The most photographed square in Bordeaux is the Esplanade des Quinconces. With a surface area of 12 hectares, it is currently the largest square in Europe in the centre of a large city. Today, the square is occupied about 6 months a year by various events such as concerts, circuses, parties and fun-fairs. The Girondins’ Column is also located in this majestic square. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and monuments.
It was built in the 19th century on the site of the royal fortress of Château Trompette, which was built at the end of the Hundred Years’ War in the middle of the 15th century.
This fort was enlarged by Vauban, on the orders of King Louis XIV. Hated by the people of Bordeaux against whom its cannons were often aimed, the Château Trompette was finally destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century.
The Place des Quinconces is named after the tree-lined alleys that border it and where several groups of 5 trees were originally repeated “in quincunxes” along the length of the alleys. There are also statues of Montaigne and Montesquieu, each of which stands on its own side.
The two rostral columns, facing the Garonne, are 21 metres high. They were once used to welcome sailors and celebrate maritime victories. The architect Alexandre Poitevin had them erected in 1828 in a neo-classical style. Both were built symmetrically, but each has its own characteristic symbols.
In 1829, the square was decorated on the Garonne side with two rostral columns symbolising Commerce and Navigation. Commerce and Navigation are represented allegorically by two cast iron statues at the top of the columns. These are Mercury (Hermes) and Artemis (Diana). However, these statues are not the originals. The first versions were, in fact, made in terracotta by a sculptor called Maggesi.
The project for the monumental fountain at the foot of the Girondins’ column dates back to 1893, when Bordeaux wanted to pay tribute to the Girondin deputies, heroes and martyrs of the Revolution. The sculptor Achille Dumilâtre and the architect Victor Rich designed a monumental ensemble consisting of a 50-metre-high white marble column and a very complete set of marble and bronze statues. At the top of the column stands the Spirit of Liberty breaking free from her chains of oppression and holding the palm of Victory. In each of the basins, on the ground, are the groups of the triumph of the Republic and the triumph of Concord. This project took eight years to complete, from 1894 to 1902.
These bronze statues have come a long way. In 1941, a decree imposed the melting down of statues in non-ferrous metal in order to supply the German armament factories. During the night of 14 to 15 August 1942, the bronzes left Bordeaux to be melted down. Fortunately hidden by a network of resistance fighters, the statues returned to Bordeaux, intact, after the war. They were then stored in Lormont, on the right bank, for many years. It was only in 1982 that the ensemble that can be admired today was reconstituted and that the “monument to the Girondins and the Republic” was able to regain its original function as a decorative fountain.
The notion of “Girondins” is due to the French Revolution and to history. During the Revolution, there were two opposing camps: the Girondins, from the provincial bourgeoisie, and the Jacobins from Paris, otherwise known as the Montagnards. The Girondins were eventually executed, and it was at this point that the people of Bordeaux showed a great interest in the name “Girondins”.
The Girondins monument and the Quinconces esplanade still hide many secrets of history. If you wish to discover them, come and visit Bordeaux thanks to the guided and commented bus tours.
Esplanade des Quinconces, 33000 Bordeaux