Saint Jean Pied de Port
UNESCO Heritage List
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Saint Jean Pied de Port citadel is a part of the network of forts built or rebuilt by Vauban.
It sits on top of a hill overlooking Saint Jean Pied de Port town. The name is deceiving for a town close to the mountains and more then 50 km away from Atlantic Ocean. The word Port means in fact "Pass" in the local language and it meant the Pyrenean Mountains pass for the pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela .
The town - former capital of the Basse-Navarre - has two parts the high fortified older part and the lower town.
It was initially built in the 12th century and fortified in the beginning of the 13th century by Sanche 7th King of Navarre
Saint Jean Pied de Port citadel, overlooking the town from a nearby hill, was built in 1628 by Richelieu's military engineer Antoine de Ville on the site of an ancient fortified castle of the Kings of Navarre. In 1685 Vauban improves the defensive system of the citadel and adds a walled communication passage with the town.
The citadel - that can be accessed through the Vauban built stairs or ...by car - is now a school and cannot be visited but it is possible to admire it from outside (from its elevated point one has also a beautiful panorama of the town).
In the fortified town a monument not to be missed is the "Porte de Saint Jacques".
Saint Jean Pied de Port is located on the Via Podiensis, one of the pilgrim routes to St Jacques de Compostela, which starts from Le Puy-en-Velay (in the department of Haute-Loire). It was through the "Porte de Saint Jacques" that the pilgrims were entering the town (and were paying the road toll!). This gateway is now listed in the UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Another interesting spot is the Bishops’ Prison*, a small 14th century building that is now a museum. The name is once again deceiving but in fact it covers two historic facts. The first fact is the residence in the town of the Bishops of Bayonne during the Great Schism of the West in the 14th and 15th centuries. The second is its use, in the 18th century, as a prison.
Not far from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, on the hill overlooking its neighboring little town of Ispoure and at the end of a serpentine backcountry road can be found the Barna winery, one of the few wine producing establishments of the Basque Country. The winery, set up in 1897, makes Irouleguy appellation wines.
Free tasting and a beautiful view of the Nive River valley guaranteed! (open from July 1st to 15th of September from 10am to 12pm and from 2:30pm to 6:30pm, web site: www.brana.fr)
*For more information and photos about Bishops' Prison click here.