Whatever type of person you are or mood you are in, Place Fernand-Lafargue, just south of Cours d’Alsace Lorraine, can arguabl...

Place Fernand-Lafargue: the revitalised Medieval marketplace

Whatever type of person you are or mood you are in, Place Fernand-Lafargue, just south of Cours d’Alsace Lorraine, can arguably cater to your needs, provided you’re there when the atmosphere is in line with what you’re looking for: it’s calm and peaceful in the morning, mellow and laid-back in the afternoon, and positively alive and kicking every evening and night. 

The name of the square is a 20th-century homage to Jean Fernand-Lafargue, who was born in 1856 in Bordeaux and retained roots in the city (as well as a chalet in nearby Soulac-sur-Mer) throughout his Paris-based career as a successful novelist, poet and playwright. He died suddenly and prematurely in Talence aged 47. Following his death, friends from Bordeaux and Paris funded a statue of the writer which can still be seen in the Jardin Public (pictured below).

Prior to the name-change the square was known as Place du Vieux Marché, a self-explanatory nod to what it used to be: a marketplace and one of the focal points of Bordeaux life throughout much of the Middle Ages. It was first documented as “Lou Mercat” (Gascon for "the marketplace") in an account of a battle which took place in 1248.

Throughout latter-Medieval times it was a place where merchants and students mingled with St James’ Way pilgrims; the square was one of the last sights in the city before the pilgrims departed through the nearby Porte Saint-Éloi. In the 15th century, one of the market's traders in saltwater fish, Ramon Eyquem, became so wealthy that he became part of the city's bourgeoisie, undoubtedly giving a helping hand up the social ladder to his great-grandson, Charles-Louis de Secondat, better-known as the emblematic political thinker, writer and philosopher Montesquieu.

Merchandise arrived over land but also by boat: as difficult as it is to imagine these days, the square was on the right bank of the river Peugue, which flows from the western limits of Pessac to the Garonne. In this part of Bordeaux, it probably wasn't the most pleasant of sights, used by butchers and tanners to dispose of their liquid refuse. The river is still there - it has just been driven underground and, since the 19th century, has run below Cours d'Alsace Lorraine through a channel that is five metres wide and three metres high.

Back to our Medieval marketplace, which was a veritable hive of activity what with the crowds, the animals, the public criers… oh, and the public pillory! This was the place where offenders were paraded and humiliated in front of all-comers as penalty for the acts they had committed. The public executioner carried out his work near the Aquitaine duchy's Ombrière palace (which was located near to Porte Cailhau but is long gone), but resided in the neighbouring Rue des Ayres. Lou Mercat was therefore conveniently positioned to offer a foretaste of punishments such as blasphemers’ tongues being pierced by red-hot pokers, money forgers being boiled alive, or heretics being burnt at the stake.

More recently, the square fell on bad times, becoming a dreary, dirty and neglected part of the city. It was totally overhauled and modernised from 2004 to 2008 though and the revamped square now boasts some of the city’s trendiest night-spots, such as l’Apollo, le Moshi-Moshi and le Santosha. All very appealing but those who live in apartments on the square have not welcomed the sudden influx of late-night revellers with open arms, and are tiring of the sound of bongos being played at 5am… Media coverage of the square in recent months has tended to focus on the divergent interests of the residents and the bars.

There has also been talk of the square coming full circle and of an open-air market being regularly held there once again, but if foodstuffs are to be on offer it would mean making further structural changes in order to meet European regulations with regard to water and hygiene… and Mayor Alain Juppé recently stated that “breaking up the square all over again” was evidently not on the agenda (“Nous n’allons pas recasser la Place Fernand-Lafargue”).

Something for everyone then on Place Fernand-Lafargue… just take care what time you head there! 


  1. A hidden, underground river! A whole new subject to investigate.

    The place looks splendid today, but it's still not difficult to imagine it in times of wenches, pillories and brawling students!

  2. It looks great but I can imagine it is hell for the people living in the apartments!! Diane

  3. Diane - Every town and city has places like that where people congregate. Usually when you move in somewhere you have an idea of what to expect in terms of how lively the environment is and there are no surprises. What has happened here is that residents who were used to their square being off the beaten track are now living in a place that draws a lot of people nightly!

    Adam - The river Peugue runs a few metres below the tram you can see here. It is indeed a good subject per se (along with another now-underground river called the Devèze AKA the city's natural sewerage system), but I'll soon be coming back to it on a piece about the Parc de Bourgailh in Pessac (just by the Rocade ring-road), which is where the river takes its source... and where the Peugue is still very much out in the open.

  4. Thanks, I didn't know that about Montesquieu! Very interesting!

  5. Recently found your blog, of course AFTER I have left Bordeaux (worked a wine harvest in nearby St. Emilion). What a shame! I'm sure you've noticed, but the L'Apollo has had a new lick of paint, removing the trendy rustic old paint job. Happened in the 3 months I was there too. Things change.

    Anyway, thanks for the info!

    Liam from New Zealand.

    1. Hi there Liam and thanks for dropping in from New Zealand (will spin a bit of Crowded House tonight in your honour). Yes, have spotted the Apollo makeover, I should really work on an updated version of the article because a few things have changed. The square is still an absolute hive of activity though! Hope you make it back to Bordeaux sometime soon.