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Pau (Municipality, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, France)

Last modified: 2004-10-09 by
Keywords: pyrenees-atlantiques | pau | peacock (yellow) | cows: 2 (yellow) | gate (white) | letters: hiv (blue) | elan bearnais | orthez | section paloise | mountain (white) | basket-ball | rugby |
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[Flag of Pau]by Arnaud Leroy

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Presentation of Pau

The city of Pau (85,000 inhabitants, called Palois, 140,000 including the outskirts) is the préfecture of the department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques and the capital city of the traditional province of Béarn.

Pau was originally a fortified post built on the steep right bank of the river Gave de Pau. The word gave, from the ancient local word gabe, has been used since the XIVth century to designate the torrential rivers of Béarn, often named after the main city they water (Gave de Pau, Gave d'Oloron). The fortified post was protected by a stockade made of pales, locally called paou (French, pal).

At the end of the XIVth century, count of Béarn Gaston Fébus (1331-1391) asked his military architect Sicard de Lordat to build a fortress. Bricks were used for the sake of economy. In 1450, Pau became the new capital city of Béarn, succeding to Lescar, Morlaàs and Orthez. The city was then fairly small, with hardly 500 inhabitants: when the States of Béarn gathered in Pau, several deputies had to sleep under the stars.

In 1527, king of Navarra Henri d'Albret, lord of Béarn, married Marguerite d'Angoulême, sister of king of France François I. Marguerite transformed the castle into a Renaissance palace, surrounded by beautiful gardens where her own pastorales were played.
Henri, Marguerite's grand-son, was born in the castle of Pau in 1553. His mother was the terrible Jeanne d'Albret. In spite of being pregnant, Jeanne went with her husband Antoine de Bourbon in Picardie, in the north of France, to fight war against Charles of Spain. After a 19-day journey, she came back to Pau on 3 December 1553 and gave birth to Henri on ten days later. Following her husband's advice, she sang local songs during the birth, to be sure that the child would be "neither coward nor jibbing". The tradition says that Henri's grand-father immediatly rubbed the child's lips with garlic and a drop of the local wine of Jurançon. He showed the child to the crowd - deliveries were public to give the proof of non-substitution of the royal heir - and said: "Here is the lion brought forth by the Navarrese ewe". This was an answer to people who had said after Jeanne's birth: "Surprise, surprise! The [heraldic] cow of Béarn brought forth an ewe". Then he placed child Henri in a tortoise shell from the Galapagos islands, which can still be seen in the castle (the authenticity of that shell is of course very doubtful!).
Young Henri spent his youth in the castle of Coarraze and in La Flèche and was later sent to Paris for studying. In the meantime, Jeanne d'Albret converted to Protestantism and imposed a religious dictatorhip in Pau. Henri came back to Pau in 1579 and proclaimed himself in 1589 king of France and Navarra. Henri is better known as Henri IV, nicknamed le Béarnais and le Vert-Galant.

In 1620, king of France Louis XIII, Henri IV' son, solemnely entered Pau, reestablished the Catholic religion and founded the Parliament of Navarra, definitively incorporating Béarn to France. Pau attracted a lot of lawyers and was nicknamed "the pencil pushers' city". In spite of the opening of a university, Pau remained a relatively small city, with c. 7,000 inhabitants in 1789.

The scenic boulevard des Pyrénées was built during the First Empire. It is a terrace-like way facing the chain of Pyrénées. The romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine said that the view on the mountains from Pau could be compared only to the view on the sea from Naples. The view stretches from the Pic du Midi de Bigorre to the Pic d'Anie, with, in the middle, the emblematic mountain of Pau, the Pic du Midi d'Ossau, which is also shown on the emblem of the local rugby club, Section Paloise. Shields with the name and elevation of each important mountain are placed along the terrace.

Beside Henri IV, the most famous citizen of Pau is Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte (1763-1844), better known as king Charles XIV John of Sweden and Norway (1818-1844). Bernadotte was the son of a lawyer of Pau. The legend says that he was born after 7 months of gestation only, because masked people celebrating the carnival had scared his mother. Bernadotte left Pau in 1780 after his father death and came back only once, in 1782, in his birth city. He was appointed Marshal of Empire in 1804 and prince of Pontecorvo in 1806 by Napoléon. King of Sweden Charles XIII adopted him in 1810, and Bernadotte fought back against Napoléon during the campaign of Russia and in Leipzig. When he became crown prince of Sweden he changed his name to Carl Johan (Charles John), Carl for his adoptive father and Johan as the Swedish equivalent to the French name Jean. As king of Sweden, he was Carl XIV Johan (Charles XIV John), as king of Norway he was Carl III Johan (Charles III John) or mostly just Carl Johan.
Bernadotte's birth house is today a municipal museum, whose restoration was partially funded by the royal family of Sweden.

During the Monarchy of July (1830-1848), Pau attracted a lot of British officers, who had faught in the area in 1814. In 1842, the Scottish doctor Alexander Taylor (1802-1879) promoted Pau as a winter resort for people suffering from respiratory diseases. His book was translated into several European languages and launched Pau. The first golf green on the European continent was built in Pau in 1856, whereas fox hunting had started in 1842. A very old-fashioned English Circle has survived until now. In 1889, however, queen Victoria left Pau for Biarritz, on the Basque coast, and the international success of Pau faded away. Pau had 38,000 inhabitants in 1913.

In the 1950s, oil and natural gas were found in Lacq, causing a small industrial revolution which dramatically modified the city of Pau. With the financial support of Elf-Aquitaine (now TotalFinaElf), a technopole developed in Pau on the campus of the University of Pau and Pays de l'Adour. Pau is now a very attractive city, being located close to the Pyrénées moutains and not too far from the Atlantic Ocean. People from Pau claim that they can go skiing in the morning and swimming or surfing in the afternoon of the same day, which seems technically possible.

Ivan Sache & Elias Granqvist, 5 February 2004

Flag of Pau

The municipal flag of Pau is vertically divided white-blue with the municipal coat of arms

Arnaud Leroy, 5 February 2004

Alternative flag of Pau

[Flag of Pau]by Ivan Sache

A students' association from Pau shows on its website a white flag with the municipal coat of arms in the middle. This flag was officialy awarded to the association in July 2003 by Senator Mayor André Labarrère.
On this flag, the municipal arms are surmonted by a scroll bearing the municipal Latin motto: Urbis palladium et gentis, safeguarding of the city and the Nation.

Ivan Sache, 5 February 2004

Coat of arms of Pau

The municipal coat of arms of Pau can be blazoned as follows (Brian Timms):

D'azur, à la barrière de trois pals aux pieds fichés d'argent, sommée d'un paon rouant d'or et accompagnée en pointe et intérieurement de deux vaches affrontées et couronnées de même; au chef d'or chargé d'une écaille de tortue au naturel, surmontée d'une couronne d'azur rehaussée d'or et accompagnée à dextre d'un H et à senestre du chiffre IV d'azur.

The blazon given by GASO differs only by a few details:

[...] au chef aussi d'or [...] d'une couronne royale fermée d'azur [...] de la lettre H capitale et à senestre du chiffre IV romain aussi d'azur.

The English blazon is (Brian Timms):

Azure a fence of three pallets fitchy between the pallets two cows passant affronty crowned argent in chief a peacock displayed or a chief or a tortoise shell proper ensigned by a crown azure lined or between the capital letter H and the roman figures IV also azure.

Timms states that the modern municipal arms of Pau were granted to the city in 1829, by the addition of the chief to a preexisting coat of arms. The oldest known municipal seals, dating from the end of the XVth century, show four shields arranged in a quarterly fashion, with the arms of Foix (Or four pallets gules) and Béarn (Or two cows gules horned and belled azure).
The pallets of Foix became a gate during the XVIIth century, as a reference to the name of Pau. A seal dated 1680 shows arms similar to the modern ones (without the chief).
The peacock (French, paon), is a symbol of power and is a further play on the name of Pau.
The tortoise shell and the monogram H IV appeared at the end of the XIXth century; after the Restoration, the townspeople wished to show their allegiance to the Bourbon dynasty and placed the symbols of Henri IV, the founder of the dynasty, in their arms.

The arrangement of the canting pales and peacock makes of the municipal arms of Pau un rébus surmonté d'un calembour (a rebus surmonted by a play of words).

Ivan Sache, 5 February 2004

Sports club in Pau

Elan Béarnais Pau-Orthez (Basket-ball)

[Flag of Pau-Orthez]by Ivan Sache

The usual flag of the supporters of Elan Béarnais Pau-Orthez, one of the main basket-ball teams in France is vertically divided light green-white.

Orthez (c. 1O,000 inhabitants) was the former capital of Béarn. Its golden age was during the end of the XIVth century, when the poet and count Gaston Fébus unified the County of Foix and Béarn and hold a brilliant court in Orthez, later transfered to Pau. Orthez reappeared in the headlines in the 70s when the local basket-ball team joined the French National League with a minimal budget and a short life expectancy. They played in the city market hall, and an American player had even to resign because he was allergic to hen feathers. During the 90s, the team, which had survived and reached the top, merged with Pau, and plays now in Pau. The shirts of the players are usually green with white numbers and letters.

Ivan Sache, 4 November 1999

Section Paloise (Rugby)

[Flag of Section Paloise]by Christian Gout

The rugby club of Pau was founded in 1902 as the Section Paloise de la Ligue Girondine and became rapidly known as the Section Paloise. The green and white colours of the club were adopted in 1912.

The Section Paloise won the French championship in 1928, 1946, 1964; the French Cup in 1939 and 1952 (then called Challenge Yves du Manoir), and 1997; and the European Shield in 2000.
Several players of the Section Paloise have played in the French national team, the currently most famous of them being Imanol Harinordoqui.

In 1998, a professional section was created by the Section Paloise, when professionalism was officially recognized by the French Rugby Federation. The flag shown above is the flag adopted by the professional section. The mountain shown on the flag is the Pic du Midi d'Ossau.

[Flag of Section Paloise]by Christian Gout

Before 1998, the amateur club used a flag with a slightly different emeblem in the middle.


Ivan Sache, 4 February 2004