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History of Aquitaine

Few destinations can lay claim to documenting more than 400,000 years of human history, yet Aquitaine enjoys the prestige of just such heritage. From prehistoric remains to the influence of antiquity’s greatest civilisations, this is a region that is blessed with a history packed with intrigue, whose significance holds the key to uncovering the ways of ancient mankind.

Palaeolithic remains

The Palaeolithic remains of Perigord represent one of the earliest traces of humankind anywhere around the globe, with the cave paintings of the Vezere Valley highly prized and protected by their status on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Given the moniker, the ‘Valley of Mankind’, these early traces of human settlement acted as a precursor to prolonged civilisation in the Aquitaine region, with the arrival of modern man taking the form of the ancient Aquitani.

With the conquest of Gaul in 56BC, control of ancient Aquitania fell to the Roman Empire. At the time of Caesar’s arrival, the region encompassed an area bound by the ocean, the Pyrenees, and the Garonne River, but by 27BC and the rule of Augustus, this had quickly stretched to the River Loire and incorporated a host of tribes under one region.

Through the Middle Ages

As the Roman Empire crumbled, the Visigoths and the Franks took their turn in seizing control of Aquitania. In 781, Charlemagne afforded his son Louis the title of King of Aquitaine, a move that saw further expansion of the territory, this time spreading across the Pyrenees into Pamplona, but clashes with the Duchy of Vasconia would continue to blight control over the region. Only with the signing of the Treaty of Verdun would conflict be quelled, with William VIII ultimately adopting the title Duke of Aquitaine.

Passing to the English

The ascension of Eleanor of Aquitaine in the early 12th century saw a shift in power to the French nobility; a move usurped by English rule on the marriage of Eleanor to the future King Henry II of England in 1154. With its strategic location on the Atlantic coast, Aquitaine would remain a key part of the Angevin Empire, with only the tumultuous events of the Hundred Years’ War enabling the French to finally reclaim the land.

Recent history

Since the events of the War of Religions – when Aquitaine would shelter many Protestant Huegenots from persecution – the region has experienced continual growth in terms of population and commerce. Known as Guyenne until the French Revolution, Aquitaine has been a key destination for those embarking on the famed pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain for centuries, while the flourishing wine trade brought prosperity to the region. 

Bordeaux, in particular, would experience substantial development, with the 18th century an era of great wealth, with many of the ornate, majestic structures built during the period sustaining until this day. Even the Second World War couldn’t dent the wonders of the region: Aquitaine retains its allure to this day.