Orthez is a town in the French department of the Atlantic Pyrenees (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), located on the Gave de Pau’s right bank.
“Touch if you dare” (French “Touches-y si tu l’oses”) is Orthez’s motto, which testifies to a rich and eventful history. Its cultural heritage and landscapes testify to a double essence – from the medieval fortifications rigidity to the tiled roofs softness and comfort.
The town of Orthez dates back to the Middle Ages. Orthez switched from Viscounts of Dax to Viscounts of Bearn at the end of the XII century, Viscount of Bearn, Gaston VII de Moncade made it his residence in 1242. He endowed the town with its main attractions: the Moncade Castle (Château Moncade) – a 10-minute walk from the town center – and the Pont-Vieux bridge.
Orthez developed in accordance with the town’s plan and has remained almost unchanged since then. The center resembles a number of other thirteenth-century towns: Bourg-Vieux, Moncade, and Bourg-Neuf.
The town was also famous thanks to the Gaston III de Foix-Béarn personality, also known as Fébus, whose main residence was the Moncade castle. Fébus was not only a formidable commander but also a politician imposing Bearn’s independence. He also went down in history as the author of the famous hunting book (Livre de chasse).
The Kings of Navarra moved their capital from Pamplona to Orthez after the Spaniards occupied South Navarra. Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, established a Calvinist university where Theodore Beza, the Swiss reformer, associate and successor of Jean Calvin taught.
Orthez owes its growth to commercial activity, which has been developing actively since the eighteenth century. The smoked meat, flax, and wool trade brought a good income, as evidenced by the houses and mansions from that time.
Orthez has long attracted creative intelligentsia and even scientists: the French physicist Gaston Planté, the French symbolist poet Francis Jammes, the French prose writer, and essayist Jean-Louis Curtis, and the French pianist Francis Planté all lived here.