“Echoppes” of Bordeaux

Traditional Bordeaux housing is often quite different to what tourists might imagine from glossy tourist brochures.When you wander around the city, you can clearly see that in the neighbourhoods where the people of the city really live, the streets are lined with those so characteristic little houses called “échoppes”.

Far from the prestigious buildings forming the facades of Bordeaux’s quays for which the city is famous, the “échoppes” have a modest aspect that I find touching. The word “échoppe” in Bordeaux does not mean a street stall or craftsman’s shop but suggests humble dwellings where, it is said, workers were accommodated. Many of them were built in the 19th century.

Bordeaux “échoppes” however observe a few architectural criteria: stone built and single-storey. They can have a fairly narrow or wider façade. The narrower “échoppes” have a lateral corridor and one or two windows in their façade The wider “échoppes” are built around a central corridor. Sometimes a number of “échoppes” can be found one after another along the street, but they can also be sandwiched between two higher buildings creating a somewhat comical effect.

Their surface area is often between 60 and 80 m². Bearing in mind their layout, “échoppes” have three successive rooms, the one in the middle, having no window, being rather dark. Traditionally they have a courtyard or a small garden at the back. All very basic.

But in spite of these houses’ cramped appearance and the standardization of their layout, I am moved by the fact that the owners often add something personal to their “échoppe” to distinguish it from the neighbour’s.

As I stroll around these streets I am always on the lookout for that small detail fashioned in the stonework. Often, it will be a carved ornament, e.g. an acanthus leaf above the door, simply to give the façade a vivid effect.

But I have also noticed garlands of flowers highlighting a lintel or baskets of fruit above windows, door jamb relief, columns around doors and windows. The limited surface area of these facades does nothing to quell my wonder before such artistic details. I even discovered an “art nouveau” “échoppe” in rue Guillaume Leblanc richly decorated with flowers, with arched windows and rounded front door. A marvelous little abode. When I am in the neighbourhood, I always do a detour to admire it and I take friends there who in turn are astounded by such ornate features.

“Echoppes” are now very much in vogue. More often than not, the new owners retain just the façade, remove interior walls, build extensions onto the garden and additional living space under the roof. The significant number of “échoppes” in and around Bordeaux explains why the city is so spread out with its juxtaposition of small houses.

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