One of the first items to run on the Invisible Bordeaux blog after its launch eight years ago was focused on the bust portraying the...

One of the first items to run on the Invisible Bordeaux blog after its launch eight years ago was focused on the bust portraying the Haitian leader Toussaint Louverture, to be seen on the right-bank waterfront in Bordeaux. At the time, the sculpture was one of the only visible acknowledgements in the public domain of the city’s slave trade past. But times have changed and today there are further signs that Bordeaux is becoming more open about its inconvenient legacy. 

For, yes, between 1672 and 1837, ships departed from Bordeaux on the first legs of around 500 triangular slave trade voyages that resulted in 150,000 – possibly more – Africans being deported to the Americas. Bordeaux was not alone. In France - which ranked alongside Spain behind Great Britain and Portugal in terms of the scale of its slave trade - the city of Nantes organized 1,744 expeditions, and the ports of La Rochelle and Le Havre were on a par with Bordeaux.

Before the triangular voyages began (they peaked in the 1780s), the boats departing from Bordeaux conducted straightforward two-way commerce with the Caribbean. Boats would carry wine, oil and flour, all of which would be exchanged for local produce. With the onset of triangular trade, vessels would leave from Bordeaux loaded with foodstuffs, cloth, arms and trinkets which, upon arrival on the eastern coast of Africa six to eight weeks later (the “outward passage”) would be exchanged for slaves. The dangerous middle passage would then follow, with the slaves being ferried in inhumane conditions to the colonies, mainly Saint-Domingue (now known at Haiti) as far as the Bordeaux ships were concerned. The death rate on board the boats was between 10 and 20 per cent.

Ground-level panel recently installed on square Toussaint-Louverture.
Upon arrival, the (surviving) slaves would be sold or auctioned off and set to work on the plantations where the average life expectancy was a lowly five to six years. Meanwhile, the boats would embark on their return passage to Bordeaux carrying sugar, cocoa, tobacco, cotton and other produce, making a substantial contribution to the city’s wealth.

Until the mid-1990s, this chapter in the city’s history was more often than not glossed over, but around the turn of the millennium Bordeaux took its first tentative steps to bring the subject out into the open. In 2006, then-mayor Hugues Martin inaugurated a ground-level plaque on the waterfront opposite the Bourse Maritime building, and in 2009 came a dedicated section within the permanent exhibition at the Musée d’Aquitaine. As for the Toussaint Louverture bust, sculpted by Haitian artist Ludovic Booz (who died in 2015), it was donated to the city by the Republic of Haiti in 2005.

Returning to the spot today, I note that what had previously been a lone, isolated plinth and its bust are now surrounded by a landscaped area that makes the (refurbished) statue more prominent. Interestingly, the design of the “square” is in fact in the shape of a triangle, no doubt in reference to the triangular trade routes. On the ground, information panels explain who Toussaint Louverture was and his connection with the city (as detailed in the previous Invisible Bordeaux item) and provide a brief overview of Bordeaux’s role in France’s slave trade history.

The triangular square.
Meanwhile, on the left-bank quayside, the barely-visible plaque was replaced in 2019 by a poignant statue created by another Haitian sculptor, Filipo (full name: Woodly Caymitte), which depicts the slave Modeste Testas. The accompanying information panel explains who she was: born Al Pouessi in East Africa in 1765 and captured when she was young, she was bought around 1780 by two Bordeaux brothers, Pierre and François Testas, who owned a business in the city and a plantation in Saint-Domingue.

Pouessi was deported and worked on the plantation, going on to become the slave and concubine of owner François Testas, who gave her the name Marthe Adélaïde Modeste Testas. After François died, she was set free (as symbolized by the broken chains at the feet of the statue) and he bequeathed her 51 acres of land. She married a fellow former slave and died in 1870 aged 105. In the following years, her grandson François Denys Légitime became president of Haiti.

Then, the latest addition to the Bordeaux landscape came in December 2019 to mark the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, in the shape of "Strange Fruit", a tree-like sculpture by the Réunionnaise artist Sandrine Plante-Rougeol. The tree’s three branches also echo back to the “triangular” notion, and each carries a wine barrel hoop containing a man’s head. Their faces have been blindfolded to suggest a lack of identity, and they reportedly symbolize fear, pain and abandonment.

That same December day, the city announced that explanatory panels were being affixed on streets which had been given the names that harked back to shipowners, traders and sailors involved in the slave trade, a compromise response to years of lobbying by various associations (particularly Mémoires et Partages) asking for those street names to be changed. Each panel provides a concise and factual overview of the connection, as researched by teams at the city’s archives department. The initial rollout concerns six streets or squares (see footnote) but, when preparing this item, I headed out to see the various locations and can state that, at the time of writing (February 2020), those panels have yet to be installed.

Street signs awaiting their information panels.
Whatever, the city’s slave trade past is no longer the taboo subject it once was, and it will be interesting to see what further developments occur throughout the 2020s. Will similar moves be observed in the city’s relationship with its Second World War history, Bordeaux’s other great untold story? Only time will tell… 

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Statue of Toussaint Louverture, Quai des Queyries; Statue of Modeste Testas, Quai Louis XVIII; Strange Fruit sculpture, jardin de l'Hôtel de Ville, Bordeaux.
> The first six panels will be affixed alongside the street signs on rue Desse, rue David-Gradis, rue Grammont, passage Feger, cours Journu-Auber and place Mareilhac. 

Invisible Bordeaux recently came across this nice set of aerial views of Bordeaux from the 1950s-60s, offering an unusual way of seeing ...

Invisible Bordeaux recently came across this nice set of aerial views of Bordeaux from the 1950s-60s, offering an unusual way of seeing Allées de Tourny, the Triangle d’Or, Place Gambetta, Jardin Public and Cité de la Benauge! Scroll on down for a closer look at each picture! 

First up is Allées de Tourny, which still boasted its two fountains and its Gambetta statue. Bottom right: the old Grands-Hommes market. There are parked cars on Place de la Comédie and a small event is taking place on Place des Quinconces (or is perhaps being set up or dismantled). The Garonne waterfront is a succession of cranes and warehouses. Over on the right bank, Gare d’Orléans railway station is still clearly connected to the rail network and the brand new Benauge fire station is in position. Saint-Jean bridge is still a few years from being built so the only crossings that can be seen are Pont de Pierre and the Eiffel railway bridge. 

Photo: éditions aériennes Combier (Macon).
Here is the so-called Triangle d’Or quarter, with Cours Clémenceau and Cours de l’Intendance forming one of the three angles. You can make out the words “Petit Paris” on the white building towards the bottom, and “Français” on the cinema-house which is still known as such. The old Grands-Hommes covered market building can be seen once again towards the middle of the picture. Over in the distance, check out the row of cranes on the Garonne waterfront and, on the right bank, the Grands Moulins de Paris factory which is still a fixture on the landscape 70 years later! 

Photo: éditions Lapie (Saint-Maur).
This is Place Gambetta, as viewed from the south, demonstrating the near-perfect alignment between Rue du Dr Charles Nancel Penard (known as rue Dauphine until 1946) and Cours Georges-Clémenceau.

Photo: éditions Lapie (Saint-Maur).
Here’s another view of Place Gambetta (with its handful of cars and a single bus), looking towards Cours Georges-Clémenceau and Jardin Public.

Photo: éditions Lapie (Saint-Maur).
This is the Jardin Public, as viewed from the north-western side. In the foreground you can make out the buildings and inner yard of Lycée Montesquieu (previously known as Lycée Longchamps). 

Photo: édition Renaud & Buzaud (Bordeaux), cliché P. R. Larrey/Delboy.
Finally, key 1950s large-scale building project the Cité de la Benauge. Left and middle: the tall towers and more compact residences of Cité Pinçon. The circle in the middle is still known as “le Rond des Mamans”. Bottom you can see the Jean Dauguet sports hall. Top left: Benauge primary school. And further in the distance on the right, Stade Galin sports stadium, the neighbouring swimming pool had yet to be built.

Photo: Chatagneau (Bordeaux), cliché Herlec – Libourne, opérateur M. Le Collen/Elcé.
 > Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

The eleventh episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! So please form an orderly queue ahead o...

The eleventh episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available! So please form an orderly queue ahead of immediate boarding for a trip back through the 200-year history of public transport in Bordeaux, with friend-of-the-blog Antoine Puentès in the driving seat!

By day, Antoine's background as a history graduate is put to good use working for France's Centre des Monuments Nationaux, and in his spare time he has gained something of a reputation as the go-to authority on all things public transport-related, as regularly demonstrated in high-profile conferences he has given and articles he has produced. 

As we will see, the subject at hand is a vast one, ranging from the horse-drawn omnibuses and first-generation trams of yesteryear, to tomorrow's high-speed bus services and regional rail network, via the city's buses, trolleybuses, the aborted VAL metro project and the rebirth of the tram network. Your ticket gives you unlimited access to all these forms of transport over the next twenty minutes in Antoine's company!

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice!

Click here if player does not display properly on your device.

> If you're social media-minded, you can follow Antoine Puentès by hunting down "Mysticktroy" on Twitter and Instagram.

Antoine, viewed through a tram-shaped looking glass.

We are in Lacanau-Océan, on the Atlantic coast some sixty kilometres to the west of Bordeaux, and we are outside an angular building th...

We are in Lacanau-Océan, on the Atlantic coast some sixty kilometres to the west of Bordeaux, and we are outside an angular building that could easily be mistaken for offices or a warehouse, or possibly a supermarket. It is in fact a church, Notre-Dame des Flots, and its unusual minimalist design and red-brick architecture have been listed as 20th-century heritage (Patrimoine du XXe siècle). What’s the story?

In 1907, shortly after the resort of Lacanau-Océan was first founded, one of the initial property developers erected a small wooden chapel on Rue de la Paix, not far from the seafront, to enable holiday-makers to attend services which, from 1920 onwards, were held on a daily basis during the summer season. Although it was extended over time, the chapel ultimately proved to be too small. What is more, it faced twin threats: being swallowed up by sand dunes and being slowly eaten away by termites! 

The original chapel in amongst the dunes. On the right, the extra window shows how it was extended. Source:
The chapel was abandoned and dismantled, and the decision was made to build a more durable edifice. A larger plot of land was acquired by the Bordeaux diocese in 1960, the purchase coinciding with the creation of a local parish structure, “Association Paroissiale de Lacanau-Océan”. During this interim period, open-air services were held, although a new makeshift weather-resistant wooden chapel was soon built at the new location.

In 1964, an agreement was ratified by representatives of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, the vicar of Lacanau and the chairman of the Parish Association committing to the construction of a new church, to be built to the designs of Patrick Maxwell, Jean-Claude Moreau and Francis Duclos (Agora architects). Finances came in the shape of a loan from the Catholic Church’s “Chantiers Diocésains”; the 220,000-French-franc outlay would have to be paid back over 20 annual instalments of 17,000 francs (by doing the maths it is easy to work out that there were substantial interest rates involved!). The Parish was in effect signing up to years of fund-raising initiatives ranging from fêtes and jumble sales to hiring out the church as a venue for secular events. (And still today, the church is an occasional concert venue.)

Foundation stone ceremony in 1964.
Picture source: information leaflet
available inside the church.
Anyway, the foundation stone was laid by Bordeaux’s Cardinal Richaud in August of 1964. Budgetary issues led to hastily revised plans for the building, possibly resulting in the back-to-basics end-result which was delivered in 1967. In some ways it was very much a two-in-one design: through the use of panels, a heated corner of the building could originally be closed off to serve as the winter chapel for year-round worshippers, while the full space was used when the church was operating to full capacity during the holiday season, where it could accommodate up to 600 visitors. The building also comprised a small apartment where the priests-in-residence could stay.

But the aforementioned budgetary constraints were to have other knock-on effects ten years down the line, when it became apparent that the iron framework was fighting a losing battle against the salty sea air, that some of the cheap materials used were also ageing badly, that the roof was anything but watertight, and that the electrical installation needed to be replaced. The building therefore underwent a massive overhaul and over the next decade the Parish shifted its focus from paying off its debts to investing more in the upkeep of the church.

Bricks and mortar.
In 1991, the building was greatly embellished by the installation of some stained-glass and ceramic artwork by Raymond Mirande, manufactured by the Ateliers Dupuy-Fournier glassmakers, along with the addition of a slender row of stained-glass windows that run along each side of the church just below ceiling height. Of the main Mirande creations, which are positioned behind the altar, the first represents Noah’s Ark, the second depicts Virgin Mary alongside an adolescent Jesus, and the third comprises a series of images ranging from a dove of peace, to depictions of Pentecost and Jerusalem. 

Stained-glass creations flanking the altar and along the sides of the building.
A closer look at one of the Mirande stained-glass creations, photo courtesy of Harvey Morgan (
From then on it was fairly plain sailing until the turn of the millennium when a health and safety audit established that the church was short on exits and could only reasonably welcome up to 200 people rather than 600! The Parish got to work with an architect to create some additional openings to enable the church to get back to operating at full capacity throughout the early years of the 21st century, the first major highlight of which came in September 2015, just ahead of the 50th anniversary celebrations, when the prestigious “Patrimoine du XXe Siècle” label was awarded. Hurrah! 

Further views of the church, including its eminently accessible front door and, bottom left, the rear of the building, including living quarters on the first floor.
The church is not usually open to the general public other than when services are being held, but by recently engineering an arrival on site around noon on a Sunday I was able to see inside, courtesy of two very kind ladies who were clearing up after that morning’s mass and who invited me and my travelling companions to enter. We were reluctant to outstay our welcome, so the visit was particularly swift, but we did find the time to admire the stained-glass windows and a 330-kilogram bell which is kept inside and was previously the property of a convent in Lyon. 

The inside of the church and the bell from Lyon. Check out the corrugated metal ceiling/roof, which in all likelihood was installed during the 1970s overhaul. Presumably it must be get very noisy when it's raining!
Our hosts also spontaneously led us to the leaflets detailing the history of the church, as they were quick to point out that there was little or no information available on the internet. Well, that is no longer the case as the church does now at least have its own Invisible Bordeaux report, based almost exclusively on that archive information compiled by whoever wrote those leaflets on behalf of the Association Paroissiale de Lacanau-Océan, so a big thank you goes out to them for sharing the story of Notre-Dame des Flots… undoubtedly one of Gironde’s most interesting and unusual places of worship! 

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Notre-Dame des Flots, 12 avenue de l'Adjudant Guittard, Lacanau-Océan
> Thank you once again to the kind ladies who let us look inside the church, and to whoever wrote the Association Paroissiale de Lacanau-Océan information leaflet which formed the basis of much of the content shared here! 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

OK, granted, this is not exactly typical Invisible Bordeaux material, given that since opening in 2016 the city’s wine museum has rap...

OK, granted, this is not exactly typical Invisible Bordeaux material, given that since opening in 2016 the city’s wine museum has rapidly established itself as one of Bordeaux’s essential sights and stops on the tourist circuit. But, despite a number of whistle-stop tours when holding corporate events there, I had never taken the time out to visit the place properly. I did finally achieve a full-on visit a few days ago and I thought the blog readership might appreciate an independent user review and get an idea of whether the Cité du Vin is, indeed, any good. 

But, first, a disclaimer: this is not going to be a piece about the museum’s unorthodox open-to-interpretation curve-heavy architectural design (the work of Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazières of the international architecture agency XTU). I will also most definitely not be writing about the vital statistics of the 55-metre-tall building, with its 918 coloured glass and 2,300 aluminium panels. Nor will I be talking about the Cité’s 250-capacity auditorium, or amenities such as its quiet reading room or swish seventh-floor restaurant. This, dear reader, will be solely focused on my tour of the permanent exhibition itself (as dreamt up by the London-based museum and exhibition designers Casson Mann), which is what most visitors come to see.

And to start off, those visitors are kitted out with a smartphone-style “companion” and a headset, the design of which conveniently leaves a little bit of personal space between the speakers and one’s ears, to retain at least a certain sense of what's going on in the outside world. The companion/headset combination is the essential accessory to be able to enjoy the full Cité du Vin experience, as audio is fed into the earphones throughout, and the electronic device is in essence a personal guide, also offering additional resources and activities along the way.

The opening "World wine tour" video exhibit.
Then visitors are released into the exhibition proper. While there is no set itinerary, there are six clear sections to explore at will: “Wine regions of the world”, “From the vine to the glass”, “Wine and civilization”, “Wine and you”, “Wine and the imagination”, and, logically enough, a whole exhibit focused on Bordeaux. The natural starting point is the area focused on “Wine regions of the world”, the first highlight of which is a stunning multi-screen film that compiles drone footage showing vineyards and wine-growing properties all round the world. That segues quite nicely into one of that first area’s other highlights, a set of multimedia “Terroir tables”, in which winemakers from a wide range of countries share video testimonials of their personal stories and the specifics of their respective territories. It’s all very interesting and even strangely moving.

Winemaker testimonials beamed in from all over the world to the "Terroir table".
The “From the vine to the glass” section delves into the nitty-gritty of wine production, from the diverse characteristics and qualities of different grape varieties, to the techniques and equipment involved in transforming the grapes, and developing and nurturing the wine, to the different types of end product that can be achieved. The stories are told through a number of touchscreen devices, and even some unusual camera obscura-style dish-shaped screens where visitors swish their hands from side to side to interact with the information on offer.

As might be expected, the “Wine and civilization” area extends beyond the product itself to the surrounding economy and culture, as illustrated by a so-called “Trend wall” that covers aspects such as marketing and packaging, and by the large Disneyland ride-like “All aboard” exhibit where visitors are sat in the dark, surrounded by a massive curved screen and under the illusion that they have travelled several centuries back in time and have boarded merchant ships in the company of sailors as they criss-cross the seven seas. A lot of energy and a high-risk sense of adventure clearly went into the business of exporting wine!

Setting sail for the "All aboard!" attraction.
In the “Wine and you” section, there is a distinct shift towards the codes and etiquette associated with the consumption of wine. Exhibits include the “Banquet of legends” short widescreen film where famous wine-lovers from various periods throughout history magically come together; much wine-related mirth and merriment ensues. There’s Napoleon Bonaparte and Colette, Marie Curie, Churchill, Voltaire and Hitchcock, as well as the third US president Thomas Jefferson, who surprisingly at no time alludes to his previous (also wine-related) appearance on the Invisible Bordeaux blog.

Legendary wine-loving figures surrounding French actor Pierre Arditi, who appears as himself.
Next up are the twin “Art of living” and “Meet the experts” attractions, where authorities appear on big vertical screens to share their thoughts on wine-related rituals and give their top tips on wine selection, tasting, etc. The final facet of that section, the hands-on “Buffet of the five senses” is arguably the most fun of the whole Cité, with a whole host of objects to observe, scratch, squeeze, smell, listen to and feel, to sharpen all senses!

French media personality Ariane Massenet appears life-size on screen to talk wine and the "art of living". 
The all-squeezing, all-sniffing "buffet of the five senses".
Then the “Wine and the imagination” area brings visitors back down to earth with a very earnest and somewhat arty bump, firstly with “Divine wine”, an obscure other-worldly video installation, then with “Bacchus and Venus”, a bizarre private club-esque setup behind curtains where visitors recline on a comfortable, near-horizontal sofa and stare upwards at a circular screen where high art is projected to the sounds of atmospheric music. It makes you want to stroke your chin and wonder what it’s all about and probably seemed like a good idea to somebody somewhere.

Finally, the Bordeaux section, predictably enough, recounts the city’s “epic wine tale” on a large video wall, complete with its highs and lows, and delivers interactive panels so that visitors can familiarize themselves with the local appellations and the development of the wine industry throughout the centuries. Oh, and let's not forget that admission includes a glass of wine up on the eighth floor in the “Belvedere” bar, and that the wine tastes all the better when combined with the spectacular panoramic view over the city from the terrace walkway which stretches around the building.

The Belvedere bar in all its glory.
Just a small part of the splendid panoramic view over the city.
So, what works, and what doesn’t? Let’s start with the downsides. First of all, it must be said that visiting the Cité du Vin can easily become a very solitary experience. The headset concept is great but it does mean the place turns into something resembling one of those silent discos where everybody is dancing to a different tune in their earphones. Furthermore, it may have been a case of poor organization on my part, but when that was coupled with the lack of a set circuit, I for one regularly lost track of where the rest of my party was, and what started out as a communal project sometimes left me feeling more like a child lost in a supermarket. Speaking of kids… I know there is a dedicated kids’ tour that mainly takes in the fun, touchy-feely exhibits, but I do reckon it must be difficult for parents and children alike to satisfactorily synchronise their visit. As for teenagers, let’s not go there, I’m really not sure it’s a place for them but will gladly stand corrected if you know otherwise. The in-your-face technical wizardry is amazing, but you do go home feeling a few more hands-on activities would have been appreciated. And, as you will have gathered, one or two of the installations are a bit high-brow and not exactly brimming over with fun, but it takes all sorts!

Hello clouds, hello trees, it's the slightly strange "Bacchus and Venus" installation.
On the plus side, the sheer breadth of the formats and concepts of what is showcased is hugely impressive, and the tailor-made content that is piped into the exhibits is genuinely top quality and seamlessly consistent in terms of tone and approach. The scope of what is presented stretches way beyond Bordeaux, and this big-picture vantage point makes for a highly informative visit where even the most advanced wine connoisseurs will learn something new and find plenty to enjoy. And the bottom line is that however long you spend visiting the permanent exhibition, you can’t help feeling there’s still plenty more to view. It would no doubt take several visits to really digest everything that is on offer.

The takeaway is that the Cité du Vin truly is a world-class exhibition. It could be argued that the world of wine certainly deserved something as unusual, as creative and as imaginative as the Cité du Vin, and surely Bordeaux can be saluted for having delivered it.

> La Cité du Vin, esplanade de Pontac, 134 quai de Bacalan, Bordeaux
> Official Cité du Vin website:

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

We’re in Bordeaux's Caudéran district to see the 300-seater La Pergola, a theatre set in a complex that is a case study in 1930s ...

We’re in Bordeaux's Caudéran district to see the 300-seater La Pergola, a theatre set in a complex that is a case study in 1930s art deco architecture and is among the select list of local buildings officially listed as 20th century architectural heritage (Patrimoine du XXe siècle).

When it was first built, La Pergola was regarded as a multi-purpose community hall (or salle des fêtes) to serve the locals, bearing in mind that Caudéran was, at the time, a fully-fledged town in its own right (it merged with its imposing neighbour in the 1960s). The local council had commissioned town architect Marcel Picard to conceive the building which was to comprise not only the main hall – which reportedly could originally accommodate up to 600 or possibly even 800 people – but also two wings, one of which was to house a gymnasium and shooting range, the other seven meeting rooms. Work began around 1927 and was complete in 1930.

Ninety years on, the façade remains more or less unchanged. Two tall columns (that each incorporate small lookouts that must offer killer views over the area) tower over the central section that has been embellished with some ornate bas-relief sculptures that were the work of one Edmond Tuffet (who also contributed to the Maison Cantonale in the Bastide quarter), and which represent music and drama. Other remnants of that period include a tiny ticket office window and the forged iron lettering above the doors to the two wings. The gymnasium is now a fitness room and also used for music rehearsals, while the meeting rooms are today home to a music school.

Details from the façade and the tiny ticketing booth.
Inside, many of the building’s original features have apparently disappeared over the years, but there’s still plenty to take in: some impressive tiled floors, a grand staircase and a fine first-floor foyer where the ornate columns link up nicely with the exterior. The large painting which dominates the staircase is a recent addition, although the artwork is inspired by a 1930s piece that is very much in keeping with the overall atmosphere of the place.

In the foyer and a view of the grand staircase.
And then there’s the theatre hall itself, with its neat rows of (recently refurbished) folding red chairs, its elaborate ceiling lighting system and its compact stage, flanked on either side by colourful mosaic fountain things which add a certain symmetry to the place and hopefully don’t distract too much from the action on stage.

The elegant lighting system and one of the understated mosaic fountains.
So why is the venue called La Pergola? The answer is to be found on the out-of-bounds terraces that run alongside the theatre, i.e. above the two wings. A series of truncated columns are all that remains of what used to be full-on pergolas, which must have been a particularly distinctive sight, so much so that that is how this multipurpose salle des fêtes became best known.

Traces of the actual - but long gone - pergola.
Over the years though, the multipurpose nature of the main hall has faded and La Pergola has primarily become a theatre venue that is mostly used by the Compagnie Présence theatre troupe. The company recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and has been synonymous with La Pergola since 1995 when the then Bordeaux mayor Alain Juppé agreed to let them use the facility free of charge. These days, some 3,000 performances down the line, the company puts on around a dozen shows each year for audiences of all types. And when La Pergola is not being used by the Présence thespians, the Bordeaux city council makes it available for other one-off events organised by various outfits.

Oh, and one more thing. Just across the road from La Pergola is a tiny police station, which has already made an appearance on the blog in an article about the distinctive snails of Caudéran which featured on the crest of the town in its independence days (and which can be spotted above the entrance). The building is very much a close cousin of La Pergola, dating from the same period, noticeably of a similar feel and colour scheme, and no doubt the work of the same architect!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: La Pergola, rue Fernand-Cazères, Bordeaux
> Big thanks to the Archimuse-Bordeaux student association who were our guides when we visited La Pergola during the 2018 European Heritage Days! (Yes, it's taken more than a year to get round to writing this article!)

> Cet article est également disponible en français !

The tenth episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available and features Fleur, the independent tour guide ...

The tenth episode of the French-language Invisible Bordeaux podcast is now available and features Fleur, the independent tour guide and blogger whose local slow tourism website Fleur explore Bordeaux compiles countless suggestions of things to see in and around the city either on foot or by bike, along with a number of reports and interviews.

Fleur and I met up on Place du Chapelet in the so-called Golden Triangle district of Bordeaux, on the spot where Passage Sarget, Notre-Dame church and Cour Mably more or less meet. She spoke about an interesting building that can be seen there (pictured above), and we went on to talk about the times she visited Chartreuse Cemetery, cycled around Arcachon Bay, headed out on an adventure in the suburbs of Bordeaux, as well as her interview with renowned street artist David Selor... and much more!

Here then is the podcast, which you'll also find on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the platform of your choice! And scroll on down for additional resources!

Click here if player does not display properly on your device.

> Fleur explore Bordeaux website
> Cimetière de la Chartreuse visit
> Arcachon Bay cycling tour

> Bordeaux Metropole suburban stroll
> David Selor interview

> Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

A few weeks ago I at long last got to visit one of the Bordeaux area’s most renowned UNESCO World Heritage sites: the ruins of Grande-S...

A few weeks ago I at long last got to visit one of the Bordeaux area’s most renowned UNESCO World Heritage sites: the ruins of Grande-Sauve Abbey, or Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure, in the village of La Sauve, 30 kilometres to the east of the city in the Entre-Deux-Mers winegrowing region. Having regularly seen the romanesque abbey from afar I was already aware of its impressive scale, but I was looking forward to getting an inside view of this former Benedictine monastery. 

The abbey’s history can be traced back to the 11th century, when it was founded by Abbot Gérard de Corbie on woodland that was conveniently located mid-way between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers (or between two "seas"... entre deux mers!) and that had been gifted to him by the Duke of Aquitaine. The abbey developed and flourished, went on to become home for up to 300 monks at any given time, and established itself as a stop for pilgrims making their way along the Camino de Santiago route to and from northern Spain.   

The abbey as it was in the 17th century, as depicted in the Monasticon Gallicanum and stored by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (picture source: Wikipedia).
It was not all plain sailing though: the abbey suffered substantial damage during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), a powerful storm in 1665 heavily affected the roofs of the church, dormitories and refectory, and the structure was further weakened by an earthquake in 1759. The final blow was the French Revolution in 1789, at which stage the abbey’s assets were confiscated and dispersed for good.

Surviving buildings were used as a prison but, after the church roof collapsed in 1809, the site became a quarry for local villagers who used the stone to build their homes! Later in the 19th century a Jesuit college was set up, and was then converted into a teacher training college, until the site was once again vacated subsequent to a fire in 1910. Finally, during the First World War, the buildings that were still standing housed a small military hospital.
Inside the church.
Fast-forward to 1960 when the French State acquired the property and consolidated what remained of the abbey ahead of its opening to the general public as part of France’s Centre des monuments nationaux network of heritage sites, a turn of events that culminated in its 1998 listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The modern-day visit takes in the very visible remains of the abbey church, and the more minimalist vestiges of various monastic buildings. The latter include the chapter house where monks met for discussions and decision-making, the cloister which would have been a garden and place of prayer and meditation, the scriptorium where monks copied out texts (their dormitory would have been on the upper floor), and the refectory.
Top: what remains of the cloister, scriptorium and refectory (i.e. not much) and, bottom, what remains of the chapter house (i.e. not much, either).
Among the most striking things about the church itself are the relatively well-preserved consecration medallions portraying the apostles, and the series of extremely ornate carved capitals at the top of various columns that depict different Biblical scenes ranging from the original sin and Daniel in the lion’s den, to the life of Samson and the temptation of Christ. There are others which draw on mythological creatures and tales, such as (possibly) Homer’s Ulysses resisting the bewitching song of the sirens. It would take far too long to list them all here, but happily the French-language Wikipedia page about the abbey does a fine job at doing just that! There are also a host of niches, vaults, windows and doorways that must all have a thousand stories to tell. 
Some of the many carved medallions and chapters. On the left: apostles Saints Jude and Matthew; centre: Daniel and his large feline acquaintances; and on the right, what may or may not be Ulysses, slightly tied up and therefore fully equipped to resist the sirens' call!
In amongst the abbey's nooks and crannies.
The octagonal and no doubt restored bell tower was another unexpected delight. A winding staircase comprising 157 steps enables the abbey’s more courageous visitors to climb all the way to the top and enjoy a magnificent view over the village of La Sauve and the rolling plains of the Entre-Deux-Mers… not to mention over the roofless church itself. It all makes for an unusual juxtaposition of past and present.

The bell tower, the staircase and the view over the village.
Looking down on the church, its nave and chevet, including the chancel and adjoining chapels.
The sense of travelling through time extends to the neighbouring grounds, where a medieval herb and vegetable garden has been recreated, giving a sense of the quietly productive atmosphere that must have reigned at the time when the monastery was in full operation. 

Finally, the village of La Sauve itself is far more than just a backdrop to the imposing abbey. Some of the more unusual finds to be enjoyed include Saint-Pierre de La Sauve parish church (complete with some particularly exotic gargoyles), an old wash-house, and a 19th-century building which was reportedly one of France’s smallest prisons, if not the smallest, with its two tiny cells. Urban legends suggest it only ever got used once, or perhaps even never at all (La Sauve is clearly very low on crime).

La Sauve's tiny jail.
And, of course, the village’s presently-disused railway station can be viewed alongside what is now the Roger-Lapébie cycle path connecting Latresne with Sauveterre-de-Guyenne, providing an ideal, direct carbon-neutral route to La Sauve and its historic treasures!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Abbaye de la Sauve-Majeure, La Sauve
> Official website:
> Full opening hours and practical information here.
> I also heavily recommend the self-guided walking tour of the area that you'll find by clicking here