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Bordeaux may be made up of ‘arrondissements’ like Paris, but people tend to talk about the city in terms of quarters (quartiers). Each quarter has a name and encompasses a relatively precise area, often flanked by two main roads or streets. Let’s start with the oldest one, which is often considered the most beautiful of Bordeaux’s quarters.

Saint Pierre
Right in the heart of Bordeaux, the St Pierre quarter is the historic centre of the town. It’s made up of beautiful little streets, some of which are still paved. Saint Pierre is Bordeaux’s culinary capital, with a large amount of restaurants to suit every taste and pocket ‘ something for gourmets and gourmands. The Place du Parlement is home to some wonderful architecture and a decorative fountain. Also in the area is the Eglise Saint Pierre, built in the XVth and XVIth centuries on the site of the former Gallo-roman port.

This very attractive quarter, set on the banks of the Garonne, used to be very busy and wealthy thanks to the wine trade. Here, merchants and businessmen rubbed shoulders with sailors and labourers. Its name comes from the Chartreux convent, built in the XVIIth century, and it used to be the centre both of the town and of Anglo-Saxon and protestant life. With the decline of river-trade, the quarter emptied, becoming a calm residential area with antique shops. A section of the quarter is today known as the ‘village des antiquaries’ or antique-shop village. In this area visitors can take in the Musée des Chartrons, and nearer the banks of the Garonne theCroiseur Colbert. Not far from here is the magnificent centre of Contemporary art, CAPC.

Saint Eloi
This focal point of this quarter is, of course, the Grosse Cloche, just next to the Eglise Saint Eloi. Bordeaux’s main shopping street (2kms long!) ‘ the rue Sainte Catherine – is near here. The Grosse Cloche links the Saint Michel, Victoire and Saint Pierre quarters ‘ it’s a sort of crossroads for the oldest, pre-medieval quarters and the areas that were modernised from the XVIIth century onwards.

Saint Michel
Separated from the St Pierre quarter by the cours Victor Hugo, the St Michel quarter is by far the liveliest and most colourful area in town. Spaniards, Portuguese, North Africans and French live happily side-by-side and visitors can enjoy food and drink from a variety of cultures, often at very reasonable prices. Built around the Saint Michel basilica, a Gothic church erected at the end of the XVth century, and the Flèche Saint Michel, at 114 metres the highest monument in Bordeaux, this popular quarter has a young vibe. Every Monday morning there is a clothes market on the square and Saturday mornings see two other large markets: the Capucins, on rue Elie Gintrac and the one around the flèche Saint Michel. Sunday morning is reserved for bric-a brac and antiques. Guaranteed to be buzzing.

Sainte Croix
Formerly a suburb, this quarter only became part of the city proper in the XIVth century. The Romanesque church of Sainte Croix, built between the end of the XIth and XII centuries, stands on the place Renaudel. This institution remained Benedictine until the Revolution and is now a parish church. Today the heart of the quarter borders the older, pre-XIIIth century areas and the zones that were modernised during the XIXth and XXth centuries.

The station quarter
On arrival in Bordeaux’s train station, visitors can immediately admire the building itself ‘ the Gare – an enormous hall built in the arc of a circle. This quarter equals 24hr service par excellence ‘ this is the place to buy food, drink and cigarettes, day or night. It’s a popular area, with numerous sex-shops, bars, restaurants and hotels (from basic to luxurious). Travellers, weary from their train journey can try the Hôtel Ibis.

Centre of student night-life, the Place de la Victoire is one of Bordeaux’s larger squares. Just like a compass, this focal point looks to the North, South, East and West and as such is a good place from which to orient yourself. The rue Sainte Catherine starts with the passage under the Porte d’Aquitaine.

Grands Hommes
This chic, elegant quarter is home to the old Dominican Notre Dame church, built in 1684. Not far from here are the former place Dauphine (1747), the Place Gambetta, the Allées de Tourny, a walkway which was done up in 1745 by Tourny, and the cours de l’Intendance, a triumphal way used by many a King and chief of State. The Grand Théâtre stands on the place de la Comédie. 

History of Bordeaux

The first traces of the town of Bordeaux date from the first century AD. Burdigala, founded by the Biturgies Vivisques in the first century, quickly became a prosperous town. This prosperity was upset by a succession of barbaric invasions – by the Vandals, Wisigothics, Francs and Normans – until the twelfth century.

With the marriage of Aliénor d’Aquitaine and Henri II Plantagenet in 1154, Bordeaux returned to peace. The town came under English control, which lasted for three centuries. During this period the town began to grow. The exportation of wine to England in the thirteenth century gave Bordeaux its reputation in the wine trade. The town reached its apogee under Edouard de Woodstock. English ownership gradually dwindled, and by 1453 represented only a small band which extended from Bordeaux to Biarritz. After the Hundred Years War, as a result of the battle of Castillon, Bordeaux fell back under the authority of the king of France. The town only regained its sovereignty in 1462. Louis XIV gave Bordeaux the definitive status of a town in the kingdom of France.

Bordeaux enjoyed a second boom as a result of the wine trade, its main activity, but the colonial trading quickly increased. From 1660, trade between France and the West Indies intensified and flourished even more in the eighteenth century. As with Spain, the trading route was essentially triangular in nature: export of manufactured products and hardware from Nantes, Bordeaux, and Rouen. In Senegal or Guinea, hardware was exchanged for slaves who were transported to Santo Domingo, Guadeloupe and Martinique. The ships brought back sugar, coffee and indigo. In 1774 562 ships from the West Indies came back to France and almost half of them came into Bordeaux.

The town was hit by revolution, empire and the Terror. Trade was therefore affected and did not get back into full swing until the middle of the nineteenth century with the sale of groundnuts. Once again Bordeaux became a commercial and industrial centre. Unfortunately, phylloxera, a disease which infects vines, had devastating consequences on Bordeaux’s vineyards. At the beginning of the twentieth century the town experienced resurgence as a result of weaponry. Then during the Second World War Bordeaux was affected by a series of troubles, e.g. the ones caused by Maurice Papon.

At the end of World War II, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the radical socialist MP from Gironde, became the mayor of Bordeaux in 1947 and remained in the position until the town elections of 1995, when Alain Juppé succeeded him. Jaques Chaban Delmas was mayor of the town for almost fifty years. The Bordeaux of Today reflects the stages of his political office. Bordeaux also became a large urban area, and its existence was recognized and organized by the creation of the Town Council of Bordeaux (bill of 31st December 1966). In 1990, the town proper of Bordeaux consisted of 210 428 inhabitants, while the town together with its suburbs counted 696 587 inhabitants.