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The Midi-Pyrenees: Albi, Toulouse, Conques, Moissac (Blue Guide)
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Region of Midi-Pyrénées


Departments of Midi-Pyrénées

The mountains of the Pyrénées form a physical border between France and Spain, stretching 435 km (270 mi) from the Bay of Biscay (part of the Atlantic Ocean) to the Mediterranean Sea. ANDORRA, wholly within the Pyrénées, straddles the French-Spanish border, which generally follows the crest of the range. The highest peak, 3,404 m (11,168 ft), is Pico de Aneto, on the Spanish side in the center of the chain, which has a maximum width of 160 km (100 mi). Many passes are more than 1.5 km (1 mi) high. Railroads cross the mountains at the ends of the range. Major rivers rising in the Pyrénées include the GARONNE and Adour of France and the EBRO of Spain.

Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #8, ©1996

Le Pays Basque

The Basques are a people whose homeland is the westernmost part of the Pyrénées Mountains and the immediately surrounding regions. This area comprises four provinces in Spain (Guipuzcoa, Vizcaya, Alava, and Navarra) and three provinces in the department of Pyrénées-Atlantique in France (Soule, Labourd, and Basse-Navarre). Known to the Spanish as vascos and to the French as basques, the Basques call themselves Euskaldunak and their homeland Euskadi. Basque speakers number about 890,000 in Spain and 80,000 in France (1987 est.), but a larger number identify themselves as Basques in each country.


Official Regional Flag
of Midi-Pyrénées

The origins of the Basques are still a mystery. Their language is unrelated to any Indo-European language. Although they look much like their French and Spanish neighbors, Basques possess the lowest frequency of blood-type B and the highest frequencies of types O and Rh-negative of any population in Europe. They are staunchly Roman Catholic and noted for their distinctive folklore, folk theater, games, music, and a light-footed, acrobatic form of dancing.

Traditionally a fiercely independent peasant and fishing people, they were known as early as the Middle Ages as skilled boat makers and courageous whale hunters and cod fishermen who often ranged far into the Atlantic. Their characteristic settlement is the isolated farm. The growth of villages is a relatively recent response to increased industry and trade in the Basque region.

A large number of Basques have migrated to North and South America. Historically, this migration has been the result partly of adverse political circumstances (most Basques opposed the Franco regime in Spain) and partly of the inheritance rule known as primogeniture, by which the oldest son inherits the family farm. Younger sons generally have either sought employment in coastal settlements as industrial workers or fishermen, or they have migrated to the New World, frequently finding work as sheepherders.

Isolated in their mountainous homeland, the Basques repulsed incursions by Romans, Germanic tribes, Moors, and others until the 1700s. They lost their autonomy in France after the French Revolution (1789) and in Spain by the early 1800s. A movement for Basque separatism rose in the 19th and 20th centuries, which since 1959 has been led by the militant separatist organization ETA (a Basque acronym for "Basqueland and Freedom"). Spain's Basques were granted home rule in 1980, but ETA violence continued. Basque separatists won about 16% of the vote in regional elections in October 1990.

Robert T. Anderson
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #8, ©1996
Bibliography: Clark, Robert P., The Basques (1980); Douglass, W. A., ed., Basque Politics (1985); Gallop, Rodney, The Book of the Basques (1930 repr. 1970); Heiberg, Marianne, The Making of the Basque Nation (1989); Payne, S. G., Basque Nationalism (1975).


Lourdes is a town in southwestern France in the foothills of the Pyrénées on the Gave du Pau (river). It has a population of 16,300 (1990). The town has been a pilgrimage center known for its miraculous cures since 1858 when 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous had numerous religious visions in a nearby grotto. A basilica was built on the site in 1876, and nearly 3 million tourists visit the shrine annually. An underground church was completed in 1958. The fortified town was a medieval stronghold.

Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #8, ©1996
Bibliography: Catherine T. Watling, Lourdes: City of the Sick (1993).


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