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Old bridge over river Nive
|Intercommunality||CA Pays Basque|
|• Mayor (2001–2008)||Alphonse Idiart|
|2.73 km2 (1.05 sq mi)|
|• Density||580/km2 (1,500/sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC+01:00 (CET)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC+02:00 (CEST)|
|Elevation||159–320 m (522–1,050 ft) |
(avg. 180 m or 590 ft)
|1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km2 (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.|
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (literally "Saint John [at the] Foot of [the] Pass"; Basque: Donibane Garazi; Spanish: San Juan Pie de Puerto) is a commune in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in south-western France close to Ostabat in the Pyrenean foothills. The town is also the old capital of the traditional Basque province of Lower Navarre. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is also a starting point for the French Way Camino Francés, the most popular option for travelling the Camino de Santiago.
The town lies on the river Nive, 8 km (5.0 mi) from the Spanish border, and is the head town of the region of Cize (Garazi in Basque). The town's layout is essentially one main street with sandstone walls encircling.
The original town at nearby Saint-Jean-le-Vieux was razed to the ground in 1177 by the troops of Richard the Lionheart after a siege. The Kings of Navarre refounded the town on its present site shortly afterwards.
The town was thereafter a town of the Kingdom of Navarre, and the seat of the sheriff of the Lower Navarre district ("merindad" of Ultrapuertos or Deça-Ports). It remained as such up to the period of the Spanish conquest (1512-1528) when King Henry II of Navarre decided to transfer the seat of the royal institutions to Saint Palais (Donapaleu) on safety grounds.
The town has traditionally been an important point on the Way of St. James, the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, as it stands at the base of the Roncevaux Pass across the Pyrenees. Pied-de-Port means 'foot of the pass' in Pyrenean French. The routes from Paris, Vézelay and Le Puy-en-Velay meet at Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and it was the pilgrims' last stop before the arduous mountain crossing.
The cobbled rue de la Citadelle runs down hill and over the river from the fifteenth century Porte St-Jacques to the Porte d'Espagne by the bridge. From the bridge, there are views of the old houses with balconies overlooking the Nive. Many of the buildings are very old, built of pink and grey schist, and retain distinctive features, including inscriptions over their doors. One, a bakery, lists the price of wheat in 1789.
The 14th century red schist Gothic church, Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont, stands by the Porte d'Espagne. The original was built by Sancho the Strong of Navarre to commemorate the 1212 Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa where Moorish dominance of Spain was undermined.
Traditional crafts and foods remain in the town, including Basque linen from the Inchauspé family since 1848. The town is now an important tourist centre for the Pyrenees and the French Basque country and there are shops, restaurants and hotels.
St-Jean-Pied-de-Port specializes in fromage de brebis, which is an Ossau-Iraty cheese, local trout and pipérade omelette with peppers and Bayonne ham.
Mondays see a large market, with sheep and cattle driven into the town. At 5pm, there is a communal game of bare-handed pelote at the fronton. There are large fairs four times a year.
Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is the terminus on the railway line from Bayonne through the French Basque Country, along the valley of the river Nive, with several services each day. It is 1 km from the centre of the town. Biarritz Airport is the closest airport to Saint Jean Pied de Port.
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