Thursday, March 21, 2013

Le Pont de Pierre - Bordeaux's First Bridge

A 19th century engraving of the Pont de Pierre

Throughout Bordeaux's long history there wasn't much need for a permanent river crossing. The city's development was confined to the left bank of the Garonne River where the deep water allowed large ships to dock. In contrast, the right bank remained largely agricultural -- planted with grape vines -- until the mid-19th century. For hundreds of years barges and rafts were the only means of transportation from one side to the other.

That was the situation when Napoleon arrived at Bordeaux in 1807 on his way to war in Spain. Lack of a permanent structure meant that his 350,000 troops had to be ferried across the Garonne. Now wait -- before you read any further just think about that for a minute. A city of men, horses, tents, provisions, livestock, military supplies, and all of the artillery necessary for waging a war, loaded onto wooden barges, carried across the turbulent Garonne, and unloaded on the opposite bank. This must have been an enormous undertaking, and although I haven't found any description of how it was accomplished, or how long it took, I'm willing to bet that the feisty little Emperor wasn't too happy with the situation. It's not surprising that he ordered the immediate construction of a permanent river crossing.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bordeaux: Surf Cité

This weekend Bordeaux enters the record books with the opening of the largest lift bridge in Europe, the Pont Chaban-Delmas (visible on the left above, along with the Pont de Pierre and the Passerelle Eiffel, center and right). Fireworks, concerts and a parade are just a few of the activities planned to celebrate the city's newest river crossing. Named for Jacques Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux's mayor from 1947 until 1995 (yes, that's right, nearly 50 years in office! The football stadium is also named for him, but it's going to be torn down soon, which explains why they decided to name the bridge after him) the structure is 1,400 feet long, has four lanes for cars and buses and two lanes for pedestrians and bicycles. Two pairs of slender pylons contain the enormous pulleys and cables that lift the center deck 320 feet in the air, high enough to allow even large cruise ships to enter the port.

Aerial view of Pont Chaban-Delmas
This New Years Day, when construction was nearly finished, the span was opened to pedestrians for a few hours in the early afternoon. Bruce and I joined 40,000 of our neighbors in a stroll from one side of the river to the other that had all the joyful exuberance of a carnival. Entire families made the short trek, laughed, drank champagne and posed for pictures. We even came home with blue ribbons that proclaimed, "I CROSSED THE BRIDGE 1/1/2013."

Le Pont Chaban-Delmas on New Year's Day 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Barcelona's Old City

In my last post I raved so much about Gaudi’s exuberant architecture that it seems only fair to give the Old City it’s due this week. I was really surprised by the older quarters of the city (Ciutat Vella in Catalan) primarily because I hadn’t expected so much to remain. What I hadn't realized was that the entire city of Barcelona had been confined within high stone walls until 1859. This undoubtedly accounts for the cohesiveness of the Old City where there are blocks and blocks of narrow, twisty streets lined with three and four story, balconied buildings. Some have lavishly painted facades, others are decorated with Gothic details, and all are nearly impossible to photograph. This contrast between the old quarter and the (relatively) new areas makes Barcelona a fascinating study in architectural styles.