Among France’s box office hits of the 1980s, Les Fugitifs is one of the most fondly-remembered by cinema-goers, and still gets regular scre...

On the trail of 'Les Fugitifs' in Bordeaux

Among France’s box office hits of the 1980s, Les Fugitifs is one of the most fondly-remembered by cinema-goers, and still gets regular screenings on terrestrial TV. And, it just so happens that a number of the film’s key scenes were filmed in Bordeaux! Invisible Bordeaux teamed up with Jérôme Mabon, who runs the excellent La Pellicule Bordelaise blog, to track down some of the locations and to attempt to merge those scenes from the 1980s with the city as it looks in 2022!


Les Fugitifs
, written and directed by Francis Veber and released in 1986, was one of a trilogy of his films that starred legendary actors Gérard Depardieu and Pierre Richard as recurring characters Jean Lucas and François Pignon, the others being La Chèvre and Les Compères. The supporting cast in Les Fugitifs also included veteran thespian Jean Carmet, and child actor Anaïs Bret, who put in a wonderful performance as widower Pignon’s young daughter, Jeanne. 

Les Fugitifs
opens with Jean Lucas (Depardieu) being released from jail, a reformed man having done his time for a number of bank robberies. Trying to pick up the pieces, he heads to a bank to open a bank account, but is himself caught up in an attempted bank robbery conducted by the hapless François Pignon (Richard). After messy beginnings the unplanned encounter results in the two men (later joined by Jeanne) being on the run, and the film recounts how they more or less manage to stay one step ahead of the authorities. 

Some key opening sequences were filmed on location in Bordeaux, such as this one featuring Lucas/Depardieu and two police officers outside Mornier jewelers, who are still very much present on Rue Sainte-Catherine. Although they are sat in a car, by the 1980s the street had already been fully pedestrianized! 

The action then switches to Place Saint-Michel. Lucas/Depardieu can be seen crossing the busy square and crossing the road to a branch of the fictional bank BNT. The following scenes, set inside the “bank”, were shot in a studio setting. 

When news of the attempted bank robbery reaches the police, the officers promptly stick their flashing blue light on the roof of their glamourous unmarked Renault 20 and make a spectacular turn on Place Tourny, almost colliding with a bus in the process. 

Once the officers reach Saint Michel, along with a small army of riot police, this being the 1980s, it interrupts an aerobics class taking place on the first floor of a typical Bordeaux building.

Now on the run together, the two unlikely heroes crash a stolen car into a building site on Rue de Macau (where the Jardins de Tivoli residence can now be found), a quiet residential street which is a surprising place to have served as a backdrop for scenes from a box office hit! They then turn their attentions to another car which pulls up opposite (a rather smart Porsche 944, thanks Patrick!), dispose of the driver (who has turned up for a romantic date), and make a swift getaway. 

The plot thickens when Pignon/Richard reveals to his reluctant partner in crime that he has a daughter. She is soon collected, then father and child negotiate some of the narrow streets of Bordeaux, before abandoning their means of transport ahead of a police barrage… and the pair head into Galerie Bordelaise to do a bit of window-shopping. 


After various twists and turns, Lucas/Depardieu ends up watching over young Jeanne and they spend a night sleeping rough in a warehouse on Rue Terre des Bordes, which runs along the southern side of Saint-Jean railway station. 


Using the latest in a long series of stolen vehicles (this time it’s a Caraïbos delivery van), the fugitives end up first outside and then inside the Jardin Public., and once again narrowly escape being arrested by the police.

But that is where we will leave Gérard Depardieu, Pierre Richard, and Anaïs Bret, given that the film’s other exterior scenes were shot in Meaux, near Paris, and (possibly) in the French Alps… so if you wish to find out what happened next, and want to know whether the fugitives somehow managed to avoid getting caught, you will have to hunt out the film for yourself… or wait until it is next shown on TV!


You could also watch the US remake of the film, Three Fugitives, which starred Nick Nolte, Martin Short, James Earl Jones, and Sarah Doroff (and was also directed by Francis Veber)… but which does not have the added bonus of featuring scenes filmed in Bordeaux!

View the original trailer of Les Fugitifs:

Click here if video does not display properly on your device.

Click here to see the trailer of US remake Three Fugitives


Read Jérôme Mabon's La Pellicule Bordelaise French-language take on this same photo report over on La Pellicule Bordelaise!


Ce dossier est également disponible en français.

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Architect and friend of the blog Mathias Cisnal has penned a book, published by Éditions Le Festin, about his specialist subject: the distri...

Recommended reading: Mathias Cisnal’s guide to the Mériadeck quarter

Architect and friend of the blog Mathias Cisnal has penned a book, published by Éditions Le Festin, about his specialist subject: the district of Bordeaux which is like no other, Mériadeck! And, guess what, the book is rather brilliant!


Anyway, did you know that the central esplanade of the Mériadeck quarter is, in essence, built on a mass formed by the compacted rubble of the houses that used to stand there? Did you also know that 35 years passed between plans being drawn up for a building to fill the space between the Ibis and Novotel hotels, and that building actually being completed (now known as Immeuble Laure-Gatet)? And did you know that somewhere in the depths of Meriadeck, a room houses a slot car racing club with several circuits, including a wooden one dating from the 1960s?


Well, those are just some of the more unusual facts shared by Mathias in the 96-page, heavily-illustrated and full-colour book, Mériadeck, parcours en ville, which has also been designed to provide the bigger picture of what the district is all about. An opening essay details how the area developed from marshlands into one of Bordeaux’s rootsier – and sometimes seedier – neighbourhoods, before sharing the story behind the large-scale urban experiment conducted from the 1960s onwards by mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas, resulting in the misunderstood high-rise administrative and residential district we know today.

Three suggested itineraries provide a means of getting under the skin of Mériadeck, the first focused on the central area, the others taking in zones along the eastern and southern edges. Each building to be spotted en route is described in detail, using terms that are architecturally precise and yet written in a style that is very accessible and easy to read.

The book also includes biographical information about the architects involved, and does not stop at the modern-day constructions, taking in sights including Villa Rohan on Cours d’Albret and the World War I Memorial. The sculptures and statues dotted here and there are also included. Of course, the Mériadeck shopping centre gets its own chapter, and entries are also given over to some of the more unusual features to be taken in, including a couple of voluminous air vents, and some of the more substantial staircases! Finally, the book lists the times Mériadeck was used as the setting for films, TV series, ads, and music videos.

In short, this is the authoritative guidebook that the Mériadeck district deserved and will prove to be a fascinating, revealing, and rewarding read, whatever your feelings about this area, which has always been a thorny and decisive subject in Bordeaux!  

Mériadeck, parcours en ville (Le Festin) is available in all good bookshops in and around Bordeaux and online!

P.S. Don’t forget that a couple of years ago, I sat down with Mathias to talk about the Mériadeck quarter. It resulted in this French-language podcast, which is still available to listen to here!

Click here if player does not display properly on your device.
You can also find it on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Player FM, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the app of your choice!

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It is 11:30 on Saturday July 2nd 1988, deep in the farmlands of Eysines, and the relative silence is broken by the sound of a Transall C-160...

The day a West German military aircraft crash-landed in the fields of Eysines

It is 11:30 on Saturday July 2nd 1988, deep in the farmlands of Eysines, and the relative silence is broken by the sound of a Transall C-160D military transport aircraft crashing to the ground. Miraculously, the six people on board all survived. What happened? 

The aircraft belonged to the West German air force. It had departed earlier that morning from Landsberg, near Munich, and was one of a fleet flying into Mérignac with a view to picking up German paratroopers who had recently completed exercises alongside French counterparts at the Camp de Souge military base in Martignas-sur-Jalle. 

A modern-day German Air Force Transall C-160, like the one involved in the crash. The aircraft type is currently being phased out in France and Germany, and being replaced by the Airbus A400M Atlas. Picture source: Wikipedia.

Reaching la Gironde, the Transall had entered its approach phase when the pilot realised the left engine had cut out. With the plane virtually gliding and rapidly losing altitude he steered it away from the flight path, and in the hope of avoiding built-up areas pointed westwards towards the fruit- and vegetable-growing plains of Eysines, with a view to conducting an emergency landing. 

However, with landing gear now in position and flying just a few metres above the ground, an unexpected and unwanted obstacle appeared: high-voltage power lines. There would be no way of rising above the cables, so the pilot attempted instead to guide the plane underneath. That is when the wheels of the aircraft hit the banks of the “jalle”, the stream that runs through the heart of the Eysines vegetable-growing patches, and the plane twisted and turned over a short distance before breaking up and coming to a sudden halt… at a spot not far from where the Cantinolle terminus of tram line D can now be found. 


Aerial picture credited to Caroline Marmolat (from an Airlec helicopter) which featured in the Monday July 4 1989 issue of Sud Ouest, incorporating a dotted line showing the trajectory of the aircraft, and Eysines-Cantinolle roundabout in the background. Source: Sud Ouest archives.
The same area at ground level today, note the jalle over to the left, and power cables towards the right of the picture.

Four of the six crew members were immediately able to escape from the wreckage, the two others had to be cut free by rescue services. All were transported to Bordeaux’s Pellegrin hospital, where it was soon established that three had come out of the ordeal totally unscathed, while the three others – though initially considered “seriously injured” – ultimately suffered little more than a few broken bones. As early as the next day, they were able to assist investigators with their enquiries. Meanwhile, the 48 paratroopers who were set to return home were no doubt shaken when they heard the news, wondering what might have been had the aircraft being fully loaded when the faulty engine cut out. 

A couple of days later, local newspaper Sud Ouest ran an interview with one Pierre-Élie Baron, who was among the first on the scene of the crash: “I saw the plane go by at a very low altitude, just above the treetops. An engine had cut out because the left propeller was no longer turning. There was a loud thud and I knew it had crashed. I jumped on my bike and got to the crash at the same time as the gendarmes who were patrolling the Majolan caves." So it certainly made for a busier afternoon than expected for the gendarmes who had been assigned to the notoriously peaceful Majolan park in Blanquefort…


Sud Ouest coverage of the accident, including the interview with Pierre-Élie Baron. Photos credited to Caroline Marmolat and Guy Martineriq (?). Source: Sud Ouest archives.

Monsieur Baron added: “One of the pilots had been ejected. I asked him how many were in the plane and he answered in German. He was totally shaken, poor man! There were guys trapped but none of them were moaning or screaming. It was impressive!"

Vegetable farmer Francis Barrière was also interviewed, he actually owned the plot of land where the plane crashed: “That very morning, I was ploughing just 50 metres away. It's a miracle that there was no one in the fields at that time.”

If things turned out the way they did, much can be attributed to the exemplary work of the emergency services, who were quick on the scene, providing an efficient and effective response. This was saluted a little later, on March 7 1990, at the Ornano fire station in central Bordeaux, when 16 members of the emergency services were awarded distinctions of merit by the German military, in the presence of the mayor of Bordeaux, the German consul, and various Bundeswehr dignitaries. The formal ceremony was followed by a festive reception, technically hosted by German authorities, who provided (reportedly substantial quantitites of) beer on tap for the 300 guests, including the six crew-members of the Transall. 

It was certainly an upbeat epilogue for this plane crash with its own happy ending… the outcome of which was all the more poignant so given that it occurred just six months after the AF1919 flight from Brussels to Bordeaux came down barely two kilometres away in Eysines, resulting in the death of all 16 people on board. The late 1980s were clearly quite a period in the skies above Eysines. 


> Locate on the Invisible Bordeaux Googlemap: Site of 1989 Transall C-160D plane crash, Eysines

> This article was almost entirely based on articles from back issues of Sud Ouest available on the 'Archives' section of the newspaper's website.

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français.

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In order to know everything there is to know about the 'Talitres In Waves' event being held on Saturday September 17 in Bordeaux, an...

Sean Bouchard tells all about record label Talitres ahead of the 'Talitres In Waves' evening of museum courtyard concerts

In order to know everything there is to know about the 'Talitres In Waves' event being held on Saturday September 17 in Bordeaux, and more widely about the independent record label Talitres, Invisible Bordeaux talked to Sean Bouchard, founder and director of this highly international Bordeaux-based label. French-language podcast below!

"I have always wanted to create bridges with other artistic fields, to decompartmentalize things, to create concerts in singular places, to propose a different experience." - Sean Bouchard

The (sorry, THE!) most unmissable event in September will be taking place on Saturday 17th, during the European Heritage Days weekend, in the delightful courtyard of Bordeaux’s Museum of Decorative Arts and Design. We give you 'Talitres In Waves', an exceptional evening organized by the Bordeaux label Talitres in partnership with the Museum and Musiques de Nuit (part of the Rocher de Palmer structure), showcasing Talitres artists along with various other cultural happenings.

Two of the label's standout artists will be performing live. At 8:30 p.m., the Anglo-Lebanese musician Nadine Khouri and her musicians will be unveiling tracks from the album Another Life (produced by the legendary John Parish), to be released on November 18, and which Talitres announces as "a work of stunning beauty in which the arrangements offer majestic breath to these impressionistic songs and to Nadine Khouri's voice, that suspends, stretches and prodigiously becomes part of us".

Then, at 9:30 pm, the stage will host the lush orchestral pop of the most surprising of musical bedfellows, Maxwell Farrington & the SuperHomard (performing as a five-piece band). The coming-together of Farrington's smooth crooner vocals with the imaginative, seductive arrangements penned by Christophe Vaillant (AKA the SuperHomard) has already resulted in the album Once and the EP I Had It All. Ranking somewhere between The Divine Comedy, Scott Walker and Burt Bacharach, it is fair to say that Invisible Bordeaux is very much a fan...  

To find out more about Talitres as well as the background and the objectives of the 'Talitres In Waves' museum courtyard concerts, proceed with confidence to this podcast discussion (in French) with Sean Bouchard. He reveals all about the creation of the label, the Talitres philosophy, his collaborations with artists such as The Apartments and Laish, gives inside information about the work done recently with Maxwell Farrington & the SuperHomard and Nadine Khouri, the advantages of being a label based in Bordeaux, the current context for record companies, and what the future holds for Talitres! It makes for a fascinating and rewarding listen, enjoy! 

Click here if player does not display properly!

You can also listen to the podcast on miscellaneous platforms including Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Player FM, PocketCasts, RadioPublic, Overcast, Podbean, Podcast Addict and Stitcher. Feel free to hit the subscribe button on the app of your choice!

Vital stats about the event

> Talitres In Waves - Soirée Musicale & Rencontres Culturelles
> Saturday September 17 2022 – doors open at 7:30 p.m.
> Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design, rue Bouffard, Bordeaux
> Beverages and nibbles supplied by Café Madd by SIP
> €15 advance / €17 on the door
> / +33 5 56 91 71 45

Sneak previews of Maxwell Farrington & Le SuperHomard and Nadine Khouri:

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(Very) long-time readers of the blog will no doubt fondly remember the time, back in 2014,  when I hooked up with fellow blogger Vincent and...

Back to Puynormand and the place where the Greenwich meridian and the 45th parallel north intersect

(Very) long-time readers of the blog will no doubt fondly remember the time, back in 2014, when I hooked up with fellow blogger Vincent and my son Dorian to explore the ultimate “invisible” subject, namely the virtual point where two virtual lines intersect virtually: we give you the confluence point between the Greenwich meridian and the 45th parallel north! Hurrah! 

As you will have gathered by quickly cross-referencing with the terrestrial globe you invariably have on hand, the place is of particular interest to anyone with the slightest interest in geographical oddities: this is the very spot that lies not only exactly mid-way between the equator and the North Pole, but also where east also becomes west (or west becomes east). And yes, it’s in Gironde, by the side of a road that runs between Saint-Seurin-sur-l’Isle and Puynormand (it is technically located on the territory of the latter), around 60 kilometres to the east of Bordeaux. 

Back in 2014, Vincent, Dorian and I braved the pouring rain to hammer in a homemade wooden sign that would provide a marker showing where the meridian and the 45th parallel met. At the time, there was nothing there to indicate the exact spot, and our rudimentary sign survived a number of years (and was even ceremonially photographed by a number of latitude/longitude confluence enthusiasts, who post their discoveries online).  

The very basic sign we hammered into the ground, in the pouring rain, in 2014.

But, perhaps even more memorably, thanks to a chance encounter, our time in Puynormand included an unplanned audience with one André Stanghellini. He was the founder of “Greenwich / 45°”, a small association which seeks to raise awareness of this oddball place and which had developed ambitious plans to create a fully-fledged visitors’ area, complete with car park, a sizeable monument and a series of information panels. It made for a fascinating conversation. 

Back in the present (August 2022), some eight years on, Puynormand and its unique confluence happened to be conveniently located close to the itinerary of a four-day cycle trek planned with my wife and father-in-law. I could not let up this opportunity to catch up with Mr Stanghellini once again, and hear what progress had been achieved in the intervening period. He was only too pleased to oblige!

Part of the new sign visible on site.

Once again, we met at his home in the village of Puynormand, which no longer serves as a maison d’hôtes, but was nevertheless full of life the day I was there, as André and his wife Marie-José were in the company of their son Pierre and family, who were all over from their home in Hong Kong. I asked him what had changed since 2014. 

“We have tried in vain to make things happen and many promises have been made, but nothing has really happened, largely due a lack of finances. However, one major step forward is that the land itself was bought by the local mairie and is now ‘terrain communal’. As we have the full support of the mayor, we were at least able, a year or so ago, to install a large permanent marker.” 

Indeed, I was actually already aware of this sturdier marker, having recently read a blog article written by retired schoolteacher François Remodeau who has set himself the challenge of walking the length of the Greenwich meridian from northern England to southern Spain (François was in touch with me and we had discussed André Stanghellini’s plans!). 

André Stanghellini and Greenwich meridian adventurer François Remodeau (photo courtesy François Remodeau).

André added that “we used durable equipment that had also been employed for the sign outside our maison d’hôtes, it should withstand all the elements! Nevertheless, we would still like to take things further. Ultimately, our twin objective is of course to materialize the confluence, but also to provide the back-story, and give a pedagogical guide to what it all represents in terms of the history of structuring and calculating time and space, enabling navigation, and so on. There is a definite chance we may at least be able to install some information panels with the help of a teacher.”

Marie-José also mentioned that, in the meantime, “the confluence has undoubtedly become a bit of a local landmark, we even incorporated it into a Heritage Days visit of the area – that is where the walk ended up!”

The new roadsign, a general view of how little there is to actually see on site, and a close-up of the marker in all its glory.

And although plans for the full-on visitor centre seem to have been dropped, the dream of a more substantial and more emblematic work of art is also still on the cards. André explained that “we are hoping to approach a renowned Bordeaux-based metalwork artist whom we think may be keen to install a piece in such a unique location.” So, just perhaps, a few years from now, people whizzing through the countryside on the A89 motorway or the Départementale 123 will be able to spot a tall sculpture showing where the two imaginary lines meet! 

Leaving André and his delightful family behind (André signed off with a warm and sincere “Vive l’amitié franco-britannique”), I cycled down to see the new sign for myself, and was also happy to see there was now an arrow indicating the way from the main road. On site, I realized there were two other more makeshift additions to the landscape, in the shape of separate wooden signs representing latitude and longitude. After taking a few photos, I headed off eastwards to nearby Ménesplet where my travelling party was spending the night. 

One of the other wooden, slightly crucifix-like signs.

Once again, eight years on, it had been strangely enjoyable to visit something that doesn’t actually exist, due in no small part to having a second chance to witness the drive, enthusiasm, and good humour of André Stanghellini. Invisible Bordeaux (along with the meridian adventurer François Remodeau) certainly hopes his plans do come to fruition! Vive Puynormand!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Convergence between Greenwich meridian and 45th parallel North

> Click here to read the account of François Remodeau's trek along the Greenwich meridian (as far as northern Spain for now!)

> Click here to read about the 2014 Puynormand adventure

> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

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Invisible Bordeaux has provided words and pictures for a five-page spread about the city of Bordeaux for UK magazine The Simple Things, curr...

Bordeaux 'My City' feature in the August 2022 issue of The Simple Things

Invisible Bordeaux has provided words and pictures for a five-page spread about the city of Bordeaux for UK magazine The Simple Things, currently available from news outlets in the UK and to purchase online. 

In the piece I provide an inside view on what makes the city tick and what makes it different, places to see, food to try, how best to get around Bordeaux, and much, much more, including a personal tour with some useful recommendations. Hopefully it serves as an interesting and accurate introduction to the “Port de la Lune”! And yes, it may even feature a canelé!

> Click here for further information about the “Drift”-themed issue and to order a copy

> The Simple Things website:

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  As loyal readers will know, in recent months my musical project Slowrush has once more taken precedence over Invisible Bordeaux in terms ...

[Musical interlude] More Invisible Bordeaux themes in the latest E.P. released by Slowrush


As loyal readers will know, in recent months my musical project Slowrush has once more taken precedence over Invisible Bordeaux in terms of time and energy levels. But that doesn’t mean the two ventures don’t feed off each other. In fact, two songs on the third E.P. to have been released by Slowrush are directly inspired by subjects covered on the blog in the past! We give you 'This Used To Be The Future'! 


For starters, the title track harks back to the bygone golden age of large passenger hovercraft, at one time built in Pauillac on the banks of the Gironde estuary, and also operated to connect the towns of Lamarque and Blaye. You can enjoy this power pop tribute to the noisy, then-futuristic beasts in the Youtube video below! 


Click here if video does not display properly on your device.

Meanwhile, E.P. closer ‘The Spaceport’ tells the highly unusual story of the creation of a landing pad for UFOs in Arès on Arcachon Bay. At the time of writing, the “ovniport” has yet to be used by its target audience! The chorus calls out to one Bob Cotten, the man behind the oddball project, reminding him that almost 50 years on, we're still patiently waiting - or, as is inscribed on site in Gascon, "Que vos atendem totjorn"!


Of the remaining two tracks, the upbeat opener, 'Living The Dream', is an electric piano-driven track that develops into an aural wall of sound. It is the result of enviously viewing urbanites who have set up shop in the country. Finally, live favourite 'Seeing Is Believing' is a summery, strummy, folky number, even though its subject matter concerns the ability the media have to spin the stories they choose to cover. 

You'll find the EP on the streaming platform of your choice below. If you prefer, carry on scrolling until you find the individual tracks as beamed in by magic from Bandcamp!


We hope you enjoy the listen! 

Group shot: Florent Van Liefde

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In Pessac’s Bersol industrial estate, in the space of land flanked by the Rocade ring-road to the east, and the A63 motorway to the south, n...

What signals can be picked up today at Pessac’s radar test tower?

In Pessac’s Bersol industrial estate, in the space of land flanked by the Rocade ring-road to the east, and the A63 motorway to the south, new, modern office developments are currently taking shape… although a lone air control tower-like structure remains from the previous incarnation of the area. What is the tower, why is it still standing, and what is it set to become? 

The tower is in fact a remnant of the time when the plot was home to the radar capabilities of Thomson-CSF, now known as Thales. The electronics systems group had opened the Pessac facility in 1974, around the same time as an aircraft electronics branch was also founded in Le Haillan. Teams from the two plants eventually relocated to a new facility in Mérignac in 2016, a modern campus-like setting which now provides a state-of-the-art working environment to some 2,800 people (myself included). 

The area which had therefore been vacated in Pessac became a core part of Bordeaux Métropole’s ‘Bordeaux Innocampus’ priority area for development (along with the zone neighbouring the airport and the area now known as Euratlantique near Saint-Jean railway station). As such, the former Thales site was demolished, the plot was acquired by a “Société d’économie mixte locale” known as Route des Lasers, and this resulted in the ‘Amperis’ project which is currently taking shape, aimed at providing offices and laboratories for innovative start-ups in the fields of cybersecurity, materials chemistry and biotechnologies. 

Construction work on the tower circa 1974 (photo courtesy Thales).

Initially, the tower too should have been demolished, but instead the Pessac town council and Bordeaux Métropole decided to retain it. In 2018, a call for projects was issued and the winning bid was that submitted by Legendre Immobilier to convert the tower into a panoramic restaurant, currently to be known as La Canopée, developed in association with one Jean-François Tastet, the owner of the popular Canopée Café in nearby Mérignac. Theoretically, the new office spaces and restaurant should have opened in 2021 but, as with so many other projects right now, everything has been pushed back. The most recent reports in Sud Ouest now earmark the first semester of 2023 for delivery.  

The way it was in 1973 (source: IGN Remonter Le Temps).

1976: the tower can be seen sandwiched by Thomson-CSF's two long, brand new buildings. 

The picture in 1989.

Less greenery still in 2012.
How the area currently looks on GoogleEarth; the buildings have gone but the tower remains.

Meanwhile, in 2019, the Bordeaux Innocampus zone was an integral part of the annual heritage days weekend, and a video presentation showcased on site provided an interesting, concise history of the reinforced concrete tower, explaining that it really came into its own in the early 1980s when series production began on the airborne radar for the Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft. The dedicated structure was more generally designed for the open-field testing procedures carried out on antennas and radars. 

Ten flights of twelve stairs (and an elevator) led up to the structure’s two hexagonal 300-square-metre platforms. A dozen or so people were permanently stationed on the lower storey, situated 21 metres above ground level. It was made up of six partitioned units, designed as anechoic chambers with walls that absorbed electromagnetic waves, making it possible to reproduce free-field conditions without causing echoes which could disturb measurements. Measurement beacons could also be positioned around the platform to receive signals emitted by pylons towards the tower. 

The top floor, 25 metres up, was used to test radars, and would only be used by groups of two people at a time. Unlike the first, this level was not split into individual units but was a fully open-plan space. Tests were conducted by liaising with ground-level transponder beacons placed around the tower. 

Heading there recently to check out the work in progress, it was relatively easy to approach the tower (I certainly wasn’t the first and probably not the last to creep through a gaping hole in the fence). The tarmac surrounding the structure has been broken up, no doubt to prevent the travelling community from setting up shop on the resulting wasteland. I did harbour vague hopes of accessing the tower itself, but the ground level entrance has been totally bricked up to thwart trespassing bloggers. 

While on the other side of a tall fence, the Amperis office developments are clearly taking shape, at this point in time nothing very much appears to be happening to the tower, which still sports its original mustard and beige stripes, along with a little bit of low-lying graffiti – but actually not that much. It clearly hasn’t become a massive spot for urbex enthusiasts or graffiti artists. The architects’ impressions of how it will look in the future suggest the tower is set to be painted white. 

So, how desirable a destination will the panoramic restaurant be? Well, given that you tend to dine in a panoramic restaurant to enjoy the view, the hopes can’t be that high. Other than looking out over office blocks and treetops, there can’t be much to see from up there (although it could be a good vantage point to check out the traffic situation on the A63). But as the surrounding area fills up with suitably upwardly-mobile engineers and executives, there will undoubtedly be a receptive audience for lunchtime dates – I’m just not so sure it’s the kind of place you’d head to for a romantic evening meal. 

Whatever, it will in time be fascinating to see what becomes of this vestige of the past. Perhaps the next time I return, in 2023, instead of being greeted by a brick wall, a maître d’ will be there to welcome me!

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Radar test tower, avenue Gustave-Eiffel, Pessac

> Cet article est également disponible en français ! 

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