Bayonne - the capital of the French Basque
June 25, 2019
by Evgeny Kulkov
If you like chocolate, you should definitely visit Bayonne, the main Basque city in France. After all, chocolate has created the glory of this city. The first floors of all the houses on Port Neuf street are occupied by boutiques and shops selling this delicacy.
Church of the Holy Spirit
The town was founded at the confluence of two rivers, the Adour and the Nive which flows into the Adour here. Unlike all other cities, Bayonne has three Old Cities. The Nive divides the city into a Large Bayonne and a Small Bayonne. And in the 16th century, they were joined by a third part – the district of Saint-Esprit, on the other side of the Adour. Here Sephardic Jews began to settle. They escaped from the Spanish Inquisition and brought with them the recipe for chocolate. However, the peak of commercial success of the city reached only becoming a center of production of weapons and ammunition in the 18th century. After all, there was invented the bayonet. It is no accident that the word reminds us of Bayonne.
Your acquaintance with Bayonne begins with Saint-Esprit because here is the station where all trains arrive. Not far from the station you will find the Gothic Church of the Holy Spirit. It was she who gave the name to the whole area. It was built by the knights of the Hospitaller order on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. And immediately behind the station, there is a massive citadel of Vauban. Built-in 1680 to defend against Spanish attacks, it never saw a real battle until the Napoleonic wars. Then its garrison in 1813 withstood a 4-month siege by British troops.
But we will not go to the citadel, and cross the Adour on the bridge of Saint-Esprit and find ourselves in a Small Bayonne and on the embankment of the Nive. It is here that this river flows into the Adour. If you have very little time, just walk along the promenade. The most beautiful mansions of the 17th and 18th centuries lined up along it. The excellent ethnographic Basque Museum is located in one of them. Its exhibits tell about the life of the Basques for centuries. There are even reconstructed farm buildings, with the interior of the houses, utensils, tools, and makhilas – innocuous – looking carved sticks of wood, with a hidden steel tip at the end: if necessary, pilgrims and shepherds used them for self-defense. One of the departments is dedicated to the sea-going classes of the Basques (skipper of Columbus was Basque), and several rooms – the national game “pelota” (the history of this game and the Champions) and the famous Basques.
Crossing the Nive on the Marengo bridge we will soon find ourselves near the famous Bayonne Cathedral with stained glass windows 15-17 centuries and Benedictine monastery with an internal garden for prayer and meditation. The most beautiful streets go from the Cathedral square: D’espagne with half-timbered houses and de la Monnaie, crossing the street Port Neuf – the same street where all the shops are full of the famous Bayonne chocolate!
Finishing the conversation about the sights of Bayonne, I can not but mention the features of the local cuisine. Bayonne is famous for its ham, famous for the local sheep cheese-its milk, which is eaten with a jam from figs or cherries, peppered piperade of ham with eggs and chocolate dessert “Basque beret”.