Invisible Bordeaux came across an unexpected delight when out and about on a recent assignment, for tucked away above the remna...

Jardin des Remparts: Bordeaux’s secret garden on the old city walls

Invisible Bordeaux came across an unexpected delight when out and about on a recent assignment, for tucked away above the remnants of the old city walls is the small but perfectly-formed Jardin des Remparts, another contender for Bordeaux’s “Best Kept Secret” award! 

Although seemingly rich in history, as a public garden the story is a recent one: the Jardin des Remparts, in its current form, was first opened to the general public by the city council in December 2013. This development was a by-product of a campaign called Bordeaux [Re]Centres, the local application of a nationwide project to revitalise run-down areas in city centres. The latter went by the delightful, easy-to-remember name of PNRQAD (Plan national de requalification des centres anciens dégradés).

The 2013 breakthrough followed on from initial efforts to bring the place to life in 2010, led by a local association poetically known as “Le Bruit du Frigo”. They held various happenings here in an area that was, in essence, little-used land that was split between the student housing organisation CROUS and the vocational training establishment ERP Robert Lateulade (the city council has gained the right to use the State-owned ground and will, in time, fully acquire the property). Prior to that, the area was part of a convent, le Couvent des Capucins.

The garden’s most notable characteristic though is that it stretches along the old city walls ("les remparts"), as hinted at when looking at the long, linear stone wall which separates the Jardin from neighbouring houses (as pictured above). By one of the two entrances to the garden (where there are currently temporary metal staircases, set to be replaced by permanent steps sometime soon), a surviving section of the 14th-century wall is fully exposed. At garden level, there are even traces of the old artillery terrace and parapet walk.

Top: remnants of the old city wall by the eastern entrance to the park. Bottom: traces of what must have been a doorway to and from the parapet walk, or else a sentry post.
The remainder of the 3,400-square-metre park is suitably low-fi and yet neat and pleasant. A pretty row of plane trees is broken up by the occasional bench and, more surprisingly, a small shrine or oratory, no doubt a survivor of the area's convent past. Looking closely, a Latin inscription can just about be made out at its base. The text reads “Filioli mei, quos iterum parturio, donec formetur Christus in vobis”. With a little help from Twitter, and more specifically the good people at the Association Régionale des Enseignants de Langues Anciennes de l'académie de Bordeaux (@Arelabor), this was identified as being a bible verse, Galatians 4:19, the King James translation being “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you”.

The oratory and the old steps which led down to the courtyard.
The fenced-off remains of a stone staircase lead down from the oratory to the courtyard of today’s vocational training establishment, although it is easy enough to imagine the scene being that of the 17th-century convent. Down at that lower level, some serious street art now adorns a wall that forms a bit of a dead end for visitors. As I take a photo of the wall, a dog runs up to the wall and starts performing for the camera before heading back up to join its master and his fellow dog-walkers.

I believe the dog's name was Watson. Elementary.
For it turns out that the Jardin des Remparts is a meeting point for the local dog-owning community (although I must say that, having read an article over at the brilliantly-named, I was indeed expecting to encounter some canine friends). It is still early on a Sunday morning, but a group of dog-walkers have assembled towards the middle of the 100-metre promenade. And while I’m in the vicinity, a further gentleman and his two greyhounds arrive only to be gently told off for being 20 minutes late for the appointment!

I carefully make my way past the playful dogs and exchange a few niceties with one of the owners. We generally comment on how pleasant the Jardin is, but she quickly adds that it can only remain that way if people respect it. I ask her to explain what she means and she mentions that the place is often littered with the remains of food left by people passing through. And, in one corner, I do indeed spot some rogue beer bottles and wrappers that really shouldn’t be there. This is obviously a place that the locals have quickly warmed to and that is not be messed with; you get a feeling that the park is a natural extension of their habitat.
Views from the Jardin.
Finally, I make use of this unusual raised vantage point to take in a few sights that I’ve never before viewed from this angle: the spire of Saint-Michel church, the roof of the recently-renovated Marché des Douves building, and the exterior of the old convent chapel that lies within the grounds of the CROUS, a place which seems to be out-of-bounds but which can, apparently, occasionally be visited. I also spot an unusual, enigmatic white dome, which I think is pictured on the ERP Robert Lateulade's website here.

My time in the Jardin des Remparts has come to an end but I just know I’ll be back. I have a feeling the next time I’m in amongst the hustle and bustle of the Saint-Michel district or the Capucins market, surely among the liveliest and most energetic of the city's neighbourhoods, I will be only too proud to guide whoever is with me back towards the city’s secret garden on the old city walls, to enjoy a quiet walk in amongst the local dog population!

> Note: at this point in time, the Jardin des Remparts can only be reached via metal staircases on rue Marbotin and rue des Douves. Disabled access will reportedly be added in the future. 
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Jardin des Remparts, rue Marbotin/rue des Douves, Bordeaux.
> Extra special thanks to Association Régionale des Enseignants de Langues Anciennes de l'académie de Bordeaux (@Arelabor), contacted via Émilie Bordographe, for help in deciphering and identifying the Latin inscription on the oratory. Thanks also to Alan Davey who was in touch too!
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !  

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In the Sainte-Croix district, which lies mid-way between the Saint-Michel quarter and Saint-Jean railway station, there are a number of...

The abbey, the fountain, the wall and the statues: the sights of Sainte-Croix

In the Sainte-Croix district, which lies mid-way between the Saint-Michel quarter and Saint-Jean railway station, there are a number of unusual sights to take in. Here is the Invisible Bordeaux guide to four of those sights, bearing in mind that they are all interconnected in many ways.

Sainte-Croix church 

This magnificent church was originally an abbey that formed part of a Benedictin monastery whose roots can be traced back to the 7th century. As with many churches, sections have been added over the course of time: the right-hand bell tower dates back to the 12th century, whereas the left-hand bell tower is a relatively recent addition, conceived as it was in the 19th century by the architect Paul Abadie, who we have already encountered on the blog and who is perhaps best-known as the man behind the famous Sacré-Coeur church on the heights of Montmartre in Paris. 

The exterior is a remarkable succession of impressive details, such as the hundreds of individual carved figures above the main door. And I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the sculpture of Saint George slaying the dragon, which can be spotted over to the left-hand side of the main façade.

One of the most characteristic features of the church is its organ. It was originally installed in the 1740s by one of the abbey’s monks, one Dom Bedos de Celles. The organ was considered to be so good that, in 1812, the archbishop of Bordeaux decided he wanted it to be moved to the city’s cathedral. A straightforward “organ swap” and each church installed the other’s organ, as it were (other than the cabinets, which remained in place). In the 1970s, the cathedral decided to commission a new organ and the original Dom Bedos creation was transferred back to Sainte-Croix in 1984. The move as overseen by organ specialists Pascal Quoirin, who meticulously followed instructions drafted by Dom Bedos 250 years earlier. The relocation was a success and is regarded as a milestone event in the recent history of organs!

Sainte-Croix fountain (also known as Fontaine des Bénédictins)

In the grounds behind the church, known as Square Dom Bedos, a Baroque style dressed stone fountain which is now dry can be spotted, its twin staircases leading down to the basin which lies below ground level. It was first installed here in 1735 by another group of Benedictin monks, who were decidedly productive during that period! The fountain was listed as an historic monument in 1890, the year after the nearby abbey monastery building was converted, by architect Alphonse Ricard, into the city’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

The fountain is a veritable work of art, with various carved figures to take in, a pair of rather magnificent columns, the word “pax” prominently displayed towards the top, and a pleasing sense of symmetry that wouldn’t look out of place in the grounds of a royal residence. The piece is topped off by a shell-shaped motif. The fountain’s main initial purpose was to embellish the old city wall which ran alongside the grounds of the monastery, and that is our next stop.

Remnants of the old city walls

Over the course of its history, Bordeaux has gradually expanded, and in medieval times the fortified city walls had to be revised and rebuilt to keep up with the city’s outward evolution. The section of wall that can be viewed here is referred to as Bordeaux’s “troisième enceinte”, in other words the third-generation city wall. It was erected between 1302 and 1307 at a time when Bordeaux was under English rule. So, in a way, this is a little bit of England in Bordeaux!

Looking at it today, it is not too difficult to imagine archers positioned on the wall, their heads peering above the parapet to protect the city from intruders. On the city side of the wall, doors are positioned either side of the fountain. What could possibly be behind those doors? Another section of the “troisième enceinte” city wall can be found just a few hundred metres away. Invisible Bordeaux investigates the subject, one of the city’s hidden gems, here

École des Beaux-Arts

We finish up outside the École des Beaux-Arts, the city’s fine arts college. Within the grounds, near to the aforementioned fountain, a fine wrought iron gate can be admired. It is among the features retained by Alphonse Ricard when he overhauled the building ahead of the educational establishment moving in. Another door also proudly displays the word “pax”, a carved legend from the Benedictin monks’ era that has stood the test of time. But perhaps the most surprising exhibits are to be found outside the main entrance to the Ecole, where several pieces are on display and used by students for their artistic projects. To visitors, it feels more like walking into an archaeologist’s dream.

There is an elegant frontispiece that (according to a ground-level plaque nearby) was originally designed to end up on Place de la Bourse, sculpted by Claude Francin, whose work does indeed grace the buildings on Bordeaux’s most picture postcard-friendly square. Other sources suggest it was part of the "Porte Neuve" decorative gate that used to stand in the Capucins district. Which version is correct? And there are four statues, “muses” which stood atop the Grand-Théâtre until they became so weather-beaten that they had to be replaced by newer versions of themselves (in all likelihood around the end of the 19th century). It is fascinating to be able to have a closer look at these figures which remain the direct counterparts of the famous opera house statues that can only really be viewed from ground level and therefore from a certain distance.

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Sainte-Croix church, Sainte-Croix fountain and city wall, École des Beaux-arts. 
> NB: Square Dom-Bedos (where the fountain is located) is only open daytime until 6pm and is closed at weekends.  

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