In the north-western suburb of Le Bouscat, alongside the railway line which runs from Bordeaux to Le Verdon, a housing estate serves as...

In the north-western suburb of Le Bouscat, alongside the railway line which runs from Bordeaux to Le Verdon, a housing estate serves as a reminder of a period not so long ago when people would come together to build their own living quarters and form new communities from scratch. 

The story begins in the 1950s and in these post-War years Bordeaux was experiencing a housing shortage, with around 10,000 extra homes needed according to the city’s then chief architect. One person who decided to do something about this was one Yves Gourribon, a teacher at the vocational training establishment in Blanquefort. He had been heavily inspired by the “Castors” movement that had taken hold in Pessac a few years earlier, resulting in a whole housing estate being built by the residents themselves as part of a “Comité Ouvrier du Logement” structure in which everybody donated 40 hours of manual labour per month until the homes were standing! This approach was also rolled out as part of similar initiatives in Cenon, Mérignac and Villenave d’Ornon.

Typical Gourribon estate housing.
Gourribon’s approach wasn’t quite as literally hands-on, but was a similarly bottom-up approach based on future home-owners clubbing together, then leading, overseeing and sometimes contributing to the construction of standardized houses on plots in a newly-acquired area of land as members of a cooperative society. And so it was that Gourribon founded ABAP, Association Bouscataise d’Accès à la Propriété, which began working in conjunction with an organization known as Le Toit Girondin to collect and manage finances. The concept was simple, it would just be a case of convincing people to buy into the scheme, so meetings were held, information leaflets were handed out and Gourribon gradually managed to generate some interest in his plans: 60 “coopérateurs” signed up to the first wave of the project, committing themselves to monthly payments, from day one, of around 10,000 francs per month (adjusted for inflation, that's around 215 euros according to this online converter) over a 30-year period.
Yves Gourribon's own house was among
the first built. The original gates
are still standing!

Gourribon was on his way and ABAP acquired a large plot of land in Le Bouscat which was bare other than for a mansion house (which was knocked down a number of years later when the final owner passed away). The area was mainly shallow pools and marshland fed by a stream, the Limancet, which flowed down the middle – it was soon channelled underground and diverted around the land that would be welcoming the new housing estate.

The initial development, which came to be known as the Lotissement des Écus, took shape between 1950 and 1954 and was eventually made up of 56 houses. Word soon spread about the appeal of the brand new district (even though it was, according to one observer, like being out in the country in a forgotten backwater: “On allait à la campagne dans un coin perdu”) and Gourribon had no trouble at all selling off the plots that would form Lotissement Ausone, made up of 94 houses built in 1956 and 1957.

Original site plan credited to the architect Jean J. Prévôt, source: Association Ricochet Facebook page. The first Écus estate is to the south of rue Ausone, while Lotissement Ausone would follow to the north.
The situation in 1956: the Écus estate is more or less complete while the Ausone estate is work-in-progress. Source: IGN's Remonter le Temps website.
The situation today as seen on GoogleEarth.
The brand new community which Gourribon had instigated, which would later be completed with the addition of a further 26 houses (Lotissement Montesquieu), rapidly gelled. The residents were, for the most part, young couples, often with small children, who had relocated from Bordeaux, Blanquefort, Talence, or sometimes from elsewhere in Le Bouscat, or else from places further afield such as Macau in the Médoc. The children were in their element, and made the central square their own – for many the days spent playing on “la place” remain the best days of their lives. Symbolically, the square, which was originally known as Place de Chébli, then Place J.F. Kennedy, is now known as Place Gourribon, in memory of the man who was its catalyst but who died in a bicycle accident in May 1981 on the day François Mitterrand was elected French president.
Place Yves-Gourribon, which formed the backdrop to many a happy childhood.
The one-storey semi-detached houses were designed by a local architect by the name of Jean J. Prévôt and were all identical apart from a handful of slightly bigger (and more expensive) corner homes for larger families. The ground level comprised a living/dining room (an archway between the two was an optional extra) along with a separate kitchen that gave onto the back garden, a lavatory and a door leading to the garage… which was rarely used to park cars but rather as a storage and utility space! The upper level was made up of three bedrooms and a bathroom, the latter still being a relative novelty at a time that more or less heralded the beginning of the end of public bathing facilities.

Other notable features included the generalized use of pinewood parquet and a fireplace which most chose not to use as it was often difficult to clear the smoke (residents instead opted for coal or gas burners or even a cutting-edge central heating system). Each home also had its own front door overhang, held up by a distinctive row of three vertical columns.
A trademark front door with its overlay and three vertical columns.
Over the years, many homes have either been extended or substantially modified and renovated, but in most cases they remain easily recognizable with many original characteristics very much visible, right down to the foldaway metal shutters which remain on many of the homes! According to one resident, the homes were “solidly constructed and durable, and over the years there have been very few problems with them”.
Vintage 1950s metal foldaway shutters.
Back in the 1950s, completing the brand new neighbourhood and bringing the brand new neighbours together was a communal building which served as an office, library and venue for gatherings (it was the scene of many a wedding reception). There was even a public telephone where users would pay what they owed for each call, although this was scrapped when it repeatedly emerged that the incoming funds did not always add up to the cost of the outgoing calls! During the district’s golden years, the ABAP association branched out beyond pure administrative tasks and organized group purchases of consumables, white goods, cultural outings and even group holidays both in France and further afield.

Times slowly changed though and the communal building, which was being used less and less, was eventually demolished. After thirty-or-so years, ABAP had also run its course as far as its original vocation was concerned, given that residents’ monthly payments had now ceased, and so in 1983 it redefined itself as the Association Bouscataise d’Activités Polyvalentes until it was wound up in 1990. Meanwhile, in 1983, another association had been set up, AQAEB (Association Quartier Ausone / Écus du Bouscat), initially to defend the rights of local residents. This has gradually taken over the cultural role previously held by ABAP, and AQAEB continues to organize a host of activities, from IT tuition and scrapbooking lessons to outings.

Some of the houses remain as they stood in the 1950s...
... while others have undergone massive transformations!
Meanwhile, the original “coopérants” have now become fully-fledged homeowners, many of the houses have repeatedly changed hands, the feeling of being “out in the country” has faded away with the growth of the surrounding metropole, and the central square is no longer the hub for young children that it once was. But still, when familiar with the accompanying story, there is still a sense that so much more can be achieved when individuals come together than can ever be done singlehandedly, and that an old-school sense of community is something that is strongest when initiated by the people themselves rather than by remote authorities or real estate conglomerates.

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Gourribon housing estate, rue Ausone, Le Bouscat.
> This article is entirely based on a guided tour organized earlier in 2018 by Le Bouscat’s Association Ricochet (directed by Damien Guiraud) in conjunction with Pétronille. As such, the account is very much the by-product of the extensive research carried out and shared by Pétronille's Laurent Péradon, with the aid of AQAEB and the valuable eye-witness testimonies of local resident Guy Saint Martin (who was part of the second wave of “coopérants” in the mid-1950s). A big thank you to all of the above!

On the left bank of the Gironde Estuary, in Jau-Dignac-et-Loirac a little to the north of Pauillac, the quaint Phare de Richard offers ...

On the left bank of the Gironde Estuary, in Jau-Dignac-et-Loirac a little to the north of Pauillac, the quaint Phare de Richard offers an instant glimpse into the history of Médocain lighthouses.

The lighthouse was first built in 1843, at a spot on the bank of the Estuary where a tall poplar tree, known as “l’Arbre de Richard”, stood and served as a navigation aid for sailors until it was destroyed by a violent storm in 1830. However, after entering into service, it was soon established that the Phare de Richard had one serious shortcoming: at just 18 metres, it was too small! And so, in 1870, navigation duties were handed over to a less elaborate but taller (31 metres) and more effective metallic structure, and the two lighthouses cohabited side by side for nearly 80 years. 

The way things were: the 1870 and 1843 lighthouses standing side by side (picture source:
A 1:10 scale model of the second lighthouse, built in 1997 by lycée students in Pauillac, now stands where the full-size version used to be.
But by the 1950s, shipping navigation methods had evolved on the Estuary, switching to the use of beacons or buoys. The second, taller lighthouse therefore ceased operations in 1953 and was demolished three years later to be used for scrap. The surviving older, shorter Phare de Richard, along with the surrounding land were sold on to private owners, who subsequently abandoned the lighthouse, which fell into a serious state of disrepair. 

An orientation table on the bank of the Estuary handily locates the beacons which replaced the use of lighthouses on the Gironde.
That was the case until the 1980s, when a group of local youths took it upon themselves to clean up the site, out of a combination of boredom and frustration when they saw the state of neglect the original lighthouse was now in. In their endeavour they soon gained the support of the local mayor and council, and come 1988 the land was re-acquired by the municipality. Over the following years, the lighthouse was restored from bottom to top, and in 1993 a non-profit association (Association communale du phare de Richard) was set up to bring the lighthouse back to life as a heritage site, to draw tourists and organize cultural activities.

And that remains the situation today: the lighthouse is indeed open to the general public all year round, and for a token admission fee (two euros) visitors can climb the 63 steps to the top of the structure and, from a small platform that stretches around the top of the circular building, enjoy a unique vantage point over the Gironde Estuary. As well as being able to see over to the north bank and the village of Talmont-sur-Gironde, the view takes in a long row of carrelet fishing huts

The view from the top, looking over towards Les Monards, Mortagne-sur-Gironde and, somewhere over to the left, Talmont-sur-Gironde!
A neat row of carrelet fishing huts.
At ground level, a small but perfectly-formed museum (and low-key souvenir shop) provides an overview of the history of the lighthouse and of the Gironde Estuary’s fishing culture and heritage. At the base of the lighthouse, a carrelet that was built in 2008 by the association which oversees the site is also available to rent. And the surrounding land has been converted into a pleasant Estuary-side picnic area. There are indeed worse places to enjoy a picnic… 

Looking south over the carrelet built by the association.
The work and dedication has paid off: every year around 12,500 visitors to the Médoc, best-known for its wine-growing credentials, take time out to stop off here at Phare de Richard, breathe in the bracing Estuary air, and soak up a little bit of the local fishing and shipping culture.

A bird's eye view of Phare de Richard, as enjoyed during a flight over the Atlantic Coast and Gironde Estuary sometime ago.
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Phare de Richard, Jau-Dignac-et-Loirac
> Official website: (including an interesting video compilation of pictures retracing the lighthouse's highs and lows here).  
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français.

Once again, Invisible Bordeaux has been busy touring the city with a batch of old postcards in one hand and a camera in the other. And he...

Once again, Invisible Bordeaux has been busy touring the city with a batch of old postcards in one hand and a camera in the other. And here is the photographic evidence, starting out in front of Porte Cailhau, the fortified gate into the medieval incarnation of Bordeaux.

Porte Cailhau: not much has really changed in over a century, other than all those bollards to regulate traffic and parking. There are dozens on the 2018 view below, and they still didn't prevent an unmarked white van from photobombing the picture! 

Place Pey-Berland and Palais Rohan city hall: the 1971 postcard shows that the square was a busy car park rather than today's location for a pleasant stroll. In the 1980s and 1990s the situation changed further still as the area was an inhospitable mass of traffic!
Place de la République / Saint-André hospital: this space that lies between the hospital and the city's Palais de Justice used to be home to the elaborate "monument des Enfants de la Gironde morts pour la Patrie en 1870-71", inaugurated by French president Raymond Poincaré in 1913. The statue has been relocated to another spot on the square, and this area is now used as a terminus for buses!
Place Picard/Statue of Liberty: This replica of Bartholdi's most famous creation has already appeared on the blog. The original 1888 statue, with its ornate base and fountain (which disappeared in 1941), was far grander than the resin replica which has been in position since 2000.
Maison Gobineau: to remain in a New York state of mind, this distinctive triangular building on Allées de Tourny (completed in 1789) is often compared to the legendary Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue (built in the early years of the 20th century). With all those traffic lights and tram lines, pedestrians have to be careful where they walk these days and it's more difficult to pose for the camera in the middle of the road, but the most noticeable difference is surely the fact that an extra storey has been added to the building! 
Gare Saint-Jean: some things clearly never change! Cars can no longer drive right up to the railway station but now, as then, the esplanade is a public transport hub. Today's paving is arguably smoother than the cobblestones of yesteryear! 
Place Gambetta: in many ways, the flowerbeds of 1951 have changed little over the years. There are certainly less seats to sit and enjoy the view than there were back then. Over to the right, what was the "Librairie Picouot" bookshop is now the Pruilh home accessories shop, while the "Petit Paris" establishment on the corner of Cours de l'Intendance is now a Hippopotamus steakhouse. The square is about to undergo a massive overhaul and may be about to change beyond recognition though!
Quai Louis XVIII: out with the horse-drawn carriages and dogs wandering around freely! The tramlines are more or less back where they were in the early years of the 20th century though... The "Café Américain" establishment on the corner now trades as Café Via Luna.
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !

In January 2018, Bordeaux Métropole Arena, the city’s purpose-built large-scale indoor concert, entertainment and sports venue, opened ...

In January 2018, Bordeaux Métropole Arena, the city’s purpose-built large-scale indoor concert, entertainment and sports venue, opened its doors for the first time, hosting electropop legends Depeche Mode. A few gigs down the line, Invisible Bordeaux finally got to see inside, attending a concert by the high-flying US act Imagine Dragons. What was the verdict? 

The arena project had been on the cards for many years, throughout a period when the only indoor concert venue in the city capable of hosting top-name acts was the acoustically-challenged Mériadeck Patinoire, which opened in 1981. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Mériadeck drew a succession of top artists, but in recent years those big names visibly dried up, with many tours instead favouring Toulouse’s Zénith venue for their stops in south-western France.

In December 2013 the contract to build and run the arena, earmarked to take shape on a plot of land in the right-bank suburb of Floirac, was awarded by the Metropole authorities to a conglomerate formed by operators Lagardère Live Entertainment, building contractors Bouygues Bâtiment and the architect Rudy Ricciotti. The building permit was finally issued in July 2015 and construction work began in early 2016. Overall, local authorities went on to plough 77 million euros into the resulting venue (including 15 million for the multi-storey car park alone), which can cater for events drawing crowds ranging from 3,000 to 11,300, making it the third-biggest venue of its kind in France, behind AccorHotels Arena in Paris (20,300) and Strasbourg's Zénith (12,079).  

The pre-concert scene and Pisa-like leaning pillars holding the building up.
And it was a capacity crowd that headed to Floirac to see Imagine Dragons on April 4th. Of course, the first challenge would be getting to the venue, considering that the most logical route has yet to be completed, given that Bordeaux’s next bridge, Pont Simone-Veil, will provide a direct and convenient means of reaching the Arena from the left bank… from 2020 onwards.

The recommended means of getting there is currently the free shuttle bus service that runs from Porte de Bourgogne and Place Stalingrad in central Bordeaux. But I’d heard from fellow concert-goers that the post-show waiting time to catch a bus could be upwards of an hour. Would it be simpler just to use the car park? Well, other than costing all of 12 euros for the duration of the show, I’d also been informed that getting out of the car park was particularly difficult! So, taking all of the above on board, we simply sought a parking space in a side street mid-way between Pont Saint-Jean and the venue and opted for a relaxed 15-minute riverside walk to the Arena.

The next challenge would be to get inside the venue proper, especially given that I'd been told that at some of the first events the queues had been remarkably slow-moving. We made it on site around an hour before the support act (K.Flay) started and admission was still fairly free-flowing, although the queues did gradually build up once we were inside. 

Patient punters.
Our next priority was food. In the main concourse, the solitary ground-floor food stall was teeming with people, although by heading up to the outlet in the lobby near to our upper-level seats, things were distinctly quieter and it didn’t take too long to be served by a student, who was likeable enough but not exactly made for the part-time evening job he’d taken on, certainly when it involved keying in four separate combinations of sandwich, dessert and drink. Oh, and it turns out the Arena has adopted a similar policy to Stade Matmut-Atlantique, i.e. having a system with food options listed on a board that bear little relation to what they actually stock. It took me three attempts to order an advertised dessert that they did indeed have.

While enjoying our (reasonably-priced) sandwiches, drinks and third-choice desserts, we were able to enjoy the view, looking out over the Garonne towards the Bordeaux skyline in the distance, through the slender horizontal windows which, from the outside, have been designed to collectively look like the LED indicators of a graphic equalizer on a sound system. Close up, it is interesting to spot the mood lighting system, which constantly changes colour, switching from pink to yellow, green, blue and others in-between.    

Looking over towards Bordeaux.
Let there be LED.
Pre-show, there was an inevitable restroom stop and an unusual discovery: the gentlemen’s toilets I visited comprised no less than 10 urinals and three individual cubicles, meaning that 13 guys can be in there simultaneously relieving themselves. They then have to jostle for position for one of four taps if they wish to wash their hands. But then, to complete the bottleneck, there is just one hand-drier (which was out of order). So, please bear in mind the fact that there are no doubt lots of unwashed male hands at Bordeaux Métropole Arena gigs. 

The inside view. How many of those hands are unwashed?
Inside the venue itself, the scale and structure of the surroundings felt seriously world class, at least until we sat in our wooden foldaway seats which weren’t exactly that comfortable or cutting-edge. Perhaps it’s to provide an extra incentive to remain standing up throughout the shows. Most importantly though, the sound was very, very good. Instead of the booming, echoing, cavernous environment that we’d got used to at Mériadeck, the sound was clear, sharp and dry, and just as God intended it (or, at least, how the Imagine Dragons sound engineer intended it). And what better band than Imagine Dragons to fill the space with their spectacular show and joyous, uplifting rock anthems?

Imagine Dragons, arguably on top of the world.
Show's over: the view after the 11:15pm curfew.
As the final notes of Radioactive faded away and the members of Imagine Dragons took their bows, the crowd shuffled as one towards the exit and it all suddenly became somewhat chaotic, with people heading in multiple directions all at once. The crash barriers that were positioned in front of the venue to guide people inside were still in place, making it difficult to navigate or circulate. Anyway, we somehow managed to make our way past the huge crowds stood waiting for a shuttle bus back into the city centre and walked back to our car, secure in the knowledge that, in spite of the occasional imperfection and the distinct shortage of hand-driers in the gents, Bordeaux has at long last joined the concert venue big league.

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Bordeaux Métropole Arena, Floirac.
> Official website:

Landscaped roundabouts are a big thing in France and there are countless examples to be spotted in and around Bordeaux. An early item on ...

Landscaped roundabouts are a big thing in France and there are countless examples to be spotted in and around Bordeaux. An early item on the blog focused on the twin-town roundabouts installed in the north-western suburb of Le Haillan, and a similar concept has been developed in the south-western suburb of Villenave d’Ornon with two roundabouts celebrating the towns of Seeheim-Jugenheim (Germany) and Bridgend (UK).  

Let’s start with Villenave’s Seeheim-Jugenheim homage. According to Wikipedia, Seeheim-Jugenheim is a municipality in the Darmstadt-Dieburg district in Hesse, to the west of Germany. Its population of around 17,000 is spread across seven villages: Balkhausen, Jugenheim, Malchen, Ober-Beerbach, Seeheim, Steigerts and Stettbach. The town is well-known as the starting point for cycle tracks that lead to a nearby mountain called Melibokus. Finally, as there is little industrial or commercial activity in Seeheim-Jugenheim itself, most residents work for companies located in the cities of Darmstadt, Frankfurt or Heidelberg.

Seeheim-Jugenheim has been twinned with Villenave d’Ornon since 1982 (1,176 kilometres separate the two), and the roundabout-based homage comes in the shape of a small-scale replica of what used to be the Seeheim village hall. Again, with a little help from Google and Wikipedia, it has been fairly easy to track down a picture of the original in order to compare it with the roundabout version.

The original is on the left: the old Seeihem village hall (source: Wikipedia). The Villenave d'Ornon replica is, for the most part, impressively accurate!
There is something very quaint about the Villenave model (first installed in October 2015), with its fake doors and windows, but very real weather vane and clock – which, at the time of writing, is out of order; the “minutes” hand needs fixing! Not far from the miniature house, rows of vines have been planted but it is unclear whether the variety of grapes growing here are typical of south-western France or western Germany!
Details from the Villenave d'Ornon model, including the clock which could do with some tender loving care!
To the other side of the Rocade ring-road underpass (we are close to Rocade exit 18) lies Villenave’s tribute to Bridgend or, to give it its Welsh name, Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr, meaning “the end (or head) of the bridge on the Ogmore” (the Ogmore being the river which runs through the town and is crossed by the bridge which gave Bridgend its name). The southern Welsh town, which became Villenave d’Ornon’s twin in 1994 (distance between the two: 1,264 kilometres), has a population of around 40,000, although it also combines with Maesteg and Porthcawl to form the county borough of Bridgend, with a total population of almost 140,000 people.

That McDonald's outlet is open 24 hours a day to satisfy those 3AM Big Mac cravings.
Local landmarks include a defensive triangle formed by three castles (Newcastle Castle, Ogmore Castle and the fortified Benedictine Ewenny Priory) first built in the 11th century after the Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England. Disturbingly though, one of the first subjects identified by Google as regards Bridgend is the wave of 26 teenage suicides in the area between January 2007 and February 2009.

Fortunately, this is in no way referenced on Villenave’s Bridgend roundabout which appears to interpret quite literally the notion of a “bridge end”, with water perpetually flowing off the end of a bridge or aqueduct. Initial research would suggest that the design is not especially influenced by the old bridge in Bridgend, but it could possibly have been inspired by the historic Bont Fawr aqueduct in Pontrhydyfen, located some 20 kilometres to the north-west of Bridgend. Or else it could have more local significance, referring to the aqueduct that ran not far from here in the Sarcignan quarter in Gallo-Roman times, and that has been gradually rediscovered thanks to archaeological digs over recent years.

Close-up view of the "bridge end" water feature. Note the secret trap door which no doubt leads to the pump mechanism.
The constant flow of water along the bridge and off the edge does form a bit of an optical illusion as, at first glance, the water appears to be channeled in linear fashion from a tall decorative mound, perhaps reminiscent of the valleys of South Wales! In fact, the feature is a simple loop system with water circulating up through one of the pillars of the bridge, along the top and back down into a shallow pool, where the process starts all over again.

To complete the picture, the Bridgend roundabout comprises the aforementioned shrubbery and its densely-planted selection of flowers and plants. And, alongside the fountain/waterfall, there are a few tall palm trees which, it could be suggested, are more reminiscent of the Côte d’Azur than of South Wales. Unlike the relatively accessible Seeheim-Jugenheim roundabout, there are signs that forbid access to the grass and the pool (Invisible Bordeaux may therefore have broken a few rules in the name of research) although, with the constant flow of through-traffic, not to mention customers heading to the neighbouring branch of McDonald’s (the only one in the area to be open non-stop, 24/7), getting across to the central reservation demands a substantial amount of bravery.

The palm trees complete the illusion of feeling you're admiring the green, green grass of South Wales.
Anyway, with landscaped roundabouts clearly here to stay, it is refreshing to see some like these with a story to tell, regardless of their design. And how heartwarming must it be to be from Seeheim-Jugenheim or Bridgend and to come across these tributes to your hometown? Are there similar initiatives in Germany and Wales celebrating Villenave d’Ornon?

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Seeheim-Jugenheim and Bridgend roundabouts, Villenave d'Ornon
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français ! 

Bonus #1 (courtesy of Chris Tighe): the Bridgend roundabout fountain plays a prominent part in a scene in "Le Grand Soir", a 2011 movie starring Albert Dupontel and Benoît Poelvoorde. Check it out below!


Bonus #2: a tobacconist/newsagents is located on a slip-road next to the Seeheim-Jugenheim roundabout. Presumably, customers must have found it difficult to access the outlet, so a map is now on display high on the shopfront so that the recommended (and complicated) route can be seen from afar!