4 Dec 2010

Bordeaux the magnificent

Bordeaux used to be quite a drab, dark place to visit, often sadly ramshackled, yet here and there showing signs of decaying past glory through its accumulated, creeping dampness that paced a veil over much of its architectural splendour. This city contains one of the purest ensembles of 17th and 18th century urban architecture, which reaches far beyond the magical facades that front onto the Garonne (as shown in these photographs which I did NOT take, but have gratefully borrowed from the web) and includes official edifices and rich patrician houses, as well as modest town buildings, wine warehouses and shops. And not just a few, but whole blocks and even districts of them. Bordeaux owes this architectural survival act to the fact that, unlike many European cities, it has not suffered from recent wars, as well as to its considerable wealth accumulated over centuries through not only the wine trade, but also the shameful slave trade (and to this, unlike the city of Nantes which consecrates a large museum section to the issue and which has publicly regretted the fact, it has barely admitted).

To get a feel of the depth of this beauty, just wander through the maize of back streets in an vast area that radiates from the river front on the left bank and all around the Grand Theatre, covering at least 5 square miles, and you will discover, alternating between large open boulevards, gardens, busy shopping streets (which I personally tend to avoid like the plague), narrow back streets, and the endless waterfront that has been so gloriously opened up, enough architectural splendour to fill your eyes and soul for a while.

I was there recently under the snow, which provided added sharpness to the lines of roofs, balconies and stonework. Do not miss Bordeaux, illuminated by the Garonne that slices like liquid light into its centre. The work of restoration and modernisation carried out there by the teams of the current mayor, Alain Juppé, is one of the great successes of urban rehabilitation on a major scale that I have seen anywhere. And cars have been mercifully discouraged from most of the centre, thanks to the tram system and bicycles.

I will speak about some of its lesser-known wines in a few days.

And if you want to see more of this fine city, take a look at this more recent posting too...

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