Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Pau was the capital of the former province of Béarn. The site, on a slight elevation overlooking the valley of the mountain river called the Gave de Pau, where it was crossed by a ford, controlled access to an easy passage into the Pyrenées, used annually for the seasonal pasurage of flocks of sheep in the high meadows (now represented by a hiking footpath GR65 that runs about 60km south to the Spanish border). Access to the pass partly accounts for Pau's strategic importance.
The site was fortified by the 11th century— "pau" means "palissade" in Occitan— the seat of the viscounts of Béarn. Pau was made the capital of Béarn Province in 1464. In the early 16th century the Château de Pau (illustration, right), made more habitable by Gaston Fébus, count of Foix, became the residence of the kings of Navarre, who were also counts of Béarn, and so it was the birthplace of Henry IV of France (1553-1610), though his mother, the redoubtable Jeanne d'Albret, had to cross the whole of France to ensure that her son was born at Pau. The baby's lips were moistened with the local wine and rubbed with garlic in his first moments. Charles XIV of Sweden was also born at the château, in 1763. The château now contains a museum of tapestry.
When Henri IV left Pau to become King of France, he remarked to the local notables that he was not giving Béarn to France, he was giving France to Béarn. The English discovered the charms of Pau and its mineral springs and left a decided imprint, before the French themselves did, partly because Wellington left a garrison at Pau on his way into Spain. The vacationing British, arriving before the railroad did, established the scenic promenade, the Boulevard des Pyrenées, and the first full 18-hole golf course in Europe (laid out in 1856/1860, and still in existence). Napoleon III refurbished the château, while Pau added streets of Belle Époque architecture, before fashion transferred to Biarritz. Pau is still a major center for winter sports and for equestrian events, with a famous steeplechase.
Since the 1950s Pau has depended on the production of natural gas, discovered nearby at Lacq, as much as on tourism, bringing new jobs and sulphur dioxide. Pau was the birthplace of Elf Aquitaine and of the cosmetics manufacturing giant L'Oréal.
The University of Pau (founded in 1972) is also in the town.
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