Bayonne

The cultural capital of the northern Pays Basque,
Bayonne grew and prospered from maritime
trade and its strategic position near the border
with Spain. It was long held by the English but
was finally taken by the French in 1451. In the
16th century Bayonne also opened its gates to
many Jewish refugees, who came here to escape
persecution during the Spanish and Portuguese
Inquisitions. At the confluence of
the great Adour, near its estuary,
and the smaller Nive, Bayonne
has a remarkable architectural
heritage. It is also well
known for its August
festivals and for holding
the longest-established
bullfighting fiestas in France.

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Exploring Bayonne
The best way to explore the
city is to start with the south
bank of the Adour, then walk
along the Nive. Half-timbered
Basque houses line the
embankment, their dark red
or green shutters giving the
place its unique character.
P Historic city centre
Until the 17th century, the old
city, which clusters round the
cathedral, was criss-crossed by
canals. Some streets, like rue
Port-Neuf, were created when
the canals were filled in. Rue
Argenterie is named after the
goldsmiths and silversmiths
who had their workshops
here, while rue de la Salie
is in the cloth and spice
merchants’ quarter.
P Nive Embankment
Starting at place de la Liberté,
the Nive embankment runs
past the covered market and
open-air marketplace. Quai
Jauréguiberry, with its typical
Bayonne houses, and rue de
Poissonnerie, a little further on,
were hives of activity when
Bayonne formed a major port
for goods from the New World.
+ Château-Vieux
Rue des Gouverneurs.
Built in the 12th century and
extended in the 17th, the
castle incorporates elements
of a Roman fort. It was once
home to Bayonne’s English
governor, and two French
kings, François I and Louis
XIV, stayed here. It is not
open to public, but visitors
can walk into the courtyard.

Musée Basque
Maison Dagourette, 37 quai des
Corsaires. Tel (05) 59 59 08 98.
¢ Mon & public hols (except Jul &
Aug). 8 & free for those under 18;
combined entry to Musée Bonnat.
www.musee-basque.com
The museum is in the Maison
Dagourette, a superbly
restored 16th-century house
that is listed as a historic
monument. The collections,
which have grown since the
museum’s foundation in
1922, concentrate on Basque
culture. Laid out in 20 rooms,
they give an insight into the
folk art and customs of the
Pays Basque. Displays cover a
number of different themes,
including local farm life and
sea and river trade, as well as
theatre, music, dance, games
and sports, with a room
devoted to pelota (see p50).
There are also sections on
everyday clothing and
traditional costume,
architecture, religious and
secular festivals and burial
customs. Among the paintings
are depictions of typical local
scenes and activity.

 

Place Paul-Bert
In August, during Bayonne’s
festival season, this square in
Petit Bayonne is where young
cows are let loose as part of the
traditional bull-running events.
Nearby is the 19th-century
Église Saint-André, where
mass is celebrated in Basque.
Directly opposite the church is
Château-Neuf, built in the 15th
century during the reign of
Charles VII. It forms part of the
defences that were later built
around the city. In summer, the
castle is the venue for largescale
temporary exhibitions
mounted by the Musée Basque.

Quartier Saint-Esprit
This district on the north bank
of the Adour, east of Pont
Saint-Esprit, is still largely
working-class, with quite a
cosmopolitan feel. It is where
immigrants settled, especially
Jews driven out of Spain and
Portugal from the mid-16th
century onward, helping build
up sea trade. A synagogue
and a Jewish cemetery are
two vestiges of this period.
Environs
The Croix de Mouguerre,
8.5km (5 miles) from
Bayonne, commemorates the
fallen in a battle
fought in 1813,
during the Napoleonic
Wars,
between the English,
led by Wellington,
and the
French, led by
Maréchal Soult.
From here the
views of the Pyrenees,
Bayonne,
the Adour and the
Atlantic Ocean
are stunning.

 

Place de la Liberté
In this square the keys
of the city are thrown into
the crowd at the start of
the city’s August festivals

Theatre
Set on the Nive,
at the point
where it joins the
Adour, the theatre
was built in 1842.
It houses the town
hall, from whose
balcony Bayonne’s
festivals are announced.

Cathédrale
Sainte-Marie
This Gothic
building stands in
the heart of Bayonne’s
historic centre. Its twin spires
are among the city’s best-known
symbols. The cathedral’s 14th-century
cloister is particularly fine.

 

Musée Basque
This museum, in the late
16th-century Maison
Dagourette, documents every
aspect of Basque culture.

Église Saint-André
Built in the 19th century, this
church contains an important
painting of the Assumption
by Léon Bonnat, and an
organ of 1863 presented by
Napoleon III.

 

Musée Bonnat
The collection of paintings in
this gallery includes works
by Rubens, El Greco, Degas,
Titian, Raphael, Watteau,
Delacroix and Goya.

Nive Embankment
A popular place for a stroll in
summer, the embankment
along the Nive is filled with
music and dancing in the
festival season. It is now lined
with restaurant terraces, but in
the past it was where catches of
fish and goods arriving from
the Americas were unloaded.