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History of the Pyrenees

History of the Pyrenees

Forming a natural border with Spain, the mighty Pyrenees and the surrounding areas have a fascinating history that dates back thousands of years. And, because it stretches from the Mediterranean Sea on the east coast, to Atlantic Ocean on the west, the region has played an integral role throughout the ages for France, Spain, and Europe as a whole.

Arago Cave

Dawn of civilisation

The earliest evidence of prehistoric human occupation in the Pyrenees is said to have been found in the Arago Cave of the Southern Corbieres region, while the recently excavated remains of the Tautavel Man have been dated back a remarkable 450,000 years. This early age of occupation makes the region fascinating to archaeologists and tourists alike, with additional remains from the Bronze and Iron Ages forming a legacy for all to admire.

In the millennia that followed, it was the Celts who made the Pyrenees home before the Romans seized control of Gaul and the Pyrenees, developing an infrastructure of towns, villages, and roads that would survive for centuries.

Fall of Rome


The demise of the Roman Empire would shepherd in an era of rule under the Franks and later the Visigoths, who eventually settled in the region and established their capital in the city of Toulouse. This rule proved only temporary, however, with the Frankish King, Clovis I, invading Gaul in 507 and seizing control over the nation and the Pyrenees.

After incursions by the Moors and a number of bloody battles throughout the Middle Ages, the region of the Pyrenees was bound to the Holy Roman Empire. With the advent of Christianity and the heresy of the Cathars in the region purged, the path was clear for the region to develop and expand through later centuries.

Modern history

During the late 15th century the Kings of Navarre, followed by King Ferdinand of Spain, took control of the region, before rule returned to the French crown during the 17th century. During the Napoleonic period, the Pyrenees would see the development of the area’s first spa resorts thanks to the mountain’s natural thermal springs. During the Second World War, meanwhile, the elevated location proved the perfect retreat for the French Resistance.