1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km2 (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.2 Population without double counting: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.
Sames (Basque: Samatze) is a commune in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in southwestern France. It is generally considered part of the Basque Country province of Lower Navarre (Basque: Nefarroa Beheroa).
Sames lies in the valley of the Adour, a major river running to the Bay of Biscay. It is located on a low plain between the Adour, Gaves, and Bidouze rivers. An outcrop of the Pyrenees rises some 60m over the plain, blocking the Bidouze to the north and east.
North of Sames is the hilly country of southern Landes, formed from rocks and soil left by receding glaciers over 20 million years. The Adour valley extends west to the bay, about 35 km away. South of Sames are the foothills of the Pyrenees, which reach a height of 150m just across the river, 600m about 15 km from the commune, and 900m at a distance of 20 km.
The commune is organized into several neighbourhoods, with distinct personalities partly shaped by history:
The economy of Sames is based on agriculture, primarily maize, kiwi, and (to a somewhat lesser extent) vegetables.
Local craftsmen also make blades and knives in a typical Pyrenean style. Lames de Sames, an artisanal workshop founded by designer and craftsman Christophe Lauduique, has a shop at the nearby seaside resort of Anglet.
Artifacts discovered in Sames (such as a set of 3rd-century Roman bronze coins found in the recess of a wall) indicate that some type of settlement, probably agricultural, existed at the hilltop site of Le Bourg in ancient times. The local church—built in a simple Roman style, which was all that a very rural parish could afford—has been dated back to the early 14th century. The first documents mentioning the commune by its current name are from 1255; several minor mentions can be found from throughout the 13th and 14th centuries.
The history of the commune is closely tied to the Order of Malta, which, around 1445, built a hostel and hospital on the bank of the Bidouze to supplement facilities in the nearby port city of Bayonne. They named the site after the Order's patron saint, John (in French, Saint Jean), and the neighbourhood was known as Saint-Jean-d'Etchart until the Order left in the late 18th century. ("Etchart" is most likely of Basque origin; a nearby swampy area is still known as "Etchouette".) The Order also established a chapel that served as a secondary church for locals, and they sustained their right to be buried there until a royal decree in 1668 forbade it. Several buildings from that period, dating to the early 1600s, are still standing.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a few wealthy landowners built mansions in the village: three on the hilltop (the first around 1775; the other two, more lavish and surrounded by parks and gardens, around 1850) and one in 1807 on the site of the old Order of Malta establishment.
While Sames itself held no strategic interest, being devoid of any military stronghold, the area at large was in constant turmoil because of rivalries between the powers that ruled the Aquitaine region and northern Spain.
Until the late 12th century, the area was part of the province of Labourd, ruled from Bayonne and included in the dukedom of Aquitaine, and hence the realm of France. The local powers were the lords of Guiche, 1.5 km away across the Bidouze, and the Abbey of Arthous 2 km away on the other side of the hills, which was founded in 1160 and served as a staging ground for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
However, in 1193, Richard I of England, who was also duke of Aquitaine and, as such, a vassal to the king of France, agreed to relinquish sovereignty over a strip of land—located next to the Earldom of Béarn and stretching from the Pyrenees down to the Adour—to his father-in-law, Sancho VI of Navarre, who ruled over northern Spain. This land was then integrated into the kingdom of Navarre under the name Lower Navarre (French: Basse-Navarre; Basque: Neferroa Beheroa), and thus removed from the realm of France for the next four centuries.
Sames, hemmed in at the confluence of the three rivers, remained under French control but found itself politically isolated. It was cut off from the village of Oeyregave to the northeast by the Earl of Orthe's fortress at Peyrehorade, and from the rest of Labourd by the Bidouze river, on the opposite bank of which was set a ring of villages belonging to Navarre. It was also cut off from its southwestern neighbours beyond Bidache, where a fortress was built in 1325 by the Earl of Gramont, and from Guiche to the south, which had a strong fortress dating back to the 11th century. Additionally, in 1289, the Duke of Aquitaine—who controlled Bayonne, the only port between Spain and Bordeaux—established a stronghold on the hilltop of Hastingues half a mile away under an agreement with the Abbey of Arthous (which sought protection from the Earl of Orthe).
As a result of this isolation, the commune's jurisdictional, police, and fiscal situation were blurred until two decisive steps were taken in the second half of the 16th century:
In 1790, when the territorial divisions of France were reorganized by the French Revolution, Sames and its neighbours in Labourd and Lower Navarre were placed in the Basses-Pyrénées department, later renamed Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Since 2006, Sames has been the seat (at Quartier Saint-Jean) of an association dedicated to the promotion of lyric arts. The association organizes performances of comic operas for Sames and surrounding communes.
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