Gascony ( _fr. Gascogne, pronounced|gaskɔɲ; Gascon
Occitan: "Gasconha", pronounced IPA| [gasˈkuɲɔ] ) is an area of southwest Francethat constituted a province of France prior to the French Revolution. In historic references dating from the beginning of the Roman era, it was part of Gauland became part of the Kingdom of the Franksduring the conquests of Clovis I(–481 AD) Fact|date=August 2008.
It is currently divided between the
Aquitaine"région" ("départements" of Landes, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, south and west of Gironde, and south of Lot-et-Garonne) and the Midi-Pyrénées"région" ("départements" of Gers, Hautes-Pyrénées, southwest of Tarn-et-Garonne, and west of Haute-Garonne).
Gascony was historically inhabited by Basque related people and it is home to the
Gascon language. It is also the land of d'Artagnan, who inspired Alexandre Dumas's character in the Three Musketeers. It is also home of hero of the play Cyrano de Bergerac (but this character has not much in common with the real Cyrano de Bergerac, who was a Parisian).
Gascony is also famed for its "douceur de vivre" ("sweetness of life"): its food (Gascony is home to
foie grasand Armagnac brandy), its medieval towns and villages locally called " bastides" nested amidst green rolling hills, its sunny weather, the beauty of its landscape, with the occasional distant views of the Pyreneesmountain range, all contribute to the popularity of Gascony as a tourist destination. Due to rural exodus, Gascony is one of the least populated areas of western Europe, and so it has recently become a haven for stressed urbanites of northern Europe (chiefly France, England, and the Beneluxnations) who, in search of quiet and peace of mind, are increasingly buying second homes in Gascony.
The Aquitanians inhabited a territory limited to the north and east by the
Garonne River, to the south by the Pyreneesmountain range, and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The Romans called this territory Aquitania, either from the Latinword "aqua" (meaning "water"), in reference to the many rivers flowing from the Pyrenees through the area, or from the name of the Aquitanian Ausci tribe (whose name seems related to the Basque root "eusk-" meaning "Basque"), in which case Aquitania would mean "land of the Ausci".
In the 50s BC, Aquitania was conquered by lieutenants of
Julius Caesarand became part of the Roman Empire.
Later, in 27 BC, during the reign of Emperor Augustus, the province of
Gallia Aquitaniawas created. Gallia Aquitania was far larger than the original Aquitania, as it extended north of the Garonne River, in fact all the way north to the Loire River, thus including the Celtic Gallic people that inhabited the regions between the Garonne and the Loire rivers.
These Gallic people (with their
Gaulish language) were quite different from the non-Indo-European Aquitanians and Basques. This was a deliberate policy of Rome, which sought to gather people from different ethnic backgrounds into a single province, in order to avoid the development of a regional identity.
In 297, as Emperor
Diocletianreformed the administrative structures of the Roman Empire, long claims of the now Romanized descendants of the Aquitanians, who had long desired to be separated from the now also Romanized descendants of the Gallic people inhabiting north of the Garonne, were finally heard and Gallia Aquitania was split into three provinces.
The territory south of the Garonne River, corresponding to the original Aquitania, was made a province called
Novempopulana(that is, "land of the nine tribes"), while the part of Gallia Aquitania north of the Garonne became the province of Aquitanica Iand the province of Aquitanica II. The territory of Novempopulana corresponded quite well to what we call now Gascony.
From 297 on, the name "Aquitaine" was never used again for Gascony, despite it having been its original name, and instead became used only for territories north of the Garonne River.Fact|date=September 2007
Novempopulana suffered like the rest of the Western Roman Empire from the invasions of Germanic tribes, most notably the
Vandalsin 407-409. In 416-418, Novempopulana was delivered to the Visigothsas their federate settlement lands and became part of the Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse.
The Visigoths were defeated by the Franks in 507, and fled into Spain. Novempopulana then became part of the
Frankish Kingdomlike the rest of southern France. However, Novempopulana was far away from the home base of the Franks in northern France, and was only very loosely controlled by the Franks.
It is then, around 600, that taking advantage of the power vacuum thus created, the Basque clans descended from their refuge in the western Pyrenees and established their hegemony over Novempopulana. This is why Novempopulana became known as "Vasconia" (that is, "land of the Vascones", the Latin word "Vasco" later evolving into the word "Basque"). The word "Vasconia" evolved into "Wasconia", and then into "Gasconia" (w- often evolved into g- under the influence of
Romance languages, cf. warranty and guarantee, William and Guillaume).
Although the Basque clans dominated Gascony, the gradual abandonment of the Basque-related Aquitanian language in favor of a local
vulgar Latin, a process which was well under its way, was not reversed. This local vulgar Latin later evolved into Gascon. Quite paradoxically (or logically) the Basques from the French side of the Basque Country traditionally call anyone who does not speak Basque a Gascon.
However, Gascon was heavily influenced by the original Aquitanian language (for example, Latin f- became h-, cf. Latin "fortia", French "force", Spanish "fuerza",
Occitan"fòrça", but Gascon "hòrça").
Viking invasions (840-982)
Viking raiders conquered several Gascon towns in 842-844, including
Bordeauxand Bayonne, from where they were only expelled in 982-986.
Their attacks in Gascony may have helped the political disintegration of the Duchy. Their presence nevertheless left a mariner legacy that Basques and Gascons would later exploit in their cod-fishing and whale-hunting activities that would bring them as far as Newfoundland.
The most important towns are :
Auchthe historical capital
Bayonne(Basque and Gascon identity)
] . Given to the Gascons by
Pope Clement IIIduring the Third Crusade.
* This article incorporates some information taken from http://www.hostkingdom.net/ with permission
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
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