Bordeaux industrial memories

Cities are alive, neighbourhoods change and so do their buildings. La Bastide area of Bordeaux contains a hidden world linked to the industrial past of Bordeaux. A moving and extraordinary journey.

La Bastide was for many years an area on the right bank of the Garonne that I would never have ventured into. I wasn’t particularly attracted to abandoned houses and industrial wastelands.  There was talk of regeneration projects. I wanted to go and take a look and found myself charmed by this abandoned area of the city.  Bordeaux has never been a truly industrial city, but it was in La Bastide that the most representative factories were concentrated.

Firstly, there was Motobloc, the famous luxury and racing car brand, which is particularly dear to me because my grandmother worked there making much-needed munitions during the war. There were around a thousand people, mostly women, assigned to that task at the time. The factory opened in 1902 and closed in 1961. There’s nothing left of it at all, not even the magnificent entrance designed by Alfred Cyprien Dupras.

The huge complex of the Caserne Niel barracks and the warehouses of the Magasins Généraux de la Gironde nearly disappeared too. The Magasins Généraux company built four warehouses in 1868 for the storage of goods. The State bought them in 1874 and built the Caserne Niel barracks there too. There later followed abandonment, deterioration and then squatters. In 2011 came the first stage of the renewal with the Darwin project, a regeneration carried out with respect for the environment and designed to welcome companies and organisations. Le Magasin Général is home to a bistro-refectory and an organic grocery store on the ground floor, the terrace of which is located beneath the hall and is Darwin’s meeting place par excellence.

However, rather than sitting down with a cup of tea, I go to check out the big central aisle which is surrounded by still abandoned  storehouses defying the tests of time and vandalism with their picturesque graffiti and half-open doors swinging in the wind as if they had a life of their own.

Further along are the former railway warehouses, dating back to 1852, which trains used to run through before they were ravaged by a fire after being closed down. They’ve just been brought back to life to house Bordeaux’ municipal archives. This imposing industrial building has regained its architectural power, sitting firmly on its huge stone wall ties. No doubt, I’ll miss the 17th century Ragueneau mansion in the city centre, where I was intending to carry out my research, and the superb wisteria that surrounded its door. However, cuttings have been taken from this plant, which is legendary in Bordeaux, so that the wisteria can flourish on the archives’ new site, at La Bastide, echoing the theme of eternal return.

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