Alava: The Crest

21/06/2021

The coat of arms of Alava was officially recognized by the Government of Spain in December of 1984. The history of the crest goes back much further and its roots are one of the oldest in Basque Country. It's evolution has had many steps along it's journey and is a symbol of pride and justice.

Alava, spelled as Alaba in Basque, is one of three provinces that make up the autonomous community of Basque Country. The capital of Alava is Vitoria-Gasteiz, which is also the capital of Basque Country. It is the only landlocked province of the three and the least populated with roughly 320,000 inhabitants. It's history is deep and the evolution of it's crest goes back a long way.

The Crest

The Coat of Arms is in the shape of a shield with a ducal crown atop. Framing the shield is a blue border that has the phrase "en aumento de la justicia contra malhechores" written in gold. This phrase translates to " Increasing justice against malefactors."

The background of the shield is gold and atop has an azure banner that reads "Justicia" in gold. The center of the crest has a crenellated castle built upon a rock. From the rock comes an azure arm holding a sword. The sword is raised in defense against a red lion raised on his hind legs.

The word "Justice" was added to the coat of arms in the 18th century, while the crown was introduced in 1671.  At some point the arm was moved from coming out of the castle to out of the rock. Questions about other elements of this coat of arms remain unanswered as time has slipped away.

Portilla Castle

The castle on the crest is Portilla Castle. This castle was an important defensive structure for the Kingdom of Navarre. It played a large role in resistance against the attacks by the invading Kingdom of Castille. Now in ruins, the castle was approximately 70 meters ( 230feet) long and 6 meters ( 20 feet) wide. A wall that was 2 meters (6 feet) high enclosed and protected the town.

The town of Portilla's crest is very similar to that of Alava. Both crests have a castle that sits on a cliff. An arm comes out of the rock holding a sword in an unsheathed hand. The two crests also show a lion on its hind legs throwing his front paws at the sword.

The use of a castle on the Alava coat of arms is known to date back to the 13th century. Mention of the Portilla castle first showed up in writing in the year 1040. The castle is believed to have been built in the iron age. A new discovery that contradicts the previous belief that the castle was built in the 11th century. 

There were other towns and villages that also used this same coat of arms. It is very likely that the crest of Alava comes directly from that of Portilla and the castle of the same namesake.

Basque Country Coat of Arms

The crest of Alava is also a part of the coat of arms of Basque Country. This coat of arms is made up of the three crest of the provinces of Basque Country plus a void red square that represents Navarre. The three provincial crests are Alava in the top left, Biscay in the top right, and Gipuzkoa in the bottom left square.

The banner that reads "justice" is not present in the Basque Country coat of arms. The writing that frames the Alava shield that reads "increasing justice against malefactors" is also omitted in the Basque Country coat of arms.

The crest of Alava has a long history and is a strong symbol in Basque culture. It is meant to symbolize strength and a willingness to resist those against them. It represents the ideal that justice comes from the people. It proudly holds a place within the Basque Country crest and is well deserving of it.

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