Already an important town of Roman Gascony, Auch (pop. 21,500) later developed as the seat of the Counts of Armagnac and Archbishops of Aquitaine. It is famous for its cathedral, which boasts spectacular stained-glass windows, and its Musée des Jacobins, one of the oldest museums in France.
The name Auch derives from the pre-Roman inhabitants of the region, the Ausci, an Aquitanian tribe who spoke a language related to the ancient Basque language. The name Ausci itself seems related to the native name of the modern Basques, who call themselves Euskal.
Annexed to Rome by Julius Caesar, the old oppidum is renamed Augusta Auscorum, and becomes one of the twelve civitates of the province of Novempopulana (Gascony).
In 409, Elusa (modern Éauze), the capital of Novempopulana is destroyed by the Vandals. Auch then replaces it as the capital of Gascony and becomes the seat of the Bishopric of Auch. In 879, it is elevated to an archbishopric covering the whole of Gascony, a status quo that would last until the French Revolution.
In the 10th and 11th centuries, Auch is made the capital of the County of Armagnac. The Battle of Lectoure in 1473 would bring down the county and put the region under direct control of the Kings of France.
Auch cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Marie d'Auch) is unlike any other in France. Started in 1489 in the late Gothic style, it was only completed in 1680 and was therefore built mostly in the Renaissance style, with a touch of Neoclassical. Nowhere else in France does a white stone Corinthian façade hide a Gothic-Renaissance interior. The cathedral's greatest claim of fame are its superb 18 stained glass windows, designed by Arnaud de Moles between 1507 and 1513. The cathedral is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela.
The archepiscopal archives are stored in the Tour d’Armagnac, originally built as a prison in the 14th century .
At the foot of the tower and the cathedral is the so-called Monumental Staircase, connecting the old upper town with the newer lower town. It was built between 1860 and 1863 in the Neoclassical style. It has 374 steps for a total elevation of 35 metres. Halfway up the staircase is a statue of d'Artagnan, hero of Alexandre Dumas' classic novel The Three Musketeers. Although the novel is fictional, it was based on the life of a real man, Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d'Artagnan, who was born in 1611 near Auch and died at the Siege of Maastricht in 1673.
The Musée des Jacobins was founded in 1793, at the height of the French Revolution. Housed in an old Dominican monastery, its collections are composed of artefacts seized by the Revolutionaries (Gallo-Roman to 18th century), 19th-century Gascon costumes, relics of the Egyptian antiquity, and pre-Columbian American art bequeathed by Guillaume Pujos in 1921. After another major donation in 2007, the museum now has the second largest collection of pre-Columbian art in France after the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.
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