Pau, nicknamed the city of Henry IV, hosts stages 16 and 17 of the 2010 Tour de France. The race is nothing new for this southwest site, which has hosted the Tour 62 times before. Only Paris and Bordeaux have been on the race route more often.
The Tour de France may be an old friend of Pau, but in 2010, the city celebrates a few important anniversaries. In fact 2010 marks (are you ready?), the 400th anniversary of the assassination of Henry IV, the 200th anniversary of Pau native Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte taking to the Swedish throne, the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France in the Pyrenees, the world championship of Basque pelote, and the national Floralies flower festival. With these events, Pau hopes to confirm its reputation as “Gateway to the Pyrenees.”
The Chateau of Henri VI also makes Pau worth a visit. The castle overlooks the city from a rocky butte, where a chateau was first built in the early Middle Ages. The current castle dates to the 14th century, when the viscount of Bearne and count of Foix reconstructed the royal residence. Henry IV was born here in 1553 and the castle became a museum in 1926. It houses the largest collection of tapestries outside of Paris and a large collection of artifacts from the life of its most famous king.
With the 400th anniversary of Henri IV’s assassination, the city takes the public back to the early 17th century with theatrical visits, “A Ball in the Court of Henry IV” concerts, and an equestrian show in the castle park.
It all dates back to May 14, 1610, when the royal carriage was blocked in the rue de la Ferronnerie, in Paris. Ravaillac, a fanatic monk climbed aboard and stabbed the French king to death. The country lost a ruler who, despite his controversial, Huguenot roots, won the admiration of his subjects with his conversion to Catholicism in 1593. “After all,” he reasoned, “Paris is well worth a mass.”
His Edict of Nantes in 1598 gave French Protestants a certain freedom of religion, which up until then had been violently persecuted. The act effectively ended the religious wars that ravaged France in second half of the 16th century.
The French even called him “Good King Henry,” and today every French person knows him for supposedly having claimed: “I want there to be no peasant in my kingdom so poor that he cannot have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” Perhaps he inspired Hoover’s presidential campaign.
In Paris, Ravaillac was cruelly tortured for a day before being burned and having his ashes scattered. To this day, no one knows for certain who ordered the death of the Good King Henry.
If you want to visit Pau and learn more about the life of Henry IV, click here.
You amy also want to back track to Bagnères de Luchon, a Pyrennees village that was the departure city for stage 16 of the 2010 Tour de France.
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