Bordeaux, jewel of the 18th century
The city of Bordeaux has an attractive, rich and complex personality forged over the centuries by multiple influences. It offers an outstanding architectural heritage as well as a fantastic life style revolving around fine wine.
Capital of Southwest France, Bordeaux is located less than 3 hours from Paris by TGV high speed train, 45 minutes from the ocean, 2 hours from Spain, and 3 hours from the Pyrenean ski slopes. The quality of life is excellent in Bordeaux, a city offering many tourist attractions.
World wine capital, Bordeaux has given its name to the oldest and most prestigious vineyard region in France, and is famous the world over for its fine wines!
Bordeaux has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 28th of June 2007. It is the first urban district of this size (1,810 hectares) to be so honoured, and includes 347 listed historic monuments, a protected area of 150 hectares and 3 churches previously included as World Heritage Sites (stops on the pilgrim road to Santiago de Compostela). Bordeaux is justifiably proud of its 18th century architecture and lively cosmopolitan districts, from the narrow streets of Saint Michel to Mériadeck, with its buildings dating from the 60s and 70s.
Bordeaux owes its beauty to many architects over the years: Jacques Gabriel (Allées de Tourny), Victor Louis (Grand Théâtre), Jacques d'Welles (municipal stadium), and Richard Rogers, who designed not only the Centre Pompidou in Paris, but also the Bordeaux District Court.
The streets behind the magnificent 18th century buildings along the quays reflect the city's long history. From Saint Michel to the Chartrons, and from Saint Seurin to Pierre, the old and new blend in complete harmony.
The birth of Bordeaux wine in the 1st century B.C.
In the first century B.C., the Bituriges Vivisques, a Gaulish people whose capital was Burdigala (present-day Bordeaux), planted vines on the banks of the Garonne and introducing a grape variety of Albanian oritigine, the biturica, which resisted the rigours of the oceanic climate and adapted well to the region's soil and topography.
During this period, the city built temples, thermal baths, an inner harbour, and an amphitheatre, the Palais Gallien, whose ruins can be visited in summer.
The English period (1152-1453)
In 1152, Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet, who went on to become King Henry II of England. In this way, Bordeaux became an Anglo-Gascon capital for three centuries. The wine trade with England and Northern Europe developed enormously at this time and brought considerable prosperity to Bordeaux.
The Grosse Cloche, former belfry of the town hall in the 15th century, bears witness to this period.
16th and 17th centuries: Bordeaux under the French monarchy
After the battle of Castillon (1453), which marked the end of English rule, Bordeaux underwent difficult times. Owing obedience to the French king meant a loss of autonomy. However, the wine trade and trade in woad from the Languedoc ushered in good times once again. In the 16th century, the city became a centre of humanism, and saw the rise of such famous writers as Etienne de la Boétie and Michel de Montaigne, whose Essays were published for the first time, in Bordeaux, in 1580. The 17th century is remembered for its baroque decors. The well-preserved one in Saint Bruno church is remarkably designed and richly decorated.
The 18th century: Bordeaux's golden age
Bordeaux's golden age occurred in the 18th century, when it was France's largest port and had a thriving trade with Africa and the West Indies. Two royal intendants, Tourny and Boucher, were responsible for the city's rich architectural beauty. They destroyed the ramparts and transformed the medieval city into a modern one with wide avenues and streets planted with trees, such as the Allées de Tourny. The architect Gabriel designed plans for Place de la Bourse (formerly named Place Royale and dedicated to Louis XV). Archbishop Mériadeck de Rohan decided to raze the previous archbishop's palace located near the cathedral and built the Palais Rohan which, after becoming his residence, now houses the Bordeaux Town Hall.
Duke de Richelieu, Governor of Guyenne, appointed Victor Louis as architect for the famous Grand Théâtre.
19th century: the two sides of the river are joined
Bordeaux pursued its modernisation in the 19th century with the building of new boulevards and the flattening and reconstruction of old districts. The Right Bank (the Bastide district) was developed thanks to the Pont de Pierre, a bridge built by Napoléon and designed by engineer Claude Deschamps, who was also responsible for the Entrepôt Lainé, one of the last and finest examples of 19th century port architecture in Europe.
20th century: Bordeaux becomes a modern city
In the 1960s, the the Mériadeck district of Bordeaux underwent a far-reaching urban development project. Mériadeck has now become a modern business, commercial, and sports centre, and is home to many local government agencies.
In the 1970s, Bordeaux invested in other projects, and created the Bordeaux Lac district around a 160 hectare artificial lake. This now includes a recreational area, an exhibition centre, a convention centre, numerous hotels, a public garden, and a velodrome.
21st century: in-depth urban renewal
Thanks to the impetus of mayor Alain Juppé, the quays on both sides of the river have been extensively renovated. Warehouses were demolished and automobile traffic reduced. The quays are now much appreciated as a place to take a walk and other leisure activities. The Left Bank quays now provide some 30 hectares open to the public. Furthermore, certain abandoned warehouses along the Garonne have been successfully converted to other functions.
One of the hallmarks of present-day Bordeaux is its tram system. Public squares have also been redeveloped and other public areas reconverted. Special care has been taken to respect the environment, and the new Bordeaux has become a dynamic and very enjoyable place to live.
BORDEAUX: A FESTIVE AND CULTURAL CITY
From prehistoric artefacts to modern art, from history of the Resistance to that of the decorative arts, Bordeaux museums offer collections of great breadth and quality: Paolo Veronese, Pablo Picasso (Fine Arts Museum), Andy Warhol, Gilbert & Georges (CAPC Modern Art Museum), and even the famous Willis Jeep, emblematic of the Normandy landings (Centre Jean Moulin). These museums also feature beautiful architecture.
The "3 M", Charles Louis de Montesquieu, Michel de Montaigne and François Mauriac (1952 Nobel prize in literature) have had a strong influence of cultural life in Bordeaux and their memory is perpetuated in many street names and statues.
The Opéra National de Bordeaux features 118 musicians with the Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine, 38 dancers with the Ballet de l'Opéra National de Bordeaux, a 40-member choir and numerous guest artists at over 200 performances a year not only in Bordeaux (the Grand Théâtre, the Théâtre National de Bordeaux en Aquitaine), but also elsewhere in France and abroad.
From the trailblazing Onyx (which uses the local bordeluche patois) to the more recent Café Théâtre des Beaux-Arts specialising in one-man shows, there is huge vitality and variety among Bordeaux's cafés-théâtres and cabarets all year round.
Furthermore, there are numerous special events of a festive and cultural nature throughout the year in Bordeaux: the Fête du Vin, the Fête du Fleuve, the Novart festival, Evento, etc.