La Bastide Clairence > Our Village > Heritage from the Past

Place des Arceaux is at the center of the village. Arceaux means "Arches" in French, and indeed the architecture of the Place des Arceaux is quite striking, surrounded as it is by arches well in harmony with its noticeable slope. In the past, markets and fairs were held under the arches; today, the arches shelter various artists' workshops, stores and the Tourist Information Center.

As in most other basque villages, one finds two distinct architectural styles of houses in La Bastide Clairence:
- the Labourd style with apparent (red or green) wood beams – "half-timbered" Tudor style construction; and,
- the Navarre style, with windows, doors and corners framed with large stones.

> The bastides

The bastides are fortified towns created in the Middle Ages in the Southwest of France by kings, powerful dukes or bishops, who realized that, with trade finally expanding, territory was better held through demographic and commercial expansion than through defensive fortified castles. So, bastides were created to provide the safe regrouping of populations, to expand economic activities, often with privileged tax regimes.

There are 14 bastides in the Department of the Pyrénées Atlantiques, all part of the "Bastides 64" network. La Bastide Clairence is the only bastide in the French Basque Country.

bastide

> Design of the bastides

La Bastide Clairence perfectly shows the characteristics of the design of bastides: a main street, which starts at the bottom of the hill, near the river, and climbs straight up to the top of the village, a large street which crosses at a right angle at the central square (Place des Arceaux), and smaller streets which all cross the main street, also at right angles, every 10 "plazas" – "plaza" was the name given to the lot on which each new inhabitant could build his house.

All "plazas" had the same rectangular area, about 6 meters fronting the main street and 18 meters in depth. The new inhabitant had to build his house on the main street, and keep his yard for gardening in the back, the "cazalot".

The houses were separated by the "andronne", a small passageway which allowed for used waters to flow to the back of the houses and helped slow the propagation of fires as all houses then were built in wood and a mixture of clay and hay ("wattle and daub" in English) and prone to fires.

architecture

> La Bastide Clairence's Jewish cemetery

Seventy to eighty Jewish families fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, and came to settle in La Bastide Clairence.

They were welcomed, but had to provide the village with a doctor and a pharmacist. They owned their synagogue and cemetery.

Sixty two tombs have been identified in the Jewish cemetery. The oldest tombstone has been dated to 1610; the most recent one to 1785. The village has given the cemetery to the "Israelite Consistory of Bayonne" which maintains it.

 

cimetiere

> The Church of "Notre Dame du Chemin"

The church was consecrated in 1315 by the bishop of Pamplona. At the time, it was the only stone building in the village. From its beginning, the church testified to La Bastide Clairence's importance for the Navarre Kingdom, with "Etats de Navarre" (equivalent to "Meetings of Parliament" - the highest political Assemblies of the Kingdom) regularly being held inside the church.
In 1776, it was extensively modified and enlarged, with only the bell tower and the porch remaining from the original building. It is in the church that on December 8, 1789, the villagers voted to join France and recognize the decrees from France's "Assemblée Nationale".

Throughout the 18th and 19th century, La Bastide Clairence remained the most important parish in the region. The church was also used for important regional civil assemblies. The current bell tower was built in 1850.

The church is surrounded by the village cemetery, the typical setting for Basque churches. La Bastide Clairence's church is unique however as it is completely surrounded by a covered porch, which is itself a cemetery, with tombs of the oldest families of the village. Today, only descendants of the first families can be buried there, next to their ancestors.
Inside, the church offers a beautiful example of basque church design, with wood balconies. These were reserved for men. The choir is in baroque style, offering a stark contrast with the sobriety of the wood balconies.

Given the rather steep slope upon which it rests, its size and sophistication, and its overlooking of the village, the church is an impressive feat of architecture and a powerful symbol of the spiritual protection it gives to the Bastidots.

 

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> The "Cagots" and their Door

In the Middle Ages, the "cagots" were a mysterious lowly caste found on both sides of the Pyrénées mountains, somewhat akin to the "intouchables" in India. They were not allowed to enter the church by the main porch, but had their own door to access the church's darkest and farthest corner. They could touch the "holy water" only in their own segregated stoup; the "consecrated bread" was thrown to them.

At La Bastide Clairence, the "cagots" door can be found on the back left wall of the church, under the steps which lead to the first balcony.
The "cagots" gained full citizenship only at the French Revolution.

cagots labastide clairence

> The "Taoulé"

The ladies sat on these stone benches to knit bérets and chat a bit. They used wool that they had spun in their homes. The bérets were then washed in the Moulin du Foulon, the village watermill, and left for drying on these same benches. Today, you can still see the Moulin and visit the picturesque old "lavoir" where the ladies used to wash clothes in the river.

The bérets from La Bastide Clairence were quite sought after; they were worn by the Bayonne sailors, and were sold as far as the fairs in Pamplona.

taoule labastide clairence

> The trinquet / jeu de paume

A trinquet is a covered court with galleries on the left hand side and at the back, where typical pelote basque games are played. Originally, trinquets were built to play "jeu de paume" ("real tennis" as now called in England, Australia and the US), from which today's tennis evolved. Today, the trinquets in the basque country are designed and used to play pelote basque. There are only five jeux de paume still active in France, including La Bastide's.

The trinquet / jeu de paume in La Bastide was renovated in 2008. Wood from its ceiling was dated to 1512, which makes it the world's oldest "jeu de paume" still in activity.

 

trinquet labastide clairence

> The Pont du Port area

La Bastide Clairence was created in 1312 by a bend in the Aran river where a port would allow for goods to be shipped from the Spanish Navarre to Bayonne and the rest of Europe.

As part of the festivities to celebrate the village's 700th anniversary in 2012, the "Pont du Port" area (next to the swimming pool at the foot of the village) was dedicated with a "couralin", the copy of flat-bottomed river barges which used to leave the La Bastide Port for the Adour river. Signs in French, Basque, Spanish and English also provide historical and touristic information.

On the other side of the road, signs along a "discovery path" highlight the diversity of plants and animals around the Aran.

port labastide clairence