This is the third and final part of a series of posts that looks at the principal places in France in Overture, Book 1 in the Alouette Trilogy. The main character, Marie-Thérèse, has ambitions to be an opera singer. The story moves mainly between rural Aveyron in Southwest France and Paris, but Marie-Thérèse also spends a spell in Bordeaux, one of France’s most elegant and prosperous cities.
Bordeaux is renowned as an important port and the capital of the chief wine area in France. During the 18th century, wealthy merchants demolished some of the medieval buildings and replaced them with opulent townhouses. The narrow alleys were razed in favour of wide boulevards.
The city underwent a huge clean-up operation in the 2000s under the Mayor, Alain Juppé. The buildings, blackened by years of coal fires and motor emissions, were cleaned up and a new tram system installed.
Here are some of the sights that Marie-Thérèse would have seen. The photos are mine.
Le Grand Théâtre
This neo-classical theatre and opera house dominates the Place de la Comédie in which it is situated. The theatre was inaugurated in 1780. The 12 statues that top the Corinthian columns represent the nine muses and three goddesses (Juno, Venus and Minerva). The building is apparently one of the rare wooden-framed opera houses in Europe not to have burnt down or required reconstruction.
Le Grand Théâtre is now the home of the Opéra National de Bordeaux and the Ballet National de Bordeaux.
You can take a tour of the theatre. Details here.
La Cathédrale de Saint-André, with its soaring spires, dates back to the 11th century. Eleanor of Aquitaine was married here to her first husband, Louis VII of France, in 1137. The nearby bell-tower was constructed in the 15th century.
Another lofty landmark in Bordeaux is the 114-metre-high bell tower of the Gothic Saint-Michel Basilica, known locally as la flèche.
Esplanade des Quinconces
In the centre of this huge square – one of the biggest in Europe – is the ornate Monument aux Girondins. The Girondins were middle-class businessmen who fell foul of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.
La Place de la Bourse
This was once the business exchange of Bordeaux and, as such, one of the most important buildings. A statue of Louis XIV once stood in front of it. Now, a shallow expanse of water, known as le miroir d’eau is a tourist attraction.
Le Quai des Chartrons
Elegant townhouses front the River Gironde on the Quai des Chartrons. This area has also been given a makeover in recent years and it’s now the site of a vibrant Sunday market.
Since Marie-Thérèse was in Bordeaux for an opera, I’m not sure if she would have had time to walk along the quayside here, but she might well have seen it from further upriver.
She has to leave Bordeaux in a hurry after receiving some bad news. But she does go back, and I like to think of her having more time on her second visit to enjoy some of the sites.
Marie-Thérèse also visits Vienna, Milan and Florence in Book 1. Other places will feature in the later books. More posts on these places will follow.
Overture is available in paperback and ebook formats from Amazon.
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