History and description

A town of medieval origin, situated at the meeting point of the three Nives (rivers), Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port formed along the road to Saint James of Compostela. It received its first urban wall in the 14th century. A castle of the kings of Navarre was mentioned in 1189. This castle was disputed between the families of Aragon and d’Albret, and then surrounded by the current rectangular citadel in 1624-1627, under the reign of Louis XIII. There was a need to have a stronghold in order to counter Spain, following the annexing of Navarre and the struggle against the Protestants. Other constructions got underway in 1645-1648, under the regency of Mazarin. The engineer Desjardins, active in both Bayonne and Bordeaux, directed the work and completed the eastern part of the citadel. Following this construction, it was designed in the form of a bastioned quadrangular work equipped with cannon emplacements, bastions on straight flanks but nothing outside.
Vauban inspected Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port twice: in 1680 and 1685. These two visits spawned the project of an urban wall enclosing and expanding the town. The urban medieval wall was partially replaced by an urban wall equipped with bastioned towers on two levels for musketry. For the citadel, this was constructed the outside part. Two ravelins were added in front of the two citadels gates, west and east. The eastern ravelin was preceded by a covered way with traverses and a counterscarp, and was linked to the corps de place by a shelter under the bridge of the gate. Inside, he demolished the medieval castle to replace it with current buildings: residences of the governor and major, barracks, arsenal, chapel and well included. In 1693, he planned to add a hornwork in front of the eastern ravelin but this did not come to fruition.
The urban wall, only took shape progressively, up to a point in the 19th century.

Current state

The citadel still survives and has been classed as a historical monument since 1963. Its buildings are today occupied by a college. The urban city wall was demolished.


43° 9' 50" N, -1° 14' 41" E

citadel and urban wall
Antoine De Ville, Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban
  • Association des Amis de la Vieille Navarre, « La citadelle de Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port » in Vauban et ses successeurs dans les Pyrénées, Paris, 2003, p.295-306.
  • FOLIO (G.), La citadelle et la place de Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port de la Renaissance à l’époque contemporaine, cahiers du CEHD n°25, Ministère de la Défense, 2005.
  • LE BLANC (F.-Y.), FAUCHERRE (N.), La route des fortifications en Atlantique. Paris, 2007.
  • Ministère de la Défense, Citadelle de Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port,
  • PECHEUX (B.), INARRA (E.), Fiche d’inventaire de la ville de Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, base Mérimée,
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