Bordeaux history notes

Saint-Andre Cathedral
Saint-Andre Cathedral and the city from the Pey-Berland Tower. The cathedral, consecrated in 1096, was in 1137 the site of the wedding of Eleanor of Aquitane and Louis VII.
(Oliver Strewe / Getty Images)

Bits and pieces about Bordeaux:

•It sits on the Garonne River and has been an important port at least since Romans came here, about 56 BC. Before long, viticulture took root.

•In 1154, England took control when Henry II ascended to the throne. His wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had inherited it.

•In 1453, it was reunited with France.


•It is what it is today because of wine. Its wealth from wine merchants transformed the city in the 1700s, and it is that architecture that you see today.

•Fire destroyed Bordeaux’s theater in 1755, which gave rise to the Grand Théâtre, which some people think rivals Paris’ Palace of Versailles.

•Bordeaux was the city to which the government relocated in both World Wars; it was bombed by both the Germans and the Allies in World War II.

•But the damage to the city could have been far greater: Henri Salmide, a German naval officer, had been commanded to blow up the port but famously disobeyed those orders. Instead of killing what the Nazis estimated would have been 3,500 French, he killed 50 Nazis. He hid with a family in Bordeaux until the war was over.


•The center of the city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

•It has, UNESCO says, “more protected buildings than any other French city except Paris,” adding: “Its urban form represents the success of philosophers who wanted to make towns into melting pots of humanism, universality and culture.”

Sources: Fodor’s, Encyclopedia Britannica, “Architecture of France” by David A. Hanser

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