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Discovering Bayonne

June 1, 2012

The compact city with its cultural diversity and environmental quality has been acknowledged as the most important asset for European urban culture in a long list of documents including the Urban Aquis (Rotterdam 2004), the Bristol Accord for Sustainable Communities (Bristol 2005) and the Leipzig Charter for European Sustainable Cities (Leipzig 2007).

To this extent European Cities of Tomorrow must be considered the engines of regional development, main generators of jobs and growth, delivering innovation, economic competitiveness  and social cohesion by all kind of urban and territorial development policies, in an environmental sensitive (and sensible) way. So far the theory and the political long term view, but as examples are usually more self explaining than theories, let me share with you some thoughts about the beautiful city of Bayonne and a few pictures I took in a walk on a Saturday morning in October 2011, after a fruitful Workshop of the URBACT LINKS Network.

With 50 thousand inhabitants Bayonne is the cultural and economic capital of Aquitaine, in South-West of France and at the same time the capital of French Basque country. Located in a strategic point, at the confluence of river Nive and Adour,  the city was founded on a Roman castrum, was the scene of many historic events and eventually in the XVII Century gave birth to the bayonet.

The integrity of the historic city center makes it an internationally well-known touristic attraction, somehow competing with the seaside resort of Biarritz, only a few kilometers away, but on a fully different terrain. The XVII Century citadel (by famous fortress architect Vauban 1633-1707) is the headquarter of a modern University and the whole city is a workshop for different approaches of sustainable development strategies, with the aim to maintain and enhance the vitality and livability of the historic city.

The Townhall (La Mairie de Bayonne) is a real public monument, a strong presence in the urban fabric, re-affirming the solid role of French public administration and democratic institutions.

The buildings along the main streets and life in the cafes along the river banks are those of a big city. The building on the right of the picture below is the Basque Museum, an excellent example of refurbishment and re-use of an old building in which we had our workshop in an unconventional and lively atmosphere.

Also due to the atlantic rainy weather arcades are welcoming places. The city walls are still a strong landmark along which a variety of gardens, parks and also several car-parkings are located. Bayonne is not an open air museum.

A tiny electric bus connects different car parkings at the edge of town driving through the city, free of charge.

Contemporary architecture has its place in the old castle, to accommodate the University.

Beside the electric Navette bike lanes and even pedestrian lanes are marked in absence of pavements.

The new University Campus building is a very convincing contemporary interpretation of the local architectural language made of stone wall facades and well detailed window frames.

Handicraft is still alive and steadily struggling for its economic base.  By the nice weather there are many ways to enjoy the public spaces, well designed and carefully maintained.

The Architectural heritage, often surrounded by historic gardens, is impressive in scale and decoration, but it does not dominate the urban scene in an oppressive way. It is friendly linked to the urban realm, keeping a lively exchange between the different levels of urban life.

At the edge of town you see modern buildingds rising over the usual skyline in a collage of different shapes and materials.

The row of motorbikes on the left provides a colourful edge, a visual counterpart to the row of trees and benches on the right, useful to avoid the danger of picturesque.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephen Lewis permalink
    June 4, 2012 7:59 am

    I was maybe in Bayonne on the same day as I live a few kms away and teach sometimes at the University. Glad you liked Bayonne. Thanks for your comment about my article on Baarle and if I move there you’re welcome, but also if you ever come back here I’ll tell you about Bayonne’s long history over a beer by the river
    (actually there’s one piece on my blog).

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