The name "Banyuls" is a derivative of the word "bath" (Balnoneum), the city being built near ponds. It seems that later the word has been roughly translated by "Ban" and "Ialos", meaning "peak" and "cultivated clearing".
Origins of the Name of “Banyuls sur Mer”
From 400 BC, the Celts and the Greeks occupy the coast. If it is said that the "Col de Banyuls" was crossed in ancient times by Hannibal and his legendary elephants (photo Odyssea), the first written mention of the city dates from 980, in two terms: “Balneum” and “Balneola”, derived from the Latin word “Balneolis” (lagoon), which would refer to the “Bassa”, a swamp formed by the mouth of the river “Vallauria”, stretching from the bridge of the “Puig del Mas” into the sea.
In 1074 appears the expression "Bannils de Maritimo", which in 1674 translates into “Marende del Banyuls”, and then finally in the nineteenth century becomes “Banyuls de la Marenda”. In the Middle Ages, the Roussillon region knows a prosperous phase during which the Templars will revolutionise the organisation of the vineyard installed by the Greeks and Phoenicians through the principle of a filtering system, using storm water runoffs (peus de galls), a procedure still used today.
Through the Treaty of the “Pyrenees” the Eastern Pyrenees are attached to the kingdom of France
After having been in possession of the Kingdoms of Aragon and Majorca (twelfth to fourteenth century), then in the hands of the Province of the Kingdom of Castile, it would take until 1659 when Louis XIV and Philippe IV sign the “Treaty of the Pyrenees” that the city of Banyuls, just like all the other Eastern Pyrenees villages, be attached to the Kingdom of France, which divides Catalonia in two: North and South. But this signature is not enough in itself to make the people from Banyuls (Banyulencs) "French", since it will take several centuries before they adopt the language and accept the authority of their new “home” country, which will not be without certain violence.
Banyuls, a "Smugglers Republic"
In 1793, the Spanish troops of General Ricardos, on their way to invade the Roussillon face the fierce resistance of the villagers during the famous Battle of the “Col de Banyuls” (see painting in the city hall and memorial of the dead at "Place Paul Reig").
Was it French patriotism or a reaction of the smugglers whose passage through the city under Spanish influence would have ruined all interests? Opinions are divided.
Indeed, smuggling was a specialty in Banyuls: for at least two centuries Banyuls’s fishermen transported - according to the period - salt, tobacco, piaster, sugar, rice, sheets or skins, with an almost total impunity. This is when Louis XIV, powerless towards the uncontrollable and rebellious character of the inhabitants would declare Banyuls de la Marenda a "Smugglers Republic".
The natural heritage
Going from Banyuls to Cerbère by the sea, one can still see the “Cova Fordada” (cave with lots of holes in it), which for over two centuries was a storage place with illicit goods. At that time, the population consisted mainly of fishermen and winemakers. With the arrival of the railway in 1880, Banyuls no longer remains isolated. Gradually, fishing leaves room for growing vines, which today, hand in hand with tourism is the main activity of Banyuls.
In 1882, the zoologist Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers founded the Arago laboratory, which now houses more than 250 representative species of Mediterranean marine life.
Today, the town of Banyuls covers 4200 hectares and counts about 5000 inhabitants (population that triples in summer).