What is a Bertso?
Bertso sessions
Bertsolari performances
Basque bertsolari championships
Bertso Folios
Bertso schools
Bertsozale Elkartea


   Challenges have always played a very role in bertsolarismo. Bertsolaris needed to know and demonstrate who was better than who. And the public was very keen on berso competitions. Nevertheless, berso championships are a relatively recent phenomenon. The first official championship was held in 1935. That year Aitzol (Jose Ariztimuño) and others tried to take bersolarismo from the cider houses to the halls and auditoriums, in hopes this form of oral literature would be given the recognition and prestige it deserved. That first year the champion was a an educated young man by the name of Basarri. He was 22 years old, was born to a farming family but later moved to an urban environment. The following year's championship, in 1936, was won by Txirrita, a prolific, cider house-trained bersolari, who was highly regarded and whose bersos can often be found in berso folios.

   The war and its consequences put a halt on the championships. The next edition was advertised in Spanish under the title "Campeonato mundial de versolaris". In the eyes of the Franco dictatorship, the competitors were Spanish and French, not Basque. The championship took place in 1960 and the crowds that showed up on that occasion demonstrated that even in bleaker times bersolarismo had a healthy following. The champion for the second time was Basarri.

   The next three championships, held in 1962, 1965 and 1967, saw the victory of Uztapide. This was a period when bersolaris did not have much formal training. It is worth pointing out here that although the events were sponsored by Euskaltzaindia (the Basque Language Academy), it was actually Alfontso Irigoien who saw to their successful development.
   After a three-year interruption, Euskaltzaindia put together another two championships in 1980 and 1982. These first two post-Franco editions were tremendously successful, just as the previous editions had been. But they differed in that they drew in a younger audience. Other novelties had more to do with the man who ended up winning both editions, Xabier Amuriza, and how he worked with meter, melody, language and subject matter.

   The next championship was organised by the bersolaris themselves in 1986, with Sebastian Lizaso taking first prize. The following editions were organised by Euskal Herriko Bertsolari Elkarteak (Bersolari Association of Euskal Herria, now called Bertsozale Elkartea). In terms of audience, the championships drew in increasingly larger crowds. In 1989, over 8,000 spectators applauded Lopategi, who was bestowed that year's 'txapela' (the champion is always awarded a txapela or Basque beret). The last grand championships were held in 1993 and 1997, with Andoni Egaña as victor in both years. In the 1997 edition most of the bersolaris who made it to the finals were university students - proof of how well bersolarismo has managed to keep up with the times.
The next championships will be held in 2001.