My Invisible Paris and Invisible Lyon counterparts and I regularly look to old postcards as a source of inspiration for subjects which ...

The Bordeaux waterfront... as featured on old postcards

My Invisible Paris and Invisible Lyon counterparts and I regularly look to old postcards as a source of inspiration for subjects which end up being featured on our blogs. Therefore, without really trying, I appear to be slowly amassing a bona fide collection of interesting pictures of Bordeaux as it used to be.

The following all show various views of the waterfront, demonstrating how much it changed throughout the 20th century, and how much it has evolved in recent years with the city “reclaiming” the quayside for pedestrians, cyclists and rollerbladers, and installing the popular “Miroir d’Eau” attraction.

Rewind a few years though, to the late 1800s/early 1900s (the attached stamp was issued in 1903) and this is what the scene looked like:
The waterfront is a gentle, cobblestoned slope down to the Garonne, where a host of boats are anchored. Horse-drawn carriages are on hand to pick up and drop off goods, while the area also appears to be an interesting place to hang out: a boy in the foreground is keeping an eye on proceedings while in the middle distance two well-dressed children are accompanied by a dog. Further away, over to the left, a number of people are coming and going, ahead of the backdrop formed by Place de la Bourse.

I would say the picture above of Place de la Bourse dates from the 1930s although experts in bus designs may think otherwise. It is certainly sometime between 1910 and 1942 because that was the lifespan of the two tall (92-metre) pylons in the background that should have formed the extremities of an ambitious “pont transbordeur” (transporter bridge) project which was never completed. Construction work was initially halted by the First World War while German occupation during the Second World War proved fatal to the pylons. Note the trees planted in line with the Fontaine des Trois Grâces and the gentle multi-modal cohabitation between pedestrians, automobiles, buses, horse-drawn carriages and trams. Meanwhile, the quay itself is already far less accessible.

Here we are in the late 1950s or early 1960s, by which time private cars and buses (a couple can be seen top left) are the only form of transport, and tall fences have been erected between the street and the docks, where the skyline is dominated not just by cranes but by crates and tall piles of logs. Some of the trees have disappeared from Place de la Bourse although it does look as if the 1930s street lighting system is still the same. Postcard publishers La Cigogne have, however, gone overboard with the artificial colouring, resulting in unusually blue water running in the Garonne and in the fountain. Meanwhile, the people walking near the red cars have been left in simple black and white. Note the flat, white building in the background, of which we'll get a clearer view further down the page...

In the photo above we find ourselves further downstream, viewing Quais Carnot and Bacalan on a card postmarked 1918. The mammoth "hangars" may look familiar as they still exist, albeit in heavily modified form: they are no longer the storage depots of working docks but instead make up the Quai des Marques waterfront shopping arcade. I’m impressed by the number of awnings providing welcome shade for the ground floor shops and bars over to the left. The picture is labelled as having been taken from one of the transporter bridge pylons – quite an achievement for the photographer who bravely made it to the top.

The following three pictures date from 1940 or thereabouts, just prior to the city’s dark wartime chapter unfolding, and were taken during the same period judging by the temporary structures visible over to the right of each shot. Stretching from the Quinconces Esplanade to Place Jean-Jaurès is the white warehouse-like structure we saw further up the page, which comprises a rooftop terrace, reached via a wide staircase (“Grands escaliers du quai”). Known as “Les nouvelles Terrasses des Quinconces”, one of the postcard writers describes the associated stroll as “ma promenade favorite : les quais et la terrasse pour se relaxer”. Look out for the rows of elegant parked cars... and the tram line which marks the middle of the road.

We finish off back in the 1950s and the view below of free-flowing traffic crossing the Pont de Pierre, with familiar right-bank landmarks including the Paul Abadie-designed steeple of Église Sainte-Marie, and Gare d’Orléans (now the Megarama cinema and restaurant complex), which ceased operating as a railway station around this time, in 1955.

The photo shows that city-centre cycling is nothing new in Bordeaux. And a few underemployed policemen are on hand: one is stood in the middle of the road observing the cars driving past, another is to the left, studying his own shadow over by the lamp-post, while a third appears to be giving advice or directions to a driver. It is probably this third policeman who has deserted his position on the raised platform where he is supposed to stand, directing the traffic. Note that the platform has been built bang in the middle of the tram lines, which may seem a touch dangerous… but most of the first-generation trams had been phased out by this time, the last line closing in 1958. 

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