Landscaped roundabouts are a big thing in France and there are countless examples to be spotted in and around Bordeaux. An early item on ...

Villenave d’Ornon’s roundabout tributes to twin towns Seeheim-Jugenheim and Bridgend

Landscaped roundabouts are a big thing in France and there are countless examples to be spotted in and around Bordeaux. An early item on the blog focused on the twin-town roundabouts installed in the north-western suburb of Le Haillan, and a similar concept has been developed in the south-western suburb of Villenave d’Ornon with two roundabouts celebrating the towns of Seeheim-Jugenheim (Germany) and Bridgend (UK).  

Let’s start with Villenave’s Seeheim-Jugenheim homage. According to Wikipedia, Seeheim-Jugenheim is a municipality in the Darmstadt-Dieburg district in Hesse, to the west of Germany. Its population of around 17,000 is spread across seven villages: Balkhausen, Jugenheim, Malchen, Ober-Beerbach, Seeheim, Steigerts and Stettbach. The town is well-known as the starting point for cycle tracks that lead to a nearby mountain called Melibokus. Finally, as there is little industrial or commercial activity in Seeheim-Jugenheim itself, most residents work for companies located in the cities of Darmstadt, Frankfurt or Heidelberg.

Seeheim-Jugenheim has been twinned with Villenave d’Ornon since 1982 (1,176 kilometres separate the two), and the roundabout-based homage comes in the shape of a small-scale replica of what used to be the Seeheim village hall. Again, with a little help from Google and Wikipedia, it has been fairly easy to track down a picture of the original in order to compare it with the roundabout version.

The original is on the left: the old Seeihem village hall (source: Wikipedia). The Villenave d'Ornon replica is, for the most part, impressively accurate!
There is something very quaint about the Villenave model (first installed in October 2015), with its fake doors and windows, but very real weather vane and clock – which, at the time of writing, is out of order; the “minutes” hand needs fixing! Not far from the miniature house, rows of vines have been planted but it is unclear whether the variety of grapes growing here are typical of south-western France or western Germany!
Details from the Villenave d'Ornon model, including the clock which could do with some tender loving care!
To the other side of the Rocade ring-road underpass (we are close to Rocade exit 18) lies Villenave’s tribute to Bridgend or, to give it its Welsh name, Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr, meaning “the end (or head) of the bridge on the Ogmore” (the Ogmore being the river which runs through the town and is crossed by the bridge which gave Bridgend its name). The southern Welsh town, which became Villenave d’Ornon’s twin in 1994 (distance between the two: 1,264 kilometres), has a population of around 40,000, although it also combines with Maesteg and Porthcawl to form the county borough of Bridgend, with a total population of almost 140,000 people.

That McDonald's outlet is open 24 hours a day to satisfy those 3AM Big Mac cravings.
Local landmarks include a defensive triangle formed by three castles (Newcastle Castle, Ogmore Castle and the fortified Benedictine Ewenny Priory) first built in the 11th century after the Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England. Disturbingly though, one of the first subjects identified by Google as regards Bridgend is the wave of 26 teenage suicides in the area between January 2007 and February 2009.

Fortunately, this is in no way referenced on Villenave’s Bridgend roundabout which appears to interpret quite literally the notion of a “bridge end”, with water perpetually flowing off the end of a bridge or aqueduct. Initial research would suggest that the design is not especially influenced by the old bridge in Bridgend, but it could possibly have been inspired by the historic Bont Fawr aqueduct in Pontrhydyfen, located some 20 kilometres to the north-west of Bridgend. Or else it could have more local significance, referring to the aqueduct that ran not far from here in the Sarcignan quarter in Gallo-Roman times, and that has been gradually rediscovered thanks to archaeological digs over recent years.

Close-up view of the "bridge end" water feature. Note the secret trap door which no doubt leads to the pump mechanism.
The constant flow of water along the bridge and off the edge does form a bit of an optical illusion as, at first glance, the water appears to be channeled in linear fashion from a tall decorative mound, perhaps reminiscent of the valleys of South Wales! In fact, the feature is a simple loop system with water circulating up through one of the pillars of the bridge, along the top and back down into a shallow pool, where the process starts all over again.

To complete the picture, the Bridgend roundabout comprises the aforementioned shrubbery and its densely-planted selection of flowers and plants. And, alongside the fountain/waterfall, there are a few tall palm trees which, it could be suggested, are more reminiscent of the Côte d’Azur than of South Wales. Unlike the relatively accessible Seeheim-Jugenheim roundabout, there are signs that forbid access to the grass and the pool (Invisible Bordeaux may therefore have broken a few rules in the name of research) although, with the constant flow of through-traffic, not to mention customers heading to the neighbouring branch of McDonald’s (the only one in the area to be open non-stop, 24/7), getting across to the central reservation demands a substantial amount of bravery.

The palm trees complete the illusion of feeling you're admiring the green, green grass of South Wales.
Anyway, with landscaped roundabouts clearly here to stay, it is refreshing to see some like these with a story to tell, regardless of their design. And how heartwarming must it be to be from Seeheim-Jugenheim or Bridgend and to come across these tributes to your hometown? Are there similar initiatives in Germany and Wales celebrating Villenave d’Ornon?

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Seeheim-Jugenheim and Bridgend roundabouts, Villenave d'Ornon
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français ! 

Bonus #1 (courtesy of Chris Tighe): the Bridgend roundabout fountain plays a prominent part in a scene in "Le Grand Soir", a 2011 movie starring Albert Dupontel and Benoît Poelvoorde. Check it out below!


Bonus #2: a tobacconist/newsagents is located on a slip-road next to the Seeheim-Jugenheim roundabout. Presumably, customers must have found it difficult to access the outlet, so a map is now on display high on the shopfront so that the recommended (and complicated) route can be seen from afar!

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My company Thales holds TED Talk-style internal conferences and I was invited to speak at one such event at our facility in Mérignac. Na...

[Video] All about the Invisible Bordeaux domino effect!

My company Thales holds TED Talk-style internal conferences and I was invited to speak at one such event at our facility in Mérignac. Naturally, I talked about the Invisible Bordeaux blog and the domino effect many of the articles have been known to produce.

During the talk I focused on three subjects (Mort Shuman, the May 1968 riots in Bordeaux, and the Domaine Catros arboretum) and illustrate the interesting encounters, coverage and events that have come about as a result. And here it is, for your viewing pleasure!

A big thank you to everyone involved in organizing and contributing to the Thales Talks initiative!

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The university of Bordeaux is spread across buildings in the city centre, and throughout a massive campus that stretches from Talence t...

Exploring unusual sights on the Bordeaux University campus in Talence and Pessac

The university of Bordeaux is spread across buildings in the city centre, and throughout a massive campus that stretches from Talence to Gradignan via Pessac. On that sprawling suburban campus, in amongst the various faculties and the inevitable classrooms, lecture theatres, laboratories, offices and halls of residence, there are a number of surprising sights to enjoy, from little-known chapels to examples of unusual public artwork. 

This appeared to be an interesting angle for exploring the campus, and to guide me on my way on this low-key adventure, I had two expert sources of information: a concise information leaflet entitled “Promenades Universitaires” produced by the University, detailing the locations of the different examples of public art (mostly the products of the “1 % artistique” policy obliging public construction projects to commit 1% of their value to artistic creations); and, above all, my travelling companion for the day, Harvey Morgan, Talence-based US expat, long-time follower of the blog and a fountain of wisdom about local history and heritage (particularly places of worship throughout la Gironde). 

After a few e-mail exchanges about what we could see, Harvey conceived an interesting itinerary which started out with something that has surely become one of France’s great specialities in recent years: a roundabout with something built in the middle. In this case, the scenic addition to the roundabout is reminiscent of a carrelet fishing hut, although I may be missing something. Upon closer inspection, it turned out there was no raised floor inside, just an open space littered with empty bottles. The hut has obviously become an unusual spot for communal drinking… 

From there we moved on to the grounds of the Arts & Métiers engineering school and three unexpected additions to the landscape. First, we viewed a tall sculpture by the Argentina-born Alicia Penalba (1913-1982): one of her “Grand Double” creations and inspired by Native American totems. This one was produced in 1974. 

Then, a little closer to the buildings we studied a “Smartflower”, a small-scale photovoltaic system which rotates according to the position of the sun, or can simply fold away if the winds get too strong. How is the power harnessed by the Smartflower used on site? This remains an open question although information available online suggests the €23,000 installation can generate between 3,400 and 6,200 kWh per annum, which is presumably enough to perform quite a few primary functions.  

Harvey Morgan inspecting the Smartflower.
We finished off in front of an impressive L-G 500 die-forging press (or marteau-pilon à planche in French) as produced in the mid-20th century by the French company Société de Construction de Montbard. Needless to say, it is no longer in use! 

Our next stop was the CREPS sports education facility where we viewed one of Harvey’s favourite finds in the area: the remains of Chapelle Roul, a chapel built in 1849 by François Roul (1782-1864), mayor of Talence and owner of the nearby château and surrounding land, Domaine Monadey. Roul’s wish was to be buried in the chapel but this was not authorized by the local council. Over the years the property changed hands and fell under State ownership from 1942 onwards, but the chapel has more or less survived. 


It was in extremely poor condition until a few years ago when an association of students, in partnership with the municipality and local historians, sought to clean up and restore what remains of the chapel. It makes for a surprising sight full of contrast – the four roofless walls of this religious edifice frozen in time, surrounded on all sides by modern sporting facilities.

Moving on from the CREPS we made our way to the monumental art deco gates delivered by the renowned French ironworks specialist Raymond Subes (1893-1970) in 1950. The spectacular gates, which comprise multiple rows of tree-like designs, are topped off by the inscription “Université de Bordeaux. Faculté des Sciences.” 

As the gates were conveniently open on this Saturday morning, we made our way inside and Harvey guided me to another of his treasured spots:  Castel Terrefort, a mansion house which was the centrepiece of the land here until the city of Bordeaux purchased this and the neighbouring Château Bonnefont to transform it into part of the modern-day university campus (we would later view Château Bonnefont from afar – it also has been incorporated into the university setup, comprising offices and the renowned Agora lecture theatre). While at Castel Terrefort we admired the peaceful courtyard and its decorative mural features, and Harvey recounted his visits to the property’s underground chapel which, sadly, we weren’t able to view together.

After what had been a somewhat winding start to our university stroll, we were now committed to an increasingly linear course, more or less following the path of tram line B through Talence and into Pessac. The next point of interest we aimed to take in was just out-of-bounds, inside the ground-floor lobby area of national research institute INRIA: a modern art installation by Nathalie Talec (1960-...) entitled The Third Hemisphere. First unveiled in March 2012, the piece is a large-scale neon-and-metal representation of the contours of the human brain.  

Moving further west, we came across an unexpected spiral formation of rocks, each of which is labelled according to its place of origin (Pyrenees, Cantal, Corrèze, Haute-Garonne, etc.). It reminded Harvey somewhat of the megalithic sites in Brittany.

We then reached the first of three pieces produced in the 1960s by the sculptor Jean Bertoux (1923-…), the so-called “Mur mosaïque” comprising a number of mosaic-covered “u” and “n”-shaped blocks resting on each other. One side is distinctly prettier than the other and, in places, the work seems to be in a state of neglect with bits gradually falling off. Though tempted to take a bit of 1960s artwork home with us, we left the broken bits of mosaic tiles where they were… 

The following two Bertoux productions are low-rise steel structures made up of combinations of triangles and circles. Again, in places it was clear that the artwork had seen better days… 

Our final stops were by the main buildings of what is now Université Montaigne, encompassing the Faculté de Droit et des Sciences Economiques and the Faculté des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines. This is where the stone structure entitled "Jet d'eau pétrifié", produced around 1968 by Yasuo Mizui (1925-2008), can be spotted. It was reportedly originally positioned in the middle of an actual water feature where the reflections of the sculpture’s shapes and patterns added a further dimension to the piece. In its current position it feels far more static and seems strangely out of place. 

We finished off on the esplanade located across from the Mizui fountain, viewing an area referred to as “Espace aménagé Bissière” after its creator Roger Bissière (1886-1964). By the university buildings, this comprises a number of small blocks of stone which may or may not make for comfortable seats for students out enjoying the fresh air, coupled with ground-level slate portrayals of birds in flight (or something).  The second component is a long decorative wall (which was relocated away from the concourse to a bucolic spot beneath some trees) with patterns made out of stones, slate and fragments of brick, as originally designed by Bissière but executed by his son Marc-Antoine Loutre. 


Before heading back towards our starting point by tram (along with dozens of foreign students, the sole inhabitants of the university campus whenever weekends come round), we admired some walls which have been given a serious street-art makeover. Will those spray-paint productions prove to be as durable as the campus’s official artwork heritage? 

All in all, it made for a fascinating morning spent seeing the university campus in a whole new light. Thinking back though, the only artwork which was accompanied by an information panel was the INRIA Third Hemisphere piece which, you may remember, we only got to see through a window! Other than that, piecing together this account has all been about guesswork, gleaning bits of information from the “Promenades Universitaires” leaflet and doing some full-on retroactive googling. So, my concluding note to the good people of the University of Bordeaux is a request to add information panels to better promote the wealth of unexpected things there are to see, and to make the various sights that little bit more accessible to students and visitors alike. Plus, it’s only fair that we, the general public, should give the university some homework for a change! 

> The "Promenades Universitaires" leaflet can be found online here:
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !
> Here are the various sights layered onto GoogleEarth data: 
> Big thanks to Harvey Morgan for being my active travelling companion on this adventure, and do check out, the website where he and his counterparts detail religious heritage in Gironde. To sign off, here's a shot of Harvey captured in the reflection of the Smartflower solar power panel system outside the Arts & Métiers buildings! 

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If you happen to be flying with easyJet during the month of March 2018, do make sure you flick through the complimentary in-flight magazi...

'How to do Bordeaux...' feature in this month's easyJet Traveller magazine

If you happen to be flying with easyJet during the month of March 2018, do make sure you flick through the complimentary in-flight magazine, easyJet Traveller, and check out tips from Invisible Bordeaux on “How to do Bordeaux”!

The feature details a number of sights and activities to enable visitors to get the most out of a day, an evening or even just an hour in the city! These include suggestions of recommended museums, restaurants and wine bars, along with tips about areas to see and unmissable landmarks to take in.

If you’re visiting Bordeaux, I hope you find the article to be a useful introduction to the city, and if you’re a local, I trust you agree with all the suggestions! Enjoy!

> You can read the full article online here or download a PDF version here
> The March 2018 issue of easyJet Traveller magazine can be viewed in its entirety online; you'll find the “How to do Bordeaux” article on pages 104 and 105:

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