombing of Guernica, one of the first aerial bombings by Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe.



Early history

The town of Guernica was founded by Count Tello on April 28 1366, at the intersection of the road from Bermeo to Durango with the road from Bilbao to Elantxobe and Lekeitio. The strategic importance of the site was increased by the fact that it lay on a major river estuary, where vessels could dock at the port of Suso. The town was clearly founded for the purpose of trade. In time it took on the typical shape of a Basque town, comprising a series of parallel streets (Goyenkale, Azokekale, Artekale and Barrenkale) and a transverse street called Santa María, with a church at each end of the built-up area. Life in the town became rigidly structured, with the aim being to preserve the privileges of the dominant middle classes. This pattern continued practically unaltered until the late 17th century.

On a small hillock in the town stands the Meeting House and the famous Tree of Guernica. By ancient tradition Basques, and indeed other peoples in Medieval Europe, held assemblies under a tree, usually an oak, to discuss matters affecting the community.

In Biscay each administrative district (known as a merindad) had its appointed tree, but over the centuries the Tree of Guernica acquired particular importance. It stood in the parish of Lumo, on a site known as Gernikazarra, beside a small shrine.

The laws of Biscay continued to be drawn up under this tree until 1876, with each town and village in the province sending two representatives to the sessions, known as General Assemblies. This early form of democracy was recorded by the philosopher Rousseau, by the poet Wordsworth, by the dramatist Tirso de Molina and by the composer Iparraguirre, who wrote the piece called Gernikako Arbola.

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