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Pouey_Laun - Doussault, 1835

THE HISTORY AND HERITAGE OF THE VAL D'AZUN




""And, on the right, it is the grandiose opening of this marvelous valley of Azun that the great poet Dureau Delaballe was not afraid to call"" the Eden of the Pyrenees "". This lyrical expression is itself a pleonasm, the whole chain already being an Eden, but it does indeed convey the tasty and, so to speak, immaterial grace of this paradisiacal valley. All its details are pretty; the whole which they compose is purely beautiful: this valley is in truth the most admirable of all the Pyrenees. » Henri D'Agrain in Bulletin Pyrénéen n.147, 1919.



Geographic location
Historically, the Val d'Azun is part of Lavedan, Pyrenean territory of the seven valleys of Batsurguère, Castelloubon, Davantaygues, Estrem de Salles, Ribère de Saint-Savin, Pays Toy, and Val d'Azun, which once formed relatively self-contained entities. - sufficient and autonomous. Lavedan was itself integrated into the County of Bigorre, which later became Sénéchaussée de Bigorre. The Val d'Azun, which is not limited to a single valley, is made up of the high valleys of Arrens, Estaing, the uppervalley of Ouzom and that of Bergons.
The valley is traditionally seen as isolated and, if it is true that the Val d'Azun is not located on a major communication axis, it nonetheless offers an outlet in the high mountains to Spain, via the pass. de la Pierre Saint-Martin which opens onto Aragon, onto the Béarn, via the Soulor and Aubisque passes, but is also the natural access route to the Picdu Balaïtous, which is the first peak in the chain exceeding the altitude of 3000 m from the Atlantic coast (3114m).
The Val d'Azun remains relatively isolated from major historical events, while remaining integrated into the general history of the province of Gascony, then of the Kingdom of France, and finally that of the French Republic and its turbulent twentieth century.


A mountain agro-pastoral company
The narrowness of the valley, the impossibility of cultivating a large part of the available land and the harsh conditions of life in the mountains have given a particular facies to the Pyrenean societies of which the Val d'Azun is a fine example.
 
In the valley, land ownership was subdivided into communal and private ownership. These consisted of fields and meadows located in the valley itself, as well as a part of woods and meadows located on the foothills. The remaining space, forests and summer pastures, remained the property ofvillage communities .
Thus, the pastures represented for a very long time all the wealth of the villages, which explains the importance of the preservation of the heritage in its entirety and that of the House as the basic unit of the village communities. The House, in the material sense, was the most palpable representation of the success and respectability of the family, and in this respect, the care given to the old doors and doorframes of the old Houses of Val d'Azun.
Each House housed a family that was integrated into thethe Beziau , a system which allowed heads of houses to attend village assemblies until the end of the 19th century, each representing his house in these communal assemblies, a sort of municipal council where decisions concerning the life of the rural parish were handled ( use of communal forests, grazing rights, etc.). The relatively harsh living conditions and the isolation of the winter months made village solidarity essential. The neighborhood played a role almost as important as that played by the family in community life.
These Pyrenean countries were poor countries, it was unthinkable toparceling out what were already small farms to the hard life, private ownership being very limited and by no means extendable. The preservation of the lands and rights of the Houses were consolidated by the application of a strict birthright which wanted the eldest, man or woman, to inherit all of the patrimony and family rights, thus leaving on the younger side and younger who formed familiar but peripheral figures of these village societies. Condemned to be able to remain under the family roof only as servants dedicated to the celibate, the cadets had otherwise to seek their fortune elsewhere, or else to specialize in certain forms of crafts (slate makers, carpenters, guides or porters, etc.) or professions of transformation of agricultural products, as was the case, for example, with the making of cheeses by cadets from Sireix and Arbéost.
Others formed real communities called to take root: the
villages of Sireix, Arbéost and Ferrières were cadet foundations
 
originating from the Val d'Azun to whom the most difficult lands were left and not yet cleared. However, these villages remained for a long time under the tutelage of their village of origin,regaining full autonomy with the fall of the Ancien Régime.
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The Val d'Azun through history
Archaeological discoveries in the Val d'Azun, about prehistory, are few and scattered. The first traces of human occupation are attested from the Neolithic era (8500-1800 BC). This occupation continued into the Bronze Age, but no significant human concentration was found.
The Val d'Azun is integrated into the whole of Aquitaine civilization during Protohistory, as evidenced by the presence of toponyms in -os specific to this period, and is not integrated into that of Celtic Gaul.The Roman conquest does not seem to have greatly disturbed the human communities present in the valley, which escape the most visible forms of Romanization by the isolation of the valley and its little economic importance from the point of view of Roman civilization. It was not until the first beginnings of the Middle Ages to have the first legends of Saints appear.
Little by little, the valley is covered with small Romanesque churches which will later be extensively altered, destroyed and partly rebuilt. The valley is also strengthening. The construction of Castet Naü in Arras-en-Lavedan can be traced back to the 13th century. Seat of the main noble family of the valley, itsvocation to prevent the invasions coming from Aragon by the valley of Arrens, and those of the Béarn people by the Bergons. Annexed for a time during the Hundred Years War to the Crown of England, it will be taken over in 1404. Abandoned in the 19th century, it served as a quarry for the surrounding houses.
The Val d'Azun also contains a certain number of Gothic houses , the most beautiful examples of which are found in Arcizans-Dessus and Gaillagos, but also fortified houses , which can be found in particular in the village of Arras-en-Lavedan, and of which the Carréd'Aucun Tower, visible along the main road, is a good example.
The churches of the Val d'Azun are located in the heart of the villages, they are small structures with a richly decorated interior where traces of Marian worship are omnipresent. They almost all benefit from platforms which
 
separate men and women during the celebration of Mass. Widely redesigned following frequent earthquakes in the region, or accidents or destruction, they bring together the know-how of an era as well as give an idea of the values and social organization of these villages. of Mountain.
However, the jewel of all these churches is indeed that which awaits at the end of its path the one which goes up the Val d'Azun to the sanctuary of Notre Dame de Pouey-Laün , the golden chapel ( capera daurada ), built on its rock, outside the village of Arrens. Sold as a national asset during the Revolution, the intervention of Hortense de Beauharnais in 1807, gave it back all its glory. The chapel, built in the Middle Ages, served as a place of prayer for pilgrims who went to the shrine of Our Lady of Pilar in Zaragoza.

A border valley in the heart of the Pyrenees
The cohabitation of the inhabitants of the Val d'Azun with their neighbors, and even
between its own villages, has never been simple, nor even obvious.
Like the other valleys of the western and central Pyrenees, the Val d'Azun maintained privileged relations with its Spanish neighbor on subjects such as the sharing of estives, trade of all kinds, smuggling, etc. It was about managing as well as possible its relations with its transnational neighbor. The Lies and Passeries are agreements concluded from valley to valley over the whole of thechain of the Pyrenees, established between mountain communities on the same slope or living on either side of the Franco-Spanish border: We know that one of these agreements was renewed in 1544 between the Val d'Azun and the Tena valley , knowing that the Censier de Bigorre warns us of the presence of a stone marking the border at the Pierre Saint Martin pass from 1429. These pastoral conventions determine the boundaries of the territories as well as the conditions of use of resources and of movement of herds. They also define a set of police and justice rules, guaranteeing the application of one and the same human right in the territory in question and engaging the responsibility and solidarity of the valley.
Along with the other valleys on the French side, the Val d'Azun also had a lot to do. There too, access to resources, sharing of summer pastures, the attraction of herds of cattle coming within easy reach, all of these issues, sources of conflict, as well as opportunities for meetings and reunions. A very good
 
example is the Tribut des Médailles which we owe the report by Jean Bourdette († 1911), the historian from Lavedan:
There was a priori a state of war between the Val d'Azun and the Aspe Valley, following the incursions of the first in the latter and in Ossau during the years 1090-1095 in order to seize goods and herds. The bishop of Comminges, Saint-Bertrand, was called upon to settle the conflict and to obtain reparations for the injured party. The Azunois received this bishop very badly, who came from afar and for matters which hardly concerned him, cut the tail of his mare and made him many insults. Saint-Bertrand threw the Forbidden over the valley and, fromfrom that day, it is said, the earth became barren, the rain stopped falling, and even the animals withered away. But above all the inhabitants were no longer entitled to any sacraments, no more divine services, no more marriages, no more absolutions for fishermen, no more prayers for the dead. History says that after six years of standing up to the enraged bishop, the people of Azun repented, paid homage and offered him and all his successors the butter they would produce during the week leading up to Pentecost. And this Tribut du Beurre was paid until 1789! With the Aspois, they also made peace, dated April 27, 1099. The Azunois were condemned for irruption and condemned to the annual payment andperpetual of five pounds sixteen soils, payment called the Tribute of the Medals, given every September 29 to a consul of the Valley of Aspe in the Abbey of Saint Savin, and who was himself honored until the Revolution.
In the very heart of the Val d'Azun, there was a marginalized and stigmatized population that one meets throughout the South-West of France, the Cagots , or Crestias . Present in the valley, they constituted communities relegated to the outskirts of the villages, not taking part in the life of the latter, excluded from the offices and the community of Christians, considered as a cursed race. Their origin and is buried in legends and uncertainty:descendants of Saracens, Visigoths, some mysterious and forgotten populations, they were more probably from members of village communities affected by leprosy, and thus withered by impurity and contagion. The Cagots thus formed real neighborhoods away from the villages, benefiting from their own entrance into the churches, their own holy water fonts (we find some in Arras and Arrens), and separated from the rest of the Christians in order to avoid staining. . Despite village resistance, the Church participated very largely in their emancipation towards the end of the Ancien Régime, and today they are only a distant memory, still shrouded in an aura of mystery, which feeds a certain literature. .

 
A gradual entry into the modern world
"" The Pyrenees have only existed for a hundred years. They are "" modern "". The
Pyrenees were invented by Ramond. » Henri Béraldi, in Hundred Years in the Pyrenees.
It was not until the end of the 18th century that the ""discovery"" of the Pyrenees began and opened up to the eyes of others under the feathers of the first Pyrenean climbers, of which Louis Ferdinand Ramond de Carbonnières was the brilliant precursor.Subsequently, a whole literature of discovery, through stories of botanical or mineralogical excursions, stories of climbs, tourist excursions, work of toponymy, the arrival of painters and designers, popularized the Pyrenean mountain. The Val d'Azun is not to be outdone, and finds an enchanting first form under the pen of Ramond de Carbonnières. :
""We soon arrive at a vast basin where we discover both the villages, None, Marsous and Arrens that we will cross in turn. They are all three at the foot of the northern mountains on the high side of the plateau which descends imperceptibly towards the footopposing mountains. There is relegated the torrent which flows peacefully bordered by a border of meadows. All the rest of the plateau is in superb fields where corn and wheat are cultivated and magnificently framed by the surrounding mountains decorated with a wide belt of meadows sown with well plastered barns and covered with slate, adorned with chestnut stumps and of oaks. If there is in the Pyrenees a place where the contrasts of wild nature and cultivated nature are brilliantly displayed, where the riches of the mountains and those of the plain meet without interval, it is in this laughing basin open to all kinds of culture, all kinds of prosperity "". inObservations made in the Pyrenees, to serve as a follow-up to observations on the Alps, inserted in a translation of the Letters of W. Coxe, on Switzerland. 1789.
But the real first truly Pyrenean adventure in Balaïtous will take the form of a scientific expedition which was anything but trivial: The geodesian officers Peytier and Hossard, in 1825, made the first ascent of the peak in order to take topographic surveys for the establishment of new maps. . Much later, the mountaineer and pyreneist, member of the Ramond Society, the Englishman Charles Packe, will rediscover the traces of this ascent by arriving at the summit of Balaïtous in 1862.
Later, the Cadier Brothers, originally from the Aspe valley, and more notoriously
Georges Ledormeur , will survey all facets of the summit, opening

new routes, making the first winter, and opening access to the summit for the greatest number by their writings and the establishment of topographical maps.
However, it will be a local child who will immortalize the Lettres azunoises in the person of the Gascon-speaking grocer-poet Miqueu de Camelat (1871-1962).
Its heroine Béline will forever remain the most tender and the most beautiful story that the Val d'Azun will have known how to give birth.
The nineteenth century will see a discreet opening of the valley to people from outside, English tourists vacationing in Argelès-Gazost, romantic or sports climbers (or both at the same time), inspired painters and engravers, even if it is necessary recognize that they only passed by, favoring spas such as Cauterets, or large imposing sites such as the Cirque de Gavarnie. However, it was the mountain air that was to bring the first major structure to settle in Val d'Azun with the construction of the Jean Thébaud sanatorium in Arrens-Marsous, which is now closed.
Since ancient times, the Val d'Azun has had many small mining operations, but without experiencing significant growth. His heart
"Industrial", it will be white coal , water from gaves and mountain torrents, that of lakes and reservoirs, penstocks and hydro-electric stations. The true labors of Hercules, the extent of which we can hardly imagine today, multiplied the hydroelectric equipment from the interwar period (Lac du Tech), then especially at the end of the Second World War ( Miguelou Lake).
World War II will markalso the Val d'Azun, with the installation of a German garnison in Arrens to ensure that border crossings by smugglers from the country are prevented, which will save many lives of people and families chased by the Nazis.
The second half of the 20th century will be the one when the rural exodus will reach its climax, while a tourism on a human scale will gradually develop which, in this 21st century which promises to be voracious, makes the Val d'Azun - a relatively isolated valley, very preserved and a little out of time - a territory in particular resonance with its time, in tune with contemporary ecological requirements and sustainable developmentwhich is no longer conceived as an option, but a necessity.