Oloron-Sainte-Marie - Encyclopedia

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OLORON-SAINTE-MARIE, a town of south-western France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of BassesPyrenees, 21 m. S. W. of Pau on a branch of the Southern railway. It lies at the confluence of the mountain torrents (locally known as gaves) Aspe and Ossau, which, after dividing it into three parts, unite to form the Oloron, a tributary of the Pau. The united population of the old feudal town of Sainte-Croix or Oloron proper, which is situated on an eminence between the two rivers, of Sainte-Marie on the left bank of the Aspe, and of the new quarters on the right bank of the Ossau, is 7715. Oloron has remains of old ramparts and pleasant promenades with beautiful views, and there are several old houses of the 55th, 16th and 17th centuries, one of which is occupied by the hotel de ville. The church of Sainte-Croix, the building of most interest, belongs mainly to the 11th century; the chief feature of the exterior is the central Byzantine cupola; in the interior there is a large altar of gilded wood, constructed in the Spanish style of the 17th century. The church of Sainte-Marie, which formerly served as the cathedral of Oloron, is in the old ecclesiastical quarter of Sainte-Marie. It is a medley of various styles from the 11th to the 14th century. A square tower at the west end shelters a fine Romanesque portal. In the new quarter there is the modern church of Notre-Dame. Remains of a castle of the 14th century are also still to be seen. Oloron is the seat of a sub-prefect, and its public institutions include tribunals of first instance and of commerce, and a chamber of arts and manufactures. It is the most important commercial centre of its department after Bayonne, and carries on a thriving trade with Spain by way of the passes of Somport and Anso.

A Celtiberian and then a Gallo-Roman town, known as Iluro, occupied the hill on which Sainte-Croix now stands. Devastated by the Vascones in the 6th and by the Saracens in the 8th century, it was abandoned, and it was not until the 11th century that the quarter of Sainte-Marie was re-established by the bishops. In 1080 the viscount of Beam took possession of the old town. The two quarters remained distinct till the union of Beam with the crown at the accession of Henry IV. At the Reformation the place became a centre of Catholic reaction. In the 17th century it carried on a considerable trade with Aragon, until the Spaniards, jealous of its prosperity, pillaged the establishments of the Oloron merchants at Saragossa in 1694 - a disaster from which it only slowly recovered. The bishopric was suppressed in 1790.

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