Tour Pey-Berland, the bell tower of Saint-André cathedral, is justifiably one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bordeaux. Climbi...

The cathedral bells of Pey-Berland tower

Tour Pey-Berland, the bell tower of Saint-André cathedral, is justifiably one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bordeaux. Climbing up the 231 steps to the top, two wooden doors are usually locked, keeping the bell chamber out of reach of the general public. 

However, taking up an offer made by Antoine (also known as the blogger MystickTroy), a member of staff at the tower, Invisible Bordeaux was given an access-all-areas tour and was able to view the four cathedral bells in all their glory!

The 66-metre-high tower was completed in 1500, 60 years after construction began under the authority of Pey Berland, the archbishop of Bordeaux (who has already been featured on Invisible Bordeaux). As the ground is notoriously unstable in Bordeaux, the tower was built some 20 metres from the cathedral itself, which also meant the main edifice would not be affected by the vibrations of the bells.

Ironically though, given its original vocation, for many years the bell tower didn’t actually contain any bells! Instead, Saint-André made use of bells located within the cathedral itself… while the tower was divided into dwellings before becoming a factory producing shotgun pellets! Unbelievably, it wasn’t until around 1851 and the arrival of Cardinal Donnet (also making a repeat appearance on the blog) that four bells were installed in the tower. Twelve years later, the Madonna and child statue (Notre Dame d'Aquitaine) was added to the spire; it is facing in the direction of Saint-Raphaël in the Médoc, the birthplace of Pey Berland. Gold leaf was applied to the copper-plated statue in 2002.

Back to our bells though! The bell chamber houses an oak belfry which is located 24 metres above the ground. In all the chamber is 11 metres high and 6 metres wide, and is split into two levels. On the lower level are two bells, both cast by the Bollée foundry in Le Mans, which are no longer in use: the 4-ton “Marie” (which produces a low A) and the imposing 8-ton bourdon “Ferdinand-André II” (a very low F#). The latter was funded by Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie. The “II” is significant because it replaced a short-lived 11-ton predecessor which was cracked upon delivery and had to be melted down.

The view through the wooden door which is usually closed, and peering down between the floorboards back to the ground level ceiling. Bottom right: Ferdinand-André II.
A narrow and precarious wooden staircase leads to the upper level where two smaller bells can be found. They are the 2.5-ton “Marguerite” (C#), the only one of the four bells to have been cast in Bordeaux (by the Deyres foundry), and the 880-kilogram “Clémence” (another product of Bollée in Le Mans, producing an F# which is somewhat higher-pitched than Ferdinand-André’s!). These two bells continue to operate and chime to mark services, masses, weddings and funerals at Saint-André. Since 1925, electric motors have been used and they are controlled from inside the cathedral itself.

The bell-ringing mechanics, Marguerite (top right) and Clémence (bottom left), and looking back down at Marie on the lower level.
This upper level of the belfry and its two bells can be viewed from above, through a sky-light integrated in the floor of the main viewing platform (40 metres above ground level).

However, the most spectacular sight from there and from the second terrace, 10 metres further up, is undoubtedly the 360° view of Bordeaux itself.

Some of the sights to take in: Cathédrale Saint-André, Rue du Loup, two line B trams and the view over to Saint-Michel and the Grosse Cloche.
Finally, the bells which were originally located in the cathedral itself, and which ceased to function when Pey-Berland tower finally began to be used as a bell tower, are on permanent public display at ground level. One of them dates way, way back to 1552!

  • Find it: Place Pey-Berland, Bordeaux (open morning and afternoons every day, closed Mondays between October and May. Admission costs 5 euros).
  • Official Centre des Monuments Nationaux page about Pey-Berland tower:
  • Big thanks to Antoine for his warm welcome and informative guided tour. You can read his take on subjects ranging from public transport infrastructure to media, logos and sport on the most excellent MystickTroy’s Blogpaper. And take time out to view MystickTroy’s guided tour of Place Pey Berland in this Youtube clip:


  1. You really ought to climb back up there, look down towards the river, and take one more picture for this page. Just across the tram tracks, you'll see the chevet of Notre-Dame de la Place behind the elegant façade at 17 place Pey-Perland.


    1. May be a standalone subject sometime in the future! :-)

  2. Thanks for this review. It helped a lot on my school project: Cool Stuff In and Around Bordeaux.

  3. Truly, that cathedral is rich in history. Climbing up there must have been an uplifting experience. The view is simply amazing! You’re so lucky to be able to see the bell chamber in person, and thank you for giving us a glimpse as well. Cheers!

    Carson Coronado @ Old St. Mary's Detroit