Squares (or places in French) play a unifying role in cities. As places where streets and avenues come together, easy-to-find points of reference and meeting places for children, OAPs, lovers and tourists, they allow us all to take a break and represent cities and the neighbourhoods within them. What’s more, I’ve found that they tend to change when statues or fountains are added or destroyed – new developments transform them.
There are plenty of squares in Bordeaux but my personal favourites are linked to my routine, my idiosyncrasies and my memories. Some of these squares are well known, others are much less so. The Place de la Bourse is obviously the most famous square in Bordeaux. It has it all: its size, its majestic design, its location overlooking the Garonne and the Miroir d’eau reflecting pool which has become an unmissable spot where you can have fun, cool down or take a selfie. The centre of the square is occupied by a fountain which shows the Three Graces which replaced the Louis XV sculpture which was destroyed in 1792 during the French Revolution. I never tire of looking at the eighteenth century facades in white stone, designed by Gabriel and which surround the square in a semicircle.
The Place Gambetta has lost some of its charm in recent years, having been turned into roundabout for buses. But I’ll never forget the amazement I felt when I used to stand on a small bridge, gazing down at the large carp which swam in the stream there. Afterwards, I used to enjoy a pine nut croissant at Darricau. The chocolatier still exists but its tea room and its croissants have gone. As I left, I used to glance at the “Zero km” marker, discreetly leaning against the wall of number 10. This is the official centre of Bordeaux – or rather, the centre of my world as far as I was concerned when I was a little girl.
The Place des Martyrs de la Résistance is definitely “my” square. It’s another square in the centre of Bordeaux which isn’t visited by tourists. It’s rich with history with the Saint Seurin church, but that’s not why I love it so much. When I was little, I used to pass it four times a day on the way to and from school. It was still called the Allées Damour – a name which I found very poetic, seeing the word as “d’amour” (“of love”) in my head. There used to be a statue of my hero Vercingetorix, the glorious Gaul who fought against the Romans. It has since disappeared. There was also a pond, replaced by an unremarkable playground, where I used to sail my red and white sail boat. Every spring, it held the Saint Fort fair, a flower show. That was always the moment when I used to be sat on the tomb of Saint Fort in the crypt of the Saint Seurin church so that I wouldn’t fall ill during the year.
Lastly, I recently discovered the Place Amédée-Larrieu which is a joy! Yet it’s unknown to most Bordeaux residents and isn’t visited by tourists. It has an Art nouveau design which is unusual in Bordeaux with a former market with curled wrought ironwork worthy of Horta and a fountain by Raoul Verlet, called Burdigala. It’s a breath-taking sight, made up of a nymph on a boat, mermen, cherubs, turtles and other animals as well as a woman, an allegory of the vines for which Bordeaux is so well known.