The Salinières fountain, also known as Fontaine de la Grave , is one of the landmarks in the city of Bordeaux which people see but rarely...

Fontaine des Salinières: supplying fresh drinking water on the waterfront since 1788

The Salinières fountain, also known as Fontaine de la Grave, is one of the landmarks in the city of Bordeaux which people see but rarely stop to look at. That was certainly my case until I recently made a point of inspecting this unusual sight, on the left-bank waterfront more or less in line with the spire of Saint-Michel church.

The fountain was the work of the then chief city architect Richard-François Bonfin and was first installed here around 1787-1788. It was initially fed by the “Font de l’Or”, a spring captured on nearby Rue Carpenteyre and which had previously been channelled to a more rudimentary fountain a little further down the quayside near Porte de la Monnaie.

The Fontaine des Salinières went on to become a valuable source of drinking water for dockers and sailors, many of whom were no doubt tired and thirsty after putting much time and energy into loading and unloading tons of salt in that part of the quay, hence the name “Quai des Salinières”. Over the ensuing years, the fountain has become part of the landscape, and was listed as an historic monument on May 23rd 1925. 

That’s the background, but how about the fountain itself? It is now set in the middle of a lowered octagonal platform, with vintage metal levers on each of the fountain’s four sides that you tug on to draw water from one of the heavily-eroded sculpted lion’s faces. The water then falls into shallow stone basins at ground level. (Or into your bottle, whichever comes first.)

The centrepiece is of course the tall column, which is reportedly hollow as it originally housed the fountain’s mechanics (although today the fountain is probably simply hooked up to the city’s water system). A wooden trapdoor which would have been used to access the mechanics inside, and which has been camouflaged to look like the rest of the stone sculpture, can still be seen on one side. Elsewhere, the city’s distinctive triple-crescent emblem can be spotted.

Finally, the top of the piece has been sculpted to look like an spectacular geyser-like explosion of water bursting upwards and outwards.

Despite being a constant since 1788, the fountain did momentarily disappear from view during the extensive work carried out in the city to install the tram network in the early part of the 21st century. The fountain, which in the meantime had been cleaned and restored, was returned to its spot in 2007. However, pedants take note, it may not be in precisely the same location as before, given how much the configuration of the area has evolved.

Comparing this 1960s postcard (the back of which refers to it as "la Vieille Fontaine") with a similar view today, it does seem as if the fountain is now a little further from the river than it used to be. What is undeniable is that the base of the fountain has rotated a number of degrees. And the fountain is far more accessible than it was at that time; there were no pedestrian crossings to cut a path through the multiple lanes of traffic, although steps down to an underpass can be seen in the middle distance!

As you can see from the railings and materials, at the time of writing additional work is in progress to further overhaul the area. The view is therefore likely to evolve once again, unlike the fountain and its water which will continue to flow much as it has done since the 18th century.


  1. Nice postcard!
    Isn't that some kind of underground passageway in the background between the car park top-left and the island?

    1. Well spotted. And it looks as if the underpass may indeed have enabled pedestrians to get across to the island. Will edit the relevant paragraph! However, if they made it as far as the fountain, looks like there were some bushes to clamber over before reaching the water itself!