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Bordeaux (Municipality, Gironde, France)

Last modified: 2005-04-09 by
Keywords: gironde | bordeaux | fleur-de-lys: 3 (yellow) | leopard (yellow) | lion (yellow) | crescent (white) | castle (white) | cross (white) | diamond (blue) | letters: cvb (white) | bayssellance (adrien) | anchors: 3 (black) |
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[Flag of Bordeaux]by Arnaud Leroy


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Presentation of Bordeaux

The city of Bordeaux (200,000 inhabitants; 650,000 including the outskirts) is the eigth French city by its population, located on the river Garonne. Bordeaux is the préfecture of the department of Gironde and of the Region Aquitaine.

Bordeaux, then Burdigalia, was the capital city of the Gaul tribe of Bituriges Vivisques. The city increased in importance after the Roman conquest and was successively besieged by the Wisigoths, the Arabs and the Normans.

The Duchy of Aquitaine, with Bordeaux as its capital city, was created by King Dagobert (629-638). Duke Huon probably never existed but is the main character of the eponymic chanson de geste (XIIIth century). According to the legend, Huon inadvertently killed a son of Charlemagne and was sentenced to exile. To be forgiven, he was sent to Babylon, where he had to cut the beard of the Emir, pulled him four molars and married his daughter. He was helped in his adventures by the elf Oberon, who started later a new career thanks to Will Shakespeare. Duke Guillaume Tête d'Etoupe (William Tow-Head) was more real and married his daughter to King of France Hugues Capet, becoming therefore the root of the Capetian dynasty.

In 1137, Louis, Crown Prince of France, married Aliénor (Eleanor), the unique daughter of Duke William of Aquitaine, and received as dowry the Duchy of Aquitaine, Périgord, Limousin, Poitou, Angoumois, Saintonge and Gascogne, as well as the suzereignty on Auvergne and the County of Toulouse. The marriage was celebrated in the cathedral of Bordeaux. Louis became King of France as Louis VII but the marriage turned sour because the King was serious and the Queen frivolous. In 1152, the Council of Beaugency pronounced the divorce. Eleanor took back her dowry and married two months later Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and suzereign on Maine, Touraine and Normandy, which made, added to Eleanor's dowry, a territory larger and wealthier than the Kingdom of France. In 1154, Henry inherited the Crown of England and became King Henry II, and the rivalry between France and England started.

In the XIVth century, during the Hundred Years' War, Bordeaux was the capital city of the Black Prince. Aquitaine became known as Guyenne, following the English pronounciation, and this name remained in use until the French Revolution. The citizens of Bordeaux took great advantage of the situation: they exported wine to England and sold arms to all belligerents. They were allowed to elect their Mayor and Municipal Councillors, called jurats. In 1453, Bordeaux and Guyenne were seized by France, and the war ended after the battle of Castillon. King Louis XI then established a Parliament in Bordeaux.

In order to better control the provinces and bring back more money to the King, Richelieu established in the XVIIth century the intendances, and the sytem was later improved by Colbert. In the XVIIIth century, the intendants gave to Bordeaux its modern aspect: more than 5,000 buildings, including the City Hall, the Great Theater (architect Victor Louis, 1773-1780), the Customs Hotel and the Stocks Hotel (architects Gabriel Sr. and Jr., 1730-1755) were built. The "Old Bordeaux" (Vieux Bordeaux) is now a protected area of 150 ha characterized by its architectural homogeneity.

During the French Revolution, a political group was consituted in 1791 by Brissot and called the Brissotins. Since several Deputies from the department of Gironde had joined the group, it was rapidly known as the Girondins. They tried to promote the progressive bourgeoisie and federalism against the Jacobins, and were eventually suppressed in May-October 1793.

First port of the Kingdom during the Ancient Regime, Bordeaux suffered during the First Empire from the Continental System. Its trading activity resumed under the Bourbonic Restoration and the Second Empire.

In 1870, 1914 and 1940, the French Government withdrew to Bordeaux because of the German breakout. Bordeaux received the nickname of "Tragic Capital City" (la Capitale tragique).
During the Second World War, a submarine base was built by the German Navy. When the Germans withdrew, the port of Bordeaux miraculously escaped destruction thanks to the heroism of a German seaman who contacted the French Resistance and sabotaged the destruction plan. The seaman took the French nationality and revealed the true story only a few years ago. Until then, a local leader of the French Resistance had credited himself of the sabotage.

The city of Bordeaux has developed new districts located in the periphery of the "Old Bordeaux". From the Liberation to the 90s, the Mayor of Bordeaux was Jacques Chaban-Delmas (1915-2000), appointed General by de Gaulle in 1944 when 29. Chaban-Delmas was several times Minister, Prime Minister from 1969 to 1972 (under Georges Pompidou) and President of the National Assembly (1958-1969, 1978-1981, 1986-1988). He was also Deputy of Gironde from 1946 to 1993, and President of the Region Aquitaine (1974-1979; 1985-1988). François Mauriac (see below) nicknamed him un Bonaparte gai"("a cheerful Bonaparte").

Most of the fame of Bordeaux is due to the vineyards which stretch over 135,000 ha (105 x 130 km) in the areas of Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Graves, Sauternes and Barsac, Premières Côtes de Bordeaux, Côtes de Bordeaux-Saint-Macaire, Entre-Deux-Mers, Saint-Emilion, etc. The vineyard is organized in c. 12,000 estates called châteaux (castles), with 53 appellations (brand names) from six main classes. Annual production is about 600 millions of bottles (3/4 red wines, 1/4 white wines), one third of them being exported.
The white wine from Sauternes gets its specific sweet taste from a fungus (Botrytis cinerea), which is normally considered as a harmful pathogen (rot) but called in Sauternes pourriture noble ("noble rot"). The fungus colonizes the grapes only partially and short before harvest, causing them loss of water and therefore increasing their sugar content. In the Château-d'Yquem, maybe the most renowned Sauternes castle, the grapes are selected by hand, berry by berry, and the whole production of a year might be discarded if it does not meet very high quality standards.

Two main French writers, Montaigne and Mauriac, are linked to Bordeaux.
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was not born in Bordeaux but in neighbouring Périgord. However, several episodes of his life took place in Bordeaux. In 1558, the local court of Périgueux was transfered to Bordeaux, where Montaigne met a colleague called La Boétie. This was the beginning of a close friendship who ended six years later with La Boétie's death and is the subject of the most famous section (I, 26) of Montaigne's Essais. Those Essais were published for the first time in Bordeaux in 1580. Montaigne was elected Mayor of Bordeaux from 1580 to 1586, during the Religion Wars, and served as a mediator between the Protestant leader Henri of Navarre and Marshal of Matignon, appointed Governor of Guyenne by the Roman Catholic King of France Henri III.

François Mauriac (1885-1970) was born in Bordeaux, which is often portrayed in his novels and poems. Mauriac was elected to the French Academy in 1933. In 1952, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature and started a new career as journalist and polemist. His weekly Bloc-note was one of the main events of the French intellectual life in the 50-60s. Mauriac supported General de Gaulle but violently denounced the use of torture during the Algerian Independence War.

Ivan Sache, 18 September 2002


Municipal flag of Bordeaux

The flag of Bordeaux, as reported by Pascal Vagnat, is white with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.

On the arms, the leopard recalls that Bordeaux was the capital city of the Duchy of Guyenne.
The castle shows the towers of the former city hall, from which only the Grosse Cloche (the Big Bell) was preserved. This bell was placed in a beffrey, and was rung to announce the beginning of grape harvest. It is said that when the King of France was not happy with the people of Bordeaux, which might have happened quite often since the city had its own Parliament, he ordered the bells and clocks to be removed.
The water symbolizes the river Garonne (but the real Bell tower is not located on the river) and the moon crescent stands for the curve made by this river inside the city.

The motto of Bordeaux is Lilia solia regunt lunma undas castra leonem (Only the lys shall reign on the moon, the waters, the castle and the lion.)

Source: GASO website

Ivan Sache, 18 September 2002


Mayor Bayssellance and the flags

Adrien Bayssellance (1829-1907) was Mayor of Bordeaux from 1888 to 1892. He was born in an old local Protestant family and had very strict moral values.
During his mandate, his contributions to the maintenance of law and order in Bordeaux were the following:

Ivan Sache, 27 July 2004


Yacht clubs

Cercle de la Marine de Bordeaux

[CM Bordeaux]by Ivan Sache

Cercle de la Marine de Bordeaux was founded in 1932. Its burgee is white with three black anchors placed 2 and 1 and a white triangle at fly.

Source: Yacht Club de France website (affiliated clubs)

Ivan Sache, 28 December 2004


Cercle de la Voile de Bordeaux

[CV Bordeaux]by José Carlos Alegria

The burgee of CVB is red with a red cross and a blue diamond with a white border and the letters CVB in blue in the middle of the cross.

Ivan Sache, 27 March 2005

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