The earliest history of the Navarrenx date to the first century. The village is reported in a cartulary of the eleventh century under the name of Sponda-Navarrensis.
In 1523, the Castilians seized the city and destroyed its castle. Henry II of Albret, the king of Navarre, decided to reinforce defences on the right bank of the mountain stream of Oloron. From 1538 to 1546, fortification works were carried out under the direction of Béarn master builders François Girard and Arnaud de Mirassor, as per the design of Italian architectural engineer Fabricio Siciliano. Navarrenx was thus transformed into a modern fortified town 'Italian-style', based on the citadel of Lucas in Tuscany. Later, a powder magazine would be built that would store up to 11,000 kg of gunpowder.
The fortifications were tried and tested during religious wars under the reign of Jeanne of Albret, when the garrison under the command of the Baron of Arros successfully resisted a three-month siege in 1568. The town was re-equipped in the 18th century, in particular with the Saint-Antoine gate built by engineer De Salmon on the ruins of an old church. Facing Spain, the gate owed its name to a chapel that welcomed pilgrims and was destroyed during the construction of the ramparts. With three massive arcades, the town was accessed via a drawbridge, the passage of the chains of which can still be seen today. In the 19th century, work on road and rail infrastructure led to the destruction of the old Saint-Germain gate which faced France.
Over the centuries, the fortified wall of Navarrenx has retained its main features. It outlines a reinforced firing range at each of its five corners with a bastion. Two of the five are fitted with anti-mine galleries, while a glacis and ground structures reinforce the town to the east, ahead of the moat. Several barracks have been built inside the walls to house the garrison, one of which nowadays is used as the tourist information office. From the top of the ramparts (for example, from the crenellation platform overhanging the Saint-Antoine gate), there is a pleasant view of the Pyrenees and, below, the arches of the bridge of Navarrenx (13th century). Visits There is free access to the 1818-metre perimeter of the town. The walls of the city contain bilingual (French-English) descriptive plaques that trace the history of each structure. Information on guided visits can be obtained from the Navarrenx district tourist office.References:
The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.
The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.
The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.
The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.
Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.
At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.
In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.