Aquitaine: A Brief History
Our direct ancestor, the Cro-Magnon man -named after a site in the Perigord- testifies to human habitation of what is now Aquitaine going back thousands of years. The caves of Lascaux, in France, contain some of the earliest known representational art, dating to between 17,000 and 15,000 years before the present.
The Romans conquered "Aquitania" after a bitter fight against the Celts led by Vercingetorix, a local hero. The ensuing Pax Romana allowed the creation, and growth, of centers of commerce such as Burdigala (which became Bordeaux), Versunna (Perigueux), and Aginum (Agen).
The collapse of the Roman Empire unleashed new tribes upon the rich region, eventually allowing them to take control: first the Vandals, then the Visigoths and finally the Franks, led by Clovis.
As with most of France, the region was then kept under a succession of feudal regimes, but was the last of the great feudal duchies be assimilated into the Kingdom of France. By the mid-XIth century, the duchy of Aquitaine became the property of local dukes who were vassals to the King of France. When Eleonor d'Aquitaine married Louis VII, she added her vast assets to the French throne.
However, fate was to play a particular game with Eleonor, Aquitaine, France and Britain. After her marriage to the French King Louis VI was annuled on grounds of consanguinity, Eleonor was quick to marry again. 2 weeks after her marriage, her second husband, Henry Plantagenet, became King of England and was crowned as Henry II. Aquitaine became wedded to England, its commercial strength closely tied to the health of the English economy. It was only in 1451 that Charles VII finally succeeded in ousting the English presence, and annexing Aquitaine to the French crown.
The region was central to the following Hundred Years War, which ended in a battle won by the France in Castillon (now known as Castillon-La-Battaille), and was further rocked, as all of France, by the wars of Religion, which lasted until Henri of Navarre acceded to the throne of France as Henri IV. By coming to the throne, Henri IV brought to the Kingdom the territory now known as the Pays Basque.
By the eighteenth century, the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Bordeaux extended along the Garonne Basin and into the southern Massif Central, making it one of the biggest and richest provinces of France.
Bordeaux's main involvement in the Revolution was through a moderate group of intellectuals, the Girondins. In much of the region, the early Revolution was relatively calm, with little of the bitter infighting which marked the relations between royalists and patriots elsewhere. Local leaders showed restraint in the face of requisitions and provocations from Paris. And except in a few specific areas – the Pays Basque, parts of the Landes and Dordogne, and Bordeaux itself – the guillotine was used fairly sparingly.
Economic expansion was slowed down by the revolution. The Napoleonic wars had a particularly disastrous effect on Bordeaux, which suffered greatly from the British blockades of French ports.
Aquitaine was slow to participate in the industrial revolution because the south west had become under-populated and had no coal. Empress Eugénie and the court of Napoleon III made Biarritz a favorite tourist spot, launching an era of tourism that lasts to this day.
The British and the Dutch who began to purchase secondary homes have contributed greatly to the revival of foreign tourism. today the Aquitaine is a bustling, modern region only 3 hours from Paris on the TGV.