Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Pau

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PAU, a city of France, formerly the capital of Béarn, and now the chief town of the department of Basses Pyrénées, and the seat of a court of appeal, is situated in 43° 17' N. lat. and 0° 23' W. long., on the edge of a plateau 130 feet above the right bank of the Gave de Pau (a left-hand affluent of the Adour), at a height of about 620 feet above the sea. It thus enjoys an admirable view of the Pyrenees, which rise about 25 miles to the south. A small stream, the Hédas, flowing in a deep ravine and crossed by several bridges, divides the city into two parts. The older and larger is enclosed between the Hédas, the Gave, and its other tributary the Ousse, and ends with the castle in the west, while the new districts stretch northward in the direction of the landes of Pont-long. The modern importance of Pau is due to its climate, which makes it a great winter health-resort. The most striking characteristic is the stillness of the air, resulting from the peculiarly sheltered situation. The town is built on a sandy soil, and the line of the streets running east and west is favourable to ventilation. The average rainfall is about 40 inches, and the mean winter temperature is 44°, the mean for the year being 62°.

Apart from an export flour-trade and some manufactures of chocolate and Béarn linen, the inhabitants of Pau depend entirely on their four thousand winter-visitors. Place Royale (in the centre of which, instead of the older statue of Louis XIV., now stands Raggi's statue of Henry IV., with bas-reliefs by Etex) is admired for the view which it affords over the valley of the Gave and the Pyrenees; it is connected by a fine boulevard with the castle gardens. Beyond the castle a park of thirty acres planted with beech trees stretches along the high bank of the Gave. The castle is bounded on the north and west by the Hédas, on the south by a canal drawn from the Gave, and on the east by a moat 30 feet deep; access is obtained by three bridges, that across the Hédas being of ancient construction. The castle is flanked by six square towers: south-east is that of Gaston Phœbus (113 feet high); north-east is the tower of Montauset or Montoiseau, so called because reached by removable ladders; east, the new tower; north-west, that of Billères; and on the west are those of Mazères. Another to the south is named after the mint in which Calvin used to preach.


Britannica Pau - plan.jpg

Plan of Pau.


In the gardens to the west of the castle stand a statue of Gaston Phœbus by Triquety and two porphyry vases presented by Bernadotte king of Sweden, who was born at Pau. In the castle court is a well 223 feet deep, with 100 feet of water; but it has been closed since 1855. On the ground-floor is the old hall of the estates of Béarn, 85 feet long and 36 feet wide, adorned with a white marble statue of Henry IV., and magnificent Flemish tapestries ordered by Francis I. Several of the upper chambers are adorned with Flemish, Brussels, or Gobelin tapestry, with tables in Swedish porphyry, Sèvres vases, fine coffers (notably a Gothic coffer from Jerusalem), arm-chairs of the 16th century, Venetian and St Gobain glass, etc.; but the most interesting room is that in which Henry IV. was born, still containing his mother's bed (from the castle of Richelieu) and his own cradle made of a tortoise-shell. In the keep is a library of 6000 volumes, mainly of works relating to Henry IV. The two Gothic churches of St Jacques and St Martin are both modern; but the latter is of note for the height and elegance of its tower, its stained glass, and the fine Pyrenean marbles used in the high altar, the baldachin, and the sanctuary. Besides the state Protestant church (Église Française Réformée) there are Presbyterian, Anglican, and Russian places of worship. The population of Pau (about 6000 at the close of the 18th century) was 27,300 in 1871, and 29,971 in 1881.

Pau derives its name from the “pale” (in Langue d'Oc “paü”) or palisade surrounding the old castle mentioned in the fors of Ossau in 1221. By the erection (1363) of the present castle Gaston Phœbus made the town a place of importance, but the viscounts of Béarn continued to reside at Orthez till the reign of Gaston XI., when the states of Béarn were united at Pau. Gaston's grandson and successor Francis Phœbus, became king of Navarre in 1479. Margaret of Valois, who married Henry d'Albret, embellished the castle and gardens, and made her court one of the most brilliant of the time. In the religious disturbances under her daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, several Catholic nobles were put to death in the castle as rebels. In 1572, while a prisoner, Henry (afterwards IV. of France) restored the Catholic religion in Béarn, but the provincial estates met at Pau and rejected the decree, which Henry himself cancelled when he obtained his freedom. Pau continued to be the capital till 1620, though in 1614 the states of France demanded the union of Béarn and Basse Navarre with the French crown. When Louis XIII. entered the town in 1620 he restored the Catholic clergy to their privileges and possessions, disbanded the forces of Béarn, and caused the parliament of Pau to register the edict of union. The castle was occupied by Abd-el-Kader during part of his captivity.