ÁLAVA   ARABA (Basque).

Flag of the city of Vitoria, in Álava (Spain).

Flag of the city of Vitoria, in Álava (Spain). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The southernmost and largest, though least populous, of the three provinces that make up the BASQUE COUNTRY (Pais Vasco or Euskadi), Álava is partly mountainous, though with fertile valleys.   The greater part of the province lies in the basin of the River Ebro, which forms much of its southern boundary,but the rivers in the mountain valleys of the north drain to the Bay of Biscay.   The capital is Vitoria (Gasteiz, in Basque), whence the abbreviation for the province – VI.   Vitoria is also the capital of the Basque Country.

A fairly large enclave – once the County of Treviño – around the town of that name belongs to the province of Burgos;  a much smaller enclave, belonging to the province of Vizcaya (Bizkaia), lies in the far north, on the border with the province of Burgos.

The origin of each of the Basque Provinces is lost in time, but Álava was a county in the early history of the Christian Kingdoms. Its position north of the Ebro made it important in defence against attack from the valley of the Ebro, the one relatively easy route from the Mediterranean to the northern coast, where the Christian Kingdom of Asturias lay protected by the Cantabrian mountains. It was consequently, together with its neighbour, the County of Castile, in the area most frequently attacked by Moslem raiders and by Moslem armies. In the later 9th century the Kingdom of Asturias began to resettle the lands between the Cantabrian Mountains and the River Duero.   The County of Castile shared in this advance and as a result became more important than Álava, which did not have the opportunity to extend itself because the Moslems remained formidably strong in the valley of the Ebro.

When it emerged the County of Álava was probably linked with the Kingdom of Asturias but in the 9th century the Kingdom later called Navarre arose, with its capital at Pamplona.   For several centuries Álava havered between Navarre and the more western Kingdom (Asturias, then León, then Castile).   By around 1200 Álava’s destiny was linked with Castile, though under the terms of its charters (fueros) it had a considerable degree of self-government.   The fueros were finally abolished in 1876.

Because it has long been open to influences from the rest of the Ebro valley Álava is the least self-contained of the three Basque provinces and has the smallest proportion of Basques among its population.

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