clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Unity in Spain: Princess marries Basque athlete

On a summery morning filled with pageantry and cheers, Spain's Princess Cristina married a Basque athlete Saturday in a lavish wedding seemingly designed to unite both the popular couple and divided Spaniards.

From the Catalan and Basque choirs whose voices echoed inside Barcelona's 700-year-old Gothic cathedral, to the Catalan and Basque folk dancers who performed for Cristina and groom Inaki Urdangarin, the ceremony appeared orchestrated to tie a love knot with Spain's two most unruly regions, Basque and Catalonia.The symbolism rang out loud and clear to Spaniards.

"It is very important that they chose Barcelona," said Marta Perello, one of an estimated 200,000 spectators who lined the Catalan capital's broad boulevards on the four-mile wedding route.

Spectators shouted "Long live the newlyweds!" and tossed red roses and white carnations in the couple's path as they rode through Barcelona in a Rolls Royce convertible, open to sunshine and temperatures in the 80s.

During the Roman Catholic ceremony - attended by 1,500 dignitaries and carried live on Spanish television - the Basque choir sang a prayer in the Basque language, repressed for four decades under the Franco dictatorship and still a symbol of Basques' distinctive identity.

Archbishop Ricard Maria Carles of Barcelona spoke both in Spanish and Catalan, another important gesture in a region where many still long for the independence that Catalonia had in the Middle Ages as a Mediterranean power.

As the Catalan archbishop led Cristina and Urdangarin through the wedding vows, the princess looked at her parents, King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia, smiled and curtsied to them before turning to her bridegroom and saying "I do."

The king's eyes filled with tears as the cleric pronounced the couple husband and wife.

Cristina, the 32-year-old middle child of Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, moved to Barcelona five years ago to work for a cultural foundation, becoming the first Spanish royal to have a salaried job.

A member of Spain's 1988 Olympic yachting team, she met the 6-foot, 5-inch Urdangarin at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where Urdangarin played on a Spanish national handball team that won a bronze medal.

Though Urdangarin is a commoner, there were no complaints from the Royal Palace when the engagement was announced last spring. For a modern monarchy whose popularity and stature depend mainly on image and symbolism, Urdangarin had ideal credentials.

The 29-year-old bridegroom was born in the Basque region, where his father was chairman of a savings bank. He moved to Barcelona to play for a professional handball team owned by sports club FC Barcelona, a Catalan institution.

The new couple meshes well with the style of Catalans, who pride themselves on being more discreet than other Spaniards.

"I've seen her often on the street; she fits in so well. She just says hello and goes on," said spectator Maricruz Mostazo.