We have travelled some 20 kilometres to the north-east of Bordeaux to view one of the most spectacular bridges in the area: the iron wo...

We have travelled some 20 kilometres to the north-east of Bordeaux to view one of the most spectacular bridges in the area: the iron wonder that is Pont de Cubzac, which spans the width of the Dordogne river between Saint-Vincent-de-Paul and Cubzac-les-Ponts. 

In some ways, this is the third incarnation of the bridge, whose history goes all the way back to 1836 and the completion of a grand and ambitiously-proportioned suspension bridge, the deck of which was supported by cables that stretched over six pairs of 26-metre-tall pylons. However, in March 1869, a violent storm seriously damaged one of the columns and parts of the deck began tilting precariously. Fearing the bridge would collapse, authorities chose to move fast and the bridge was demolished in full, although it was decided to retain the sturdy viaducts connecting the bridge with dry land on either bank of the river.

The way things were, source: Wikipedia.
The original suspension bridge design as featured on structurae.info.
Between 1879 and 1883, the second generation truss bridge was built, to the designs of renowned engineer Gustave Eiffel (whose other achievements in the area include a now-disused railway bridge in Bordeaux, and Sainte-Cécile observatory tower in Arcachon), in conjunction with chief engineer Émile Nouguier. Eiffel opted for a distinctive cantilever system of horizontal metal beams, carrying eight decks supported by nine sets of columns, making for a total span measuring 553 metres (1,545 metres when incorporating the connecting viaducts). 

Over the ensuing years, the bridge was not only a fixture on the landscape but a precious means of crossing the river; Pont de Cubzac’s strategic geographical significance eventually resulted in its partial destruction by the Germans during the Second World War. But once the War was over, the bridge was soon rebuilt and the third incarnation was complete in 1947. Symbolically, it was the work of Gustave Eiffel’s grandson, Jacques Eiffel.  

The bridge as it looks today, viewed from Cubzac-les-Ponts. Note the A10 motorway and LGV railway bridges in the distance.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the narrow bridge formed the backdrop to many a memorable traffic jam, particularly during summer months when it had to funnel dense holidaymaker traffic on the busy Route Nationale 10. Things finally improved when the A10 motorway bridge opened in 1974, providing an easier and faster means of crossing the river.

Various sections of the bridge.
Finally, throughout 2016 and 2017, as part of an extensive renovation campaign, the bridge was widened through the addition of a deck for pedestrians and bikes along the southern flank. This eagerly-anticipated enhancement has been unanimously saluted by walkers and cyclists, as well as by drivers behind the wheels of their cars, who no longer have to skirt around bikes or shave past pedestrians on the narrow pavements which were previously in use. 

To get a feel of the inner workings of the bridge, I arranged to meet Mike Foster, arguably the most famous Australian in Gironde and the founder of the excellent Bordeaux Expats website. Mike, who works as a freelance digital communications specialist, lives with his family in nearby Saint-André-de-Cubzac. We meet up on the waterfront in Cubzac, which Mike explains is an ideal location for picnics and quality family downtime. 

Under the bridge downtown, I could not get enough (courtesy Red Hot Chili Peppers).
Together we venture under the bridge to admire the tall, cathedral-like underbelly of the 19th-century viaduct section which, as well as featuring some very old graffiti carved into the stonework, is surely one of the most photogenic spots in the whole of Gironde!

Under the bridge downtown, I gave my life away (courtesy Red Hot Chili Peppers).
We then edge our way along to some poorly-maintained steps up to road level and onto the bridge proper, and view its impressive array of commemorative historical plaques.  Bizarrely, at the point where the iron structure begins, the coat of arms of the city of Paris sits proudly in between inscriptions marking the 1946-1948 reconstruction. Mike and I are a little surprised by this sight of an emblem which is some 522 kilometres out of position. 

Mike Foster, who performs his own stunts, inspecting just some of the many commemorative plaques and the Parisian coat of arms. 
We make our way across the bridge along the new footway, observing from afar the virtual twin iron railway bridge that lies a few hundred metres downstream, which was completed just after the original Eiffel crossing in 1886. Looking the other way we can see the busy A10 motorway bridge and the new LGV high-speed train railway bridge. Four generations of bridges across the Dordogne are within eyeshot, and the name of Cubzac-les-Ponts seems more relevant than ever! We pass a new information panel summarizing the history of the bridge and view large red circles and a green triangle to guide boats navigating on the Dordogne. 

Big, triangular navigation marker.
Finishing up on the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul side of the bridge, we admire another plaque, this time commemorating the ceremonial inauguration of the renovated bridge in April 2018. We then look back through the bridge. Here, though, the first arch is topped off by the dates 1879 and 1883, in line with the original Eiffel construction, positioned either side of the crest of Bordeaux

"Lilia sola regunt lunam unda castra leonem"... or "the lilies alone reign over the moon, the waves, the fortress and the lion". See this previous Invisible Bordeaux article about the city's coat of arms for the full story!
Mike and I note the new benches that have been installed to enable people to take time out to sit and enjoy the view, and during our time there we see cyclists, laid-back ramblers and serious Nordic walkers darting past, complete with go-faster batons. My Australian travelling companion then points out the original pavements, which strike me as being strangely inhospitable and a touch hair-raising compared with the genteel delights of the new walkway.

The now-disused narrow pavements.
Heading back to our starting point in Cubzac-les-Ponts we trade observations about how pleasant the bridge has now become, cross-referencing with the surprising and contrasting decision to remove the cycle paths from Bordeaux’s Pont François-Mitterrand to make way for an extra car lane, thus forcing cyclists who previously commuted daily across the bridge to make a seven or eight-kilometre detour either way to complete their trips. But, over on Pont de Cubzac, the right balance does appear to have been struck, and this impressive iron child of the 19th century is most definitely battle-ready for 21st-century usages!


> Locate it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Pont de Cubzac, Cubzac-les-Ponts.
> Big thanks to Mike Foster for the meet-up and the insider's tour! 

Further recommended viewing: 
Footage of the centenary celebrations of 1983 

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2018 report about the bridge's overhaul and the addition of the pedestrian/cycle path

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You may have just finished exploring the first set of clocks compiled by Invisible Bordeaux . But still there are more, starting with this...

You may have just finished exploring the first set of clocks compiled by Invisible Bordeaux. But still there are more, starting with this lovely timepiece to be seen at Barrière Saint-Genès.
This clock gave its name to the café that it presides over: Café de l'Horloge.
The main façade of Saint-Jean station comprises three identical clocks. Thankfully, they are all reassuringly on time. 
Inside the station proper, two magnificent clocks watch over proceedings at all times.
In the station concourse, this pragmatic, minimalist Bodet clock enables travellers to time things down to the very last second.
Another Bodet clock can be seen on Cours Victor-Hugo above the entrance to a Carrefour Market on a building still known to many as la Maison Dorée.
A Bodet design has also been embedded into the exterior of the Palais de Justice on Place de la République. This clock is currently out of order.
This classic clock is to be seen outside Palais Rohan, the city hall.
This more minimalist affair can be seen atop the Caisse d'Épargne building on Place Paul-Doumer.
Taking minimalism one step further is this clock on the corner of the Bourse du Travail building on Cours Aristide-Briand. The clock is currently frozen in time.
Also currently out of order is this clock on the municipal library building opposite Capucins food market.
Another clock which has stopped is on Sainte-Eulalie church.
Crazy building, crazy clock. There was never going to be anything conventional about the timepiece on the Bastide quarter's Maison Cantonale!
Sacré-Cœur church's steeples feature not one but two clocks. The 24-hour dial on the left was designed so that railway workers living in the vicinity instantly knew whether it was AM or PM. The 24-hour clock, which has already been featured on the blog, is functioning perfectly: it was 09:10 when I was there.
And we'll finish up on Place Stalingrad and a clock that got away, but which is clearly visible bottom right, which shows the Alcazar music hall theatre in the early 1900s. Time's up!
All of those lovely clocks have also been stuck back-to-back in this short motion picture. Sit back and enjoy!

 
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Cet article est également disponible en français !

OK, so it's happened to us all: you're in Bordeaux, possibly slightly jetlagged and confused, and you've forgotten your watch...

OK, so it's happened to us all: you're in Bordeaux, possibly slightly jetlagged and confused, and you've forgotten your watch and your mobile phone, and there's absolutely nobody around to tell you what time it is. You need a clock! Of which there are many in Bordeaux, and it feels like the time is right to go in search of them. Got the time? 

This is probably the most famous clock in Bordeaux, on Porte Saint-Éloi just below the Grosse Cloche. It is coupled with its unusual solar equation dial, which was awarded its own Invisible Bordeaux feature some time ago. The clock itself is working but the associated date has been stuck on a Tuesday in June for a long, long time.
This clock, complete with its moon phase globe, is on the other side of Saint-Éloi gate.
These clocks (there are two sets of four dials in all) are a popular meeting point on Place de la Comédie.
This colourful offering is to be found on the northern flank of Place de la Bourse.
The Roman numerals have faded from this clock on the Bourse Maritime building.
Galeries Lafayette's clock was manufactured by Lussault, a family business founded near Poitiers and now based further to the west in Tiffauges.
Staying on Rue Sainte-Catherine, this giant Rolex watch gives a feel of what to expect inside the jewelers, Mornier.
This horloger on Cours Maréchal-Juin has gone for a more modest design by Levallois-Perret clockmakers Brillié.
Brillié also supplied this clock to be spotted at Barrière de Médoc on the former octroi tax collection office. Currently out of order.
Not sure whether this clock, which is also currently out of order, will survive the refurbishments being carried out on Lescure bus depot.
A Siemens clock (complete with fairy lights) on Rue Notre-Dame.
This is the former children's hospital building on Cours de l'Argonne, and one of three designs in this set by Bordeaux clockmaker Gaston Guignan (or possibly more as he is also behind the Porte Saint-Éloi clocks).
Gaston Guignan founded his clockmaking business in 1850 and the company operated for 100 years. This clock is to be seen on Sainte-Croix abbey.
This elegant model looks out over Place du Marché des Chartrons. 

In the north-western suburb of Le Bouscat, alongside the railway line which runs from Bordeaux to Le Verdon, a housing estate serves as...

In the north-western suburb of Le Bouscat, alongside the railway line which runs from Bordeaux to Le Verdon, a housing estate serves as a reminder of a period not so long ago when people would come together to build their own living quarters and form new communities from scratch. 

The story begins in the 1950s and in these post-War years Bordeaux was experiencing a housing shortage, with around 10,000 extra homes needed according to the city’s then chief architect. One person who decided to do something about this was one Yves Gourribon, a teacher at the vocational training establishment in Blanquefort. He had been heavily inspired by the “Castors” movement that had taken hold in Pessac a few years earlier, resulting in a whole housing estate being built by the residents themselves as part of a “Comité Ouvrier du Logement” structure in which everybody donated 40 hours of manual labour per month until the homes were standing! This approach was also rolled out as part of similar initiatives in Cenon, Mérignac and Villenave d’Ornon.

Typical Gourribon estate housing.
Gourribon’s approach wasn’t quite as literally hands-on, but was a similarly bottom-up approach based on future home-owners clubbing together, then leading, overseeing and sometimes contributing to the construction of standardized houses on plots in a newly-acquired area of land as members of a cooperative society. And so it was that Gourribon founded ABAP, Association Bouscataise d’Accès à la Propriété, which began working in conjunction with an organization known as Le Toit Girondin to collect and manage finances. The concept was simple, it would just be a case of convincing people to buy into the scheme, so meetings were held, information leaflets were handed out and Gourribon gradually managed to generate some interest in his plans: 60 “coopérateurs” signed up to the first wave of the project, committing themselves to monthly payments, from day one, of around 10,000 francs per month (adjusted for inflation, that's around 215 euros according to this online converter) over a 30-year period.
Yves Gourribon's own house was among
the first built. The original gates
are still standing!

Gourribon was on his way and ABAP acquired a large plot of land in Le Bouscat which was bare other than for a mansion house (which was knocked down a number of years later when the final owner passed away). The area was mainly shallow pools and marshland fed by a stream, the Limancet, which flowed down the middle – it was soon channelled underground and diverted around the land that would be welcoming the new housing estate.

The initial development, which came to be known as the Lotissement des Écus, took shape between 1950 and 1954 and was eventually made up of 56 houses. Word soon spread about the appeal of the brand new district (even though it was, according to one observer, like being out in the country in a forgotten backwater: “On allait à la campagne dans un coin perdu”) and Gourribon had no trouble at all selling off the plots that would form Lotissement Ausone, made up of 94 houses built in 1956 and 1957.

Original site plan credited to the architect Jean J. Prévôt, source: Association Ricochet Facebook page. The first Écus estate is to the south of rue Ausone, while Lotissement Ausone would follow to the north.
The situation in 1956: the Écus estate is more or less complete while the Ausone estate is work-in-progress. Source: IGN's Remonter le Temps website.
The situation today as seen on GoogleEarth.
The brand new community which Gourribon had instigated, which would later be completed with the addition of a further 26 houses (Lotissement Montesquieu), rapidly gelled. The residents were, for the most part, young couples, often with small children, who had relocated from Bordeaux, Blanquefort, Talence, or sometimes from elsewhere in Le Bouscat, or else from places further afield such as Macau in the Médoc. The children were in their element, and made the central square their own – for many the days spent playing on “la place” remain the best days of their lives. Symbolically, the square, which was originally known as Place de Chébli, then Place J.F. Kennedy, is now known as Place Gourribon, in memory of the man who was its catalyst but who died in a bicycle accident in May 1981 on the day François Mitterrand was elected French president.
Place Yves-Gourribon, which formed the backdrop to many a happy childhood.
The one-storey semi-detached houses were designed by a local architect by the name of Jean J. Prévôt and were all identical apart from a handful of slightly bigger (and more expensive) corner homes for larger families. The ground level comprised a living/dining room (an archway between the two was an optional extra) along with a separate kitchen that gave onto the back garden, a lavatory and a door leading to the garage… which was rarely used to park cars but rather as a storage and utility space! The upper level was made up of three bedrooms and a bathroom, the latter still being a relative novelty at a time that more or less heralded the beginning of the end of public bathing facilities.

Other notable features included the generalized use of pinewood parquet and a fireplace which most chose not to use as it was often difficult to clear the smoke (residents instead opted for coal or gas burners or even a cutting-edge central heating system). Each home also had its own front door overhang, held up by a distinctive row of three vertical columns.
A trademark front door with its overlay and three vertical columns.
Over the years, many homes have either been extended or substantially modified and renovated, but in most cases they remain easily recognizable with many original characteristics very much visible, right down to the foldaway metal shutters which remain on many of the homes! According to one resident, the homes were “solidly constructed and durable, and over the years there have been very few problems with them”.
Vintage 1950s metal foldaway shutters.
Back in the 1950s, completing the brand new neighbourhood and bringing the brand new neighbours together was a communal building which served as an office, library and venue for gatherings (it was the scene of many a wedding reception). There was even a public telephone where users would pay what they owed for each call, although this was scrapped when it repeatedly emerged that the incoming funds did not always add up to the cost of the outgoing calls! During the district’s golden years, the ABAP association branched out beyond pure administrative tasks and organized group purchases of consumables, white goods, cultural outings and even group holidays both in France and further afield.

Times slowly changed though and the communal building, which was being used less and less, was eventually demolished. After thirty-or-so years, ABAP had also run its course as far as its original vocation was concerned, given that residents’ monthly payments had now ceased, and so in 1983 it redefined itself as the Association Bouscataise d’Activités Polyvalentes until it was wound up in 1990. Meanwhile, in 1983, another association had been set up, AQAEB (Association Quartier Ausone / Écus du Bouscat), initially to defend the rights of local residents. This has gradually taken over the cultural role previously held by ABAP, and AQAEB continues to organize a host of activities, from IT tuition and scrapbooking lessons to outings.

Some of the houses remain as they stood in the 1950s...
... while others have undergone massive transformations!
Meanwhile, the original “coopérants” have now become fully-fledged homeowners, many of the houses have repeatedly changed hands, the feeling of being “out in the country” has faded away with the growth of the surrounding metropole, and the central square is no longer the hub for young children that it once was. But still, when familiar with the accompanying story, there is still a sense that so much more can be achieved when individuals come together than can ever be done singlehandedly, and that an old-school sense of community is something that is strongest when initiated by the people themselves rather than by remote authorities or real estate conglomerates.

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Gourribon housing estate, rue Ausone, Le Bouscat.
> This article is entirely based on a guided tour organized earlier in 2018 by Le Bouscat’s Association Ricochet (directed by Damien Guiraud) in conjunction with Pétronille. As such, the account is very much the by-product of the extensive research carried out and shared by Pétronille's Laurent Péradon, with the aid of AQAEB and the valuable eye-witness testimonies of local resident Guy Saint Martin (who was part of the second wave of “coopérants” in the mid-1950s). A big thank you to all of the above!

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !