All of the subjects covered by Invisible Bordeaux over the past twelve months have been an absolute pleasure to compile and research. I...

2012 in review: the year’s most rewarding Invisible Bordeaux items

All of the subjects covered by Invisible Bordeaux over the past twelve months have been an absolute pleasure to compile and research. It feels wrong to be singling any of them out, but here are five subjects that proved particularly interesting when peeling the layers away! Click on the titles or pictures to read the articles.

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2012 is drawing to a close so the time has come to take stock of the past twelve months and finish off with a couple of items looking bac...

2012 in review: the year’s most popular Invisible Bordeaux items

2012 is drawing to a close so the time has come to take stock of the past twelve months and finish off with a couple of items looking back on some of the features produced on the blog throughout the year. This first set rounds up the five most-read articles, which are a varied bunch in terms of subject matter. Click on the titles or associated pictures to read the items!

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|| PART OF A TWIN FEATURE PUBLISHED WITH INVISIBLE PARIS! || One of the most influential (and yet often overlooked) sons of the Bord...

Max Linder: the overlooked silent movie star from Saint-Loubès


One of the most influential (and yet often overlooked) sons of the Bordeaux region is Max Linder, the successful actor, director, screenwriter, producer and comedian of the silent film era.

He was born Gabriel Leuvielle on December 16th 1883 at the home of his wealthy vineyard owner parents in Cavernes, a district of the quiet town of Saint-Loubès to the north of Bordeaux, close to the south bank of the Dordogne river. Growing up, Gabriel showed little interest in viticulture and instead he found himself to be fascinated by the shows put on by travelling entertainers and circus troupes. He rapidly developed an interest in drama and theatre.

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The haven of tranquility that is Place Georges de Porto-Riche is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, despite being a stone’s throw away...

Place Georges de Porto-Riche: the secret square


The haven of tranquility that is Place Georges de Porto-Riche is one of the city’s best-kept secrets, despite being a stone’s throw away from the hives of activity that are Rue Saint-Catherine and the Grand-Théâtre.
Georges de Porto-Riche
(source).

The square is named after a playwright and novelist who was born in Bordeaux in 1849 and spent much of his life in Paris. After a short period working there as a bank clerk, his initial breakthrough came aged just 20 when his first historical dramas were performed at theatres in the capital. Around the same time, his first collections of poetry were also published and well-received.

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Looking at the picture on the left, readers familiar with Bordeaux will have recognised the Colonne des Girondins , which stands at the w...

1907 International Maritime Fair: when Bordeaux was the maritime capital of the world

Looking at the picture on the left, readers familiar with Bordeaux will have recognised the Colonne des Girondins, which stands at the western end of Esplanade des Quinconces. What is a more unusual sight is the extravagant “Grand Palais” structure to the right. This ephemeral edifice was just one of many built especially for festivities held between May and November 1907: we give you the international maritime fair, or “Exposition maritime internationale de Bordeaux”. 

The six-month extravaganza was the brainchild of the Ligue Maritime Française, an institution which aimed to develop and promote the nation’s military and merchant shipping industry. The decision was made to open up the exhibition to other countries, many of whom accepted the invitation to take part in the event which was also an excellent opportunity to commemorate the centenary of steam-powered shipping. From there the event developed further still to showcase other wide-ranging sectors of activity as well as being the venue for 50 trade conferences.

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Invisible Bordeaux has once again teamed up with real-world and online acquaintances to proudly present another set of faded hand-painted...

A second selection of ghost signs in and around Bordeaux

Invisible Bordeaux has once again teamed up with real-world and online acquaintances to proudly present another set of faded hand-painted adverts and signs or, if you will, "ghost signs"! (And don't forget that they can all be located in the handy dedicated GoogleMap!)

This first find is from the right-bank suburb of Carbon-Blanc. It promotes "Meubles Bayle", the furniture outlet founded in Bordeaux in 1854. In the early 1900s, heir Émile Bayle went on to set up a number of neighbouring shops catering for different furniture needs and tastes on Cours d'Albret in central Bordeaux (or "Bx" on the ad, the "ET" probably being the final letters of "Albret").

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The card game “ 1000 Bornes ” is a perennial toy department bestseller in France, with more than 10 million sets having been sold. The...

'1000 Bornes': from Edmond Dujardin's basement to international success


The card game “1000 Bornes” is a perennial toy department bestseller in France, with more than 10 million sets having been sold. The story began in a basement in Arcachon.

Arthur Dujardin, whose pen name was Edmond Dujardin, was born and raised between the wars in Lille. He was a musician and prolific inventor who began trading as a printer then as an author of highway code books and driving school teaching materials. In the 1940s, he began to suffer from acute asthma and travelled to Arcachon to take in the town’s renowned quality sea air. Dujardin elected to stay and, in 1947, moved into number 63, Boulevard de la Plage.

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|| SECOND PART OF A TWIN FEATURE PUBLISHED WITH INVISIBLE PARIS! ||  In the closing paragraph of the previous post , Invisible Bordeaux ...

Tracking St James’ Way pilgrims towards Santiago de Compostela – part 2: Bordeaux

In the closing paragraph of the previous post, Invisible Bordeaux was poised to enter Bordeaux via the inland route from Le Bouscat as followed over the years by thousands of Way of Saint James pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain: the el Camino de Santiago pilgrimage known in France as les Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle.

The 8.4-km route through the city itself, which has been added to the Invisible Bordeaux GoogleMap, leads out of Le Bouscat along Avenue de Tivoli. A small square marks the official arrival in Bordeaux... and that may just be a scallop-shaped sculpted feature there to greet the pilgrims!

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|| PART OF A TWIN FEATURE PUBLISHED WITH INVISIBLE PARIS! || For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have followed routes from differ...

Tracking St James’ Way pilgrims towards Santiago de Compostela – part 1: Le Bouscat


For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have followed routes from different parts of Europe to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain, where it is believed that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried. The pilgrimage is what the Spaniards know as “el Camino de Santiago”, the French as “les Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle”, and what English-speakers call “the Way of Saint James”.

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Bordeaux trams have become such an integral part of the landscape in the city that they even feature on postcards. The 21st-century transp...

The VAL light railway network that never happened


Bordeaux trams have become such an integral part of the landscape in the city that they even feature on postcards. The 21st-century transport infrastructure could have been very different though because, for many years, the plan was to build a light railway network which would have looked something like the artist’s impression pictured left.

Trams in Bordeaux are nothing new. Horse-drawn trams were introduced in 1880, followed 20 years later by the city’s first electrically-powered trams. The network went from strength to strength over the following decades, and by 1938 160,000 people were travelling daily on the 38 different lines, which covered a cumulative distance of 200 kilometres – many lines extended beyond the city itself to suburbs such as Créon, Cestas and Saint-Médard-en-Jalles.

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In this internet age there is an active online community of people who track down ghost signs, those faded hand-painted advertisements an...

Ghost signs: phantom letters continuing to haunt the walls (chapter 1!)

In this internet age there is an active online community of people who track down ghost signs, those faded hand-painted advertisements and signage from bygone years which have somehow survived this far into the 21st century.

In France, particularly rural France, ghost signs (such as the one above to be found in Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc) remain a fairly common sight. With a little help from real-world friends and Twittersphere acquaintances, here is a first selection of a few such adverts and signs to be spotted in and around Bordeaux. A dedicated GoogleMap (which has also been added to the right-hand menu) will help you locate them all. There will be many more to come in other posts further down the line!

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A fourth self-guided walking tour of Bordeaux is now available to download and run on different iDevices. The latest addition to this ran...

New guided walking tour now available: Elegant Bordeaux

A fourth self-guided walking tour of Bordeaux is now available to download and run on different iDevices. The latest addition to this range of lovingly handcrafted tours will take you on a meandering walk through the most elegant parts of the city.

Setting out from Esplanade des Quinconces, the two-hour Elegant Bordeaux Tour trek takes in the fine architecture, picturesque streets, peaceful market squares and magnificent churches of the Chartrons and Saint-Seurin districts.

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A few months ago, as part of a twin Invisible Bordeaux / Invisible Paris feature, we reviewed the formative years spent in France by Mit...

Mitt Romney’s Latter-Day Saints basecamp in Talence

A few months ago, as part of a twin Invisible Bordeaux/Invisible Paris feature, we reviewed the formative years spent in France by Mitt Romney, the unsuccessful Republican candidate in the 2012 US presidential elections. During the six months he spent as a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints missionary in Bordeaux in 1968, the apartment he called home was on Place du Maucaillou in the Capucins district. Meanwhile, the centre of gravity of his missionary activities was this Mormon chapel on Rue Pierre-Romain in Talence.

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This statue of Charles-Michel Lespée, or Abbé de l’Épée, and his supporting cast of young girls are looking out over the grand main entr...

Castéja: the former school for the deaf with an uncertain future


This statue of Charles-Michel Lespée, or Abbé de l’Épée, and his supporting cast of young girls are looking out over the grand main entrance of a building known as “Castéja” and named, like a neighbouring road, after Pierre Castéja, mayor of Bordeaux between 1860 and 1863.

At the time of writing, Castéja is a massive empty shell and set to become a residential complex led by Gironde Habitat, comprising 180 apartments, an underground car park and a pre-schoo maternelle. The building’s glory years as "L'Institution nationale des sourdes-muettes", an educational institute for deaf and dumb girls from all over France, are therefore long gone.

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Invisible Bordeaux first crossed the path of architect Hector Loubatié when researching the Ciné-Théâtre Girondin near Barrière de Pess...

Hector Loubatié’s architectural endeavours in Bordeaux and Pessac


Invisible Bordeaux first crossed the path of architect Hector Loubatié when researching the Ciné-Théâtre Girondin near Barrière de Pessac. It soon emerged that there were many more interesting examples of the Bordeaux-born architect's eclectic vocabulary to be uncovered in and around the city and its suburbs.  

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In the early years of the 20th century in France, the boom in personal hygiene and a desire to swim coincided with the rise of art deco ar...

Bègles Piscine Les Bains: rejuvenating Gironde’s oldest swimming facilities

In the early years of the 20th century in France, the boom in personal hygiene and a desire to swim coincided with the rise of art deco architecture. In some cases, the phenomena combined, resulting in places like the “Piscine Les Bains” establishment to be found in Bègles.

Officially opened on December 4th 1932, the pool was the first of its kind to start operating in the Gironde département. It had been commissioned two years earlier by the town’s Socialist mayor, Alexis Capelle, and was executed to the designs of local architect Louis-Alfred Blanchard. Various specialists brought their specific expertise to the decorative mix: a painter named Bime, a sculptor named Vignal, the ceramist brothers Castiaux and the enameller Duvigneau.

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Working on this website has provided a means of discovering some inspiring places and stories. It has also been a way of unearthing some o...

Camp de Souge memorial: remembering 300 wartime executions

Working on this website has provided a means of discovering some inspiring places and stories. It has also been a way of unearthing some of the more horrific chapters in the recent history of Bordeaux and Gironde. The memorial to be found at the Camp de Souge military base is one such find. 

The Camp de Souge covers 7,000 acres of land to the north west of Martignas-sur-Jalle, some 20 kilometres to the west of Bordeaux. It has been a military base since 1900 and is today home to the French Army’s 13th “Régiment de dragons parachutistes”, providing accommodation and vast areas which are dedicated to training drills and manoeuvres. Souge is also a flight test centre for military and civilian unmanned aerial vehicles.

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[April 2015 update: the boat is now in Arcachon] On the southern edge of Arcachon Bay, the Port du Canal in Gujan-Mestras is home to a ...

Yves Parlier’s hydro-glider: resting in peace in Gujan-Mestras

[April 2015 update: the boat is now in Arcachon]

On the southern edge of Arcachon Bay, the Port du Canal in Gujan-Mestras is home to a number of oyster farmers, fishermen and ship-builders. It is also here that a record-breaking high-speed catamaran conceived by renowned Arcachon-based sailor Yves Parlier has seemingly been left to rest in peace in full view of all-comers. What is more, at the time of writing, it can be yours for €250,000.

Originally unveiled by Parlier in 2004 after six years in the making, the boat is the “hydraplaneur”, a 60-foot (18.28m) carbon fibre “hydro-glider”. She was designed by a partnership known as Aquitaine Design Team and manufactured by Chantier Naval de Larros (CNL). The boat’s main innovations were its twin rig with a mast on each hull (unlike on trimarans where the central hull supports the mast), and the “stepped” hull design, inspired by the use of this shape on seaplanes enabling the aircraft to take off and land at high speed.

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The annual Journées européennes du patrimoine take place on September 15th and 16th. A number of places previously featured on Invisibl...

Journées du Patrimoine 2012: the Invisible Bordeaux selection!

The annual Journées européennes du patrimoine take place on September 15th and 16th. A number of places previously featured on Invisible Bordeaux will be open to the public, while others are on my list of things to see and write about!

Here is but a small selection of the places to see in Bordeaux itself, bearing in mind that throughout the region a whole host of fascinating venues are taking part in the event!

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Perhaps the most surprising sight in the quiet residential town of Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc is a 1/5 scale model of a 1960s Diamant A rocket ...

Diamant A: a little bit of Space on Earth in Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc

Perhaps the most surprising sight in the quiet residential town of Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc is a 1/5 scale model of a 1960s Diamant A rocket positioned in the middle of a roundabout.

The model, which was funded by the space technology company EADS Astrium and manufactured by Matisa, was unveiled by the local mayor in November 2009. It celebrates the contributions made by engineers in the town to the Diamant A project, which formed part of President Charles de Gaulle’s plans to develop an independent nuclear defence system at the height of the Cold War.

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On Rue Charles-Domercq, a side-street adjacent to Saint-Jean railway station, a 1929 building continues to reign supreme: the former Bord...

Centre de tri postal: no longer processing rail mail

On Rue Charles-Domercq, a side-street adjacent to Saint-Jean railway station, a 1929 building continues to reign supreme: the former Bordeaux postal sorting office.

The structure was designed by the Toulouse-born architect Léon Jaussely (1875-1932), who had been appointed chief architect of the postal services in 1914 and is also famed for his extravagant “Hall de la Dépêche du Midi” in Toulouse and the “Cité Nationale de l'Histoire de l'Immigration” in Paris.

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What is the connection between t he aircraft electronics specialist Thales Avionics, a flower bulb and seed company in Carbon-Blanc, and...

Toussaint-Yves Catros: the lasting legacy of a royal gardener


What is the connection between the aircraft electronics specialist Thales Avionics, a flower bulb and seed company in Carbon-Blanc, and a giant artichoke on a roundabout in Macau? The answer is the gardener Toussaint-Yves Catros.

Toussaint-Yves Catros was born in the Breton town of Saint-Brieuc in 1757 and defined himself as a “cultivateur de pépinières” (tree nursery agriculturist), an occupation which had already run in his family for a number of generations. His first big break came when he relocated to Paris and was chosen to oversee the royal tree nurseries in the 8th arrondissement (Faubourg-du-Roule quarter) and in Vincennes.

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The tall steeple of Saint-Seurin church is one of the most outstanding features of the Médoc village of Lamarque, best-known as the left-...

Dôme Panoramique de Lamarque: a bird’s eye view over the Médoc and Gironde estuary

The tall steeple of Saint-Seurin church is one of the most outstanding features of the Médoc village of Lamarque, best-known as the left-bank departure and arrival point of the small ferries that criss-cross the Gironde estuary (the right-bank counterpart being the town of Blaye).

The church itself was built over a 40-year period between 1830 and 1870. Its steeple was topped off by a dome which, come 1968, was in a critical state of disrepair. The dome was dismantled and the steeple remained in its decapitated form for a number of years.

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I am extremely pleased and proud to have been interviewed by Sud Ouest journalist Catherine Darfay. The resulting feature appeared in t...

Sud Ouest feature: "The man with the yellow bike"

I am extremely pleased and proud to have been interviewed by Sud Ouest journalist Catherine Darfay.

The resulting feature appeared in the August 10th 2012 issue of Sud Ouest (Bordeaux and greater Bordeaux editions). The article serves as a fine introduction to the story and thinking behind Invisible Bordeaux, reveals how I go about producing the pieces... and has gone some way to making my yellow bicycle a celebrity in its own right!

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We are in the quiet town of Sainte-Hélène, located mid-way between Bordeaux and Lacanau. Across the road from the water tower, tucked in ...

Villa Quand-Même et Mépris: contemplating contempt 80 years on!

We are in the quiet town of Sainte-Hélène, located mid-way between Bordeaux and Lacanau. Across the road from the water tower, tucked in between the bakers' and the community hall, is a curious, narrow, landlocked house that was built in 1930 by one Mr A. Naturel.

In the late 1920s Mr Naturel, a pork-butcher by trade, was looking to purchase a plot of land where he could construct a building that would be both his shop and family residence. He found a spot which was centrally-located in the town but which was far too small for his plans.

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The small triangular Place Picard in the Chartrons district is home to one of the world’s many replicas of the Statue of Liberty...

Statue of Liberty: enlightening the world on Place Picard


The small triangular Place Picard in the Chartrons district is home to one of the world’s many replicas of the Statue of Liberty. The recently-restored resin model which can be seen today has been in position since 2000, but the presence of the statue on the square goes back much further.

Of course, the marginally better-known full-size version of the statue in New York (full name: “La Liberté éclairant le monde” or “Liberty Enlightening the World”) was executed to the designs of the French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) and given by France to the United States in 1886 as a memorial to America’s independence.

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La Nécropole Nationale du Natus  is a memorial located just off a winding forest road to the south of La Teste-de-Buch, by the Bassin d&...

Camp du Courneau and the Natus necropolis: the story of France’s WW1 Senegalese infantrymen


La Nécropole Nationale du Natus is a memorial located just off a winding forest road to the south of La Teste-de-Buch, by the Bassin d'Arcachon. It offers a poignant reminder of one of the saddest chapters in the history of the First World War: the lives and deaths of hundreds of soldiers at the Camp du Courneau military base.

In 1914, with war raging in Europe, France made the decision to seek reinforcements from overseas, most notably from Senegal, a French colony at that time. Two transit camps were set up away from the frontlines to welcome, train, organise and rest these extra "tirailleurs sénégalais" (Senegalese infantrymen). One was in Fréjus on the Mediterranean coast, the other was Camp du Courneau, on a parcel of newly-irrigated marshland where rice used to be cultivated between La Teste and Cazaux.

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On Cours du Général Gallieni, one of the main thoroughfares that connect Bordeaux with the suburb of Pessac, the recently-restored faça...

Ciné-Théâtre Girondin: the façade remains the same

On Cours du Général Gallieni, one of the main thoroughfares that connect Bordeaux with the suburb of Pessac, the recently-restored façade of the former Ciné-Théâtre Girondin offers an instant means of rewinding almost 100 years.

The cinema was completed in 1919 and opened in 1920. Located close to the Barrière de Pessac, it was one of a number of cinemas that popped up on the periphery of Bordeaux. Its construction had been commissioned by a local man who had achieved fortune either in the United States or Argentina according to which source you refer to. What is generally agreed though is that the architect's designs were inspired by a structure in Argentina.

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This week saw the launch of the first spin-off of the Invisible Bordeaux project : a set of guided walking tours that are available to do...

Bordeaux Walks: guided walking tours of Bordeaux on your iPhone

This week saw the launch of the first spin-off of the Invisible Bordeaux project: a set of guided walking tours that are available to download and run on iPhones, iPads and other iDevices that may or may not yet exist. 

The tours aim to provide visitors (and locals!) with interesting itineraries through the city that take in a host of sights of architectural, historical and cultural significance. As well as written word, the guides feature full audio commentary and original photography.

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As we saw in part 1 of this piece , Arcachon’s Place Fleming was the focal point of Englishman Reverend Radcliff’s influence on the ...

Arcachon’s Place Fleming, part 2: Saint Thomas church and the Promenade des Anglais


As we saw in part 1 of this piece, Arcachon’s Place Fleming was the focal point of Englishman Reverend Radcliff’s influence on the town of Arcachon, but it also formed the backdrop to a royal birthday…
But first of all, back to Saint Thomas church, described by the British novelist George Gissing as “the prettiest Anglican church in France”. Sadly, the chapel fell into disrepair towards the middle of the 20th century, its expatriate congregation having dwindled to virtual nothingness. In 1974, the chapel was acquired and renovated by the Église Réformée de France, ironically enough the very movement who had originally welcomed the Anglican congregation to their temple 100 years earlier. The first service under the new denomination was held there on March 9th 1975.

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Deep in the elegant Ville d’Hiver district of Arcachon sits a quiet square: Place Fleming (originally Place des Palmiers). Landmark...

Arcachon’s Place Fleming, part 1: Reverend Radcliff’s paper chases and handbooks

Deep in the elegant Ville d’Hiver district of Arcachon sits a quiet square: Place Fleming (originally Place des Palmiers). Landmarks include its bandstand and a church that, since 1974, has belonged to the Église Réformée de France movement. However, the chapel was originally an Anglican church built to serve Arcachon’s British community and founded in 1878 by one Reverend Samuel Radcliff.

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While the Garonne river naturally represents the eastern flank of the heart of Bordeaux, the remainder of the central city’s modern-day ...

Octroi collection offices: the tax is no more, the barriers (and wisteria) remain


While the Garonne river naturally represents the eastern flank of the heart of Bordeaux, the remainder of the central city’s modern-day boundaries are formed by a semi-circular succession of wide boulevards which took shape from 1853 onwards. With the development of the boulevards came the construction of offices whose duty it was to collect an ancient and generally unpopular tax, the “octroi”.

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Arlac is a quiet residential district in the suburb of Mérignac, and nestled in amongst the houses and cornershops is a concert venue whi...

Krakatoa: the community hall rock venue

Arlac is a quiet residential district in the suburb of Mérignac, and nestled in amongst the houses and cornershops is a concert venue which, since 1990, has been an essential port of call for many of the leading names in contemporary music: the Krakatoa. 

The “Krakatoa” moniker is particularly relevant; it refers to a volcanic island between the islands of Java and Sumatra in Indonesia. When the volcano exploded in 1883, killing 40,000 people, the roar was considered to be the loudest sound ever heard in modern history, with reports of it being heard nearly 5,000 kilometres from its point of origin. Krakatoa concerts aren’t quite that loud, but you get the idea…

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This impressive figure is Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), or simply Francisco Goya, the Spanish artist who left an ind...

Francisco Goya: bulls, milkmaids and a lasting presence in Bordeaux


This impressive figure is Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), or simply Francisco Goya, the Spanish artist who left an indelible mark on Bordeaux, having spent the last four years of his life in the city.

The bronze statue is a replica of the 1902 work by Mariano Benlliure which stands outside the Goya entrance to the Museo del Prado in Madrid. It was a gift from the city of Madrid (one of the twin cities of Bordeaux) in March 1995 and was originally positioned in the Jardin Public. In 2008, the statue was relocated to Place du Chapelet, just outside the main entrance to Cour Mably and just metres away from Notre-Dame church, where Goya’s funeral took place. 

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[ A revised version of this article was published in 2016 subsequent to the arrival of a new spacecraft structure. ] Arès is a quiet reso...

Ovniport d’Arès: the UFO landing pad awaiting alien life forms since 1976

[A revised version of this article was published in 2016 subsequent to the arrival of a new spacecraft structure.]

Arès is a quiet resort towards the northern tip of the triangle formed by the Bassin d’Arcachon which, for nearly 40 years, has maintained a designated waterfront landing pad for unidentified flying objects.

The story began on August 15th 1976 when the so-called “ovniport” (OVNI: objet volant non-identifié) was officially inaugurated as one of the highlights of that year’s oyster festival. The idea, which at the time got extensive coverage in the media (most notably the United States), had originally been dreamt up by a group of locals led by one Bob Cotten, a Mérignac airport employee who, as well as being a renowned expert in electronics, was a UFO enthusiast who claimed to be disgruntled by the lack of landing facilities for alien spacecraft.

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Le Haillan (population 10,000) is a quiet residential suburb to the north-west of Bordeaux and is arguably best-known for its château ...

Le Haillan’s three twin roundabouts


Le Haillan (population 10,000) is a quiet residential suburb to the north-west of Bordeaux and is arguably best-known for its château, which is the headquarters and training centre of local top-flight football team Girondins de Bordeaux. Down the years, the town has also developed ties with three twin towns elsewhere in Europe, and these links are celebrated in a series of landscaped roundabouts.

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Arcachon’s La Salesse villa was built in 1854, making it one of the oldest properties in the town. And it played a bit part in the mave...

Villa Salesse: Salvador Dalí’s wartime refuge in Arcachon

Arcachon’s La Salesse villa was built in 1854, making it one of the oldest properties in the town. And it played a bit part in the maverick career of the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí. 

In 1936, Dalí fled his native Spain, which was in the midst of a civil war. For the next three years, he and his wife Gala divided their time between London, New York, Paris and fashion designer Coco Chanel’s residence in Roquebrune on the French Riviera. By 1939, the travelling was taking its toll though and war was looming large. Dalí and Gala headed to the Pyrenees for some downtime, staying near the Spanish border at the Grand Hôtel in Font-Romeu (although Dalí later noted that for him “to rest meant to immediately begin to paint 12 hours a day”). But their hotel suite was commandeered by the Chief of Staff of the French army who was in town to inspect border fortifications. Dalí and Gala elected to head to Paris.

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The distinguishing features of Place Stalingrad, known until 1946 as Place du Pont given its proximity to the Pont de Pierre, include t...

Théâtre Alcazar: where the clock stopped in 1967


The distinguishing features of Place Stalingrad, known until 1946 as Place du Pont given its proximity to the Pont de Pierre, include the large, modern sculpture of a lion (designed by the French artist Xavier Veilhan with a little help from some computer software), one of the seven cast-iron Wallace drinking fountains to be spotted around the city, and a building which now comprises 13 luxury flats and a ground-floor restaurant. This building used to be known as Théâtre Alcazar

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The sixty-kilometre cycle path that runs from Bordeaux to Lacanau provides a practical, if somewhat flat and linear, mea...

Bordeaux-Lacanau cycle path: from steam and diesel to pedal power



The sixty-kilometre cycle path that runs from Bordeaux to Lacanau provides a practical, if somewhat flat and linear, means of getting to the Atlantic coast by pedal power alone. And, like many cycle paths, it used to be a railway line.

The railway line was built in the 19th century, forming part of a network of routes run by Société Générale des Chemins de Fer Économiques. The network was primarily designed to easily ferry maritime pinewood from its native Médoc to other parts of the Bordeaux region, ahead of the focus shifting to passenger traffic. One line ran north to south from Lesparre-Médoc to Saint-Symphorien, a second covered a south-western diagonal from Hostens to Beautiran, and this third line connected Bordeaux to Lacanau.

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This statue of Toussaint Catros ( see part 1 for the story behind the subject matter ), which is gazing downstream along the Garonne river,...

Toussaint Louverture: helping Bordeaux come to terms with its slave trade past (part 2)

This statue of Toussaint Catros (see part 1 for the story behind the subject matter), which is gazing downstream along the Garonne river, is positioned opposite the quay from which ships set sail between 1672 and 1837, on the first legs of 508 triangular slave trade voyages that resulted in 150,000 Africans being deported to the Americas.

Bordeaux was not alone. In France - which ranked solely behind Great Britain and Portugal in terms of the scale of its slave trade - the city of Nantes organised 1,744 expeditions, and the ports of La Rochelle and Le Havre were on a par with Bordeaux.

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This statue of François-Dominique Toussaint, better known as Toussaint Louverture, was donated to the city of Bordeaux by the Republic of Ha...

Toussaint Louverture: helping Bordeaux come to terms with its slave trade past (part 1)

This statue of François-Dominique Toussaint, better known as Toussaint Louverture, was donated to the city of Bordeaux by the Republic of Haiti in 2005. The subject matter of this work, sculpted by Haitian artist Ludovic Booz, and its riverside location are heavy with significance, forming an important step on the road to Bordeaux coming to terms with its slave trade past.

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On a quiet side street in the right-bank quarter of La Bastide, all the available space on the façade of an otherwise unassuming building...

Crèche de la Bastide: (still) helping youngsters to blossom

On a quiet side street in the right-bank quarter of La Bastide, all the available space on the façade of an otherwise unassuming building is filled with a host of inscriptions: welcome to the Crèche de la Bastide.

The Crèche was founded in 1891 by the local dignitary Charles Cazalet (1858-1933), at one time deputy mayor of Bordeaux. This successful wine trader was seeking to give something back to the district where he was born and brought up.

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If you’re not afraid of heights, and are both willing and able to climb a few steps, the Observatoire Sainte-Cécile in Arcachon’s Ville...

Observatoire Sainte-Cécile: a 360° view from Arcachon's Eiffel tower


If you’re not afraid of heights, and are both willing and able to climb a few steps, the Observatoire Sainte-Cécile in Arcachon’s Ville d’Hiver quarter will reward you with one of the finest possible views over Arcachon bay.

This observation tower, completed in 1863, was the brainchild of Paul Regnauld. Regnauld, who was also the man behind the casino in the nearby Parc Mauresque, was an engineer with the railway operators Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Midi, owned by the brothers Émile and Isaac Pereire, who did much to promote and develop the town of Arcachon. Regnauld was also behind the conception of the first wave of elegant villas in the Ville d’Hiver quarter, as well as designing a railway bridge in Bordeaux, the 1858-1860 construction of which was led by a young man called Gustave Eiffel.

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The sun rises over the Garonne and above the familiar arches of the 19th-century Pont de Pierre … flanked as ever by the more angular silh...

Caserne des Pompiers de la Benauge: official 1950s functionalist heritage

The sun rises over the Garonne and above the familiar arches of the 19th-century Pont de Pierre… flanked as ever by the more angular silhouette of the Benauge fire station or, to give it its full title, the Centre d’Intervention et de Secours de la Benauge.

The building, designed by the architects Claude Ferret, Yves Salier and Adrien Courtois, was completed in 1954 and has struggled to gain acceptance from a city that traditionally warms more easily to classical architecture. Over the years, there has even been recurring talk of tearing down the building but, in 2008, it was awarded a “Patrimoine du XXe Siècle” label, officially registering its status as an example of 20th-century heritage to be preserved - a proud victory for the many people who have become attached to the presence of the fire station.

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Bordeaux is not a city that is naturally associated with bullfighting and yet for many years it had its very own Pla...

The Bordeaux bullring circuit: Arènes du Bouscat to Floirac and La Brède

Bordeaux is not a city that is naturally associated with bullfighting and yet for many years it had its very own Plaza de Toros in the north-western suburb of Le Bouscat. And even today, the bullfighting tradition lives on in nearby La Brède once a year.

Let’s begin though by rewinding to 1863, when a bullring was set up in the Caudéran area of Bordeaux by a Spaniard named Lopez Vincent: les Arènes Bordelaises. A second, La Benatte, was opened in 1899 in  the Saint Seurin quarter. They operated until the early years of the 20th century, ahead of the more substantial Arènes du Bouscat being opened on May 8th 1921.

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In the residential quarters of Bordeaux and its immediate suburbs, the streets are dotted with single-storey houses that all shar...

Échoppes bordelaises: the low-rise fixture on the city's skyline

In the residential quarters of Bordeaux and its immediate suburbs, the streets are dotted with single-storey houses that all share a similar design, and yet are all somehow unique: échoppes bordelaises.

The word itself has Occitan roots, descending from “choppa”, which was used in reference to a shop or workshop. As far back as the 15th century, “échoppes” in Bordeaux provided a home and working environment for shop-owners and craftsmen. It is from the 18th century onwards that the city’s échoppes began to be used solely as townhouses, with the lion’s share of the city’s 11,000 échoppes being built between 1850 and 1930. In many districts, they were traditionally inhabited by the working classes (particularly near Saint-Jean station, where many of the railway workers, les cheminots, set up home), although over the years the social lines have become blurred – many are now clearly bourgeois townhouses.

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One of the essentials on the city centre tour of Bordeaux is the central Place Pey Berland square and the 66-metre-tall Pey-Berland be...

Saint-Raphaël: the hamlet Pey Berland called home

One of the essentials on the city centre tour of Bordeaux is the central Place Pey Berland square and the 66-metre-tall Pey-Berland belfry, from which visitors can take in one of the best views of the “Port de la Lune”. But Pey Berland’s birthplace was actually a tiny hamlet on the territory of Avensan in the Médoc, 26 kilometres to the north-west of the city: Saint-Raphaël.

First things first though. Who was Pey Berland? Pey (Pierre, or Peter, in Gascon) was born in 1375 to a father who was a labourer from Avensan and a mother who was a peasant from Moulis. In spite of these humble roots, he was educated by a local notary before being sent to a clerical school in Bordeaux after the death of his father, then to university in Toulouse. Returning to Bordeaux, he became a priest in Bouliac to the south-east of the city around 1412. He went on to become secretary to the Archbishop of Bordeaux, travelling around France, Italy and England in this capacity, before Pope Martin V appointed him Archbishop of Bordeaux on August 13th 1430.

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