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Bayonne, a "deal with the devil"

I wanted to dedicate my first post to the city of Bayonne (Baiona in Euskera), as it the city where I live since I moved to the French Basque Country.

Bayonne is the capital of the Labourd Province (Département Pyrénées Atlantiques), which is one of the 3 provinces of the French Basque Country (Iparralde en Euskera) together with "Basse Navarre" (Low Navarre) and Soule. It can be considered a border town as it is only 40 km far from the Spanish border and the Spanish Basque Country (Hegoalde in Euskera).

Some of you might be thinking why I have chosen the post title. Well, you will probably understand it whenever you will visit Bayonne (if you have not been yet), as it seems that time has not passed by Bayonne, keeping intact a beauty from another time. But you know, never judge a book by its cover, as Bayonne has changed a lot and received many different influences throughout its history.

From its origin as a Roman fort (Lapurdum), placed strategically in the confluence of the rivers "Nive" and "Adour" and in the access between Gaul and Hispania, we still have the Roman Wall that can be seen at different points of the old city.

However Bayonne will become a proper city and a regional power during the Middle Ages, and after becoming part of the Kingdom of England in the XII century (after the marriage between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet) it enjoyed an increasing economic prosperity thanks to its commercial port. We have plenty of testimonies of this middle ages time of Bayonne, like the Old Castle ("Chateaux Vieux), the Catedral of Bayonne ("Cathédral Sainte Marie de Bayonne"), the guild streets of the Old Bayonne Quarter ("Vieux Bayonne") and much more.

In the XV century the city of Bayonne surrender to the French King's Army, and the city, together with the rest of the "Labourd" became part of France at the end of the hundred years' war. But that time political relations between the recently reunified kingdoms of France and Spain were not great and the geostrategic character of Bayonne increased due to the fact that it was the last fortified city before the Spanish Border. Therefore, during the next centuries, Bayonne became an extremely well-fortified city reaching its peak with the construction of new walls, bastions and a new citadel by the engineer of Louis XIV (The Sun King), Vauban.

The character of a highly geostrategic and militarized city will asphyxiate the urban development of Bayonne until the beginning of the XX century and its effects shaped and can still be seen in the urban development and architecture of the city today (which is fascinating).

Today Bayonne is a bustling city full of history and great monuments but also very dynamic and young, famous for the well known "Fetes de Bayonne" (inspired partly by the San Fermin party of Pamplona) and the Bayonne Ham, and for its well settled and high quality chocolate production (In Bayonne we can find several ancient Chocolate "Maisons") brought in the XVII century by the Sephardic Jew communities after their expulsion from Spain and Portugal.

I strongly recommend you to join my walking tour in Bayonne, where we will go over the intricate, charming and colourful medieval streets of Bayonne, admire its typical constructions with timber coloured windows (Bayonne still conserves awesome examples of architecture from the XVI, XVIII, XVIII, and XIX century), share great anecdotes and visit all the Bayonne's highlights. I am pretty sure you will fall in love with this city, especially if after the tour you complete the experience with some delicious local food or "tapas" plus great views in one of the restaurants placed in the "Nive" riverside. The only risk will be that you might want to do like me and move here. But why not? Anything can happen...

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