Nafarroa Bizirik: 500th Anniversary of the Conquest of Navarre

Nafarroa Bizirik

In 1512 the Spanish conquest of the seven hundred year old Kingdom of Navarre began setting in motion the disappearance of the only Basque kingdom in history.  Five centuries later Navarre still lives--Nafarroa bizirik.

See timeline of conquest here.


The Kingdom of Navarre (Nafarroako Erresuma in Basque,  Reino de Navarra in Spanish) was a European kingdom which occupied lands on either side of the Pyrenees alongside the Atlantic Ocean.  It was originally founded in 824 by Íñigo Arista who led a revolt against the regional Frankish rulers.  For the next seven hundred years the kingdom of Navarre remained dominant in the north of Spain, reaching its height under Sancho III in the 11th century.  But now in 1512 Navarre was in a weaker position and Ferdinand of Aragon saw his opening.

Ferdinand of Aragon was in 1512 both King of Aragon and Regent of Castile because of his marriage to Isabella of Castile (yes the same one who sponsored Columbus' voyage). When Pope Julius II declared a Holy League against France, Navarre tried to remain neutral. Ferdinand used this as an excuse to attack Navarre.

Ferdinand was called "the Catholic" but the title better described his wife Isabella who personally completed the Reconquista or reconquest of Spain in 1492.  Dressed in white armor with the red cross of Castile, she lead an army on Granada and expelled the last of the Moors (Muslims) from the Iberian peninsula. Then she initiated the Spanish Inquisition to compel conformity.  When she died it left Ferdinand alone to pursue his vision of a unified kingdom.

In 1512 Navarre was the one missing piece of Ferdinand's vision of a unified kingdom because it remained independent.  He was an effective organizer and military leader, transforming a loose group of adventurers who had crusaded against the Moors into one of the best armies in Europe.  It was this military machine that he would unleash against Navarre.  

Ferdinand succeeded in persuading the Navarrese leaders to grant him passage so he could make war against the French, but he never engaged the French.  Instead his army of about 10,000 now set about conquering Navarre setting in motion the disappearance of the only Basque kingdom in history.

One of the areas of resistance to this conquest was in the Navarrese valley of Baztan.  There a Navarrese garrison resisted bravely in the castle of Amaiur which no longer exists, instead only a monolith now marks where the castle once stood.


AmaiurRecreation of the castle of Amaiur in Navarre, one of the points of resistance in 1512 to the Spanish conquest (left)

Now that site is marked by a monolith.

Several attempts were made to retake Iberian Navarre, notably a revolt in 1516 and a full-fledged French/Navarrese invasion in 1521. All were defeated by the Spanish. Navarre north of the Pyrenees (Nafarroa Beherea or Benafarroa) mountains survived, but only as a client state of France.

500 urte eta gero ("Five hundred years later") Nafarroa bizirik ("Navarre is still alive") as illustrated by the beating heart image.  An example of this ongoing spirit is this commemorative video posted at (click on English captions).  It's quite impressive.  What should have happened is that such a small group (even today all Basques comprise just 7% of Spain's population) would be culturally absorbed by the larger surrounding community.  But Basques defied the odds.  Five centuries after the attack on Navarre, the Basque heart still beats strongly.



Bengoetxea Farewell Tour


Foku Musikala