History of Gascony: Beautiful, Unspoilt, Historic...
The History of Gascony is one of adventure, musketeers and culture. Gascony is the beautiful, unspoilt, historic area of South West France that lies between the Pyrenees Mountains and the River Garonne. This land was once the ancient Dukedom of Gascogne and is now mainly within the modern administrative 'departement' of Le Gers. For 300 years, from the mid-C12 to the mid-C15. Gascony was an English 'fiefdom'.
GASCONY'S FASCINATING HISTORY
Gascony is one of France's best-kept secrets, similar to Tuscany, but much less well-known. This is a rich farming area with rolling hills and wooded valleys, hot summer sun and rivers flowing from the Pyrenees to the Atlantic Ocean, Sunflowers and Cypress trees, fine mediaeval churches, iconic 'pigeonniers', fascinating 'bastide' villages and imposing fortified castles, scarred by the blows of passing wars.
Colonised by the Romans under Julius Caesar, Gascony was for 500 years a prosperous Roman province producing wine, garlic and other agricultural crops. After the collapse of the Roman empire in C5, a thriving Gallo-Roman civilisation continued until C10, while North Europe was deep in the 'Dark Ages'.
By the C10 the Duchy of Gascony had become part of the larger Duchy of Aquitaine, which eventually occupied nearly half of modern France. In 1152, when Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, married Henry II, King of England, Gascony became an English 'colony' ruled by the Angevin/Plantagenet Kings England for three hundred years until the mid-C15. It was during this period that Gascon wines became famous throughout Northern Europe and especially in England, and at the same time the foundations were laid for the wonderful Bordeaux wines we know today.
In 1453, Charles VII of France finally defeated the English army and captured Bordeaux, and so won 'The Hundred Years' War - much of which was fought across Gascony. Aquitaine and Gascony became part of France but many buildings in Gascony still have strong associations with the period of English rule. One of our rental properties ('Chateau Poudenas') was the site of an important C14th battle between the English and the French. Another of our rental properties ('Chateau Sabailhan') was owned by allies of Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV of France) during the C16 Wars of Religion, which were for a time fought out in Gascony. Henri IV ('Good King Henry'), initially Protestant, later Catholic, brought these wars to an end with Edict of Nantes in 1598.
Gascony is ancient 'Occitan', the land of Troubadours and Musketeers, where country people today still speak the pre-French language of 'Gascon' in the village markets. Auch (capital of Le Gers) is close to the birthplace of d'Artagnan, the 'Fourth Musketeer', made famous by Alexandre Dumas in his book 'The Three Musketeers'. Auch has a lovely Gothic cathedral with exquisite C16 carved oak choir stalls, and narrow, twisting medieval streets full of small shops, restaurants, galleries and cafes.
Gascony is a long way from Paris and the busy world. Little has disturbed this area over the last 400 years. There remain many ancient towns and villages, full of fascinating history and architectural gems. Many of these are associated with the pilgrim routes to 'Santiago de Compostela' in North West Spain. For two thousand years, people have been travelling across Europe, through Gascony and then across the Pyrenees into Spain. These are the routes of the 'coquille', or scallop shell, symbol of 'St Jacques' (St James), patron saint of Spain.
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