La Bastide-Clairence Village

La Bastide-Clairence, France

A Navarrese fortified village of La Bastide-Clairence was founded in 1288 by Claire de Rabastens on a hillside next to the Aran river hence its Gascon name Bastida Clarença.

800 refugees, mainly from Bigorre, were granted a charter in July 1312 by Louis I of Navarre, the future Louis X of France. The birth of the village corresponds to a need for Navarre to create a strong town in the forested frontier area. La Bastide-Clairence, as its name suggests, was a fortified town. The historian Paul Broca could still see the remains of its ancient fortress in 1875.

La Bastide-Clairence slowly accumulated a population of shop-keepers from south-western France then from Spanish refugees fleeing the Inquisition, and also from Basque towns and villages nearby. Another version of the origin of the town exists: it was populated by settlers from diverse backgrounds including pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela called the Francos.

By 1700 the population had reached 2,000. The inhabitants lived on the nail industry, woollen garments and knitwear, and agriculture. 12-day fairs ensured the prosperity of the town. In the 16th century the locals did not speak Basque, but spoke Gascon. Subsequently they gradually adopted the Basque language and customs. The town has 320 houses and mills from the 17th century. From 1575 to 1789, La Bastide-Clairence depended on the lords of Gramont.

The city had a large Jewish community after the expulsion of Portuguese Jews in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Today, the Place des Arceaux and its half-timbered houses attract many art craftsmen. The village is a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France ('The most beautiful villages of France') association.

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