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

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

This statue of Toussaint Louverture (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.

Before the triangular voyages began (they peaked in the 1780s), the boats departing from Bordeaux conducted straightforward two-way commerce with the Caribbean. Boats would carry wine, oil and flour, all of which would be exchanged for local produce.

With the onset of triangular trade, vessels would leave from Bordeaux loaded with foodstuffs, cloth, arms and trinkets which, upon arrival on the eastern coast of Africa six to eight weeks later (the “outward passage”) would be exchanged for slaves. The dangerous middle passage would then follow, with the slaves being ferried in inhumane conditions to the colonies, mainly Saint-Domingue as far as the Bordeaux ships were concerned. The death rate on board the boats was between 10 and 20 per cent.

Upon arrival, the (surviving) slaves would be sold or auctioned off and set to work on the plantations where the average life expectancy was a lowly five to six years. Meanwhile, the boats would embark on their return passage to Bordeaux carrying sugar, cocoa, tobacco, cotton and other produce, making a substantial contribution to the city’s wealth.


Until the mid-1990s, this inconvenient chapter in the city’s history was more often than not glossed over. But, in recent years, Bordeaux has begun to come to terms with its past, hence the unveiling of this statue of Toussaint Louverture (who also has a cul-de-sac named after him, as pictured above), as well as a plaque on the Quai des Chartrons acknowledging the memory of the slaves whose destinies were dictated by the boats that departed from that spot.

The plaque reads: "It is from here that the first slave trade vessel departed from Bordeaux at the end of the 17th century. Several hundred voyages followed suit until the 19th century. The city of Bordeaux honours the memory of the African slaves who were deported to the Americas with disregard for their human rights."

Another notable development has been at the Musée d’Aquitaine, which now has a permanent exhibition dedicated to the city’s links with the slave trade. Finally, in early 2012, the renaming of a section of the Garonne-side pathway as Promenade Martin Luther King Jr., in recognition of the achievements of “this emblematic figure in the fight for equality, civil rights and diversity” (in the words of the official press release), was in keeping with the municipality’s desires to wrong the rights of the past.


Many of these moves can be attributed in part to the tireless campaigning of an organisation formed in Bordeaux called “Fondation du Mémorial de la Traite des Noirs” (the Slave Trade Memorial Foundation, originally known as “Diverscités”). Other achievements include the backing of an authoritative book by the retired historian and teacher Danielle Pétrissans-Cavaillès entitled “Sur les traces de la traite des Noirs à Bordeaux” (“Following the tracks of the Slave Trade in Bordeaux”). Ongoing projects include a large-scale permanent national memorial in Bordeaux (which was initially green-lighted but has stalled in recent years), as well as lobbying efforts to raise awareness of street-names that refer to people who played a part in the slave trade.

In Bordeaux these include Rues Saige and David-Gradis, and Cours Balguerie-Stuttenberg, and there are similar examples in Le Havre, Nantes, La Rochelle, Marseille, Honfleur and Dunkerque. The organisation is calling for the street-names to be changed or, at the very least, for some form of clarification to feature on the street signs. The official line in Bordeaux is that the street-names honour families that have made substantial contributions to civic life over the years and who “must not be stigmatised” because of their part in the slave trade.

In any case, at least the slave trade subject is out in the open in the modern-day incarnation of Bordeaux, and no longer brushed under the carpet as it was in the recent past. It will be interesting to see whether I have to return to this article in the coming months and years to make further updates on the situation...

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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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