The 70-metre-high twin bell towers of Sacré-Coeur parish church are one of the constants on the skyline of the residential streets near S...

Sacré-Coeur: the 24-hour timekeeper near Saint-Jean railway station

The 70-metre-high twin bell towers of Sacré-Coeur parish church are one of the constants on the skyline of the residential streets near Saint-Jean railway station. 

They have towered over the surrounding échoppes since 1870. The church was one of many to be built during that second half of the 19th century as part of a drive led by the then Archbishop of Bordeaux, Cardinal Donnet. In fact, spires and steeples were going up or being restored at such a rate that Baron Haussmann, best-known as the Prefect and city-planner behind the tree-lined boulevards of Paris (but who had also spent time serving at Blaye, in Gironde), is quoted as telling Donnet that Gironde was beginning to “look like a hedgehog” (“Notre département, Monseigneur, ressemblera d’ici peu à un hérisson !”).

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The concrete-and-glass development to be found in the central Bordeaux district of Mériadeck is far-removed from the city’s more trad...

Mériadeck: this used to be the vision of the future inner-city

The concrete-and-glass development to be found in the central Bordeaux district of Mériadeck is far-removed from the city’s more traditional image of picturesque squares and harmonious façades. This large-scale urban high-rise jungle, which has always struggled to gain acceptance from the people of Bordeaux, began to evolve into its present shape in the 1960s. Its complex story began many years before that though…

This area, located just a few hundred metres to the west of Cathédrale Saint-André, was initially wetland which the city strived to drain to avoid epidemics in the 17th century. A monastery for the Chartreux community of monks was built there (where the Chartreuse cemetery, created in 1791, can be seen today) but was soon destroyed and the inhospitable marshland took hold once again.
When Monseigneur Ferdinand Maximilien de Mériadec de Rohan became Archbishop of Bordeaux in 1769, he acquired the land with a view to selling it on in individual plots and thus fund the construction of his new residence, which is now known as Palais Rohan and is the modern-day city hall. The architects responsible for the Palais also conceived the new district but the poorly conceived and ill-sanitised plots proved difficult to sell. 

The operation ran from 1772 until the first half of the 19th century, eventually resulting in a neighbourhood of échoppes and one-storey houses. The focal point of the new district (an aerial view of which can be seen here) was a square, Place Mériadeck, named after the Archbishop (with a bonus “k” added to the name). Gradually, the name came to designate the district as a whole, which became home to many of the poorest members of the Bordeaux working class.

Mériadeck as it was. Left: Place Mériadeck. Right: view from a
Rue du Château d'Eau street corner. Source:

Though many cherished the picturesque streets of Mériadeck, its flea market and its village-like sense of camaraderie, the area went on to become (in)famous for its rough and seedier side, its risqué cabarets and its prostitutes. The city authorities paid little attention to what went on in the area, stopped maintaining the roads and private housing gradually fell into disrepair.

Come the 1950s, a housing shortage in Bordeaux was coupled with the realisation that the Mériadeck quarter had become a veritable slum. The then mayor, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, opted to gut the district completely. The initial plan, conceived by city architect Jean Royer, was for the creation of a fully-residential estate of high-rise apartment blocks around a central park that would form the natural continuation of the gardens behind the city hall. Of this initial project, just one building was delivered, the 1963 Résidence du Château d’Eau. The demolition operation in the area continued to gain momentum and former residents were relocated to dormitory accommodation on the outskirts of the city (the La Benauge, de Carriet, Claveau and Grand Parc estates). Most were never to return...

The 1963 Résidence du Château d'Eau. To the right, the Résidence flanked by other emblematic buildings:
the Caisse d'Épargne offices (1977), the Mériadeck shopping centre (1980) and (right) the central Post Office
(1971, renovated in 2000).
Also in 1963, Bordeaux was selected as one of the eight “métropoles d’équilibre” to drive the economic and demographic growth of provincial France. Chaban-Delmas decided that the district should instead combine housing and offices, and in 1970 (by which time the postal services were already completing a new facility in the area) a new plan was delivered by Jean Royer with the support of fellow architects Paul Lagarde and Jean Willerval, the latter forwarding the notion that all subsequent buildings should be cross-shaped, a principle that was first adhered to before being abandoned.

The big difference this time was the application of the modernist “urbanisme sur dalle” philosophy, which used the principle of extensive raised concrete esplanades and walkways to segregate pedestrians and vehicles. The promenade to be positioned in line with the city hall gardens was now several metres above ground level. The raised, fully pedestrianised district took shape throughout the 1970s although ironically, for many years, the walkways were not actually accessible on foot from ground level. In order to reach them, the only solution was to drive to the area, park in one of the underground car parks and access them from there!
Cross-shaped offices and housing: the Tour 2000 block (1976) and Le Ponant (1977),
complete with the first steps up from ground level!
Mériadeck was struggling to attract businesses though, with notable exceptions including the bank Caisse d’Épargne, whose curious circular buildings (the 1977 work of Edmond Lay, Pierre Layré-Cassou and Pierre Dugravier, inspired by the Guggenheim Museum in New York) still stand out from the pack… and continue to do so even now that the bank’s staff have moved on to new offices down by the Garonne. 

The former Caisse d'Épargne offices.
Instead, the quarter developed into a hotbed for administrative services: the offices of the Gironde Préfecture (1977), the Greater Bordeaux authority (Communauté Urbaine de Bordeaux or CUB, now Bordeaux Métropole, 1979), the Aquitaine regional headquarters (1988) and the Gironde Conseil Général (1991). Mériadeck also became a place to stay when passing through with the addition of a number of hotels (currently trading as Mercure, 1975; Novotel, 1987; Ibis and Ibis Styles, 1989).

Clockwise from top left: out-of-order escalators between ground and esplanade level; the Bordeaux Métropole building
as reflected in the windows of the Préfecture; the Conseil Général building;
Direction Solidarité Gironde Conseil Général; Mériadeck shopping centre. The bottom two photos
illustrate the split between street and esplanade levels. Note the vines
that run between the tram lines bottom left.
In March 1980, Mériadeck gained a whole new commercial dimension with the opening of a major shopping centre, still today the second-largest inner-city shopping centre in France (43,000 square metres of shopping bliss, 11,500 square metres of which are a massive Auchan hypermarket). Leisure was also be added to the mix with the 1981 opening of a skating rink which, as well as catering for ice-related fun and frolics, has become established as the Bordeaux stop for arena-category rock concert tours (capacity ranges from 4,800 to 7,500). A 10-pin bowling alley followed in 1989. Finally, literature and culture would also find its home with the 1989 delivery of a purpose-built municipal library, the collections of which had previously been housed at Cour Mably.
Skating rink and municipal library.
Throughout, housing programmes continued although the original figure of some 1,400 apartments was downsized to 800; an estimated 1,300 people now call Mériadeck home. And the district continues to evolve. A 1979 building, La Croix du Mail, was judged to have aged badly and has been demolished, to be replaced in the coming years by the Cité Municipale, an annex to the city hall. Over time, the segregation between cars and pedestrians has also been revised with most of the more recent buildings being accessible from ground level. The 21st-century arrival of the tram network has also done much to make the area feel less isolated from the city centre.

Still, this assignment proved to be a lonely and sobering experience. I was back in this area (not far from where I lived for a couple of years many moons ago) on a sunny Sunday afternoon and it was deserted. The district only really comes to life when the office clerks and executives are around, along with citizens in search of an elusive rubber stamp, item of paperwork or on a shopping trip to Auchan. Even yesteryear’s skateboarding community seem to have abandoned the sector. Walking back past an empty water feature and across the main central esplanade, my only uninviting company was a small group of people drinking their sorrows away. I was headed back towards the spires and squares of  the city centre and its crowded café terraces…   

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Mériadeck quarter, Bordeaux.
> Much of the information in this piece was adapted from the most excellent website, which provides an authoritative overview of the history of the area, maps and detailed descriptions of all its buildings and architecture, and updates on ongoing developments. A big thank you to the man behind the website, Mathias, who kindly agreed to me using the archive photos of Mériadeck! Please regard this Invisible Bordeaux article as a trailer to the full feature which you will find on!
> Further information was culled from the chapter about Mériadeck in the a’urba book De la ville à la métropole, 40 ans d’urbanisme à Bordeaux.

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Andernos-les-Bains is a resort on the Bassin d’Arcachon which is possibly best-known for its jetty , the longest of its type in Europe ...

The Gallo-Roman villa with a view in Andernos-les-Bains

Andernos-les-Bains is a resort on the Bassin d’Arcachon which is possibly best-known for its jetty, the longest of its type in Europe (232 metres!). Today though, we are investigating the ruins of a Gallo-Roman villa that can be viewed alongside Saint-Éloi church, which overlooks the beach just a short distance to the north of the town centre.

The church dates back to the 11th century and, over the centuries, storms have caused the shoreline to move and the Arcachon bay waters have gradually gained ground. It has been established that, as recently as the early 19th century, the church lay 100 metres inland, surrounded by its cemetery.

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Question: Where in Bordeaux can you view cows, roses and vines, stroll alongside a mock Pyrenean mountain stream, sit on a bench from Mun...

Parc Floral: the green and pleasant land with an international flavour!

Question: Where in Bordeaux can you view cows, roses and vines, stroll alongside a mock Pyrenean mountain stream, sit on a bench from Munich, dispose of litter in a dustbin from Madrid and unwind in a Japanese garden? Answer: the Parc Floral in the Bordeaux-Lac quarter to the north of the city.

The 1992 opening of the Parc Floral tied in with an international flower festival, Les Floralies Internationales de Bordeaux. Over the 20-or-so ensuing years, the 50-acre landscaped park and its neighbouring 320-acre wood, le Bois de Bordeaux, have become the territory of joggers, ramblers and cyclists, and cultural events are also occasionally held there.

Despite having long been aware of the place, it wasn’t until researching this item that I took the time out to visit the Parc, and was pleased to be greeted by information panels providing lots of detailed information about flora, fauna, the number of gardeners (14), the low ambient noise levels (45 decibels), the electric vehicles used by maintenance staff, biodiversity, biotopes and lots of other words I had to google. What I wasn’t expecting though was to also be greeted by a (small) herd of cows.
Eagle-eyed readers may spot the Pont d'Aquitaine in the distance.
The cows are a local breed of dairy cattle, la “vache bordelaise”, which were commonplace in the 19th century in Aquitaine and beyond. By the 1960s it was thought that the breed had died out until a strand was somehow re-discovered in 1990. An animal preservation society, Conservatoire des Races d’Aquitaine, has set about re-developing the breed – the cows at the Parc Floral belong to them and they are regularly on hand to observe and monitor them.

From then on the sights are perhaps more typical of a “floral park”. A 5,000-square-metre rose garden features no less than 479 different types of roses and, according to the official literature, “retraces the history of the rose from ancient times to the present day”. The roses weren’t yet in bloom when I was there but I can imagine the full-colour version of the rose garden must be impressive to behold.

Nearby is a section known as the "vine collection" comprising a wide range of cépages (or types of grape: Cabernet, Cabernet franc, Cabernet sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot gris, Pinot noir and many others from Eastern Europe, Israel and North America), some of which are either very rare or very old. The grapes are not picked or transformed into wine though - most are consumed by the birds! The Parc is also home to 65 types of peonies (pivoines in French), a fine collection of magnolia trees, irises (180 varieties) and rhododendrons (150 different types).

The vine collection and rose garden.
Moving further on into the Parc and an artificial lake provides a natural focal point for the visit. Feeding the lake is a 250-metre-long feature that has been constructed to resemble a mountain stream (referred to as a “le Torrent” in the official blurb, but it was more of a trickle when I was there, and certainly not especially torrential). To get the mountainous feel just right, 300 tons of rocks and pebbles were transported up from banks of the Gave de Pau river in Argelès-Gazost down in the Pyrenees. Before being channelled up to the artificial source at the top of the mound, the water is collected from different “jalles” (streams which flow eastwards into the Garonne river) in the vicinity.

However, my trek through the Parc Floral was saving the best until last. In a section known as “jardins des villes jumelles” (the twin city gardens), eleven different areas have been designed to make visitors feel as if they have been magically transported to other parts of the world. Built around items which have been donated by the twin cities of Bordeaux, the gardens manage to recreate a little bit of Germany, Spain, Japan, Morocco and a whole host of other exotic destinations!
Clockwise from top left: the Casablanca (Morocco), Madrid (Spain), Munich (Germany) and Québec City (Canada) gardens.
My personal favourites were the gardens representing Munich, complete with benches and statues; Madrid, with lamppost, drinking fountain and dustbins; the Moorish mosaics in the Casablanca display; and the peaceful Japanese garden that represents Fukuoka. The only disappointment was to see the garden which should have transported me back to my hometown Bristol, which is currently just a bit of greenery and some tall trees (admittedly not unlike most parks in Bristol)… although part of it was cordoned off suggesting enhancements may be on the cards.

Clockwise from top left: Ashdod (Israel), Fukuoka (Japan), Bristol (UK) and Los Angeles (US).
Meanwhile, as the area continues to develop, what with the construction of Matmut-Atlantique stadium and the new nearby terminus of tram line C, it strikes me that, for better or for worse, the Parc Floral may just lose its status as one of the city’s best-kept secrets...

In this exclusive Invisible Bordeaux clip, three young guides (Minister FIFA, Lukesterray and Mystery Hoodie Boy) tour the twin city gardens! 

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He is celebrated by a square, a monument and a lycée (not to mention a fast-food outlet) in Bordeaux, and enjoys similar accolades in Par...

Camille Jullian: the man who reconstructed the history of Bordeaux

He is celebrated by a square, a monument and a lycée (not to mention a fast-food outlet) in Bordeaux, and enjoys similar accolades in Paris and his birthplace Marseille, but who was Camille Jullian?

During his life, which stretched from 1859 until 1933, Camille Jullian became a renowned historian, philologist (specialising in the study of written texts) and epigraphist (deciphering ancient inscriptions). He is best remembered for his multiple door-stopper of an epic that was “Histoire de la Gaule”, released in eight instalments between 1907 and 1928.

After spending the early years of his childhood in Nîmes, Jullian attended secondary school back in his birthplace Marseille before studying History at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he notably befriended the philosopher Henri Bergson. After graduating, Jullian continued his studies in Berlin and Rome, ahead of submitting a thesis on “political transformations in Italy during the period of the Roman Empire” to the Sorbonne in Paris. The jury saluted his “precocious competence”.
Jullian was reportedly diminutive,
shy (but an excellent public speaker)
and very short-sighted (hence the
cool spectacles).

And so it was that, in 1887, Jullian was appointed as professor and lecturer at the University of Bordeaux. This was more by accident than by design; Bordeaux was a city with which he held no previous connections but which he soon found to offer a fascinating environment. Jullian set about investigating past times and ancient inscriptions, and went on to produce a host of books and essays about the history of Bordeaux, including “Inscriptions gallo-romaines de Bordeaux” (1887 and 1890) and the benchmark work “L’Histoire de Bordeaux” (1895, commissioned by mayor Alfred Daney with a view to showcasing the city at that year’s Universal Exhibition in Paris). By now, Jullian was firmly established as the city’s most prominent historian.

After moving on from Bordeaux University in 1905, Jullian went on to become professor at the Collège de France in Paris. During this time, the scope of his research and publications extended further, hence the production of the aforementioned tomes about the history of Gaul, which provided a first definitive account of Gallic culture and of the achievements of national hero Vercingetorix (for which the readers of the adventures of Asterix should be eternally grateful). Jullian also contributed to the drafting of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and became an elected member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (in 1908) and the Académie française (1924). 

The historian's Bordeaux connections never went away though. Back in 1890 he had married one Madeleine Azam, the daughter of the doctor and fellow Bordeaux University professor Eugène Azam. It was in Paris that Jullian died aged 74, having never fully recovered from a stroke three years previously, but his desire was to be buried in Bordeaux within the Azam family vault in the Cimetière Protestant on Rue Judaïque. And that is where he continues to rest in peace, along with Madeleine who died the following year, in 1934.

The Azam family vault at the Cimetière Protestant.
The city of Bordeaux remains indebted to Jullian for the research he carried out and the findings he published. A high school founded in 1883 - which in 1903 became known as Lycée Mondenard - was given the name of the historian in 1955. Now affectionately known as “Caju” by many, the lycée is part of the genetic makeup of Bordeaux.

One of the entrances to Lycée Camille Jullian and, across the road, a fast-food outlet which also bears Jullian's name, an unusual juxtaposition of history and kebabs.
A square in central Bordeaux also bears his name. The square only took its present shape after buildings were demolished in 1935; the centrepiece of the square is a monument made up of Gallo-Roman ruins which were unearthed on Place Gabriel in 1921. However, given the ambient pollution the original ruins were later replaced by less fragile and less precious replicas; the actual ruins are now stored by the Musée d'Aquitaine.

The monument, commissioned by chief city architect Jacques d’Welles (who has already made a number of appearances on Invisible Bordeaux) was inaugurated on June 8th 1936 by the then-mayor of Bordeaux, Adrien Marquet. Marquet stated that the monument was designed to “evoke the soul rather than the face” (“évoquer une âme plutôt qu’un visage”) of the historian. The plinth of the monument features reproductions of historical maps of the city as produced by Camille Jullian himself.

The Camille Jullian monument, including reproductions of his maps of Bordeaux in the 1st to 3rd centuries (left) and 4th century (right).
The monument remains a heart-warming piece of history set in the middle of this square which hums with chatter and laughter on balmy nights with people sitting out on the terraces of restaurants and bars. Not only did “Caju” put the history of Bordeaux back in the spotlight, his name continues to form an integral part of the city of today!

A rare sight of the square as it looks early morning before the crowds congregate there on the café terraces, and an excerpt from Jullian's writings on a streetsign: "Talking about the country means drawing up a sacred link between a hundred present, past and future generations, a link that no death or storm could ever come to shatter."
> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Place Camille-Jullian, Lycée Camille Jullian (Rue de la Croix-Blanche), Cimetière Protestant (Rue Judaïque), Bordeaux.

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