The Pont Vieux is a symbol of Orthez, seen on all the postcards and local guidebooks. It dates back to the 13th century and originally had two towers. It was the scene of two bloody battles, most recently in Napoleonic times. The bridge proved very difficult to cross, which is not surprising considering it crosses high over the rocky Gave de Pau.
The Nazis hung people from the bridge during Orthez's occupation in World War II.
The houses around the bridge are the oldest in the town. You can easily get picturesque views from all directions! If you want to walk across the bridge you will no longer have problems with bows and arrows, gates, or burning oil. Instead you are far more likely to be squashed by a passing train on the adjacent level crossing!!
The 100 foot high Tour Moncade and its 'V' shaped moat are all that remain of a great Bearnaise fortified castle. It was built by Gaston VII de Moncade in the mid-13th century, later to become a headquarters for the great local prince of Bearn, Gaston Febus. In the late 1800's the top 30 feet was chopped off the tower. The mayor who saved the remainder became a minor hero!
For 2 euros per adult you can climb the tower, see exhibitions and have a great panoramic view over Orthez and the surrounding countryside. There is also a splendid 14th century 'Livre du Chase illuminated manuscript on display at the ground floor.
Open every day May to September, circa 10am to 7pm (but closed for lunch)
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At the end of July each year Orthez barricades its roads for a noisy and popular street festival. Similar fetes happen all over the area during the summer. It is customary to wear white and red, particularly a white shirt and a red scarf.
People from all ages enjoy the entertainment and the atmosphere is loud but friendly. The squares become filled with modern fairground rides. Some of them swing within a few feet of the church walls! The bars and hotels sell beer in the street. At night there is house parties, music, bands, pyrotechic displays, raves and discos. This continues till sunrise!!
Orthez Bullring becomes the location for traditional bullfights and (less brutal) courses landaise.
Orthez was occupied by the Nazi's during World War II. There is a rather scary and forboding monument in memory of the local resistance fighters. For some reason it is directly opposite Orthez General Hospital, bones protruding with arms outstretched to the sky!!
A local woman in her 70's recalls how, as a teenager, she bicycled everyday to the town of Salies to deliver secret messages hidden in bread. She also remembers the Nazi's hanging resistance fighters from the ancient fortified bridge over the gave! There was a concentration camp a short distance from Orthez.
Ignore the fact this tip may be headed by VT 'Favorite Thing'. I would describe it as a 'memorable thing' of Orthez, it is hardly a favorite tale!
Location: rue Xavier Darget