Regular readers may remember the recent account of the morning spent exploring the Portuguese Jewish cemetery on Cours de la Marne , one...

Inside Bordeaux's Jewish Avignonnais cemetery

Regular readers may remember the recent account of the morning spent exploring the Portuguese Jewish cemetery on Cours de la Marne, one of three final resting places for Jews in central Bordeaux. Of the others, the cemetery on Cours de l’Yser is still in use, whereas burials at the tiny “Cimetière des Avignonnais” on Rue Sauteyron, a mere 50 metres from Place de la Victoire, ceased more than 200 years ago.

The Avignonnais cemetery is rarely open to the general public, and can only usually be visited during specially-organised guided tours, so when I spotted it would be accessible as part of the city’s European Heritage Days programme, I decided to head over to the site to take in a low-key tour of my own.

The cemetery was founded way back in 1728 on land purchased by the Avignon-born David Petit. According to a document produced by the Office de Tourisme, it came about because there was intense rivalry between twenty-or-so Jewish families who had relocated from Avignon and locally-established Portuguese Jews, who regarded the new arrivals as a threat to their stronghold on the trade of woven fabrics and silk. As a result, some were deported back to their hometown, although a royal decree ultimately allowed families to stay, as long as they focused solely on banking and maritime commerce. As the friction meant the Avignonnais were unable to bury their dead at existing graveyards, they resorted instead to using the plot acquired by Petit. The cemetery went on to operate for 77 years, the last of its 104 graves dating from 1805.

The gate to the cemetery. Place de la Victoire lies at the end of the road.
Pushing open the metal gate, I ventured into the cemetery, which is surrounded on all sides by either tall walls or buildings. There are six rows of graves (mainly raised horizontal slabs) to explore and while many are damaged or covered in moss, others are in impressively good condition with clearly legible inscriptions in Hebrew, Spanish or French. The years of death are displayed according to either the Gregorian calendar or the Hebrew equivalent (such as the grave pictured below which shows 5493, i.e. 1733).

Despite being so close to the hive of activity that is Place de la Victoire, on the inside it strikes me that there are few signs of intruders; just a couple of examples of relatively discreet graffiti left by people who somehow managed to scale the wall. Other than that, the cemetery is neat and tidy, and has possibly been so since 2011 and an overhaul conducted by owners the Jewish consistory, who wanted the graveyard to open to the public after many years of neglect.

Low-key graffiti.
In a Sud Ouest report published while the renovation work was in progress, it was mentioned that one neighbour was unhappy about the cemetery becoming more accessible as she had got into the habit of feeding a dozen cats who had quietly taken up residence there. Her fears were possibly disproportionate though as visits do remain few and far between, and there has never been an onslaught of crowds to scare away her beloved cats. Having said that, the Sunday morning I was there, there were certainly no cats in sight, or as the French say, “Il n’y avait pas un chat” (the place was totally deserted).

This video will give you an inside view of the cemetery:

Click here if video doesn't display properly on your device.

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