Skip to main content

Spanish Influence in France: the History & Culture

cured ham hanging in front of market

Spain and France have a particularly interesting past. The bordering countries have had a long history of disagreements and war dating from the medieval era right up until the fall of General Francisco Franco in the Post-Francoist Spain between 1975–2000. The fascinating relationship between these two nations has resulted in a significant Spanish influence on Bordeaux history, and in France as a whole. This isn’t to say that France hasn’t had an equally big influence on our Spanish neighbours.

But before we discuss the current importance of Spanish immigration and the various ways in which it has impacted modern-day Bordeaux, let’s take a step back in time and pick apart the considerable, often tense history between these two great European nations.

Medieval Era

France and Spain have always had an important relationship. During the medieval times, the entire mainlands of these countries (at that time called Gaul and Hispania) were under the control of the Roman Empire. One story that highlights this important relationship starts around 985. Both the Marca Hispanica and Navarre fought alongside the Frankish Kings to protect Europe from the Al-Andalus kingdom that controlled Islamic states in Iberia. At that time, however, Barcelona was a county of the Frankish Empire and was under the protection of the Franc Imperator. Things turned sour when the Franc rulers did not aid their allies in the protection of Barcelona and yet, the city legally remained a county of France in the following centuries.

This complicated past resulted in numerous revolts and territorial conflicts between the two kingdoms throughout time.

17th Century

The Franco-Spanish War broke out in 1635, when threatened French King Louis XIII decided his entire kingdom (including Spain) was in peril by the Austrian House of Habsburg. The war was fought by France against their Habsburg rivals in Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. It consisted of two segments, the first as a connected conflict of the Thirty Years War, ended by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, the second continuing until November 1659 with the Treaty of the Pyrenees.

Spain was able to resist France and prevent them from fully exploiting this success but the result of the war had severely damaged their economy. As a result, both were financially (and physically) exhausted, so decided to make peace and sign the aforementioned Treaty of the Pyrenees.

It’s widely thought that Spain remained a vast global empire but the war is seen as marking the loss of its position as the dominant European state leaving space for the rise of France. Although relatively minor, France was able to strengthen its borders through some territorial gains, while Louis XIV of France married Maria Theresa of Spain, the eldest daughter of Philip IV.

18th & 19th Century

In 1701, after the death of the last Habsburg king of Spain, Charles II, the French House of Bourbon, led by Louis XIV, staked a claim to the Spanish throne. The war ended with the Bourbon Philip V being recognised as King of Spain. The House of Bourbon remains on the Spanish throne to the present day.

Onto the 18th century, when the Treaty of San Ildefonso was signed by the First French Republic and the Spanish Empire in 1796 as a part of their shared opposition to British rule. The relationship spoiled after defeat in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar, and in 1808, French Emperor Napoleon named his brother Joseph as King of Spain. This is now understood to have been a plan to get closer to invading Britain’s ally, Portugal. The Bourbon King Ferdinand VII was imprisoned by Napoleon but still remained the recognised Spanish monarch by Napoleon’s adversaries. He returned to the throne in 1813 after Spain, Britain and Portugal’s victory in the Peninsular War.

The Peninsular War was a conflict fought between Spain and Portugal between 1807-1814. It began after French and Spanish forces invaded and occupied Portugal but then turned nasty when Napoleonic forces occupied Spain (who had previously been allies). In 19th-century Spain, many were inspired to depict stories as a result of the relationship between the two countries. Famous Spanish artist Francisco Goya painted his world famous The Third of May 1808, depicting French soldiers executing civilians defending Madrid. On our Water, Wine, & War tour(opens in a new tab), we discuss the life of this famous artist and the time he spent in Bordeaux, alongside his famous portraits that still hang in galleries around the city and all of Europe, including those from the Peninsular War.

20th Century

During the 1920s, the loss of young men in the first world war drove France to recruit foreign workers while also taking in refugees. By the early 1930s, the country had become the world’s top migration destination. At that time, France welcomed the immigrants crossing the border from Spain but it didn’t last long.

After General Francisco Franco was victorious at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, France and Francoist Spain signed the Bérard-Jordana Agreement. In this agreement, France recognised the Franco government as the legitimate government of Spain. The French also agreed to return various Spanish property that had been in the possession of the Republicans to the Nationals who had won the Civil War.

With the end of the Civil War in 1939, Spain in WW2 was an incredibly difficult period for many Spaniards. Hundreds of thousands of Spanish refugees were forced to flee to France but ended up being detained in internment camps. The French government at the time flipped its policy on immigration after becoming overwhelmed by the sheer number of people attempting to cross over its borders.

The Spanish refugees were desperate and faced possible persecution if they returned to their home country. Some were forced to work and others (those perhaps with a skill or experience in farming for example) were hired by French companies and farmers to contribute to what’s now known as the war economy.

Present Day

The long-lasting neighbouring relationship between France and Spain has allowed them to trade importance cultural influences over time. To get a deeper understanding of the history between the friends, foes, and allies, join us on our Water, Wine, & War tour(opens in a new tab) and then a visit to the Musée d’Aquitaine.

The other major influence from Spain that is still apparent to modern-day Bordeaux is the food. The Spanish cuisine is famous all over the globe and it has certainly left its mark on Bordeaux. During our Capucins Market Tour & Tastings(opens in a new tab) and our Gourmet Bordeaux tour(opens in a new tab), we discuss the history and various reasons as to why Bordeaux has such a wide array of delicious food to choose from.

In the Capucins Market (Marché du Capucins), the snug Tortill’art has set up a stall and serves a beautiful array of tortillas and delicious Spanish jamon along with homemade sangria (the French have mixed feelings on diluting good wine). Also in the market, Pata Negra serves some of the best pintxos, also known as pinchos or pinchus, (a small snack typically eaten in a bar). They are traditionally from northern Spain and are particularly popular in the Basque Country, Navarre, La Rioja, and many other regions. Pata Negra in Bordeaux’s Capucins market sells mainly Spanish delicacies during the week but turns into a fantastic tapas bar on the weekend. Be sure when you join us on one of our tours(opens in a new tab) that you’re ready to try some of Bordeaux’s best tapas along with a wide selection of Spanish beers for a truly Spanish experience in France!

The History of Bordeaux Wine Previous Article What Were The Romans Doing In Bordeaux? Next Article