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Many people have their first view of Bordeaux from the air, or more accurately they have their first, and usually last view, of the suburbs around Bordeaux.  Thankfully the suburbs can be entirely avoided having left the airport or if arriving by car.  From the air, water is more obvious than vineyards, be it the blue of the almost mandatory swimming pools in some of the richer suburbs or the rivers.  The rivers are central to Bordeaux's history.  The Dordogne was used to bring wine from Saint Emilion and the east of the Entre deux Mers to Bordeaux and the Garonne was used to bring wine from the Medoc, Sauternes, Graves and the west of the Entre deux Mers to Bordeaux.  It is the Garonne that flows through Bordeaux and further north the Garonne and the Dordogne meet to form the Gironde, the name given to the department, which is thought of as Bordeaux Wine Country. In fact vineyards are not found in Bordeaux and wine is not made there.  Clearly there must be exceptions, for example there is a small parcel of vines at Bordeaux's Merignac airport, a nice touch but I think that they are just a welcoming decoration.  As soon as one is outside the rocade, the ring road, around Bordeaux one is typically in a wine growing area. The central part of Bordeaux is quite beautiful and is a city that one can walk or cycle around, using the city's bikes, or one can hop on or off modern trams. The skyline, of central Bordeaux, is mainly 18th century, see the photograph top left. In the past we have made the mistake of telling guests that Bordeaux was a little like a miniature Paris.  In a sense we were right in that there are similarities but in essence we were wrong.  When Haussmann, a prefect of Bordeaux, redesigned Paris in the 19th century he used his knowledge of the rebuilding of Bordeaux in the 18th Century as his model. Bordeaux is a city full of wonderful buildings with an amazing history.  For those not too interested in history see the bottom of the page for a taste of shopping and relaxation,  sometimes with a glass in the hand! About 15 minutes walk from central Bordeaux is the Gallien Palace, see left, dating from the 3rd century.  In fact the first settlers came to Bordeaux about 500 years before the building of this palace.  The Gallien Palace which was a 15,000 seat amphitheatre is now surrounded by houses from the 18th century and later.  It is however an incredible site and worth the short walk.  It is remarkable that any of it still exists.  In about 276 AD Bordeaux was ransacked by the barbarians  and mostly destroyed including this palace.  Later the ruins were a home to criminals and prostitutes.  During  the revolution,  at the end of the 18th century, much of its stone was used for building with the land being sold off in lots. The history of Bordeaux and the whole area, as we think of it relates back to the marriage in 1154 of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet, who shortly after became King Henry II of England.  By this marriage Aquitaine, the South West of France, became English and remained so until 1453 at the end of the 100 years war between France and England.  Their youngest son, John Lackland, figures in the history of many buildings and statutes in this area, usually stating the date of 1199, the date of his coronation as King John.  See the blue plaque left, which is on the site of the Bordeaux archives.  See also the Saint Emilion page for the creation of the jurade. The relationship that grew up between Bordeaux and London added to the wealth and importance of Bordeaux.  Wine was brought to Bordeaux by small sailing boats and off-loaded for onward transport to England.  The quays at Bordeaux extended along the waterfront on what is now a pedestrian area with gardens, cafes, restaurants and play areas.  There were privileges given to the wine from Bordeaux not given to the wine from the rest of France.  At this time wine was shipped in barrels and consumed when young, quite the opposite of the style today.  So that any wine that was not fresh was at a disadvantage.  The wine makers of the Bordeaux area had the right to ship their wines before the wines from the rest of France.  This continued until the 11th November each year, when wines from outside of the Bordeaux wine country could be shipped.  So until that time wine from other areas had to be held in warehouses.  The 11th November was an important date more recently, just a coincidence? The wine from other regions was stored in the Chartrons, an area at the end of the quays.  This privilege continued until 1776, long after the battle of Castillon in 1453 that returned Aquitaine to France.  The area was named after a group of Carthusian monks who sought refuge in this marshy area in the 14th Century.  The Chartrons are now an area where the old warehouses are being converted into expensive houses.  Like many ‘quartiers’ (small communities), it has shops and restaurants as well as a good antiques area, and a range of restaurants and factory outlets occupying some of the 'hangers', warehouse buildings from the 19th and early 20th century. There are many famous landmarks in Bordeaux and often the history behind the building is fascinating.  For example, the Pey-Berland tower, see left.  This dates from 1440 and has a magnificent copper statue depicting Our Lady of Aquitaine.  It was built away from the cathedral Saint André, shown to the right in the photo on the left.  The idea was to protect the cathedral from the vibration of the bells although it was not until 400 years later that a bell was added.  The ground here was also marshy, hence the caution in the construction.   Before the bell was added, during the revolution in 1793, the tower was sold and used as a factory making lead shot for guns.  It is possible to climb the 230 plus stone steps to admire the view but when we last visited the tower was closed for visits, what a pity! The marshland caused many problems in Bordeaux, not just for building but also for health.  In 1585 about 14,000 died from plague.  This was a high percentage of the total population of 35,000.  In the 17th century the marshes were drained and there was a large influx of foreigners to add to the diversity of the population.  This was a period of diversity in trade, both in wine but also in the slave trade.  Guns and trinkets were being exchanged for young men in Africa to be exported to the Americas, with sugar, coffee and cotton being brought back. During the 18th century there was major re-building with the old medieval Bordeaux being replaced by a city recognisable today.  About 5,000 new buildings were added, many along the waterfront in Bordeaux. The Grand Theatre was built during this period, this is the backdrop to this page, and is shown on the home page.  For those not wishing to go to a performance, it is possible to have a coffee, a glass of wine, or a meal in the café which is part of the same building and admire the architecture.  In fact this is an area where one is spoilt for places to sit and watch the world go by.  There is also a subsidised wine bar just two minutes from the Grand Theatre! Shown on the left is the Grosse Cloche, Great Bell, which has sounded the time in Bordeaux from the 15th century to today.  There were alterations in the 16th and 18th centuries with the clock itself dating from 1759.  Both sides of the arch are beautiful with some small shops and cafes in the streets leading to it. The revolution brought damage and death to Bordeaux as elsewhere.  Beside the Grosse Cloche there is the beautiful church Saint-Eloi, see the page on Abbeys and Churches for a photo.  Much restoration has been carried out but the Virgin Mary and her Child remain beheaded.  Many religious statues were beheaded during the revolution.  On the left is part of the interior of the Grand Theatre.  This photo was taken during an exhibition of costumes and theatrical devices through the ages.  Bordeaux is rich in museums many are free to visit.  Like all museums there are exhibitions that are there all the time whilst others are open for a period. As well as exhibitions there are concerts in and around Bordeaux, often free or at a very low cost.  On the first Sunday of each month central Bordeaux is reserved for pedestrians and bikes so it is an ideal time to wander about.  In the winter months, on the first Sunday of each month, there is a very low cost morning concert at the Grand Theatre.  Seating is on a first come first served basis so it is really good opportunity to see the Grand Theatre from the inside for next to nothing, as well as to enjoy some music.  On the subject of music, please note there are concerts in Saint Emilion chateaux and elsewhere all year. On the left is shown the mirroir d’eau, which is a water mirror covering 3,450 sq metres.  Tiny water jets squirt water upwards 2 metres.  The jets are not working in the photo, just people paddling in the water remaining. This was part of a project making a 4.5 km length of old waste land into a pedestrian area along the Garonne river. In the background is shown the Place de la Bourse designed in the mid 18th century, with the customs office and commodities exchange.  In the centre there was a statue of Louis XV, but this was melted down in 1792, during the revolution.  It was replaced in 1869 by the Fountain of the Three Graces.  The statues represet three naked nymphs said to depict Empress Eugenia, Queen Victoria and Queen Isabella II of Spain.  Even in France the middle classes were apparently offended!  Just like Victorian England. The next photo, left, really shows two aspects of French life.  As a prefix note that this photo was taken on the 3rd February 2012, in full winter sunshine.  We made the mistake of thinking that as it was winter there was no need to be early, we were wrong!  Having arrived at 14.00 we found that most seats were already taken.  This was at a Sunday market on the quays!  There are stalls selling food to take away and cook and stalls selling food and wine to consume on the spot. Back to the aspects of French life.  Firstly, we have the importance of eating, often in the exterior, even in winter, and eating socially with family or friends. Secondly, we have the importance of fresh food, often purchased from the producer at a market. This market on the quays is not typical, being a ‘new’ market.  Most markets have been there for generations or hundreds of years.  An example of an older market is the Marché des Capucins in Bordeaux.  This is shown below left and one can buy there an incredible variety of food and spices and also eat at small bars.  Maureen and I think we know most types of fish but on one visit we saw several types that we had never seen or heard of.  The two guys debating the fish in the photo where there discussing for such a long time that they just had to be part of the photo.  This market was started in 1749, on the 2nd October to be exact.  It was not until the revolution, in 1797, that it became weekly and then daily.  So at least we can end on a positive note for the revolution! The name Capucins comes from an order of monks founded in 1525 and dedicated to reforming the world.  The name was derived from their habit which had a pointed hood.  So above is a little history of Bordeaux, religion, commerce and revolution with a little plague thrown in.  The politics are outside the understanding of an Englishman.
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