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” (presumably the letters stand for something…).

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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