Wednesday July 26, 10 p.m.: from the top of the balcony of the town hall, Place de la Liberté, the keys to the Grand Bayonne, Petit Bayonne and Saint-Esprit districts are thrown to the young people of the city. Thus begin five days of jubilation. Dressed all in white, with a red belt and headscarf and animated by the same fervor, the “festayres” stroll through the alleys lined with 18th and 19th century houses, where gray Bidache stone alternates with colored timber frames. Welcome to the Bayonne Festival!
On the Place des Basques, at the foot of the Château-Vieux, the event celebrates a living culture with the karrikaldi, traditional dances and music. Nearby, the Architecture and Heritage Interpretation Center offers a sound immersion in the encounter between Basque and Gascon cultures. Its setting is one of the 138 medieval cellars listed in the Grand Bayonne district, where the spiers of the Sainte-Marie cathedral stand, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
In August, its cloister will house an exhibition of 200 costumes from the seven Basque provinces. Among the clothing accessories, there is one that is the subject of a championship during the festivities, at the Porte d’Espagne: the espadrille throw! The sector is also teeming with peñas: associations federated around the values of conviviality and mutual aid, without which the Festivals would not have existed since 1932.
Who says Festivals, also says gastronomic specialties, to be savored on the quays of the Nive, around the Halles. On the menu: cold meats, cheeses, pintxos (tapas) and… chocolate, a legacy of the Jews, expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition, who came to settle in Bayonne. Formerly a refuge for some, the city of Pyrénées-Atlantiques is keen to cultivate its identity today and pass it on.
In the Petit Bayonne district, the Basque Museum houses 2,000 objects bearing witness to popular traditions. The oldest trinquet in France, that of Saint-André, perpetuates one of them: the pelota. A stone’s throw away, the mural frescoes in Patxa Square recall nationalist struggles.
During the holidays, the place becomes the musical scene of alternative Basque rock, while at the Saint-André church, for the bandas mass, traditional songs mingle with Navarrese songs from Pamplona, the Spanish town twinned with Bayonne. .
Another bank, another atmosphere, crossing the Adour: the Saint-Esprit district embodies the Gascon soul of the city. It deserves to be lingered over in particular for its collegiate church, built on the foundations of a Romanesque priory, and also for the Rail bayonnais pediment, which offers one of the best viewpoints over Bayonne. On a clear day, the silhouette of La Rhune, an emblematic Pyrenean summit rising up facing the Atlantic Ocean, appears.