Invisible Bordeaux came across an unexpected delight when out and about on a recent assignment, for tucked away above the remna...

Invisible Bordeaux came across an unexpected delight when out and about on a recent assignment, for tucked away above the remnants of the old city walls is the small but perfectly-formed Jardin des Remparts, another contender for Bordeaux’s “Best Kept Secret” award! 

Although seemingly rich in history, as a public garden the story is a recent one: the Jardin des Remparts, in its current form, was first opened to the general public by the city council in December 2013. This development was a by-product of a campaign called Bordeaux [Re]Centres, the local application of a nationwide project to revitalise run-down areas in city centres. The latter went by the delightful, easy-to-remember name of PNRQAD (Plan national de requalification des centres anciens dégradés).

The 2013 breakthrough followed on from initial efforts to bring the place to life in 2010, led by a local association poetically known as “Le Bruit du Frigo”. They held various happenings here in an area that was, in essence, little-used land that was split between the student housing organisation CROUS and the vocational training establishment ERP Robert Lateulade (the city council has gained the right to use the State-owned ground and will, in time, fully acquire the property). Prior to that, the area was part of a convent, le Couvent des Capucins.


The garden’s most notable characteristic though is that it stretches along the old city walls ("les remparts"), as hinted at when looking at the long, linear stone wall which separates the Jardin from neighbouring houses (as pictured above). By one of the two entrances to the garden (where there are currently temporary metal staircases, set to be replaced by permanent steps sometime soon), a surviving section of the 14th-century wall is fully exposed. At garden level, there are even traces of the old artillery terrace and parapet walk.

Top: remnants of the old city wall by the eastern entrance to the park. Bottom: traces of what must have been a doorway to and from the parapet walk, or else a sentry post.
The remainder of the 3,400-square-metre park is suitably low-fi and yet neat and pleasant. A pretty row of plane trees is broken up by the occasional bench and, more surprisingly, a small shrine or oratory, no doubt a survivor of the area's convent past. Looking closely, a Latin inscription can just about be made out at its base. The text reads “Filioli mei, quos iterum parturio, donec formetur Christus in vobis”. With a little help from Twitter, and more specifically the good people at the Association Régionale des Enseignants de Langues Anciennes de l'académie de Bordeaux (@Arelabor), this was identified as being a bible verse, Galatians 4:19, the King James translation being “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you”.

The oratory and the old steps which led down to the courtyard.
The fenced-off remains of a stone staircase lead down from the oratory to the courtyard of today’s vocational training establishment, although it is easy enough to imagine the scene being that of the 17th-century convent. Down at that lower level, some serious street art now adorns a wall that forms a bit of a dead end for visitors. As I take a photo of the wall, a dog runs up to the wall and starts performing for the camera before heading back up to join its master and his fellow dog-walkers.

I believe the dog's name was Watson. Elementary.
For it turns out that the Jardin des Remparts is a meeting point for the local dog-owning community (although I must say that, having read an article over at the brilliantly-named thetropicaldog.com, I was indeed expecting to encounter some canine friends). It is still early on a Sunday morning, but a group of dog-walkers have assembled towards the middle of the 100-metre promenade. And while I’m in the vicinity, a further gentleman and his two greyhounds arrive only to be gently told off for being 20 minutes late for the appointment!

I carefully make my way past the playful dogs and exchange a few niceties with one of the owners. We generally comment on how pleasant the Jardin is, but she quickly adds that it can only remain that way if people respect it. I ask her to explain what she means and she mentions that the place is often littered with the remains of food left by people passing through. And, in one corner, I do indeed spot some rogue beer bottles and wrappers that really shouldn’t be there. This is obviously a place that the locals have quickly warmed to and that is not be messed with; you get a feeling that the park is a natural extension of their habitat.
Views from the Jardin.
Finally, I make use of this unusual raised vantage point to take in a few sights that I’ve never before viewed from this angle: the spire of Saint-Michel church, the roof of the recently-renovated Marché des Douves building, and the exterior of the old convent chapel that lies within the grounds of the CROUS, a place which seems to be out-of-bounds but which can, apparently, occasionally be visited. I also spot an unusual, enigmatic white dome, which I think is pictured on the ERP Robert Lateulade's website here.

My time in the Jardin des Remparts has come to an end but I just know I’ll be back. I have a feeling the next time I’m in amongst the hustle and bustle of the Saint-Michel district or the Capucins market, surely among the liveliest and most energetic of the city's neighbourhoods, I will be only too proud to guide whoever is with me back towards the city’s secret garden on the old city walls, to enjoy a quiet walk in amongst the local dog population!

> Note: at this point in time, the Jardin des Remparts can only be reached via metal staircases on rue Marbotin and rue des Douves. Disabled access will reportedly be added in the future. 
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Jardin des Remparts, rue Marbotin/rue des Douves, Bordeaux.
> Extra special thanks to Association Régionale des Enseignants de Langues Anciennes de l'académie de Bordeaux (@Arelabor), contacted via Émilie Bordographe, for help in deciphering and identifying the Latin inscription on the oratory. Thanks also to Alan Davey who was in touch too!
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !  

In the Sainte-Croix district, which lies mid-way between the Saint-Michel quarter and Saint-Jean railway station, there are a number of...


In the Sainte-Croix district, which lies mid-way between the Saint-Michel quarter and Saint-Jean railway station, there are a number of unusual sights to take in. Here is the Invisible Bordeaux guide to four of those sights, bearing in mind that they are all interconnected in many ways.

Sainte-Croix church 


This magnificent church was originally an abbey that formed part of a Benedictin monastery whose roots can be traced back to the 7th century. As with many churches, sections have been added over the course of time: the right-hand bell tower dates back to the 12th century, whereas the left-hand bell tower is a relatively recent addition, conceived as it was in the 19th century by the architect Paul Abadie, who we have already encountered on the blog and who is perhaps best-known as the man behind the famous Sacré-Coeur church on the heights of Montmartre in Paris. 

The exterior is a remarkable succession of impressive details, such as the hundreds of individual carved figures above the main door. And I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the sculpture of Saint George slaying the dragon, which can be spotted over to the left-hand side of the main façade.


One of the most characteristic features of the church is its organ. It was originally installed in the 1740s by one of the abbey’s monks, one Dom Bedos de Celles. The organ was considered to be so good that, in 1812, the archbishop of Bordeaux decided he wanted it to be moved to the city’s cathedral. A straightforward “organ swap” and each church installed the other’s organ, as it were (other than the cabinets, which remained in place). In the 1970s, the cathedral decided to commission a new organ and the original Dom Bedos creation was transferred back to Sainte-Croix in 1984. The move as overseen by organ specialists Pascal Quoirin, who meticulously followed instructions drafted by Dom Bedos 250 years earlier. The relocation was a success and is regarded as a milestone event in the recent history of organs!

Sainte-Croix fountain (also known as Fontaine des Bénédictins)


In the grounds behind the church, known as Square Dom Bedos, a Baroque style dressed stone fountain which is now dry can be spotted, its twin staircases leading down to the basin which lies below ground level. It was first installed here in 1735 by another group of Benedictin monks, who were decidedly productive during that period! The fountain was listed as an historic monument in 1890, the year after the nearby abbey monastery building was converted, by architect Alphonse Ricard, into the city’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

The fountain is a veritable work of art, with various carved figures to take in, a pair of rather magnificent columns, the word “pax” prominently displayed towards the top, and a pleasing sense of symmetry that wouldn’t look out of place in the grounds of a royal residence. The piece is topped off by a shell-shaped motif. The fountain’s main initial purpose was to embellish the old city wall which ran alongside the grounds of the monastery, and that is our next stop.

Remnants of the old city walls


Over the course of its history, Bordeaux has gradually expanded, and in medieval times the fortified city walls had to be revised and rebuilt to keep up with the city’s outward evolution. The section of wall that can be viewed here is referred to as Bordeaux’s “troisième enceinte”, in other words the third-generation city wall. It was erected between 1302 and 1307 at a time when Bordeaux was under English rule. So, in a way, this is a little bit of England in Bordeaux!

Looking at it today, it is not too difficult to imagine archers positioned on the wall, their heads peering above the parapet to protect the city from intruders. On the city side of the wall, doors are positioned either side of the fountain. What could possibly be behind those doors? Another section of the “troisième enceinte” city wall can be found just a few hundred metres away. Invisible Bordeaux will be shortly investigating the subject, another one of the city’s hidden gems! 


École des Beaux-Arts

We finish up outside the École des Beaux-Arts, the city’s fine arts college. Within the grounds, near to the aforementioned fountain, a fine wrought iron gate can be admired. It is among the features retained by Alphonse Ricard when he overhauled the building ahead of the educational establishment moving in. Another door also proudly displays the word “pax”, a carved legend from the Benedictin monks’ era that has stood the test of time. But perhaps the most surprising exhibits are to be found outside the main entrance to the Ecole, where several pieces are on display and used by students for their artistic projects. To visitors, it feels more like walking into an archaeologist’s dream.


There is an elegant frontispiece that was originally designed to end up on Place de la Bourse, sculpted by Claude Francin, whose work does indeed grace the buildings on Bordeaux’s most picture postcard-friendly square. And there are four statues, referred to as the “muses” which stand atop the Grand-Théâtre. So what is the story there? Are they replicas? Originals that became damaged and were replaced? Whatever, it’s fascinating to be able to have a closer look at these figures which are the direct counterparts of the opera house’s statues that can only really be viewed from ground level and therefore from a certain distance.

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Sainte-Croix church, Sainte-Croix fountain and city wall, École des Beaux-arts. 
> NB: Square Dom-Bedos (where the fountain is located) is only open daytime until 6pm and is closed at weekends.   

On Saturday April 1st at 8:30pm, Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc may just be the place to be to take in a rather unique performance of the Invisi...



On Saturday April 1st at 8:30pm, Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc may just be the place to be to take in a rather unique performance of the Invisible Bordeaux live spin-off, the Shuman Show!

Loyal readers will be familiar with the Shuman Show, which is a musical extravaganza that has been developed around a subject covered on the blog: Mort Shuman. The 75-minute show provides samples of the music Shuman wrote throughout his career, interspersed with a number of anecdotes that not only connect to tell the full story, but add extra layers of understanding to the songs themselves. Above all, the Shuman Show is great fun.

For this performance being held in and supported by my adopted hometown, Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc, I will be joined on stage by percussionists who are students at the local CESAM Frédéric-Chopin music school, as well as by a top bassist, adding a whole new dimension to the Shuman Show setlist. It therefore promises to be a performance unlike any of the previous shows held in Bordeaux, Gradignan and Mérignac in recent months. 

I hope to see you there!

Here is everything you need to know about the Saint-Aubin date:
> Saturday April 1st 2017 at 8:30pm, Salle Hermès, Espace Villepreux, route du Tronquet, Saint-Aubin-de-Médoc
> Admission is free of charge, further information on 06 81 23 18 87
> Dedicated Facebook event page here and full introduction to the Shuman Show here

Hundreds of sculpted masks, or “ mascarons ” (from the Italian “ mascherone ”), can be seen on the exteriors of buildings in Bordeaux. ...

Hundreds of sculpted masks, or “mascarons” (from the Italian “mascherone”), can be seen on the exteriors of buildings in Bordeaux. On the 18th-century façades of Place de la Bourse, one of the city's most emblematic squares, there are 86 such mascarons to be spotted, 55 on the square proper while the others are on the waterfront façades of the buildings that flank the square.

Each and every mascaron seems to have its own unique personality, although some do seem to be eerily similar... and to make life easier for you, all the Place de la Bourse mascarons feature in this short clip! There are mascarons that represent ancient gods or mythological figures, others which are symbols of the city's slave trade past, and others still that depict bygone Bordeaux dignitaries.

So sit back, relax, enjoy the clip and then hop on a tram to view them all for yourself!

A blog such as Invisible Bordeaux is, in essence, a linear compilation of content with articles stacked up in chronological order, with ...


A blog such as Invisible Bordeaux is, in essence, a linear compilation of content with articles stacked up in chronological order, with the most recent items given priority homepage treatment. 

But don't forget that there is another way of browsing subjects: by consulting the Invisible Bordeaux map! It includes literally hundreds of pinned locations in and around Bordeaux (and one in Canada), all of which feature photos, a brief description and a link to the related blog item. 

So get scrolling and spot the unusual sights that are to be seen. You can click through to the Invisible Bordeaux map here, and if you're viewing this page in a standard internet browser, it should also appear as if by magic in a window below. Enjoy!

Bordeaux’s wartime history remains an opaque affair. Throughout that dark period, the city was the scene of many events, some of which ...

Bordeaux’s wartime history remains an opaque affair. Throughout that dark period, the city was the scene of many events, some of which were of huge strategic significance, some proved dramatic, others inspirational, while others stand out as particularly unsavoury when viewed from a 21st-century vantage point. One such example of the latter is an exhibition entitled “Le Juif et la France” hosted at the city hall over six weeks.

Outside the Palais Berlitz event in Paris,
photo source: www.cndp.fr
The context is well-documented: in late 1940, the Vichy regime began implementing a policy aimed at excluding Jews from any kind of role in the community. Jews found themselves being rejected from positions in all walks of life, from the civil service to education, press and the cinema industry. This policy facilitated the radical plans deployed by the Nazis to deport and exterminate Jews with a view to enacting their so-called “Final Solution”. 

To gain widespread public support among France’s non-Jewish population, the regime resorted to various propaganda drives that stigmatised Jews. These initiatives included the Le Juif et la France exhibition which was first held at Palais Berlitz on the boulevards in Paris from September 5th 1941 to January 15th 1942. The exhibition was organised by IEQJ, the Institut d’Études des Questions Juives, a body which was financed by the German embassy in France and overseen by Nazi security and propaganda services.

The exhibition sought to highlight the stronghold that Jews had secured within institutions and economic sectors throughout France. In addition, to help citizens become more effective in recognising the “enemy”, the exhibition provided a beginners’ guide to the physical features of Jews. It also went beyond these stereotypes to point fingers at emblematic individuals who were showcased on large panels, such as the furniture seller Wolff Lévitan, radio journalist Jean-Michel Grunebaum, playwright Henri Bernstein and the politician Léon Blum.

Some of the displays from the Paris leg of the exhibition, picture sources:
aufildelhistoire.u.a.f.unblog.fr, parisenimages.fr and voir-et-transmettre.fr
Reported attendance figures for the four-month run in Paris vary wildly; estimates range from 155,000 to 500,000 visitors! But it is generally thought that after initial success, interest soon waned as locals grew wary of what they were being fed. The time had come for the exhibition to relocate to the provinces and the plan was to hold it in ten other cities throughout France. In the end, it travelled to just two: Nancy and Bordeaux.

Significantly, the Bordeaux event was held in a wing within the grounds of the city hall, where the Musée des Beaux-Arts can now be found. The building had already served a similar purpose in May 1941, when it hosted an exhibition entitled “L’Allemagne de nos jours”, aimed at raising awareness about German culture and industry, its centerpiece being a bust of Adolf Hitler surrounded by a colourful hydrangea bed.

The Bordeaux leg of the Juif et la France exhibition opened on March 28th 1942 and ran for six weeks until May 11th (the Nancy event later stretched from July 4th to August 2nd). Again, it is difficult to establish reliable attendance figures but it is thought that over 60,000 viewed the exhibition in Bordeaux, including children from all local schools. The IEQJ's short-lived official publication, Le Cahier Jaune, later saluted the figure, equating it to 20% of the 300,000 living in and around Bordeaux at the time.

Along with the static exhibits, a makeshift cinema was set up under canvas in the gardens of the hôtel de ville, showing films including “Le Péril Juif” and “Les Corrupteurs”, and no less than three conferences were held each week.

The "cinéma permanent" and the same scene today.
The entrance to the exhibition (as also pictured in the lead photo at the top of the article), and the view today.
Reporting on the exhibition, local newspaper La Petite Gironde (whose allegiances lay firmly with German forces) related that those “forty days sufficed for our fellow citizens to take stock of the Jewish threat. In criminal enquiries it was hitherto customary to seek out the implication of a woman. We now know that when studying the causes of all misery, bankruptcy, financial disasters, scandals and war, we have to seek out the Jews”. Whether the message taken home by the people of Bordeaux was that clear-cut cannot easily be established, but the exhibition undeniably contributed to the climate that ultimately resulted in hundreds of Bordeaux Jews being rounded up and deported over the following months.

A closer look at the disturbing illustration that promoted
the exhibition. Source: http://paril.crdp.ac-caen.fr
What can be said about the involvement of local authorities? According to the writers of the authoritative biography of the mayor of Bordeaux at the time, Adrien Marquet (see footnote), the very fact that the city hall hosted the event demonstrated that the mairie was prepared to help channel the propaganda drive. Marquet (whose chequered legacy has long been earmarked as a future Invisible Bordeaux subject) certainly did not object to the event being held, although he kept a conspicuously low profile when it came to appearing at official functions, instead sending his deputy Robert Poplawski to the inauguration in his place.

In this instance, as so often when relating these wartime tales, what went on seems to be the unbelievable end-product of some unrecognisable parallel universe. And yet the setting is so familiar and so recent that it makes for chillingly painful reading. Then again, perhaps we need more stark reminders of these past events right now… 

This "Actualités Mondiales" clip reports on the exhibition in Paris:
> The authoritative biography of Adrien Marquet referred to further up the page is Adrien Marquet, les dérives d'une ambition by Hubert Bonin, Bernard Lachaise and Françoise Taliano Des Garets.
> Further reading:  
- https://www.histoire-image.org/etudes/exposition-juif-france-paris 
- http://www.gauchemip.org/spip.php?article8812 
- http://rue89bordeaux.com/2015/05/13-mai-44-dernier-convoi-bordeaux-auschwitz/
> Photos from the Bordeaux event extracted from report in IEQJ publication Le Cahier Jaune, archived by the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine (report featured in Adrien Marquet, les dérives d'une ambition). 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français.