Bordeaux is not a city that is naturally associated with bullfighting and yet for many years it had its very own Pla...

The Bordeaux bullring circuit: Arènes du Bouscat to Floirac and La Brède

Bordeaux is not a city that is naturally associated with bullfighting and yet for many years it had its very own Plaza de Toros in the north-western suburb of Le Bouscat. And even today, the bullfighting tradition lives on in nearby La Brède once a year.

Let’s begin though by rewinding to 1863, when a bullring was set up in the Caudéran area of Bordeaux by a Spaniard named Lopez Vincent: les Arènes Bordelaises. A second, La Benatte, was opened in 1899 in  the Saint Seurin quarter. They operated until the early years of the 20th century, ahead of the more substantial Arènes du Bouscat being opened on May 8th 1921.

The Le Bouscat venue’s 25 stands could hold 10,500 spectators and, as well as being used for corrida meetings, the 41-metre-diameter ring was also used as a backdrop for concerts and wrestling bouts. From 1951 onwards, under the impetus of the renowned promoter Vicente Jorda, a prestigious bullfighting contest known as “L’Oreille d’Or” was held annually.


Pictured right is the legendary bullfighter Antoñete at the Arènes du Bouscat in July 1953, on his way to winning the first of three “Oreille d’Or” titles (he also won in 1955 and 1956). Meanwhile, rare Pathé footage of a 1950 bullfight in progress can be viewed here.

The last “Oreille d’Or” contest was held on June 18th 1961, shortly before the venue was closed down. It had fallen into a state of disrepair and the coup de grâce was reportedly the collapse of a staircase that resulted in the death of a spectator. There were several attempts to save the arena but it was eventually demolished in 1970, making way for a major residential complex that is aptly known as “Les Arènes”. The centrepiece of Les Arènes is a 1974 pink granite sculpture by Israeli artist Shelomo Selinger entitled “La Tauromachie” (see top picture), which harks back to the confrontations between man and beast that took place at that exact spot.


Bullfighting then faded into obscurity in the area until 1985, when meetings began to be held again in Captieux, 85 kilometres to the south of Bordeaux. Corridas are still organised there annually and frequently draw big-name matadors: in 2011, the star attraction was the world number one, El Juli.

Then, in 1988, a dismountable structure was erected in Floirac, in the immediate suburbs of Bordeaux. The venue, which prided itself in its status as the northernmost bullring in the world, was known as Plaza de Goya. The “temporary” 7,000-capacity structure remained in place for almost 20 years (!), before being auctioned off for 35,000 euros in November 2006.


The stands are now used in Fenouillet, to the north of Toulouse, although, at the time of writing, the Floirac arena was still visible on the GoogleMaps satellite picture of the area (right). The arena most definitely is no more though: apartments have now been built in its place and, as in Le Bouscat, the name of the building is a clear reference to the bullring history of its location: Résidence Plaza de Goya.


Meanwhile, in 1999, some 20 kilometres to the south of Bordeaux the small town of La Brède (the birthplace of the writer and thinker Montesquieu) began hosting well-attended bullfighting meetings as part of wider festivities known as la Fête de la Rosière in a temporary structure on an expanse of land known as Pré de l’Espérance.


For a time around 2004, as had already been the case in 1989, there was even talk of a permanent bullfighting venue being built in La Brède, whose mayor Michel Dufranc is a bullfighting enthusiast. But the project was not deemed financially viable by the prospective Spanish investors, who also backed out of a competing project in Floirac, no doubt to the delight of numerous local animal rights campaigners (such as the Collectif Girondin Contre les Arènes, or COGICA).

The La Brède festivities continue to take place every last weekend in June. The name of the event is in reference to the annual crowning (since 1824) of the “Rosière” that rewards the town’s “most virtuous young woman” (candidates are all aged 18). The bullfights are generally “novilladas”, combats between young toreros and young bulls, and the programme also features traditional “jeux de vaches landaises”, which are mayhem-filled contests that involve men (and sometimes women) running, jumping and employing improvised acrobatics around the ring to avoid getting hurt by visibly annoyed cows.

Pré de l'Espérance in the foreground, with La Brède's Église St Jean d'Étampes in the distance.

At the time of writing, there is talk of the municipally-owned land being used to build a privately-funded and privately-run multi-purpose venue that would incorporate its own dismountable 3,000-capacity bullfighting arena… but the project has not been welcomed with open arms by locals who have thus far been kept in the dark about the finer details of the venture. In the meantime, this is how La Brède goes about transforming the Pré de l’Espérance once a year:




7 comments:

  1. What an interesting and informative post. Have a great day. Diane

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    1. My pleasure - thanks for taking the time out to read the piece!

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  2. Fascinating stuff - just signed on to follow your blog, since I live in Talence.

    Coincidentally, I selected the same template for my blog: ontofrance.blogspot.com, though I've tinkered with it a bit.

    And finally, my passion is the patrimoine religieux de la Gironde and I know the church in La Brède as Saint-Jean d'Estampes Do you have a source I can consult on the spelling you used?

    Harvey in France

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  3. I remember working on campsites in the Aquitaine in the 90s, and quite often there were temporary bullrings set up, but I had never heard of any as far north as Bordeaux before (if you don't count Birmingham...).

    So, have you ever been to one of these events?

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    1. Nah, can't say I've ever been - don't think it's something I'd feel comfortable with. Can't say I'd feel so passionately about it as to be among the demonstrators who regularly congregated outside the arena in Floirac (part of the scenery there according to the guy who wrote about it on his blog, c.f. links) but I'd definitely be on the "anti" side of the fence!

      What is more, during the four years of my youth which were misspent in Bordeaux, I was blissfully unaware of the Floirac venue, which must have been operational at the time: 1992-1996. Maybe it was a well-kept secret (and I must say that raising the subject with people now, most are unaware of all these bullfighting venues).

      And yes, you're right, the Birmingham Bull Ring is further north, but I think the only combats it must stage are between humanoid revellers!

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  4. @ Harvey in France > It looks like the La Brède church is now officially known as St Jean d'Etampes and was previously known as Saint Jean d’Estampes. There are the makings of background information here. See also this page and this page.

    Thanks for calling in and delighted to have seen your page - spooky how we've gone for similar designs! And look out for the yellow bicycle in Talence one of these days!

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  5. Hey Tim. Thanks for finding/following my Paris blog. Love the Bordeaux story. My memories of Bordeaux is being caught in a major traffic jam in the afternoon. Thanks for the pics.

    I've just posted some great photos of Biarritz.

    Denise

    http://pichetsinparis.blogspot.com

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