Aquitaine – origins
Aquitaine is part of Nouvelle Aquitaine, one of the 13 new regions created with the territorial reform that took effect on January 1, 2016.
It consists of five departments:
Landes (40 – Mont-de-Marsan), Gironde (33 – Bordeaux), Dordogne (24 – Périgueux), Lot-et-Garonne (47 – Agen) and Pyrénées-Atlantiques (64 – Pau).
Bordeaux is the capital and regional administrative centre.
South-West of France has been inhabited since the Lower Paleolithic Period.
Men indeed settled in the natural shelters the Dordogne and Vézère rivers hollowed in the limestone cliffs.
You’ll discover these distant ancestors, their extraordinary and sophisticated culture, the places where they lived, worked, worshiped, painted, died and were buried.
They left their timeless mark on the walls of their caves in the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne departments.
Their legacy has therefore reached us through the millennia in this untamed land.
UNESCO has therefore listed the beautiful and untamed Vézère Valley as a World Heritage Site.
Provincia Aquitania and Duchy of Aquitaine
The Iberian tribe Aquitani left their name to the region that stretched between the Atlantic Ocean and the northern slopes of the Pyrénées mountains.
The Romans conquered Aquitania in 56BC, developed it, structured it, administrated it and planted the first vineyards that make its fame.
Emperor Augustus created the Province Aquitania in 16BC.
Emperor Vespasian made Burdigala (Bordeaux) its capital in the 1st century AD.
The Visigoths invaded the Provincia Aquitania in 412AD.
In 507AD the Frankish king Clovis defeated the Visigoths King Alaric II at the Battle of Vouillé.
He then integrated the province in the Kingdom of France.
Finally, the Merovingian King Dagobert founded the Duchy of Aquitaine in 675AD and made Bordeaux the capital.
Five centuries later, Aquitaine landed at the heart of the French and English rivalry that plagued the southwest of France for generations.
It all started in 1152.
This was when Eleanor, the only daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine, married the future King Henry II of England and brought him the South-West of France in her dowry.
The country was therefore regularly ravaged, occupied and shaped by the endless conflicts that lasted until the mid-15th century!
However, these gave Aquitaine a dual identity, as French and English cultures eventually blended.
They also gave rise to a region, where later in history, Protestantism found its roots.
Known as Guyenne – the mispronunciation of Aquitaine – from 1259 to 1453, it was eventually re-attached to the French Crown in 1472.
Modern day Aquitaine
The region’s coastline stretches over 200km from the Gironde estuary down to the Spanish border.
You’ll find the prestigious resorts of Biarritz, Hossegor and Arcachon along the long beaches of fine white sand.
The dunes backing this coastline were planted with maritime pines in the 19th century to stabilize the drifting of the sands.
These forests of pines make up most of the department of Landes.
The hinterland is a large plain delineated to the south by the Pyrénées Mountains.
The Pyrénées-Atlantiques department corresponds to the French Pays Basque.
The whole region benefits from strong oceanic influences and the warmth of the Gulf stream, which produce a pleasant climate throughout the year.
It is therefore renowned for its warm, yet not too hot summers, its warm springs and autumns and mild winters.
This climate with 2,200 sunshine hours per year, and the quality of the terroir, guarantee the success of the Bordeaux vineyards and local agriculture.
As a result, Aquitaine is today one of the most visited French regions.
It is indeed very popular with British, Dutch, German and Belgian visitors and secondary home owners.
Area: 41,308 km²
Population: 3,335,000 (01/01/2014)