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Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques is located in France
Coordinates: 43°18′06″N 0°22′07″W / 43.3017, -0.3686Coordinates: 43°18′06″N 0°22′07″W / 43.3017, -0.3686
Country France
Region Nouvelle-Aquitaine
Department Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Arrondissement Pau
Intercommunality Pau Pyrénées
 • Mayor (2008–2014) Martine Lignières-Cassou (PS)
Area1 31.51 km2 (12.17 sq mi)
Population (2007)2 84,978
 • Density 2,700/km2 (7,000/sq mi)
INSEE/Postal code 64445 / 64000
Elevation 165–245 m (541–804 ft)
(avg. 178 m or 584 ft)
1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries. 2 Population without double counting: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.

Pau (French pronunciation: [po]) is a commune on the northern edge of the Pyrenees, capital of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département in France. It was also the capital of the Béarn region. It forms the communauté d'agglomération of Pau-Pyrénées with 13 neighbouring communes to carry out local tasks together. The Université de Pau et des Pays de l'Adour, founded in 1972, means there is a high student population. The Boulevard des Pyrénées is 1.8 km from the Château de Pau to the Parc Beaumont, with views of the mountains. Alphonse de Lamartine said: "Pau has the world's most beautiful view of the earth just as Naples has the most beautiful view of the sea."

Origin of name[]

The location of Pau is shown on this map of the historical and cultural area of Gascony.

The origin of the name is uncertain. One tradition suggests it is a derivation of pal, from the palings around the original château. Another is that the name refers to a ford across the river administered by the church, the pious. More recent research suggests the pre-Indo-European word for a rockface was pal or bal and that the name refers to Pau's position at the foot of the mountains. The name of the town appeared in the 12th century. The inhabitants of the city are known as palois. Their motto is Urbis palladium et gentis.


Pau is 100 km from the Atlantic Ocean and 50 km from the Pyrenees. Spain is 50 km away in a straight line. The frontier is crossed by the col du Somport (1,631 m) and the col du Pourtalet (1,794 m). Access to the crossings partly accounts for Pau's strategic importance. The city stands on a 200m elevation overlooking the valley of a mountain river called the Gave de Pau, where a ford gave passage to the Pyrenees. The Gave, which becomes a torrent when mountain snow melts, begins in the Cirque de Gavarnie. It is the principal tributuary of the Adour after 175 km. The crossing was used for pasturage for sheep in the high meadows. The old route is now a hiking path, GR 65, that runs 60 km south to the border.

The other rivers of the region are the Luy de Béarn, tributary of the Luy, the Ousse, and the Ousse des Bois, which flow into the Gave de Pau, and the Uzan, which joins the Luy de Béarn.

Pau is located 200 km west of Toulouse, 30 km from Tarbes and Lourdes, 25 km from Oloron. The conglomeration of Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz is at 110 km, Bordeaux 190 km. Pau is served by the airport of Pau-Pyrénées 10 km away. There are limited scheduled flights to Amsterdam, London, Southampton, Dublin, Lyon and Paris.

A TGV rail line on the line to Paris and from Bayonne to Toulouse, and the A64 autoroute to the east. The A65 autoroute was opened in December 2010 linking Pau with Bordeaux and the Dordogne.

The Funiculaire de Pau links the city centre and Boulevard des Pyrénées to the railway station in the valley. The Société des transports de l'agglomération paloise (STAP) operates 13 urban bus routes, serving Pau and the adjoining communes.


Pau features an subtropical climate with mild Winters, and hot but not very hot Summers.

Climate data for Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 9
Daily mean °C (°F) 5.5
Average low °C (°F) 2
Precipitation mm (inches) 87
Avg. precipitation days 14 13 13 15 15 12 10 11 11 12 13 13 152
Mean monthly sunshine hours 93 143 186 210 217 270 310 248 210 186 120 93 2,286
Source: [1]


The Funiculaire de Pau.

The footpath west from the Château.

The Chateau above the Gave de Pau.

Rue Tran.

Edgar Degas, A Cotton Office in New Orleans, 1873, Musée des beaux-arts de Pau.

The site was fortified in the 11th century[2] to control the ford across the Gave de Pau. It was built on the north bank, equidistant from Lescar, seat of the bishops, and from Morlaàs, and became the seat of the viscounts of Béarn. Pau was made capital of Béarn in 1464. During the early 16th century, the Château de Pau was made more habitable by Gaston III, count of Foix and became the residence of the kings of Navarre, who were also viscounts of Béarn.

In 1188, Gaston VI assembled his cour majour there, predecessor of the conseil souverain and roughly equivalent to the House of Lords (but predating it). Gaston VII added a third tower in the 13th century. Gaston Fébus (Gaston III of Foix and Gaston X of Béarn) added a brick donjon (keep).

Pau was birthplace of Henry IV of France. His mother, Jeanne d'Albret, crossed into France to ensure her son would be born there. The baby's lips were moistened with the local Jurançon wine and rubbed with garlic shortly after birth. When Henry IV left Pau to become King of France, he remarked to local notables that he was not giving Béarn to France, but giving France to Béarn.

Napoleon III refurbished the château and Pau adding streets of Belle Époque architecture, before the fashion transferred to Biarritz. Pau is still a centre for winter sports and equestrian events, with a steeplechase. King Charles XIV of Sweden, the first royal Bernadotte, was also born in Pau.

Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln stayed in Pau in the late 1870s, toward the end of her life.[3]

Main sights[]

In the centre of Pau is a large castle, the Château de Pau, that dominates that quarter of the city. It is famous for being the birthplace of the 16th century king of France Henry IV and was once used by Napoleon as a holiday home during his period in power. It has a small garden that was tended by Marie Antoinette when she spent her summers in the city. The château is now considered a French historical monument and contains a collection of tapestry.

In addition to the château, the river or "Gave de Pau" runs near the base of the castle and provides a scenic spot for kayaking and fishing. Near to the château is a large park with walking trails and plenty of open space, creating an outdoorsy atmosphere in the middle of the city.

Parc Beaumont is another lovely park with views of the Pyrenees. Pau is known for its green spaces and is said to have more green space per inhabitant than any other European city.

The University of Pau, Université de Pau et des Pays de l'Adour, often hosts concerts and cultural events as well.

Place Clemenceau- the heart of the downtown area- is the site of many public festivals, great shopping, and a beautiful fountain.


From the 1950s to the 1990s Pau depended on the production of natural gas and sulphur which were discovered nearby at Lacq. Today the mainstays of the Béarn area are the oil business, the aerospace industry through the helicopter turboshaft engines manufacturer Turbomeca, tourism and agriculture. Pau was the birthplace of Elf Aquitaine, which has now become a part of Total. Halliburton has an office in Pau.[4]


The train station Gare de Pau offers connections to Bordeaux, Bayonne, Toulouse and Paris, and several regional destinations. Pau is served by Pau Pyrénées Airport, located northwest of the town. Public transport is provided by the IDELIS bus network.[5]

British tourism[]

The British discovered Pau and its climate, and left their imprint when Wellington left a garrison there in 1814.[6] He defeated Marshal Soult at Orthez (some 40 km to the NW) on his way into France from Spain towards the end of the Peninsular War. Vacationing British began arriving before the railway established the Boulevard des Pyrenées. The first full 18-hole golf course in Europe[7] – was laid out in 1856–1860, and is still in existence – also a real tennis court.

Military presence[]

During the last two years of World War I (1917–1918), Pau was the home to the School of Acrobacy and Combat for French, British and American aviators.

Pau is the home of the French military's Ecole des troupes aéroportées, which trains and certifies military paratroops.


Átila Abreu races his Mücke Motorsport Formula Three car on the Pau circuit in 2005.

The most known sports club of Pau is the local basketball team, Élan Béarnais Pau-Orthez. It is one of the most successful French basketball clubs, having won numerous domestic titles and a Korać Cup in 1984. Pau-Orthez play its home matches at the Palais des Sports de Pau and some famous former players include Boris Diaw, Mickaël Piétrus and Johan Petro.

Pau is home to Section Paloise, the city's rugby union team, which plays in the second French division known as Pro D2. Most recently, in 2000, it won the European Challenge Cup; a top European trophy. Two current French International players, Imanol Harinordoquy and Pau native Damien Traille, once played for the team. The city also has a football (soccer) team, Pau FC which is in the fourth division called "CFA".

Pau is home to the first golf course in continental Europe, laid out in 1856.[6] Since May 2007, the converted trinquet has reopened to its original sport, real tennis, on Sundays.

Since 1930, Pau has become a mainstay of the Tour de France cycling race, thanks both to its geographical location and to its marvelous infrastructure. Pau hosted its 63rd stage in 2010, and only one other city besides Paris has done better. The 2010 Tour visited Pau on three occasions: first as a passing town, second time as a finish, and the third time as a departure town on the way to the Col du Tourmalet.

Perhaps the highest-profile sporting event is the Étoiles de Pau ("Stars of Pau"). Held annually in October, it is one of only six annual competitions in eventing that receive the highest rating of CCI**** from equestrianism's world governing body, the FEI.

In 2008, between 11–23 August, Pau hosted the 83rd French Chess Championship. The men's event was won by Étienne Bacrot, on tie-break from Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, while the women's event resulted in a victory for Sophie Milliet. Thirty-six players took part. Pau was previously the Championship venue in 1943 and 1969.

For amateur joggers the Gave de Pau river bank footpath is a most valued itinerary, which starts near the castle and passes along Pau's golf course heading west. Another spot is Pont-Long wood north of the town.

Pau Grand Prix[]

Pau held the first race to be called a Grand Prix in 1901. After that the 1928 French Grand Prix was held in nearby Saint-Gaudens, Pau also wanted to arrange the race and in 1930 the French Grand Prix was held on a Le Mans-type track outside the city with Philippe Étancelin winning for Bugatti. Pau returned to the calendar in 1933 with a track in the town centre inspired by Monaco.

The track, 2.769 m long, is winding and has remained largely unchanged. The first curve is the station hairpin. After that the road climbs on the Avenue Léon Say, alongside the stone viaduct that carries the Boulevard de Pyrenées, to Pont Oscar. A tunnel is followed by the narrow hairpin at the Louis Barthou high school that leads the track into the demanding Parc Beaumont section at the top of the town. After the Casino garden and another hairpin, the track winds back to the start along the Avenue Lacoste.

Pau traditionally opened the season but mid-February for the 1933 GP meant the race took place in a snowstorm with slush. After a one year pause the race was back in 1935 with Tazio Nuvolari dominating in an Alfa Romeo P3 entered by Scuderia Ferrari. The 1936 race saw the only major victory for the Maserati V8-R1, driven by Ètancelin. In 1937 the race was part of the French sports car series with Jean-Pierre Wimille dominating, running three to four seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field. GP racing was back in 1938 and Pau became a test track for Mercedes-Benz before the Grandes Epreuves.

The 1938 race saw René Dreyfus' Delahaye sensationally beating the Mercedes-Benz team. In 1939 Mercedes wasn't to be taken by surprise, Hermann Lang leading the team to a double victory. After World War II Pau continued as a non-championship Formula One race until 1963. Thereafter the race was run to Formula Two rules until 1985, and thereafter by its replacement, Formula 3000. In 1999, the event again changed, with Formula Three cars racing. Finally, in 2007, the race became a round of the World Touring Car Championship.


Bernadotte birth house and museum on rue Tran

Pau was the birthplace of:

  • Gastón de Peralta, marqués de Falces (1510–1587), viceroy of New Spain from 1566 to 1568
  • Jeanne d'Albret (1528–1572), Queen of Navarre from 1555 to 1572
  • Henry IV (1553–1610), king of France from 1589 to 1610
  • Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte (1763–1844), Marshal of France and later King of Sweden and Norway
  • Charles Denis Bourbaki (1816–1897), French general of Greek descent
  • Nuno Maria José Caetano Álvares Pereira de Melo (1888–1935), 9th duke of Cadaval
  • Jean Jules Verdenal (1890–1915), friend and correspondent of T. S. Eliot
  • Victor Fontan (1892–1982), cyclist who led the 1929 Tour de France
  • Marguerite Broquedis (1893–1983), tennis player
  • André Courrèges (born 1923), fashion designer
  • Donal O'Brien (1930–2003), actor
  • Roger-Gérard Schwartzenberg (born 1943), politician
  • Alain Lamassoure (born 1944), politician
  • Francis Lassus (born 1961), musician
  • Bertrand Cantat (born 1964), singer and songwriter
  • Walter Lapeyre (born 1976), pistol shooter
  • Nicolas Cazalé (born 1977), actor and model
  • Edouard Cisse (born 1978), footballer
  • Tony Estanguet (born 1978), slalom canoer
  • Cédric Gracia (born 1978), mountain biker
  • Damien Traille (born 1979), rugby union player
  • Jean-Baptiste Peyras-Loustalet (born 1984), rugby union player
  • Jérémy Chardy (born 1987), professional tennis player

Twin towns[]

Pau is twinned with the following cities:

  • Spain Zaragoza, Spain, since 1970
  • United States Mobile, Alabama, United States, since 1975[8]
  • Italy Pistoia, Italy since 1975
  • Japan Kōfu, Japan since 1977
  • Portugal Setúbal, Portugal since 1981

  • Wales Swansea, Wales since 1982[9]
  • Germany Göttingen, Germany since 1983
  • Côte d'Ivoire Daloa, Côte d'Ivoire since 1984
  • People's Republic of China Xi'an, China since 1986
  • Nepal Kathmandu, Nepal

See also[]

  • Lycée Saint Cricq High School
  • Stade du Hameau


  1. ^ "Pau Climate Guide, France". World Climate Guide. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Histoire de Pau, pp. 11–15
  3. ^ Thomas F. Schwartz And Anne V. Shaughnessy. "Unpublished Mary Lincoln Letters". Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  4. ^ "Office Location." Halliburton. Retrieved 13 January 2009.
  5. ^ "". Retrieved 2012-07-17. 
  6. ^ a b Horace A. Laffaye, The Evolution of Polo, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2009, p. 27
  7. ^ Graham Robb, The Discovery of France, Picador, London (2007), p.287
  8. ^ "Regional Overview". Retrieved 15 October 2007. 
  9. ^ "PAU, VILLE INTERNATIONALE". Retrieved 28 April 2012. 

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