The Region of Aquitaine's Old Province of
Gascony, which is now known as the Pays Basque [the Basque Country], is located in the Region of Aquitaine which, in turn, is the most southwestern region of France. It is an historical region which had its greatest extent in the Middle Ages.
Food and Drink
Wheat, corn, fruit, geese and turkeys are principle products of Gascony.
The name Gascony comes from the Basques who were in the area in the sixth century. It was part of the
Carolingian Empire after it was conquered by the Franks. Henry II, of England, ruled Gascony in the 1100’s. As part of Aquitaine the land was fought over by the French and English during the
Hundred Years’ War.
The Region of Aquitaine's Pays Basque
The old province of
Gascony is now better known as the French Basque Country. It is primarily located in the Département of
Pyrénées-Atlantiques in the extreme southwestern corner of the present day French region of Aquitaine. The Département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques was formerly called Basses-Pyrénées. It is bounded by the Départements of
Gers on the north,
Hautes-Pyrénées on the east, the Pyrénées Mountains and Spain on the south, and the Bay of Biscay to the west.
The Pays Basque's climate, and that of the Region of Aquitaine, is very wet, with rainfall exceeding 120 inches (3,000 mm) per year in the mountains. Its topography is broken by the numerous rivers that divide the landscape into countless verdant valleys that support both agriculture and forestry. Fishing and tourism are the area’s economic mainstays. The region has been largely spared from the terrorism that has been associated with the Basque separatist movement in Spain and has provided a refuge for exiles of that and other conflicts in Spain.
The Département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques' principal sea ports are
Bayonne. Bayonne gave its name to the bayonet, probably made at one of the city’s arms works. Eaux-Bonnes and Les Eaux-Chaudes are resorts with medicinal springs. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is situated at the foot of the
Pass of Roncesvalles in Spain, where
Charlemagne’s army, led by his nephew Roland (legendary hero of the 11th century epic Chanson de Roland), was defeated by the Basques in 778.
Biarritz is a popular seaside resort on the Bay of Biscay.
The Basques are a regional population group found in this southwestern corner of France and in the two autonomous regions in north central Spain. In addition to farming, the Basques have traditionally engaged in seafaring pursuits, such as shipbuilding, whaling, fishing, and exploring. Basques sailed to the Americas with the original Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century. The Basques speak a language that is among the oldest in Europe, and they are ethnically distinct from the peoples of the surrounding French and Spanish areas, having preserved their identity among the waves of migrants who have passed through the region since prehistoric times.
The capital of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques Département is
Pau. It was founded in the 11th century on a plateau overlooking the Gave de Pau Valley. In the 15th century it was made the capital of the Province of Béarn. In the 16th century it became the administrative center for the Spanish kings of Navarre. It is now a well known tourist center noted both for its magnificent scenery and as a gateway to the Pyrénées. It is also an industrial center for petrochemicals, electronic equipment, footwear, clothing, and paper products. Of note are a castle (now housing a museum of tapestry) in which
Henry IV of France was born (1553); the house (now a museum) in which
Charles XIV of Sweden and Norway was born (1763); and museums of fine arts and local history. The city is the seat of the
University of Pau and the Adour Regions.
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