Map of Bayonne
The city's origins go back to Roman times, since when its Latin name of Lapurdum, corrupted to Labourd (Lapurdi), has been extended to cover the whole of this westernmost of the three Basque provinces. For three centuries until 1453 and the end of the Hundred Years War, it enjoyed prosperity and security under English domination, and this wealth was consolidated when, in the sixteenth century, Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition arrived, bringing their chocolate-manufacturing trade with them. The city reached the peak of its commercial success in the eighteenth century, when it was also a centre of the armaments industry (it gave its name to the bayonet). Later, its prestige suffered a blow in the 1789 Revolution when the anti-regionalist, centralizing Paris government subsumed the three Basque provinces under a single département, with its capital at Pau. More recently, economic activity has been based on the processing of by-products from the natural gas field at Lacq near Pau, although this has recently been through some hard times, leaving Bayonne with a higher-than-national-average level of unemployment.
These issues don't immediately impinge on the visitor, however, and first impressions are likely to be favourable. It's a small-scale, easily manageable city which can be explored on foot rather than bus, and, as the hub of all major road and rail routes from the north and east, it's worth considering as a base for a seaside sojourn.
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