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Bayonne (Basque: Baiona; Spanish: Bayona) is a city and commune of southwest France at the confluence of the Nive and Adour rivers, in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département, of which it is a sous-préfecture.
Bayonne has a population of 42,000. It is, together with nearby Anglet and Biarritz, part of "BAB", an urban area or communauté d'agglomération. It is the main town of Labourd/Lapurdi in the French Basque Country.
In the 3rd century AD, the area was the site of a Roman castrum, named Lapurdum. By the 12th century, the city, now known as Bayonne, was an important port, with a mixed Basque and Gascon population. As part of Aquitaine, it was ruled by England between 1151 to 1452 and was a key commercial centre at the southern end of the English kingdom. Its importance waned somewhat when the French king, Charles VII, took the city at the end of the Hundred Years' War and the Adour changed course shortly afterwards, leaving Bayonne without its access to the sea. The French, however, realised Bayonne's strategic site near the Spanish border and in 1578 dug a canal to redirect the river through the city once again.
Bayonne endured numerous sieges from Plantagenet times until the end of the First French Empire in 1814. In the 17th century, Vauban built large fortifications and the Citadelle in and around the city. These proved crucial in 1813 and 1814, when Wellington's army besieged the city in the Napoleonic Wars, only taking it when they used a bridge of ships across the Adour to position artillery around the city.
Bayonne's location close to the border, but also within the Basque Country straddling both France and Spain, gave it an often privileged position in commerce. Basque sailors travelled the world, bringing back products such as cinnamon and riches from piracy and the whaling and cod trades. An armanents industry developed, giving the world the "bayonet". Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition from 1560 brought new trades, most notably chocolate-making, which is still important in Bayonne. Spanish Basques also sought refuge in Bayonne in the 20th century during Franco's repression, with Petit Bayonne still a centre of Basque nationalism.
By the mid-19th century, Bayonne had declined somewhat with the centralisation of power to Paris and to the new département capital, non-Basque Pau, after the 1789 French Revolution, and with Wellington's bombardment. However, rail links with Paris from 1854 and the growing touristic importance of nearby Biarritz brought industrialisation and development. Bayonne is now part of 'BAB' (Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz), a metropolitan area of almost 200,000 people.
The Nive divides Bayonne into Grand Bayonne and Petit Bayonne, with five bridges between the two, both quarters still backed by Vauban's walls. Indeed the Nive is more like a main street, with many restaurants, squares and the covered market on its quays. The houses lining the Nive are picturesque examples of Basque architecture, with half-timbering and shutters in the national colours of red and green. The much wider Adour is to the north. The Pont St-Esprit connects Petit Bayonne with the Quartier St-Esprit across the Adour, where the massive Citadelle and the railway station are located.
Grand Bayonne is the commercial and civic hub, with small pedestrianised streets packed with shops, plus the cathedral and Hôtel de Ville. The Cathédrale Ste-Marie is an imposing, elegant Gothic building, rising over the houses, glimpsed along the narrow streets. It was constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries. The south tower was completed in the 16th century but the cathedral was only completed in the 19th century with the north tower. The cathedral is noted for its charming cloisters. There are other details and sculptures of note, although much was destroyed in the Revolution. Nearby is the Château-Vieux, some of which dates back to the 12th century, where the governors of the city were based, including the English Black Prince.
Petit Bayonne is lively with Basque bars and restaurants more reminiscent of cities the other side of the Pyrenees. There are two important museums here. The Musée Basque is the finest ethnographic museum of the entire Basque Country. It opened in 1922 but has been closed for a decade recently for refurbishment. It now has special exhibitions on Basque agriculture, seafaring and pelota, handicrafts and Basque history and way of life. The Musée Bonnat began with a large collection bequeathed by the local-born painter Léon Bonnat. The museum is one of the best galleries in south west France and has paintings by Degas, El Greco, Botticelli and Goya among others. At the back of Petit-Bayonne is the Château-Neuf, among the ramparts. Now an exhibition space, it was started by the newly-arrived French in 1460 to control the city. The walls nearby have been opened to visitors. They are important for plantlife now and Bayonne's botanic gardens adjoin the walls on both sides of the Nive.
The area across the Adour is largely residential and industrial, with much demolished to make way for the railway. The St-Esprit church was part of a bigger complex built by Louis XI to care for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. It has an attractive wooden Flight into Egypt sculpture. Overlooking the quarter is Vauban's 1680 Citadelle. The soldiers of Wellington's army who died besieging the citadelle in 1813 are buried in the nearby English Cemetery, visited by Queen Victoria and other British dignataries when staying in Biarritz. The distillary of the famous local liqueur, Izarra, is on the northern bank of the Adour and is open to visitors.
Culture and sport
Bayonne has the longest tradition of bull-fighting in France and there is a ring beyond the walls of Grand Bayonne. The season runs between July and September. Bull-fighting is a major part of the five-day Fêtes de Bayonne which starts on the first Wednesday of August and attracts people from across the Basque Country and beyond. Parades, music, dance, fireworks, food and drink all feature in the celebrations. Soon after the Assumption festival of 15 August heralds a few more days of bull-fights.
There are also important festivals of Jazz (July), Bayonne ham (Holy Week), theatre and pelota (the Basque sport).
Economy and products
Bayonne is known for its fine chocolates, produced in the town for 500 years, and Bayonne ham , a cured ham seasoned with peppers from nearby Espelette . Izarra, the liqueur made in bright green or yellow colours, is distilled locally. It is said by some that Bayonne is the birthplace of mayonnaise, supposedly a corruption of Bayonnaise, the French adjective describing the city's people and produce. Now bayonnaise can refer to a particular mayonnaise flavoured with the Espelette chillis.
Bayonne is now the centre of certain craft industries that were once widespread, including the manufacture of makilas, traditional Basque walking-sticks. The Fabrique Alza just outisde the city is known for its palas, bats used in pelota, the traditional Basque sport.
As of 1935, its chief industries were shipbuilding, tanning, and pottery. In the late 20th century, the processing of by-products from the Lacq natural gas field near Pau became important, although Bayonne has had higher-than-average unemployment. Metallurgy also provides local jobs.
Bayonne is on the high-speed TGV line between Paris and Hendaye for connections with Spain. In practice, the line slows considerably beyond Bordeaux although there are plans to improve the service. There are regional rail services along the Basque coast, to Pau and through the Landes to Dax and Bordeaux. There is a line along the Nive valley through Labourd and Nafarroa Beherea to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, used principally by tourists and hikers.
There are extensive bus connections with Biarritz, Anglet and surrounding villages. The city is near the intersection between the A63 Autoroute between Bordeaux and the Spanish border and the A64 from Bayonne to Toulouse.
The BAB airport, Aérogare de Parme , is 3 km away in Anglet, with flights to destinations across France as well as London, Germany and Italy. It is normally marketed internationally as "Biarritz airport".
Bayonne was the birthplace of:
- Dominique Joseph Garat (1749-1833), writer and politician
- François Cabarrus (1752-1810), adventurer and Spanish financier, father of Madame Tallien
- Jacques Laffitte (1767-1844), banker and politician
- Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850), classical liberal author and political economist
- Léon Bonnat (1833-1922), painter
- René Cassin (1887-1976), jurist and judge, recipient of the 1968 Nobel Peace Prize
- Michel Camdessus (born 1933), Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 1997 to 2000
- Didier Deschamps (born 1968), World-Cup-winning footballer
- Imanol Harinordoquy (born 1980), French international rugby player
The Mayor of Bayonne (1995-2007) is Jean Grenet of the centre-right UMP. The 39-strong town council is also dominated by the UMP, who hold 31 of the seats. The centre-left group has five seats, the Basque nationalist Baiona Berria have two and the communist LCR one.
Bayonne's twin towns are:
- City council website (in French)
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