Dax's Short History
Dax is an ancient city founded by the Roman conquerors in the 1st century AD.
It is a subprefecture of the Landes department in Aquitaine region, and has a population of around 20,000 inhabitants.
The town is famous since Roman times for its thermal water (which comes at a temperature of 64C) whose rheumatism treating qualities were discovered – according to the legend – by a Roman legionary who, when departing to war, decided to abandon his rheumatism afflicted dog. At his return he found the dog restored to health by the thermal water and the mud of the river Adour. We can say that the dog was the city’s first spa patient.
The Romans which occupied the region until the 6th century AD built in Dax thermal baths – their ancient location is occupied now by the “Hot Fountain” (“Place de la Fountaine Chaude”) and surrounded the city by high fortified walls. From these walls only a small part is still visible in the Théodore Denis Park – part which is nevertheless considered the most complete Gallo-roman fortification to be found in France.
After the end of the Roman occupation of Aquitaine the city of Dax and its region were governed by the Counts of Gascony- vassals to the Dukes of Aquitaine. Later, in the 12th century, at the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henri II Plantagenet of England they went to the English Crown but were finally reattached to the French Kingdom in 1451 towards the end of the Hundread Years War.
Dax is the birth place of Saint Vincent de Paul - born here in 1581 - the founder of the religious community of the “Filles de la Charité (“Company of the Daughters of Charity”) that were the first nurses of the French hospitals. In 1653 Saint Vincent de Paul set up the famous “Salpêtrière” Hospital – it still exists and is one of the foremost medical school hospitals of Paris (it is here that Princess Diana was taken after her accident in 1997).
Saint Vincent de Paul died in 1660 and was canonized in 1737.
Dax is a city very attached to its Landes traditions of Feria, the cow races, and the bull fighting. Like many towns of the region – even small towns – it has its own arena dedicated to these regional activities (there are now however more and more voices rising against the animal cruelty).
The Feria is the city’s festival held annually in the month of August. During 6 days and 6 nights, the city lives on the rhythms of the “bandas” music, everybody is on the streets enjoying the different activities like “pelota”, cycling competitions, parades, dancing, running with the bulls running, bull fighting etc. The whole city is adorned in red and white, the traditional colors of the “feria” participants’ costume.