The swimming pools of Bordeaux: dive into history

Designated historical monuments

There’s no need to go to Arcachon Bay or the Médoc coast for a swim. You can stay in Bordeaux and splash around in some of the city’s beautiful pools. Not only can you enjoy a great swim, but they’re also a feast for the eyes. There are two pools in the greater Bordeaux area that really stand out from the crowd. Both have been registered on the additional list of French historical monuments.

The Piscine Judaïque Jean Boiteux, named after the 1952 Olympic champion who hailed from Bordeaux, is part of my everyday life as I’ve always lived close to Rue Judaïque. I used to go there as a primary school child and I still drop by every now and then. It’s one of the buildings that was commissioned by Adrien Marquet, the former mayor of Bordeaux, to provide residents with adequate bathing facilities. Designed by Louis Madeline, it was opened in 1934. The stark, rigorous 1930s architecture stands shoulder to shoulder with 18th-century structures. On the edge of the road is the gateway from the former riding school built by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in 1759. Decorated with sculptures by Claude Francin, it was “transported stone by stone” from the Jardin Public where it used to sit, and rebuilt here in 1865.

If you peer through the gateway, you’ll see a simple bas-relief medallion by Maurice Pico depicting the God of the sea. The structure is made from reinforced concrete, with some walls made from concrete encrusted with pebbles, while panes of glass let natural light pour in and affirm its modernity. The small indoor pool that I prefer, with its blue tiles, is lit by whole walls of windows on each side whose metal frames are reflected in the water. The enormous glass doors opposite the diving board leads out to the summer pool. The walls behind the diving board and behind the seats are decorated with black mosaics bordered by a strip of gilt pâte de verre. It’s worth making a note in your diary for 21, 22 and 23 September. This is when the Piscine Judaïque Jean Boiteux takes part in the Fête du Sport. This unusual event brings together sport and music, with a performance by the chorus of the Opéra de Bordeaux on the Friday evening.

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Bègles swimming pool, in the greater Bordeaux area, dates from the same period. Designed by Armand Blanchard, an architect and engineer from the town of Bègles, it was opened in late 1932. Although the corner building, with its mosaic decorations and inscriptions on the outside, may seem large on the outside, the spaces are much more intimate once inside. The floors of the communal areas are covered with mosaics forming blue and brown patterns. The old entrance, featuring large sandblasted glass windows decorated with geometric designs, has been turned into a charming restaurant open to the public. The majority of the food is organic and local. You pay for dishes by weight. So visitors with a small appetite don’t pay through the nose. You could even spend time there just sitting around, enjoying the surroundings.

Up on the ceiling, beneath the dome, 216 glass balls blown by Bun Than Huyn form a spiral shape. When the building was renovated by Patrick Bouchin in 2006, the old covered pool was transformed into a play area containing a wooden and metal structure that looks like an enormous sculpture. Around the edge, the wooden former changing cubicles have been retained. The enamelled metal signs giving instructions for bathers also remain in place. The new stainless steel pool cultivates a certain intimacy with its low ceiling. The water is lit by colour-changing spotlights. And for complete relaxation, there’s a Turkish bath decorated with an iridescent violet-blue music.

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