Lourdes is a large town in the French Pyrenees. It is a global centre of Marian pilgrimage, receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Many Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, appeared 18 times at the Grotto to a young girl, Saint Bernadette Soubirous.
Originally a sleepy market town on the road to the spas of the Pyrenees, Lourdes has grown into the largest Marian pilgrimage centre in the world. The town has two sections: the international portion by the river, consisting of the spiritual area containing the Grotto and churches (known as the Domaine or the Sanctuaries), and the "French" portion, centered around the marketplace & Hotel de Ville.
In prehistoric times, assorted nomadic tribes had made Lourdes one of their settlements, of which one of their legacies include the still-standing Château Fort. The castle was then made into an estate jail throughout the 17th century and again during the Napoleon era.