One sight which is visible from most points along the waterfront in central Bordeaux is the Bouliac radio mast, the tallest man-made st...

Pylône de Bouliac: the vertical line on Bordeaux’s horizon

One sight which is visible from most points along the waterfront in central Bordeaux is the Bouliac radio mast, the tallest man-made structure in Gironde and the 20th tallest structure in France. Why is it there and what purpose does it serve?

The mast goes by a number of names according to where you look: antenne TDF (which originally stood for TéléDiffusion de France), pylône TDF or pylône de Bouliac. You might think that one thing that cannot be disputed is its height, but even that information differs in places! Most sources record it as measuring 252 metres, some round it down to 250 metres while others downgrade it to a lowly 232 metres. Whichever figure it might be, if you can picture the Eiffel Tower, the Bouliac mast tops out at the equivalent of a bit above mid-way between the second and third platforms.

This is kind of how things would look if the Bouliac mast was in central Paris.
(Eiffel Tower picture source: Wikipedia.)
Whatever, weighing in at 700 tons and positioned on a concrete base which is four metres thick, the mast is definitely an imposing beast. Perched as it is on the 80-metre-high mound that has earned the town of Bouliac the nickname “le balcon de Bordeaux”, the tip of the mast is actually the highest point in the département. And, as you can probably imagine, the mast emits signals beamed in via satellite by nationwide FM radio stations, digital TV channels and telecoms operators.

The mast was first installed in 1957 and was soon ranked as one of TDF’s seven main transmission masts; illustrious counterparts on that list include the aforementioned Eiffel Tower and the Pic du Midi in the Pyrenees. The pylon was replaced in 1988 but, that short overhaul period aside, the antenna has been a permanent fixture on the Bordeaux skyline for almost 60 years. Around 1 million people are served by the signals it emits, either directly or via one of six relay antennae that are strategically positioned throughout Gironde (Arcachon, Bordeaux Caudéran, Langoiran-Portets, Latresne, Lesparre and Soulac).

Close-up views of parts of the mast including the tip and the base.
There is more to the facility than simply broadcasting though. In 2013, buildings at the base of the mast were converted into TDF’s first ultra-modern datacenter (codename: le ProxiCenter de Bordeaux Bouliac) used by telecoms operators, service providers and local councils as a hyper-safe and secure place to store their digital assets. The online presentation of this offering is particularly impressive, with much talk of sustainable development, the “free cooling” air conditioning systems used in the computer rooms, biometric access control systems and the like. Oh, and the fact that it would take a long time for floodwaters to reach Bouliac, which also enjoys the added advantage of not exactly being a seismic hazard zone. So if you too have valuable data that you would like to store elsewhere than on your external hard drive, look no further.

Anyway, as you gaze upstream along the Garonne river taking in the waterfront, the Miroir d'Eau, the buildings and the bridges, do not forget to gaze upwards towards Bouliac, the balcony of Bordeaux and the TDF mast!

Yes, that's our pylon over there on the left, beyond the Miroir d'Eau and the Pont de Pierre.
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Pylône de Bouliac, route Bleue, Bouliac
> Clicking here will take you through to Wikipedia's guide to the tallest structures in France
> Cet article est également disponible en français !
> And if you want some mystifying information about what can be found in the "ProxiCenter", then check out this video clip:

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