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Bordeaux Right Bank Tour

Bordeaux Right Bank Tour, Bordeaux, France (A)

While the Bordeaux neighbourhoods on the left bank of the river Garonne may claim to be the city’s historic centre of gravity, some of the most interesting sights in Bordeaux lie across the historic Pont de Pierre bridge, from curious architectural endeavours to fascinating botanic gardens. This tour will guide you through the streets and lanes of the right-bank La Bastide quarter, and will let you uncover some of its many hidden wonders!
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Bordeaux Right Bank Tour
Guide Location: France » Bordeaux
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 1.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: Tim Pike
Author Bio: Tim Pike is an Englishman in France who works as a corporate journalist in the aerospace sector. In his spare time he roams the streets of Bordeaux and the surrounding area on the look-out for interesting places to see and tales to tell. When not writing he can often be spotted riding a vintage yellow bicycle or strumming a guitar.
Author Website: http://invisiblebordeaux.blogspot.com
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Place Stalingrad
  • Théâtre Alcazar
  • Pont de Pierre and the left-bank skyline
  • Caserne des Pompiers de la Benauge
  • Crèche de la Bastide
  • Dr Le Chabrely statue and École Montaud
  • Maison Cantonale
  • 19th-century bains douches public showering facilities
  • 20th-century former bains douches public showering facilities
  • Église Sainte-Marie
  • Botanic Gardens
  • Toussaint Louverture statue
  • Former Gare d’Orléans railway station
1
Place Stalingrad

1) Place Stalingrad

The most striking feature of this square, which was aptly known as “Place du Pont” until 1946, is the large blue lion conceived by the French artist Xavier Veilhan (born 1963). It has been in position since 2005 and has become one of the symbols of the renewal of this district, which was for many years regarded as the black sheep of the Bordeaux neighbourhoods. Now the lion proudly looks back across the Pont de Pierre towards the city centre!

The plinth-less statue, made from composite materials (polystyrene, polyester resin on a metallic frame), is very much of its times: computer software played a large part in getting the geometrically-challenging volumes just right! In designing this piece, the artist was inspired to reinterpret the works produced by Frédéric Bartholdi on display elsewhere in France: Paris (Place Denfert-Rochereau) and Belfort.

Place Stalingrad is also home to one of the six Wallace Fountains dotted around Bordeaux. These distinctive cast-iron public drinking fountains are more readily associated with Paris – they had originally been dreamt up and financed by the philanthropist Sir Richard Wallace in the latter years of the 19th century.

The main road leading away from Place Stalingrad is Avenue Thiers, which has been one of the main routes into Bordeaux since 1826. The avenue was overhauled between 2000 and 2004.
2
Théâtre Alcazar

2) Théâtre Alcazar

Although this building now comprises 13 luxury flats and a ground-floor restaurant, it was originally a theatre which hosted performances by artists including Maurice Chevalier. Théâtre Alcazar was created in 1861 and was one of the most popular venues in the city.

Although initially a cabaret, in 1892 it became a bona fide theatre. From 1872 until 1873, the theatre’s director had been the influential Charles Debureau, a mime who lived much of his life in the shadow of his illustrious father Jean-Gaspard Debureau (immortalised as Baptiste the Pierrot in Marcel Carné’s 1945 film “Children of Paradise”). Some say that, in truly dramatic fashion, Debureau junior died at the end of a performance at the Alcazar.

The theatre continued to operate until 1967, when it was turned into a cinema and subsequently a dance club. Other than a row of sculptures on the ground floor, the façade still looks much as it did during its glory years with many clues as to its theatrical past… although the clock which presided over proceedings at the very top of the building is long gone!
3
Pont de Pierre and the left-bank skyline

3) Pont de Pierre and the left-bank skyline

From this vantage point opposite the former Hôtel Sainte Marie, you can take in one of the finest views of Bordeaux!

The Pont de Pierre bridge over the Garonne was the sole means of crossing the river within the city from its completion in 1822 until the Pont St Jean and Pont d’Aquitaine were opened in 1965 and 1967 respectively. Its construction had been commissioned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and medallions celebrating his rule feature on each flank while the number of arches (17) echoes the number of letters in his name.

Porte de Bourgogne, the arch visible opposite, was built between 1750 and 1755. Its function was purely decorative, unlike some older structures elsewhere in Bordeaux which were actual gates into the city. It was part of Marquis de Tourny’s vision for Bordeaux which consisted of tree-lined promenades and squares featuring arches such as this one (others include Porte Dijeaux and Porte d’Aquitaine).

The St Michel belfry tops out at 114 metres and is the tallest building in south-western France. It was originally built between 1472 and 1492, although it had to be restored in the 1860s, having been damaged successively by a lightning strike in the 16th century and by an earthquake in the 17th century. The belfry is a separate structure to the church itself, a flamboyant gothic design that was registered as world heritage by UNESCO in 1998.
4
Caserne des Pompiers de la Benauge

4) Caserne des Pompiers de la Benauge

The Benauge fire station was completed in 1954. In 2008, it was awarded a “Patrimoine du XXe Siècle” label, officially registering its status as an example of 20th-century heritage to be preserved.

There have been longstanding plans for the fire brigade to move on to pastures anew. Work is ongoing on how best this functionalist building can continue to operate once it has been stripped of its primary raison d’être: a place for emergency workers to live and work.

The station is made up of distinctive blocks, with each section serving a specific function. There are five storeys of residential apartments above the workshops and garages. The apartment block sits on a series of columns, making for a physical separation between it and ground level. To the rear of the building, a number of spiral staircases provide access to each level.

The most prominent feature of the station is the tower which acts both as a facility for training exercises and as the brigade’s “tour de séchage”, where hosepipes are hung to dry. The funnels are reminiscent of those you might see on a ship!

The Benauge emergency services, which are called out on average 9,000 times a year, cover 13 administrative towns (“communes”), ranging from the central Bordeaux districts to the residential streets of the eastern suburbs and the wide open spaces of more distant rural environments.
5
Crèche de la Bastide

5) Crèche de la Bastide

The façade of the Crèche de la Bastide has been covered with a host of inscriptions. The establishment was founded in 1891 by the local dignitary Charles Cazalet, at one time deputy mayor of Bordeaux. This wine trader was seeking to give something back to the district where he was raised.

Its creation was part of a wider phenomenon that began in France earlier in the 19th century. Crèches aimed to relieve working mothers of their daytime childcare commitments, thus freeing them up to remain in full-time employment - which at the time meant six days a week.

Initially, the Crèche de La Bastide had been located on nearby Avenue Thiers. It remained there for 17 years, until 1908, before moving to these premises built on land donated by one Edmond Sursol, whose name was given to the building.

Working mothers could leave their children with the Crèche in exchange for 0.10 franc per day. As well as watching over children up to the age of three, the institution provided free medical checkups. According to the inscription on the wall, the doctors could be seen every Thursday at “precisely 3.30”. On another section of the wall you can read a few lines by Victor Hugo, taken from the 1831 poem "Lorsque l'Enfant Paraît".

Today the building is a care institution that provides sheltered accommodation for up to 11 youngsters, and provides daytime supervision and care for a further 27.
6
Dr Le Chabrely statue and École Montaud

6) Dr Le Chabrely statue and École Montaud

For 39 years, Dr Le Chabrely (1835-1895) was a popular figure in the community here in the Bastide district. He provided the local working classes with medical care, paying close attention to each individual’s ailments and, according to the plaque in front of the statue, “knew the right remedy to heal each wound”. Le Chabrely was also a town councillor until his death. By then he had earned not only plaudits but also various titles and honours, much to the embarrassment of this naturally humble man. This statue was the work of Gaston Veuvenot Leroux (1854-1942), who produced many pieces celebrating local figures.

Contrary to what the inscription above the door might suggest, Montaud primary school welcomes both girls and boys. By walking down the road along the right-hand side of the school (Rue de l’École), it is possible to peer in on the old-fashioned playground, where the children let off steam during break times!
7
Maison Cantonale

7) Maison Cantonale

No, you haven’t suddenly arrived in the Netherlands or Bavaria! This unusual art nouveau building, designed by the Bordeaux architect Cyprien Alfred-Duprat, was completed in 1925 and completely overhauled between 2001 and 2006. It is home to the local annex of the city hall, or “Mairie de Quartier”, a library, a police station, a court of justice and a conference hall.

If you look carefully there are lots of ornate details to pick out, the most visible of which are the Latin inscriptions above the main entrance: Lex, Pax, Jus (Law, Peace, Justice).

Looking back from the Maison Cantonale and turning anti-clockwise, you will spot a currently disused town-house on the corner, which until recently was a pocket theatre and home to a drama troupe (more of which shortly) and, diagonally opposite, the grand entrance to what used to be the local fire station. The ground-floor quarters has become a club and meeting point for senior citizens.

You will by now be on Rue Nuits, which is not named after night-time pursuits, but rather in reference to a place called Nuits-Saint-Georges in Burgundy (central France) which was the scene of a December 1870 battle (also regarded as the second of the three “battles of Dijon”), part of the Franco-Prussian war. Many locals fought in the battle, many returned home seriously injured, while others never came home…
8
19th-century bains douches public showering facilities

8) 19th-century bains douches public showering facilities

On the walls it is possible to make out traces of the "Bains Douches Chauds" establishment that used to be here. That section of the building, which now forms part of the École Maternelle Nuits, was previously known as Local Jules Perrens, named after an illustrious local pharmacist who went on to build a fine reputation for himself in Paris as deputy director of the Pharmacie Centrale de France.

Returning to Bordeaux, Jules Perrens became a respected professor at the Bordeaux University faculty of Medicine and, in 1859, launched the Journal de Pharmacie de Bordeaux (which still exists today as the Bulletin de la Société de Pharmacie de Bordeaux). He was also reportedly a philanthropist, funding the construction of housing for labourers and contributing to “bains-douches à bon marché” (literally, “affordable baths and showers”) such as these.

And, just in case there was any doubt about the value for money of these establishments, a telling (and restored) message can be read to this day above one of the windows: “à 25 centimes (savon compris)”… a hot shower for 25 old centimes including soap!
9
20th-century former bains douches public showering facilities

9) 20th-century former bains douches public showering facilities

This art deco building can be attributed to Jacques D’Welles (1883-1970), chief city architect during the time when Adrien Marquet was the mayor of Bordeaux. Marquet launched a programme, aptly known as “Plan Marquet”, to develop new buildings that shared similar architectural styles. Other "Plan Marquet" art deco endeavours led by D’Welles include the Stade Lescure (now Stade Chaban-Delmas) football stadium and the Bourse du Travail near Place de la Victoire.

The Bains Douches comprised 19 cubicles in all: ten for gentlemen and nine for ladies. The most distinguishing feature is of course the entrance, with its red and white mosaic tiles forming diverse geometrical patterns. Completing the picture is the ornate overhead sign and the iron doors with their large single-pane windows.

The primary activity of the Bains Douches ceased in 2001, but the place has recently been given a new lease of life as the head office of a contemporary literature association which organises public reading festivals and events, many of which take place at the Maison Cantonale.

Since 2012, the local drama company Le Poquelin Théâtre (a reference to Molière's real name) has taken up residence in the building. The previous quarters of the 15-strong troupe, originally formed in 1990, were on the ground floor of the town-house opposite the Maison Cantonale.
10
Église Sainte-Marie

10) Église Sainte-Marie

This 19th-century church was funded by one Cardinal Donnet (1795-1882) and designed by Paul Abadie (1812-1884). If the curved, almost dome-like top of the steeple looks familiar, this may be because it reminds you of the famous Sacré-Coeur church in the Montmartre district of Paris, which was another of Abadie’s achievements.

Throughout the construction phase, the architect had a number of structural issues to contend with due to the poor quality of the soil (which also explains why the belfries of St Michel church and St André cathedral are separate structures from their accompanying churches). Much of the inner structure, such as the ceiling, is made of wood rather than stone. This has recently been restored.

Behind the church, a communal allotment called “Ech’eau jardins” has been installed. This is as much a meeting point as a peaceful setting for plants, fruit and vegetables to grow and develop… in recycled wine barrels!

En route to the botanic gardens, look out for different landmarks on the skyline: to the right you should be able to make out the tips of the new Bacalan-Bastide bridge (which boasts a lifting centre section) and the 1920s-vintage Grands Moulins de Paris flour-mill, or “minoterie”; to the left, look carefully and you should be able to make out the distinctive shape of Saint-Éloi gate, where the emblematic Grosse Cloche (great bell) is located.
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Botanic Gardens

11) Botanic Gardens

These right-bank gardens were conceived in 2002 – nearly 150 years after their left-bank Jardin Public counterparts – by the landscape gardener Catherine Mosbach and the architect Françoise-Hélène Jourda. The gardens, which opened in 2004, feature a number of zones which each reflect a different type of landscape of south-western France.

The most impressive features include a wide expanse of water which provides a home for numerous aquatic species, and the glasshouse conservatory (and exhibition centre) where 500 types of Mediterranean plants are kept.

The botanic gardens are an eco-friendly development: a 275 cubic-metre underground reservoir stores rainwater which is then utilised in the watering system. Electricity is provided courtesy of solar panels on the roof of the conservatory.

Admission to the gardens and conservatory are free of charge. The gardens are open every day from 8AM until 8PM (winter hours 8AM-6PM); the onsite buildings are open from 11AM until 6PM every day except Mondays and public holidays.
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Toussaint Louverture statue

12) Toussaint Louverture statue

This statue of Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803), by Haitian artist Ludovic Booz, was donated to the city of Bordeaux by the Republic of Haiti in 2005.

Toussaint Louverture was a slave who led a rebellion in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. When the French abolished slavery in 1793, Toussaint Louverture became an ally of the French army and as a military general drove British and Spanish invaders out of the colony.

When Napoleon Bonaparte came to power, France reconsidered the decision on slavery. Toussaint Louverture created a separatist constitution but Napoleon sent an expedition to retake the island. Toussaint Louverture was deported to France, where he was imprisoned in the Jura mountains. He died there in 1803. The following year, former slaves proclaimed the independence of Saint-Domingue: Haiti remains the only contemporary nation born of a slave revolt.

The statue is positioned opposite the quay from which ships set sail between 1672 and 1837 on the first legs of 508 triangular slave trade voyages that resulted in 150,000 Africans being deported to the Americas.

There are direct ties between Toussaint Louverture and the city. His younger son Isaac, who along with brother Placide had been educated in France, lived, died and is buried in Bordeaux (his final resting place is the Chartreuse cemetery).

Walking along the waterfront, you can successively make out the shipping exchange (Bourse Maritime), Esplanade des Quinconces, Place de la Bourse, the twin spires of St André Cathedral and its belfry, Pey Berland tower.
13
Former Gare d’Orléans railway station

13) Former Gare d’Orléans railway station

What is today the 17-screen Megarama cinema and restaurant complex was formerly the Gare d’Orléans, the first railway station to be built in Bordeaux. Commissioned by the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer d’Orléans railway company, it was the initial terminus of the Paris-Orléans-Bordeaux line ahead of a railway bridge being built over the Garonne river.

The neo-classical architecture of the building, which was completed in 1853, was the work of the architect M. Darru in partnership with the engineer Pépin Le Halleur. The last passenger train departed from the station just over 100 years later, in 1955.

The building, registered as a national monument in 1984, is a U-shaped structure typical of stations that are located at the end of a line. The central part of the front façade was topped off by a grand semi-circular window. However, this part of the concourse collapsed in 1950.

Considering it now takes less than three hours for trains to reach Paris (with that figure set to be cut further in the coming years), it is astonishing to think that on July 17th 1853, it took the very first passengers 13 hours and 7 minutes to travel the same distance!

And this is where this walk comes to an end, just a stone's throw away from our initial starting point on Place Stalingrad.