Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bonjour from Bordeaux

Mercredi, 2 juillet.

Bonjour from Bordeaux! Although the name "Bordeaux" generally brings to mind connotations of wine and vineyards, the city of Bordeaux is actually the sixth largest in France. It's a gorgeous city that has been nicknamed la perle d'Aquitaine and Petit Paris. (For centuries, it was also called la Belle Endormie, or Sleeping Beauty, because of the layer of soot that covered all of its buildings. Apparently that's all been cleaned up, but I still noticed a couple of historical buildings in need of a good scrubbing!)

I got into the city last night and although I had planned to explore some of the city before sunset, I ended up doing something much more exciting – eating dinner at a café with my AirBNB host, Elodie. (You can find her lodging here … although she’s moving soon, so it might go off the market!) I ordered the végétarienne salad and absolutely gorged myself on delicious veggies. It was a LITTLE pricier than my average dinner, but it was worth it. After a couple weeks of bread and pastries, you just need some lettuce and roasted carrots, you know? All in all, dinner with Elodie was absolutely lovely. Although I speak French on a daily basis here, it’s not every day that I get a chance to sit down and chat with somebody for two hours.

My main reason for being in Bordeaux is, of course, research. I’m here to visit the Centre Jean Moulin, a museum dedicated to the memory of one of the French Resistance’s greatest heroes. Unfortunately, the museum didn't open until 2 pm … the perfect excuse to spend the morning sightseeing!

I started my morning at the cathédrale de Bordeaux. The cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux (Saint Andrew’s Cathedral) was built in the fourteenth century in typical Gothic style. It was here that the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the future King Louis VII was celebrated in 1137. (Which I knew, thanks to Kristina Gregory's Eleanor: Crown Jewel of Aquitaine ... throwback to my days reading the Dear America: Royal Diaries series?) However, the population of Bordeaux soon realized that the marshy ground on which they had decided to construct their cathedral was unsteady; they had to add eight flying buttresses to reinforce the nave, or central aisle, of the church.

When Bishop Pey Berland decided to add a bell tower to the cathedral in the fifteenth century, he took precautionary measures to prevent further weakening the structure. Instead of creating an addition to the existing cathedral, he designed a detached bell tower, so that the vibrations of the giant bells wouldn't damage the church.

The tower, now called le Tour Pey-Berland, has been through a lot over the past six hundred years. It was nearly destroyed in the late-18th century, but was instead turned into a shotgun pellet factory. (What?!) It was finally repurchased by the Church in 1851 and has been merrily tolling away ever since. The tower has four levels (ground floor, bell chamber, first terrace, and second terrace) and all are accessible via a narrow 231-step spiral staircase. The top of the tower offers the highest views over Bordeaux … so, naturally, I went to check it out!

The statue at the top of the tower was commissioned in 1863, the same year the tower finally received its first bells. (I know, a bell tower with no bells? No wonder they turned it into a shotgun pellet factory! Oh wait, that one is still a little weird.) It’s a six-meter tall copper statue of Our Lady of Aquitaine.

I spent a little while poking around Bordeaux’s historic city center. The area, which makes up about half of the city itself, was declared in 2007 to be a preserved UNESCO World Heritage site because of its "outstanding urban and architectural ensemble." (I wandered around pretty nonsensically, but you can try to follow along on this map, if you'd like a sense of context!)

The Musée des Beaux Arts de Bordeaux was closed, but the beautiful garden was open!

One of my favorite parts of the city is the stunning Place de la BourseOriginally known as the Place Royale, it was constructed in the 1700s to serve as the backdrop for a statue of Louis XV. (That's right, an entire square just to serve as the BACKDROP of a statue of the king. No wonder the French toppled their monarchy!) After the French Revolution, the square received its new name from the stock exchange -- or bourse -- located in one of the square's main buildings. The equestrian statue of Louis XV was later replaced by a fountain depicting les Trois Graces. (Just like in Montpellier!)

In 2006, the square received a face lift -- and a new claim to fame -- with the installation of the mirroir d'eau. This “water mirror” is definitely one of the coolest things I’ve seen, well, ever. The shallow pool of water creates a giant reflective surface that mirrors the palais de la Bourse as well as the sky and passing traffic.

 Like ... what?! Amazing.

The mirroir d'eau has obviously been quite the hit. While it allows tourists to take stunning photographs, it also provides locals with a great break from the heat of the city ... in the summer, kids and adults alike take off their shoes and play in the shallow water!

However, the absolute best part is the spectacle. Every twenty minutes, the "mirror" becomes a full-on water park, as jets shoot water vapor several feet into the air. The fog obscures the mirror and the passing traffic, making the effect all the more magical, especially on a cloudy day like this one. It only lasts a few minutes, so everyone scrambles to take their photos and run through the mist!

Another incontournable in the city is the Esplanade de Quinconces, whose size -- a staggering 31 acres -- makes it the largest city square in Bordeaux and among the largest in Europe. Gotta say though, I think I've seen prettier public squares...

The impressive square is marked by the equally impressive monument aux Girondins, a monument to the Girondins killed in the French Revolution. Fittingly, the fountain was constructed on the very location where a royal palace (le Château Trompette) once stood. Because nothing in art and architecture can ever truly be simple, the monument is extremely symbolic. If you're interested in knowing exactly what each of the horses stands for, be my guest! What I personally found to be the most interesting was that the Girondins themselves (to whom the column was dedicated) are absent from the monument ... the architect ran out of time to sculpt them!

I accidentally stumbled across the Grosse Cloche de Bordeaux(Remember, in French, gross is an adjective of size ... they're not calling the building disgusting!)

It was built in the fifteenth century as an extension to the église Saint-Éloi and as an entryway to the center of the city. The tower, which features a large clock as well as the crest of the city of Bordeaux, is one of only a few civil monuments remaining from the original medieval city. As its name would suggest, the tower is home to a GIANT cloche, or bell. The bell, which weighs 7800 kilograms (for comparison, I weigh fifty...), is so large that its vibrations shake the entire neighborhood. As a result, it now only rings a handful of times per year! Fun fact: the citizens of Bordeaux are so notoriously attached to their bell, that when they revolted in the 16th century, Henry II removed it and refused to return it until they calmed down. And they did!

That arch is known as the Porte de Bourgogne. Chouette.

Le Pont de Pierre, commissioned by Napoleon.

Pictured below, the Porte Cailhau was built in 1495 to commemorate a royal victory. It also marks another important date: the architectural change from Gothic to Renaissance! Mostly interestingly, as you can read on the Tourism Office's website, no one quite knows where the name "Cailhau" comes from ... although scholars have different theories, nobody has been able to come to an agreement.


The beautiful gold-plated gates at the Jardin Public.

And, of course, the real reason for my visit to Bordeaux ... le Centre national Jean Moulin. Unlike many museums about the French Resistance and/or deportation, which opened for the most part in the 1970s and 80s, this museum was opened in 1967. It's a small museum with a wealth of information, but is highly disorganized -- nothing like the sleek exhibits in newer or updated museums. Still, it was an interesting stop and definitely gave me some things to think about!

And with that, it's bye bye, Bordeaux, and off to La Rochelle!


  1. Bordeaux est tres impressionant mais toi...qu'est-ce que tu es belle ma cherie!
    Je t'aime, nanny

  2. Je suis de Bordeaux et ai eu grand plaisir a vis oir ces belles photos. Bravo Elizabeth! Georgette.