Two trees, both oaks, symbolise the spirit of the Basques. One, watched over by Corinthian columns, is now a dead tree trunk but this is the one which is honoured, because it is wise to respect your elders, and even more so when they played a significant part in your history. The other is a young oak, growing strong and free. The majority of visitors to the Casa de Juntas de Gernika have their photos taken with both trees. Not in vain, we all love freedom and this is precisely what this neoclassical building with a beautiful garden symbolises.
The origin of this building goes back centuries. This is where the people of Biscay hold their General Assemblies. It is not only the first Basque parliament but one of the first in the world, the perfect place for a stroll and for feeling the atmosphere of peace. The Basque charters which, to a certain extent, are the origin of participatory democracy, are still drawn up and approved here. This form of government was the most authentic democracy, organised in neighbourhood councils that were then represented at the General Assemblies. This system allowed the needs and desires of the citizens from even the remotest villages to be voiced directly. The laws were, and are, made up of a series of rules, from Public and Private Law that obeyed the way the Basque people think and feel.
The Assemblies were held under the shade of a tall sacred oak. Today it is next to the tree, under the portico that resembles the ancient canopy of the medieval lords, where each Lehendakari (Basque president) is sworn in; the first took place on 7 October 1936. The lords of Bizkaia took shelter inside the House of Assemblies and the ancient hermitage if the weather was bad. Today, the remodelled hermitage is now the Biscay General Assembly Hall. It has a neoclassical façade but inside it looks like a sweet shop because it is so pretty. This place has conserved traces of the past in the baptismal font and altar which still remain intact and in the walls, filled with paintings and texts that recall the history of Euskal Herria. The paintings include the spectacular painting of the Besamanos de la Jura de Gernika by Francisco de Mendieta.