We are in Saint-André-de-Cubzac, some 23 kilometres to the north of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Dordogne… and coincidentally on th...

Saint-André-de-Cubzac’s Montalon windmills and 45th parallel marker

We are in Saint-André-de-Cubzac, some 23 kilometres to the north of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Dordogne… and coincidentally on the 45th parallel north, mid-way between the Equator and the North Pole. This part of town is known as Montalon, a large mound which rises 73 metres above sea level and identified in the 18th century as the ideal location to build a number of windmills.

Today, five of these distinctive circular constructions can still be seen, although maps produced in the 19th century record the presence of as many as ten such mills. Three of the surviving structures have been incorporated within private properties – a couple even appear to be the natural extensions of some lucky homeowners’ living quarters. The other two have been partly restored although both were closed when I was there: one provides a unique rooftop vantage point for a panoramic overview of the site, while the other has become an astronomical observatory which is run by the local council in conjunction with an association.

Three of the old mills. The two on the left have been partly restored by the local council, the one on the right is privately-owned.
The Montalon windmills were typical of regional designs and similar in conception to the older (now restored) mill in nearby Lansac which was covered some time ago on the blog. In their prime, the mills would grind wheat, rye and oats cultivated locally on land which had yet to yield to the lucrative lure of the vine. Still, the millers earned a decent living and reportedly gained the status of local lords. The mills are therefore referred to as “moulins seigneuriaux” and as such, many ceased to operate beyond 1789 and the French Revolution. Others continued to function until 1900 when steam technology rendered windmills obsolete.

Anyway, that’s enough about the windmills, how about the 45th parallel? A stone marker symbolises the point where the imaginary line runs from east to west. Of course, if (like me), you’ve checked the subject out on Wikipedia, you’ll know that the true halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole is actually 16.2 kilometres north of the 45th parallel because the Earth "bulges at the equator and is flattened at the poles".

In this smartphone age, I did nevertheless boot up the compass function just to see whether I’d be looking at a nice round number, but instead my device registered my position as 44°59’51” N. I don’t know whether this is good or bad, or whether I should have attempted to move the stone slightly north.

The 45th parallel marker and the exact location as recorded on my iPhone.
I’m not sure whether it all adds up, but one source suggests that Saint-André actually lies 4,985 kilometres from the Equator and 5,017 kilometres from the North Pole. Fellow 45th parallel alumni include Lacanau, Piedmont (just south of Turin), the Gulf of Venice, Xinjiang (China), Rishiri Island (Japan) and a whole host of cities in North America, bearing in mind that the parallel even approximately defines part of the border between Canada and the United States. 

Then, of course, there is the fine view over the Dordogne and which, according to official documents, stretches from the “tertre de Fronsac aux Côtes de Blaye en passant par Bordeaux”.

The panoramic view, including, over to the left, an additional mill which has become an integral part of a private home.
An orientation table installed there in 1969 is on hand to help, although it is in a state of disrepair. Much of the information has been worn away by the elements, while what remains is partly obscured by obscene artwork (that possibly doesn’t date back to 1969).

Whatever, the view is indeed splendid and even provides a unique take on Bordeaux itself, with the Pont d’Aquitaine bookending a skyline comprising the pylons of Chaban-Delmas lift bridge and what I think must be the 15th-century spire of Saint-Michel church… a reminder of how much the landscape has changed since the 18th-century construction of the mills of Montalon!

They may all blend into each other here, but in fact the Pont d'Aquitaine is 17 kilometres away, Pont Chaban-Delmas 20 kilometres, and there are 23 kilometres between my camera lens and Saint-Michel's flèche
  • Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map:
    • Moulins de Montalon, Saint-André-de-Cubzac.
  • Group visits of mill available upon prior reservation: +33 5 57 43 64 80

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