|The Region of Aquitaine’s Old Province of Gascony|
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 Landes and 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 Saint-Jean-de-Luz and 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.
The Region of Aquitaine, Déptartement Information Index to the region of Aquitaine
|Introduction to the Region of Aquitaine [Geography, Topography, Distances, History, Gastronomy, Economy, Tourism]
The Region of Aquitaine’s Départements
Departments & Town of Aquitaine Links
The Region of Aquitaine, Town Information
The Region of Aquitaine’s Basque Towns
Bayonne is a port at the confluence of the Nive and Adour rivers, near the Bay of Biscay. It is a metallurgical and fishing center. A noted cathedral (begun 13th century) is here, and the fashionable resort of Biarritz is nearby. Called Lapurdum in Roman times, the town passed to the French crown in 1451. The bayonet was probably invented here.
Biarritz is near Bayonne and the Spanish border. It is noted for its mild climate, sand beaches, and mineral springs. Once a small fishing and whaling port, the town became an elegant resort in the mid-19th century when it was patronized by Napoleon III, Empress Eugénie, and other members of European royalty. The beach at Biarritz is one of the most popular surfing beaches in Europe.
Pau is located on the Gave de Pau River, that descends from the Pyrénées. It was once the capital of the medieval duchy of Béarn and is now the capital of the département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The town was built on the edge of an adjoining plateau, 130 feet above the Gave de Pau Valley. It is a charming winter health resort, in the middle of the French Pyrénées, with many restful, shady parks and Belle Epoque architecture.
Pau is 477 miles southwest by south of Paris and 122 miles southwest by west of Toulouse. It is also 55 miles southeast by east of Bayonneand 24 miles west of Tarbes, at the juncture of the Autoroute A64 and Route National 134. It is known as the gateway to the western Pyrénées, and its boulevard des Pyrénées’ esplanade provides an outstanding panoramic view of the Pyrénées.
Pau was established in the 11th century. In the 15th century it was designated as the capital of the duchy of Béarn. The 16th century saw it as the residence of the kings of Navarre.
In 1553, Pau was the birthplace of Henry IV of France. He was born in the royal Château de Pau that overlooks the town and which now houses a tapestry museum. Gaston Phoebus, a 14th century ruler of Béarn, had renovated the château. It was redecorated by Louis-Philippe about 1840.
In the late 16th century, Marguerite d’Angoulême, the king’s sister, lived in the château and transformed the town into a free-thinking center for the arts. Marshal Jean Bernadotte, who was born there in 1763, became Charles XIV of Sweden and ruled Sweden from 1818 to 1844. His birthplace is now a museum.
Pau is a lively university town that has established itself as a major tourist center. The University of Pau and the Pays de l’Adour was established in 1970.
The château contains many treasures, including wonderful 16th century Gobelin tapestries and the Musée Béarnais with articles depicting the history and culture of the old province. The Musée des Beaux- Arts houses works by Degas, El Greco, Rubens and Zurbarán.
Pau has become industrialized in recent years, in part due to its proximity to the chemical-extraction and natural gas complex at Lacq. Its products include aeronautical equipment, beer, clothing, footwear, leather, paper products, shoes and textiles.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is one of the Basque country’s principal centers. It is a fashionable seaside resort on the Atlantic’s Bay of Biscay, in the département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, that built up around the harbor at the Nivelle River’s mouth. It is just 6 miles north of Hendaye and the Spanish border. The town is on Route National 104, where it runs along the coast, just 9 miles southwest of Biarritz. It is 66 miles southwest by west of Bordeaux and 491 miles south by southwest of Paris.
In the 11th century, sailing ships from Saint-Jean were hunting whales off Labrador. In 1520, ships from Saint-Jean’s fishing port were the first to fish for cod off of Newfoundland.
In 1558, the town was razed by the Spaniards. In 1749, and again in 1785, the sea raged against Saint-Jean, destroying part of the town with high tides.
The enlargement of the 13th century Church of Saint John the Baptist was begun in 1649, in preparation for Louis XIV’s wedding. On June 9, 1660, the king married the infant Marie-Thérèse of Austria for the purpose of cementing an alliance with Spain. The church’s enlargement, which had not been completed by the time of the marriage, made it one of the biggest and certainly the best of the Basque churches. For a while thereafter, the town became the capital of France.
Today, Saint-Jean is still a major Basque fishing port. Its fleet seeks tuna off the equatorial coast of Africa and sardines in the waters offMorocco and Portugal.
In the off-season, Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a sleepy fishing village. But, in the summer, and especially in August, tourists are attracted to its curving white-sand beach. It is also well known for its many other diversions. Its in-season shopping rivals that of Paris, and it offers a good selection of restaurants, hotels, promenades and casinos.
Bordeaux is located on a vine covered plain, called the Aquitaine basin, in southwestern France, east of the wine-growing district of Médoc. It is situated on the Gironde River, 15 miles south of the Garonne’s juncture with the Dordogne River where the Girond is formed. Bordeaux is 60 miles southeast of the mouth the Garonne River, on the Bay of Biscay [the Atlantic Ocean]. The town is also linked to the Mediterranean via a canal.
By road, Bordeaux is 356 miles [594 km] southwest by south of Paris, 116 miles [193 km] south of La Rochelle and 71 miles [119 km] south southwest of Angoulême. The A10, the A62 and the A630 Autoroutes converge on the city together with the N 10, N 89, N 215, N 250, and the D 106, D 213 and D 936.
The city of Bordeaux is the capital of two administrative districts: The département of Gironde and of the region of Aquitaine. In 1999, the city’s population was 215,363 while the population of the agglomeration exceeded 700,000.
The location of Bordeaux was a settlement as early as the Bronze Age. A Celtic people, known as the Bituriges Vivisci, made it their capital. In the 1st-century BC it fell to the Romans who called it Burdigala and made it the capital of their province of Aquitania, which included the area west of the Roman province of Provence and between the Pyrénées and the Loire River. In the 4th-century AD, the emperor Diocletian divided Aquitania into 3 parts. He made Burdigala the educational center of Gaul, the seat of an archbishopric as well as the capital of Aquitania Secunda. Since Roman times, Bordeaux has been an active port in trading with Spain and England. The decline of the Roman Empire, in the 5th-century, saw the area held by the Goths and the Normans for varying periods. The area around Bordeaux was left politically and economically instable until the 10th-century when the dukes of Aquitaine established themselves.
France had retaken Gascony and Guyenne from England in 1451. Following Aquitaine’s return to France, ensuing from the Battle of Castillon on July 17, 1453 [the last battle of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England], the French king limited the freedoms that had been given to Gascony and Guyenne by the English. The period from 1548 to 1675 found the Bordeaux a site for revolts against French rule. In 1548, almost a hundred years after the Battle of Castillon, 120 burghers of Bordeaux, who resisted the limitations imposed by the French king on their municipal powers, were executed. During the French Revolution, Bordeaux was a center of the Girondins movement, a moderate Republican faction. During the Reign of Terror, when the Revolutionary French government was in the hands of extremists, severe reprisals were inflicted on Bordeaux.
During the Religious Wars of the 17th-century Bordeaux declined economically and did not prosper again until the commencement of the ‘triangular’ slave trade between Bordeaux, Africa and the West Indies in the 18th-century.
Bordeaux once again suffered during the Napoleonic wars; this time from the British blockade. It did not recover until the port had been expanded and the railroads had been built. Subsequently, there was increased trade with South America and the West Indies that finally led to prosperity.
In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, the French government fled Paris for Tours, and then for Bordeaux, when the Prussians neared Tours. During World War I, when the Germans were approaching Paris, the government again departed for Tours and subsequently Bordeaux. And, during June 1940, when the Germans again threatened Paris, the government once again went to Tours and then Bordeaux.
During June of 1940, the French government under Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, together with General Charles de Gaulle and Georges Mandel, sent appeals to the United States and Great Britain for immediate help. However, a defeatist French opposition overruled them and Reynaud resigned on June 16, two days after the Germans entered Paris.
The Germans blitzed Bordeaux before occupying the town. Because the Germans had airbases and submarine bases in and near Bordeaux, the area was heavily bombed by Allied air forces. During August 1944, Free French forces liberated Bordeaux. Following World War II, Bordeaux has continued to expand.
Bordeaux is world famous for its wines that mellow, as the bottle grows older. Most of the classical French Bordeaux [Clarets] are shipped through the port. Shipbuilding is also a large industry in Bordeaux and automobiles and trucks are also manufactured there. There are a number of petrol-chemical complexes near the city as well as food processing plants. Aeronautical and electrical equipment and wood products are also manufactured in and around Bordeaux. Other products include hides and skins, rice, cotton and woolen cloth, sugar, fish and vegetables.
The site for Bordeaux is well planned about its crescent shaped center and to the north. There are wide streets, spacious squares and many imposing buildings that are the city’s heritage from the 18th-century. The old town lays to the south with its crooked, narrow streets and numerous 15th-centure style wooden structures. One of the city’s points of interest is an arched gate, called the Porte de Burgundy, which was built during the 18th-century.
The city boasts the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and some remaining gates of the old city wall. The Esplanade des Quinconces is one of the largest squares in Europe. It contains a monument to the Girondins and imposing statues to Michel de Montaigne [his tomb is at the university of Bordeaux] and Montesquieu [both were graduates of the university]. The nearby Grand Théâtre, which was constructed from 1775 to 1780, has an imposing double stairway and cupola and a statue-topped colonnade. The old Opéra Garnier, in Paris, is endowed with a similar staircase. The Hôtel de Ville was the former residence of the archbishops. Many valuable old manuscripts can be found at the Bordeaux library.
The city’s ecclesiastical antiquities include two 15th-century bell towers: The Saint-Michel Tower whose spire towers some 357 feet [109 m] into the sky [the tallest bell tower in the south of France] and the Pey-Berland tower, near Saint-André’s Cathedral which was consecrated in 1006. The church of Sainte Croix is a Romanesque style basilica of the 12th and 13th -centuries. The Church of Saint Seurin dates from the 11th to 15th-century.
Bordeaux is best known for its wine, a business that has had its ups and downs over the centuries due to a capricious demand, weather problems, grape parasites and the ruinous phylloxera infestation of 1869.