As loyal readers know, Invisible Bordeaux has always been about getting beyond the classic postcard-friendly sights of the city to un...

New video: ten unusual sights in Bordeaux

As loyal readers know, Invisible Bordeaux has always been about getting beyond the classic postcard-friendly sights of the city to uncover some of the more unusual places and stories across Bordeaux. I thought there might be a video concept in there somewhere, so here it is: the Invisible Bordeaux guide to ten of the city's most surprising sights! 

Most, though not all, of the subjects have already been featured on the blog, and usually in greater depth than in this video. But before you go hunting for the related articles, sit back and let Youtube do all the hard work for the next three minutes!

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One of the things they don’t tell you about living in France is that when December comes round, the doorbell regularly rings and you com...

Learning about la Gironde from the 'Almanach du Facteur'

One of the things they don’t tell you about living in France is that when December comes round, the doorbell regularly rings and you come face-to-face with a waste collector, someone from the emergency services or the person who delivers your snail mail. You then hand over a few euros in exchange for a calendar – for they all sell calendars – so that they can buy themselves an end-of-year drink or two, and you can rest safe in the knowledge that if and when your house catches fire, you will be registered as one of the good people who bought a calendar and will receive priority treatment. 

While most calendars are simple two-sided affairs, La Poste's “almanach”, as sold by the facteur or factrice, is a bit more substantial, and provides quite a bit of useful information about the surrounding département. The practice of the postal services providing the annual document dates back to 1855 and the Musée de la Poste in Paris has more than 6,000 different editions stored in its archives. Today, around 15 million almanacs are produced each year and, it must be said, they are peculiar beasts. 

The July-December canine pinup,
the Continental Toy Spaniel.
Perusing a Gironde edition of the 2017 almanac, I’m trying to get to grips with the bizarre mix of benchmark national and international information, local content (facts, figures and maps), gardening tips, and the prominent pictures of dogs on each cover: the front features a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, while the back shows a Continental Toy Spaniel (or "Papillon", as pictured right). It might be noted that other covers with alternative animals, landscapes or urban scenes are also available; when the postman or woman comes to sell you the following year’s almanac, you are expected to take a few seconds to pick out the least ugly option available. 

Then comes a succession of random information, some of which is a good way of forgetting France is a secular country: the current year and the associated saints’ days appears twice, the following year’s list is also included, and in case you still can’t find the saint you’re looking for, there is also an alphabetical list of names and their associated feast days. There is a full list of wedding anniversary names, from cotton for one year, to oak for 80 years together. Similarly, there is a whole section about the language of flowers, i.e. what it really means when you offer someone a bouquet of lilacs (friendship) or rhododendrons (elegance).
Gardening tips, culture, saints and anniversaries. It's all a bit random.
But what I’ve really come looking for is the local information setting this Gironde edition apart from those available elsewhere in France. So here are a few things I learnt by reading the almanac: 

• There are 542 “communes” (municipalities) in Gironde which, for administrative/electoral purposes, are grouped into 33 cantons, which in turn form six arrondissements.
• Gironde’s six arrondissements are Arcachon, Blaye, Bordeaux, Langon, Lesparre-Médoc and Libourne.
• Gironde’s population currently stands at 1,505,517.

Just some of Gironde's 542 communes.
• The département covers a surface area of 10,000km². (That reads like a suspiciously round number though; Wikipedia has it down as 10,725km². Either way, Gironde is France’s biggest mainland département.)
• Bordeaux is Gironde’s most populous commune: 243,626 inhabitants.
• There are some seriously tiny municipalities. The five smallest are all located to the east of the département: Saint-Antoine-du-Queyrat (population: 74), Saint-Hilaire-du-Bois (73), Boussugan (53) and Castelmoron-d'Albret (52), while the winner is Lartigue (which just 46 people call home).
• In Castillon-la-Bataille, market day is every Monday (this information is included for every municipality).
High tides, low tides.
• Festivities are held in Margaux every year on the second Sunday in May (likewise, each municipality’s annual “fête” is listed).
• At the Pointe de Grave, i.e. the northern tip of the département, on November 1st of this year, look out for high tides at 02:45 and 15:00, while the tide will be at its lowest at 08:34 and 20:58. For, indeed, the full-year tide timetable is included; that information, compiled on the basis of data drawn up by SHOM (Service Hydrographique et Océanographique de la Marine) is genuinely useful. But while that is obviously tailored to a Girondin readership, the sunrise and sunset data on one of the next pages is for Paris.
• Of all the town maps that are included, the most surprising is possibly Sainte-Foy-la-Grande and its planned-town grid street system, which make it look more like a US city than a French town with a history that dates back to 1255.
• And finally, thinking back to the four corners road trip that took Invisible Bordeaux and Bordeaux 2066 to the northern, eastern, southern and western tips of la Gironde over the course of a day, it was a bit disheartening to see that there wasn’t quite enough room on the map of the full département for Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire, Gironde's easternmost point.

New York? San Francisco? No, it's Sainte-Foy-la-Grande and its downtown grid road system. And, to the right, proof that Saint-Avit-Saint-Nazaire is just a touch too far to the east to make it onto the map (technically it's there, but there's not enough room for the name and Gironde's easternmost point is not included).
So, a peculiar beast the almanac most definitely is. It does seem to be an eminently collectible publication but, judging by the prices of old editions being sold online, they’re not especially desirable. Will the Almanach du Facteur one day be a thing of the past? Well, I for one hope not because the world will surely always need calendars with photos of dogs.

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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Other than the occasional instance of the Garonne river breaking its banks and spilling over onto the quayside promenades, Bordeaux i...

Inside one of the detention basins that protect Bordeaux from flooding

Other than the occasional instance of the Garonne river breaking its banks and spilling over onto the quayside promenades, Bordeaux is not subject to flooding these days. But it has not always been that way. The flat, low-lying city is encircled and crisscrossed by a rich network of streams which in the past, when swollen by heavy rainfall, regularly led to flooded streets. Something had to be done!

The events that eventually triggered the deployment of a massive city-wide flood protection system can be traced back to late May and early June 1982. Violent storms struck Bordeaux and the western suburbs of Saint-Médard-en-Jalles, Le Haillan, Mérignac, Caudéran, Le Bouscat and Bruges. With rainfall exceeding 40 millimetres per hour, before too long water was flowing through city-centre streets, rising to a level of 1 metre in places; rescue services had to use boats to get around. More than 1,500 homes were affected by the floods and many families had lost virtually everything they had by the time the water subsided three days later. Bordeaux was not exactly the happiest place to be.

The aftermath of the 1982 storms on rue Chevalier in central Bordeaux, as originally reported by Sud Ouest and featured in the excellent Le Festin/a'urba book "De la ville à la métropole, 40 ans d'urbanisme à Bordeaux". And the same, drier, views today.
Over the ensuing 35 years, around 600 million euros have therefore been ploughed into an extensive system to make sure this never happens again. The setup comprises around 2,000 kilometres’ worth of tunnels and pipes, 130 pump stations, 50 rain gauges positioned in and around the city and, since 1992, a modern rainwater monitoring and control centre in central Bordeaux which goes by the name of “RAMSES” (which stands for [takes a deep breath] Régulation de l'Assainissement par Mesures et Supervision des Équipements et Stations).

But perhaps the most tangible and result of this strategy has been the development of around 80 detention basins, which can be used to store up to 2.6 million cubic metres of water. An information leaflet I recently received noted that as being the equivalent of 1,300 Olympic swimming pools. That’s a lot of liquid. Some of those storage facilities are located underground, particularly those close to the city centre. Many, though, are very much visible at ground level, like the one I’ve come to today alongside the Rocade ringroad in Eysines: “le Bassin Lamothe-Lescure”.

A handy information panel by the entrance gives some basic facts: the basin, which has been operational since 1985, covers an area of 2.3 hectares and can store up to 22,000 cubic metres of rainwater collected from the streets of Eysines. The water level here can potentially rise to a depth of 2.5 metres. The facility is managed by SGAC (which, somewhat illogically, stands for Société de Gestion de l'Assainissement de Bordeaux Métropole*), a subsidiary of Suez Environnement, the private company which handles water supply and management in the area.

The system itself is straightforward. Over to one corner of the dry basin, a concrete structure marks the point where two pipes converge, carrying the aforementioned rainwater collected from Eysines. That water then naturally flows on into a third pipe which, ultimately, will deliver that water across Bordeaux and into the Garonne river. However, when staff at the RAMSES control centre sense there is too much incoming water, the outgoing pipe is closed and the water is naturally redirected into the basin, where it will collect until it is safe for the pipe to be reopened and the water released back on its way towards the Garonne.

The inner mechanisms: bottom left and centre, incoming rainwater. To the right, a mechanical door that can be closed off, trapping the water which then spills over into the retention basin via the opening pictured top left. 
So how often do these situations occur? RAMSES teams record between 10 and 15 high-alert incidents per year. One extreme case study dates from 2013. On Friday July 26th of that year, flash storms, comparable in strength to those of 1982, hit the area and the control centre switched into crisis mode, their task hindered by the Garonne being at high tide. But Sud Ouest wrote that, other than a few waterlogged basements, no major damage was reported. Without today’s monitoring and defence system, there is every likelihood that the people of Bordeaux would have once again witnessed boats navigating the city’s streets as part of emergency rescue operations. But thanks to RAMSES and its network of detention basins, all that excess water is very much under control and the only boats you’ll see in the city centre are afloat on the river Garonne. Hooray.  

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Bassin Lamothe-Lescure, avenue du Taillan, Eysines.
> The RAMSES visitor centre can be viewed upon reservation Monday-Friday all year round, and the control centre itself is usually open to the general public over the annual European heritage days weekend in September. 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

* The "C" of SGAC probably originally referred to CUB or Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux, the previous denomination of Bordeaux Métropole.

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Ever since it launched in 2011, one of the recurring themes on the Invisible Bordeaux has been so-called ghost signs, those old handpain...

A fresh set of Bordeaux ghost signs!

Ever since it launched in 2011, one of the recurring themes on the Invisible Bordeaux has been so-called ghost signs, those old handpainted names, messages or advertisements that have faded over time, but are still clinging in there, silently embellishing walls and façades.

Bordeaux appears to boast an endless supply of these charming oddities, and here is an all-new selection of finds throughout the city. Enjoy! 

This first picture, taken on rue Jacques-Nancy, shows a wallpainted sign that, from what I can make out, used to be point to the left towards a "Succursale Citroën", i.e. a garage. Unusually, it looks like the company responsible for producing the sign, "---ir Publicité", was quite happy to take up almost as much wall space as the name of its client!

The picture above was taken on cours Aristide-Briand. Entreprise Genriès clearly had a thing about all types of ladder (échelles tous genres) and was obviously specialised in carpentry and building services (menuiserie, bâtiment).

This mysterious warehouse is located bang in the city centre, albeit in a quiet side-street, rue Arnaud-Miqueu. A bit of googling suggests that Compagnie Française is still very much a going concern, and is defined here and there as a "retail business" with some sources suggest it specialises in gentlemen's clothing. To be confirmed?

There's a lot going on here at this old greengrocer's (fruits & primeurs) on rue Sanche de Pomiers, with several layers of messages to decipher. The right-hand side is easier to read with its promises of "oranges, citrons, fruits secs" (oranges, lemons, dried fruit) but the most legible part over to the left is the five-digit telephone number: 82 213.

Robert d'Isle enables us to progress to a six-digit number: 48 27 17. This outlet on rue des Trois-Chandeliers promised "entretien, location, réparations" (maintenance, rental, repairs), but in what line of business?

This old sign on rue Chauffour isn't so ghostly. For a start it appears to have possibly been given the occasional new coat of paint. And secondly, the establishment was founded "just" 31 years ago, in 1986 (by which time telephone numbers ran to eight digits). Owner Hervé Valverde, whose initials float towards the top of each glass of wine, appears to be a bit of a character, judging by the Sud Ouest piece available online here. Oh, and the telephone number remains the same to this day, with the straightforward addition of a modern-day "05" prefix.

Staying on rue Chauffour, this advert for Frigéco, the brand of refrigerators associated with French home appliances giant Thomson, even features a detailed picture of a well-stocked fridge. And, to the left, a happy figure (or possibly a snowman, it's difficult to tell) can be seen pointing to the shelves of fresh produce. The local "distributeur exclusif" is advertised towards the bottom of the wall, but serious detective work is needed to work out what it says!   

R. Leroyer operated out of rue du Hamel, but what services did he or she provide? Despite the lack of information, the sign deserves a feature here because of the elegantly-shaped letters and nifty shading used by the signwriter.

Rue du Serpolet is where you will find these traces of a bedding and upholstery business, the sign of which now combines nicely with the bunting on the first-floor balcony!

Garage de Ségur once operated on rue Ségur, catering for all your automobile-related repair, mechanical, sheet metal and painting needs (réparations, mécanique, tôlerie, peinture).

> All of these finds have been added to the dedicated Bordeaux ghost signs and shopfronts Googlemap!
> View past ghost sign features: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Cours Gallieni, Traders of the past.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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Prominent politician Adrien Marquet was mayor of Bordeaux from 1925 to 1944. In many ways he transformed the face of the city but has ma...

The city of Bordeaux’s relationship status with former mayor Adrien Marquet: it’s complicated

Prominent politician Adrien Marquet was mayor of Bordeaux from 1925 to 1944. In many ways he transformed the face of the city but has mainly gone down in history as the man who was at the helm of Bordeaux throughout the dark years of the Second World War. Therefore, despite highly-visible physical traces of Marquet’s legacy throughout the city, no streets, squares, buildings or bridges bear his name. So what did Marquet achieve and why has he been air-brushed out of the city’s history?

Adrien Marquet was born on October 6th 1884 in the house that was his family home, at 104 Cours Victor Hugo. After a relatively uneventful middle-class childhood, he qualified as a dental surgeon aged 19, although that year’s turning point was in fact his decision to sign up as a member of France’s Socialist Party. He became an active supporter of the movement, was appointed secretary of the Gironde branch of the SFIO (Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière) and was elected city councillor in 1912, although the outbreak of war and the Socialists’ subsequent struggles put his gradual political ascension on hold. However, in 1924, now aged 40, Marquet gained a seat as député within the National Assembly, and this paved the way to him being elected mayor of Bordeaux the following year.

Adrien Marquet and, a-hem, his trademark toothbrush moustache in 1932 (photo source: Wikipedia), and his childhood home on Cours Victor-Hugo.
As the Great Depression took hold, Marquet took a proactive stance to enable Bordeaux to cushion the impact of the recession, stimulate the economy, create housing, schools, jobs and lay the foundations for durable development. This most notably resulted in the 1930 launch of the ambitious “Plan Marquet” programme, to structure the development of a whole host of buildings and facilities throughout the city, many of which shared an elegant art deco style which was very much of its time, as overseen by chief city architect Jacques d'Welles.

The most notable examples of these endeavours include the Stade Municipal (familiar to us now as Stade Chaban-Delmas, also formerly known as Parc Lescure but renamed in honour of Marquet’s successor!), Piscine Judaïque swimming pool, the Bourse du Travail labour exchange, and more functional buildings such as the recently-demolished abattoirs, the head office of the local gas distribution board (now the trendy Mama Shelter hotel) and former Invisible Bordeaux subject the Saint-Jean postal sorting office. Not all the projects were on such a large scale: take, for instance, the public baths and showering facilities built in the right-bank Bastide quarter, as also featured on the blog some time ago. And while Stade Chaban-Delmas is particularly well-known, Marquet also initiated the construction of a smaller sports stadium in the Bastide neighbourhood; it was even known for some time as Stade Adrien-Marquet before becoming better-known as Stade Galin!

Marquet's physical legacy: the Stade Municipal (now Stade Chaban-Delmas, 1938), Piscine Judaïque (1935), Bourse du Travail (1938) and Siège de la Régie du gaz et de l'électricité (circa 1936)... now a Mama Shelter hotel!
The Bastide quarter public baths and showers (circa 1930, now a pocket theatre), Saint-Jean postal sorting office (1929, now office space with a ground-storey car park) and Stade Galin (1936, initially known as Stade Adrien-Marquet), complete with freshly-laid artificial turf. 
There were to be a number of twists and turns in Marquet’s political path. At the 1933 national congress of the SFIO, Marquet’s statements on the subject of “order, authority and the nation” (at the time he was developing an interest in the forms of authoritarianism taking hold in Germany and Italy) were rejected by party director Léon Blum (who claimed he was appalled: “je suis épouvanté”). Marquet, along with a number of other MPs, was dismissed from the party; they went on to form their own movement, PSDF (Parti socialiste de France), although the arrangement would be short-lived as Marquet was soon dismissed from that party too.  

In early 1934, the French government was in turmoil in the slipstream of antiparliamentary demonstrations held in Paris, and Marquet was appointed Labour minister under the head of government, Gaston Doumergue. A nationwide take on the Plan Marquet was conceived and rolled out before faltering when the government collapsed before the end of that year. Marquet went on to found his own political movement, le Parti néo-socialiste, and was re-elected as an MP the following year. All of which brings us up to 1940 and Marquet’s appointment as Interior Minister in the first government led by Maréchal Pétain, although Pétain would soon relinquish him of this position: two months later Marquet was replaced by Marcel Peyrouton. Despite occasional attempts to break back into national politics Adrien Marquet was able to switch his focus back to Bordeaux, his wartime philosophy being summed up by a statement he had made during a radio broadcast: “We must reconcile the German and French viewpoints. Life getting back to normal depends on this collaboration.” (“Il faut concilier les points de vue allemande et français ; de cette collaboration dépend le retour à la vie normale.”)

The shadiest period in Marquet’s career was to follow. There are, for instance, contradictory reports as to how he dealt with the perilous situation the city’s Jews were in, possibly because his behaviour itself appears to have been highly contradictory. Some isolated witnesses describe him as protective of the local Jewish population. The Chief Rabbi of Bordeaux, Joseph Cohen, often sought, gained and saluted Marquet’s support, although reportedly the latter’s recurring advice was simply to flee the area. In contrast, it was Marquet who facilitated the organisation in the grounds of the city hall of the “L’Allemagne de nos jours” exhibition (1941), aimed at raising awareness about German culture and industry, and the “Juif et la France” exhibition (1942, as recently covered on the blog and pictured above), although he kept a conspicuously low profile during the latter event, sending deputies along in his place to attend official functions. When 550 Jews were rounded up and imprisoned in the synagogue of Bordeaux ahead of being deported to Drancy and Auschwitz in early 1944, Marquet was nowhere to be seen. He had also done nothing to prevent the deportation and subsequent death at Auschwitz of his former mayoral deputy Joseph Bencazar, who had been forced to stand down overnight from his municipal duties in 1940, with barely a public acknowledgement of the event from Marquet. All in all, to say his attitude in these situations was passive would be an understatement.    

The self-preserving collaboration-based approach - which was also palpable in the weekly newspaper he founded, Le Progrès - paid dividends throughout the War, but when Bordeaux was liberated, Marquet was bound to instantly pay the price, despite his claims that his negotiating skills had contributed to the Germans leaving quietly rather than leaving a trail of destruction throughout the city. On August 29th 1944, Marquet was arrested ahead of being imprisoned at the Fort du Hâ in the city centre. He was put on trial in late 1947 and was acquitted on January 29th 1948, having served 40 months in jail, although he was condemned to ten years of “national indignity”, automatically forfeiting his civil rights.

Marquet was however itching to return to politics, and repeatedly filed requests for presidential amnesty, which was finally granted in October 1953. He began campaigning with a view to standing in the legislative elections of 1956, or perhaps even with the aim of overthrowing his local rival, new mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas. But everything came to a sudden end during an eventful political meeting held at the city’s “Athénée” meeting hall (although some sources suggest the venue may have been the Alhambra concert hall). Heckled and destabilised by Chaban supporters, at the end of his rally Marquet suffered a heart attack and died, aged 71. 

At his funeral, despite his chequered past, thousands of Bordelais turned out to send off this enigmatic man, ahead of his burial at the Chartreuse cemetery. From then on, in spite of the efforts of a group known as “Les amis d’Adrien Marquet”, the former mayor inevitably became forever associated with the wartime collaboration years and developed into one of the city’s great taboo subjects.

All of which explains why the official public-domain acknowledgements of Adrien Marquet are few and far between: his name features on the list of mayors on a plaque outside Palais Rohan, the city hall, on Place Pey-Berland (as pictured right); his bust stands alongside those of fellow mayors in the Bordeaux city council’s meeting room; and that’s about it! But the subject does continue to fascinate: Marquet was the subject of an authoritative and exhaustive (but also slightly disjointed) 400-page biography penned by local academics Hubert Bonin, Bernard Lachaise and Françoise Taliano-Des Garets. When historian Franck Lafossas came across a suitcase packed with unseen archive documents, he too produced a revealing book. And an hour-long France 3 documentary about Marquet, directed by Barcha Bauer and narrated by Invisible Bordeaux acquaintance Michel Cardoze, was released in 2008 and can be viewed in its entirety on Youtube. It features some incredible archive photos and footage.

So, in this modern day and age, there can be no excuses for not knowing everything there is to know about the mysterious man who was mayor of Bordeaux for 19 pivotal years during the 20th century…

View the aforementioned documentary, "Adrien Marquet : de Jaurès à Pétain, les dérives d'une ambition" 

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Adrien Marquet's birthplace, 104 Cours Victor Hugo; Adrien Marquet's grave, Cimetière de la Chartreuse, Bordeaux.
> The books referred to above are "Adrien Marquet, les dérives d'une ambition" by Hubert Bonin, Bernard Lachaise and Françoise Taliano Des Garets; and "Adrien Marquet : secrets et souvenirs" by Franck Lafossas.

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Like many blogs, Invisible Bordeaux has also developed its presence on social media channels including Twitter , Facebook and Youtube ....

Bordeaux life through a lens: my favourite local Instagram accounts

Like many blogs, Invisible Bordeaux has also developed its presence on social media channels including Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. And one of the essential outlets used to promote blog items and share random pictures as and when the opportunities arise is Instagram.  

There are many talented people feeding Instagram, and some happen to be based in Bordeaux. I thought I would share links through to a few of my personal favourite accounts: these are the Instagram people whose publications I look forward to, and whose camera (or smartphone) lenses never fail to capture the city from an unusual or unexpected perspective. If you want to see pictures of the Miroir d’Eau and Place de la Bourse, there are plenty of sources, but if you want to view Bordeaux differently, check out these accounts:

It is difficult to pack more depth and perspective into Instagram posts than Amélie seems to manage. She captures a timeless vision of Bordeaux with people occasionally passing through. She also has a great eye for unusual exteriors and enjoys playing with reflections.  
Pictured below: “Allez hop, c'est parti les enfants !”

Eric’s territory branches out beyond Bordeaux to include le Médoc, Arcachon Bay and beyond. His work is 100% smartphone photography and features some recurring characters: a little toy superhero who ends up in various situations, and Eric himself, invariably captured mid-jump. 
Pictured below: “#rickyworld_jump #pontchabandelmas”


Jean-Christophe mixes and matches techniques and styles, and is at his best in urbex settings surrounded by skateboarders, cyclists and parkour enthusiasts. His pictures are as full of life as they are varied.
Pictured below: “| Le parkour adolescent | 2/3”


This account, led by Bordeaux Walking Tours owner Hela, has developed nicely over recent months. The pictures uncover surprising and unexpected spots throughout the city, and often come with interesting, informative added-value captions.
Pictured below: “Palais de la Bourse banquet hall.”


Another account fed by a tour guide, Caroline, and another account that is not afraid to go off the beaten track. The pictures are so well-balanced they could almost be oil paintings.
Pictured below: “Sun in the "roman" part of Bordeaux Cathedral.”

University lecturer Lesley provides a delightful take on her adopted home city. Many of her pictures capture early-morning/early-evening scenes from her commute, providing an accurate portrayal of what it is really like to live and work in Bordeaux.
Pictured below: “Leaving work on a Friday evening.”

Greg’s feed features a lot of the city’s essential landmarks, always in style and often with a surprising twist. He also ventures further afield and clearly has a lot of fun playing with colour and light.
Pictured below: “Du plus petit au plus grand...”

Rachel is a professional photographer who uses Instagram to showcase her work. Her pictures are sharp, well-constructed, and the Bordeaux on display here is neat and elegant, albeit with the occasional rough edge.


Gilles is an accomplished photographer. Although not the most prolific contributor on Instagram, what he shares is charming and often unusual. He has an eye for hidden details and will also go looking for angles which most people would never think of!
Pictured below: “#coucou #garonne”

The watchyou_bordeaux account is managed by a collective of Instagram users, who select #wu_bordeaux hashtagged pictures of Bordeaux posted by a variety of users. The approaches and subjects are eclectic, but as a gallery the watchyou_bordeaux feed provides one of the most dynamic and inspiring overviews of the city.
Pictured below: a shot by @7cmosaique as featured by watchyou_bordeaux.

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Invisible Bordeaux came across an unexpected delight when out and about on a recent assignment, for tucked away above the remna...

Jardin des Remparts: Bordeaux’s secret garden on the old city walls

Invisible Bordeaux came across an unexpected delight when out and about on a recent assignment, for tucked away above the remnants of the old city walls is the small but perfectly-formed Jardin des Remparts, another contender for Bordeaux’s “Best Kept Secret” award! 

Although seemingly rich in history, as a public garden the story is a recent one: the Jardin des Remparts, in its current form, was first opened to the general public by the city council in December 2013. This development was a by-product of a campaign called Bordeaux [Re]Centres, the local application of a nationwide project to revitalise run-down areas in city centres. The latter went by the delightful, easy-to-remember name of PNRQAD (Plan national de requalification des centres anciens dégradés).

The 2013 breakthrough followed on from initial efforts to bring the place to life in 2010, led by a local association poetically known as “Le Bruit du Frigo”. They held various happenings here in an area that was, in essence, little-used land that was split between the student housing organisation CROUS and the vocational training establishment ERP Robert Lateulade (the city council has gained the right to use the State-owned ground and will, in time, fully acquire the property). Prior to that, the area was part of a convent, le Couvent des Capucins.

The garden’s most notable characteristic though is that it stretches along the old city walls ("les remparts"), as hinted at when looking at the long, linear stone wall which separates the Jardin from neighbouring houses (as pictured above). By one of the two entrances to the garden (where there are currently temporary metal staircases, set to be replaced by permanent steps sometime soon), a surviving section of the 14th-century wall is fully exposed. At garden level, there are even traces of the old artillery terrace and parapet walk.

Top: remnants of the old city wall by the eastern entrance to the park. Bottom: traces of what must have been a doorway to and from the parapet walk, or else a sentry post.
The remainder of the 3,400-square-metre park is suitably low-fi and yet neat and pleasant. A pretty row of plane trees is broken up by the occasional bench and, more surprisingly, a small shrine or oratory, no doubt a survivor of the area's convent past. Looking closely, a Latin inscription can just about be made out at its base. The text reads “Filioli mei, quos iterum parturio, donec formetur Christus in vobis”. With a little help from Twitter, and more specifically the good people at the Association Régionale des Enseignants de Langues Anciennes de l'académie de Bordeaux (@Arelabor), this was identified as being a bible verse, Galatians 4:19, the King James translation being “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you”.

The oratory and the old steps which led down to the courtyard.
The fenced-off remains of a stone staircase lead down from the oratory to the courtyard of today’s vocational training establishment, although it is easy enough to imagine the scene being that of the 17th-century convent. Down at that lower level, some serious street art now adorns a wall that forms a bit of a dead end for visitors. As I take a photo of the wall, a dog runs up to the wall and starts performing for the camera before heading back up to join its master and his fellow dog-walkers.

I believe the dog's name was Watson. Elementary.
For it turns out that the Jardin des Remparts is a meeting point for the local dog-owning community (although I must say that, having read an article over at the brilliantly-named, I was indeed expecting to encounter some canine friends). It is still early on a Sunday morning, but a group of dog-walkers have assembled towards the middle of the 100-metre promenade. And while I’m in the vicinity, a further gentleman and his two greyhounds arrive only to be gently told off for being 20 minutes late for the appointment!

I carefully make my way past the playful dogs and exchange a few niceties with one of the owners. We generally comment on how pleasant the Jardin is, but she quickly adds that it can only remain that way if people respect it. I ask her to explain what she means and she mentions that the place is often littered with the remains of food left by people passing through. And, in one corner, I do indeed spot some rogue beer bottles and wrappers that really shouldn’t be there. This is obviously a place that the locals have quickly warmed to and that is not be messed with; you get a feeling that the park is a natural extension of their habitat.
Views from the Jardin.
Finally, I make use of this unusual raised vantage point to take in a few sights that I’ve never before viewed from this angle: the spire of Saint-Michel church, the roof of the recently-renovated Marché des Douves building, and the exterior of the old convent chapel that lies within the grounds of the CROUS, a place which seems to be out-of-bounds but which can, apparently, occasionally be visited. I also spot an unusual, enigmatic white dome, which I think is pictured on the ERP Robert Lateulade's website here.

My time in the Jardin des Remparts has come to an end but I just know I’ll be back. I have a feeling the next time I’m in amongst the hustle and bustle of the Saint-Michel district or the Capucins market, surely among the liveliest and most energetic of the city's neighbourhoods, I will be only too proud to guide whoever is with me back towards the city’s secret garden on the old city walls, to enjoy a quiet walk in amongst the local dog population!

> Note: at this point in time, the Jardin des Remparts can only be reached via metal staircases on rue Marbotin and rue des Douves. Disabled access will reportedly be added in the future. 
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Jardin des Remparts, rue Marbotin/rue des Douves, Bordeaux.
> Extra special thanks to Association Régionale des Enseignants de Langues Anciennes de l'académie de Bordeaux (@Arelabor), contacted via Émilie Bordographe, for help in deciphering and identifying the Latin inscription on the oratory. Thanks also to Alan Davey who was in touch too!
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !  

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In the Sainte-Croix district, which lies mid-way between the Saint-Michel quarter and Saint-Jean railway station, there are a number of...

The abbey, the fountain, the wall and the statues: the sights of Sainte-Croix

In the Sainte-Croix district, which lies mid-way between the Saint-Michel quarter and Saint-Jean railway station, there are a number of unusual sights to take in. Here is the Invisible Bordeaux guide to four of those sights, bearing in mind that they are all interconnected in many ways.

Sainte-Croix church 

This magnificent church was originally an abbey that formed part of a Benedictin monastery whose roots can be traced back to the 7th century. As with many churches, sections have been added over the course of time: the right-hand bell tower dates back to the 12th century, whereas the left-hand bell tower is a relatively recent addition, conceived as it was in the 19th century by the architect Paul Abadie, who we have already encountered on the blog and who is perhaps best-known as the man behind the famous Sacré-Coeur church on the heights of Montmartre in Paris. 

The exterior is a remarkable succession of impressive details, such as the hundreds of individual carved figures above the main door. And I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the sculpture of Saint George slaying the dragon, which can be spotted over to the left-hand side of the main façade.

One of the most characteristic features of the church is its organ. It was originally installed in the 1740s by one of the abbey’s monks, one Dom Bedos de Celles. The organ was considered to be so good that, in 1812, the archbishop of Bordeaux decided he wanted it to be moved to the city’s cathedral. A straightforward “organ swap” and each church installed the other’s organ, as it were (other than the cabinets, which remained in place). In the 1970s, the cathedral decided to commission a new organ and the original Dom Bedos creation was transferred back to Sainte-Croix in 1984. The move as overseen by organ specialists Pascal Quoirin, who meticulously followed instructions drafted by Dom Bedos 250 years earlier. The relocation was a success and is regarded as a milestone event in the recent history of organs!

Sainte-Croix fountain (also known as Fontaine des Bénédictins)

In the grounds behind the church, known as Square Dom Bedos, a Baroque style dressed stone fountain which is now dry can be spotted, its twin staircases leading down to the basin which lies below ground level. It was first installed here in 1735 by another group of Benedictin monks, who were decidedly productive during that period! The fountain was listed as an historic monument in 1890, the year after the nearby abbey monastery building was converted, by architect Alphonse Ricard, into the city’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

The fountain is a veritable work of art, with various carved figures to take in, a pair of rather magnificent columns, the word “pax” prominently displayed towards the top, and a pleasing sense of symmetry that wouldn’t look out of place in the grounds of a royal residence. The piece is topped off by a shell-shaped motif. The fountain’s main initial purpose was to embellish the old city wall which ran alongside the grounds of the monastery, and that is our next stop.

Remnants of the old city walls

Over the course of its history, Bordeaux has gradually expanded, and in medieval times the fortified city walls had to be revised and rebuilt to keep up with the city’s outward evolution. The section of wall that can be viewed here is referred to as Bordeaux’s “troisième enceinte”, in other words the third-generation city wall. It was erected between 1302 and 1307 at a time when Bordeaux was under English rule. So, in a way, this is a little bit of England in Bordeaux!

Looking at it today, it is not too difficult to imagine archers positioned on the wall, their heads peering above the parapet to protect the city from intruders. On the city side of the wall, doors are positioned either side of the fountain. What could possibly be behind those doors? Another section of the “troisième enceinte” city wall can be found just a few hundred metres away. Invisible Bordeaux will be shortly investigating the subject, another one of the city’s hidden gems! 

École des Beaux-Arts

We finish up outside the École des Beaux-Arts, the city’s fine arts college. Within the grounds, near to the aforementioned fountain, a fine wrought iron gate can be admired. It is among the features retained by Alphonse Ricard when he overhauled the building ahead of the educational establishment moving in. Another door also proudly displays the word “pax”, a carved legend from the Benedictin monks’ era that has stood the test of time. But perhaps the most surprising exhibits are to be found outside the main entrance to the Ecole, where several pieces are on display and used by students for their artistic projects. To visitors, it feels more like walking into an archaeologist’s dream.

There is an elegant frontispiece that was originally designed to end up on Place de la Bourse, sculpted by Claude Francin, whose work does indeed grace the buildings on Bordeaux’s most picture postcard-friendly square. And there are four statues, referred to as the “muses” which stand atop the Grand-Théâtre. So what is the story there? Are they replicas? Originals that became damaged and were replaced? Whatever, it’s fascinating to be able to have a closer look at these figures which are the direct counterparts of the opera house’s statues that can only really be viewed from ground level and therefore from a certain distance.

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Sainte-Croix church, Sainte-Croix fountain and city wall, École des Beaux-arts. 
> NB: Square Dom-Bedos (where the fountain is located) is only open daytime until 6pm and is closed at weekends.   

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