The six-month extravaganza was the brainchild of the Ligue Maritime Française, an institution which aimed to develop and promote the nation’s military and merchant shipping industry. The decision was made to open up the exhibition to other countries, many of whom accepted the invitation to take part in the event which was also an excellent opportunity to commemorate the centenary of steam-powered shipping. From there the event developed further still to showcase other wide-ranging sectors of activity as well as being the venue for 50 trade conferences.
When researching the subject, I was surprised to see how little information was available. The most complete accounts were all the work of former IT executive Hervé Guichoux, an industrious 86-year-old author and member of the Société Française d’Histoire Maritime [please see footnote]. I arranged to meet Mr Guichoux who talked me through the collection of photographs and artefacts that he had compiled for a “virtual visit” of the exhibition, released on CD-ROM in 2007.
“For six months, Bordeaux was the absolute centre of the maritime world,” Mr Guichoux comments. “The fair drew hundreds of thousands of visitors, including VIPs such as the Prince of Sweden and the King of Spain. Many people would pay return visits because it took so long to see everything there was to see! It was as if a whole town had been built from scratch!”
|Sights at the fair including (top) the Belgian and American pavilions, the Gironde wine pavilion and the Grand Palais; (bottom) the restaurant and the Pavilion de l'Automobile (note the Chocolat Louit advertisement).|
|Inside the main concourse, the Fair's international "commissioners" and one of many congresses held during the event (a gathering of printers).|
At the riverside end, the structure was flanked by two towers that were 45 metres in height. Elevators enabled visitors to reach the top and enjoy panoramic views over the fair, the Garonne and the rooftops of Bordeaux! At night, the towers were illuminated and shone powerful beams of light over land and water.
|The official map.|
|Quayside, including the metal footbridge (details below).|
Elsewhere, visitors could also enjoy the silver screen delights provided by the Royal Palace Cinématographe, the “Aéroplane” rotary ride attraction (where patrons would spin at speeds of up to 50km/h), and a rich programme of musical performances.
|The "Aéroplane" in full flow outside the Cinématographe, the bandstand during a performance, and another busy day at the fair.|
|"Le village africain".|
|Artefacts: poster, a raffle ticket, a postcard and the cover of the official guide.|
|The maritime fair by night and the scene on the Garonne (including Russian destroyers, bottom right).|
|The Vérité sets to sea.|
As for the fair itself, absolutely nothing remains of it today. “Everything was completely dismantled and destroyed,” Mr Guichoux says. “It was with a clean slate that Bordeaux organised its next big event, the 1909 Fête des Vendanges, celebrating the wine trade.”
The detailed CD-ROM Hervé Guichoux painstakingly produced, to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the fair, really does provide a sense of the atmosphere and scale of the event. “My aim was to construct a virtual museum, using archive photos from books and personal collections.” Thanks to this labour of love, the 1907 fair has been fully documented and, in many ways, continues to live on.