Bordeaux is naturally associated with the Garonne, but historically the city developed along the banks of two smaller rivers which ran i...

Underground, overground: tracking the river Devèze from Mérignac to Bordeaux


Bordeaux is naturally associated with the Garonne, but historically the city developed along the banks of two smaller rivers which ran into the Garonne: the Devèze and the Peugue. Both streams continue to flow but, in central Bordeaux, have been driven underground. Invisible Bordeaux decided to follow the course of the Devèze to find out what remains of this significant river today.

The Devèze emerges from the undergrowth in Mérignac, just east of the runway of Mérignac airport. The source is easy to locate: a prominent permanent advert for the Sexy Center sex shop can be seen nearby! Whilst in its infancy, the Devèze runs behind a number of nondescript office buildings and bus depots. A path runs alongside it but there are a number of obstacles along the way… cyclists take note!

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We find ourselves in Pyla-sur-Mer, and tucked away in one of the quiet residential districts, just a few hundred metres inland from the wa...

Chapelle Saint-Esprit: the alfresco place of worship

We find ourselves in Pyla-sur-Mer, and tucked away in one of the quiet residential districts, just a few hundred metres inland from the waters of the Bassin d’Arcachon, is a curious church: la Chapelle Saint-Esprit.

The chapel is a seasonal operation, with masses held there solely during the summer holiday period, in July and August, at hours which are part of a rota that includes five other churches in and around Arcachon. What sets la Chapelle Saint-Esprit apart from most churches is its unusual seating plan, which includes a number of pews which are permanently stationed in an area which, though under cover, is very much out in the open air, so that the congregation can combine prayers, hymn-singing and worship with the pleasant sensation of experiencing the cool breeze blowing through the surrounding pines.


All very unusual, but not unique in the area. There are in fact other open air chapels across Arcachon Bay in Cap Ferret (Chapelle de Piraillan) and further up the coast in Longarisse, near Lacanau (Chapelle Saint-François d'Assise). Back in Pyla-sur-Mer, the church was completed in 1975 to the modern designs of the Parisian architect Xavier Huvelin. Locals also played a large part in the project. On a plaque, the Labbé family is credited as having been the “generous” instigators of the chapel, which was built on land donated by the Maysonnave family.

The plaque also harks back to the visit of Bordeaux archbishop Monseigneur Maziers, whose decision it was to give the chapel its name (which means “of the Holy Spirit”). One Robert Marcou is referred to as parish priest although contemporary accounts claim that many early masses were led by clergymen who just happened to be on holiday in the area at the time!


Further information about the chapel is surprisingly hard to come by. One interesting titbit is that the elegant triangular belltower had to be totally rebuilt in 2003 after the original was brought to its knees by an army of hungry house longhorn beetles (Hylotrupes bajulus, or simply “capricornes” in French). And prior to this modern construction, a small barn-like wooden chapel had stood more or less in its place since 1935.

The original 1935 chapel (source: Mémoire en images, Pyla-sur-Mer).

It would be great to know a little more about this peculiar place of worship and its open-air gatherings… it may be a case of returning there for a mass over the summer! 
> Find it: Allée de la Chapelle, Pyla-sur-Mer.
> Thanks to Harvey for providing information about the other open-air chapels in the region!

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In the Pierroton district of Cestas, just off the main road that leads from Bordeaux to Arcachon, a monument to the agronomist François J...

Chambrelent: the architect of the Landes forests

In the Pierroton district of Cestas, just off the main road that leads from Bordeaux to Arcachon, a monument to the agronomist François Jules Hilaire Chambrelent can be seen. It was Chambrelent’s work throughout the 19th century that went some way towards making much of les Landes of south-western France the pleasant and hospitable place we are familiar with today.

In the past, it had been a very different story. South of Bordeaux, the inland area was a succession of vast, barren plains that were frequently flooded. This extensive sandy marshland, which became known to many as the “French Sahara”, was a particular challenge to many pilgrims as they headed south towards Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain.

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