The origin of Basque Pelota and Valencian Pilota is hard to determine. Both games are known to have been played by civilisations in South America, Ancient Greece and the Far East. It is thought that they were introduced in Spain by the Romans and then spread to other countries. Both types of pelota were originally popular among the nobility, but today they are played by the masses in Basque and Valencian society.
In both Basque Pelota and Valencian Pilota, players hit the ball with their hand or with a racket. However, in Basque Pelota, opponents hit the ball against a wall, whereas in Valencian Pilota they face each other. After originally being played on the street, the games gradually began to be played on closed courts for safety reasons and to prevent insults and swearing during matches from causing offence. Since only the wealthy had access to pelota courts, the games became less popular in many parts of Spain.
Fortunately, Valencia and the Basque Country managed to preserve these historic sports, and they have since become a symbol of the traditional culture of the regions.
Attending a match is the best way to gain an appreciation of the game, which is thrilling viewing due to the speed at which it is played. In Valencia, where there are two main varieties of the sport called raspall and escala i corda, regular matches are contested on atmospheric indoor courts known as trinquets (the most famous of these is the Trinquet Pelayo, located by a bar near the Estació del Nord train station) as well as sometimes on the street.
The Valencian Pilota Federation (Federació de Pilota Valenciana) actively promotes the sport and provides information about the professional and amateur league schedules. It also organises exhibition matches annually on 11 September, which is now Valencian Pilota Day in the region.
Competitive pelota is even bigger in the Basque Country, with games even being shown on mainstream television. Frontón walls for pelota can be found in almost every city, town and village, although San Sebastián is one of the sport's hotspots. Matches go on year-round, but the peak period is over the summer months. Some centres also offer an opportunity for visitors to try their hand at the sport – local tourist information offices are the best places to find out more.