You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
Replica of a XVIIth century Spanish galleon temporarily moored along the left bank of the River Garonne; the image used as background for this page shows a detail of one of the two rostral columns which were erected in 1829 near the river
Bourdeaux is one of the largest, and richest cities in the kingdom, situated on the west side of the river Garonne, fifty miles south of the mouth of that river. The town and suburbs lying in the form of a crescent about the river, make a capacious harbour for small ships. (..) There is a fine quay, where vessels unload, the tide rising here upwards of two fathoms.
Thomas Nugent - The Grand Tour - 1749
Bordeaux, the second sea port town of France, which may be styled its Liverpool (..) is placed on the l bank of the Garonne on a spot where its voluminous stream deep enough for vessels of 1200 tons burthen makes a very regular curve (..) forms a noble crescent lined with quays not less than 3 m long.
John Murray III - Hand-book for Travellers in France - 1843
In 1910 projects were developed to create a new harbour at Le-Verdon-sur-Mer, near the mouth of the river, which today entirely replaces the old facilities; the quays have been turned into a pleasant promenade which does not bring to mind the XIXth century busy aspect of the harbour and its sinister role in the slave trade.
The coins are known as Gallic staters and are imitations of a Greek currency by the same name, in particular that minted by King Philip II of Macedonia. These coins were perhaps introduced in Aquitaine by Greek merchants from Massalia (Marseille); similar staters have been found in other parts of Gaul, e.g. near Bagacum (Bavay) and also in Britain.
Caesar leads the rest of his army into the most plentiful part of the country of the Bituriges; who, possessing an extensive territory and several towns, were not to be deterred, by a single legion quartered among them, from making warlike preparation, and forming combinations. (..) By Caesar's sudden arrival, it happened, as it necessarily must, to an unprovided and dispersed people, that they were surprised by our horse, while cultivating the fields without any apprehensions, before they had time to fly to their towns. For the usual sign of an enemy's invasion, which is generally intimated by the burning of their towns, was forbidden by Caesar's orders; lest if he advanced far, forage and corn should become scarce, or the enemy be warned by the fires to make their escape. Many thousands being taken, as many of the Bituriges as were able to escape the first coming of the Romans, fled to the neighboring states, relying either on private friendship, or public alliance. In vain; for Caesar, by hasty marches, anticipated them in every place, nor did he allow any state leisure to consider the safety of others, in preference to their own. By this activity, he both retained his friends in their loyalty, and by fear, obliged the wavering to accept offers of peace. Such offers being made to the Bituriges, when they perceived that through Caesar's clemency, an avenue was open to his friendship, and that the neighboring states had given hostages, without incurring any punishment, and had been received under his protection, they did the same.
Julius Caesar - The Gallic Wars - Book 8 - Translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn
According to Caesar's account the Bituriges, the Gallic civitas (the Latin word can be translated as nation/community), living in the region of Bordeaux, did not oppose the Roman conquest. The upper and middle course of the River Garonne were already controlled by the Romans - see pages on Lugdunum Convenarum (Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges) and Tolosa Tectosagum (Toulouse).
Coat of arms of Bordeaux at Porte Dijeaux, a corruption of "Porta Jovis" (Jupiter's Gate); the lion represents Guienne, a corruption of "Aquitania", but its posture recalls that of the three lions of the Plantagenets; below it the Grosse Cloche (large bell) of the medieval Town Hall
This city was a favourite place of the Romans, as appears by the ruins of the several buildings which they erected here, such as the remains of an amphitheatre, the Low Gate, the fountain of Duge, and divers aqueducts. Nugent
The remains of the Roman gate were demolished to make room for a new one which was completed in 1753.
What shall I say ot that fountain, o'erlaid with Parian marble, which foams in the strait of its Euripus? How deep the water! How swelling the stream! How great the volume as it plunges in its headlong course through the twice six sluices in its long-drawn brink, and never fails to meet the people's countless purposes? (..) Hail, fountain of source unknown, holy, gracious, unfailing, crystal-clear, azure, deep, murmurous, shady, and unsullied ! Hail, guardian deity of our city, of whom we may drink health-giving draughts, named by the Celts Divona, a fountain added to the roll divine!
Decimus Magnus Ausonius - Ordo Urbium Nobilium (ca 390) - translation by Hugh G. Evelyn White
The poet (310-395) was a teacher of rhetoric at the University of Burdigala and he was the tutor of Emperor Gratian. He held important positions as military commander, proconsul and he was even appointed consul. He is known also for a poem describing the Mosel valley. You may wish to read an epigram he wrote on a tomb along Via Latina.
Jean Darnal, a local historian, wrote in 1619 that some ancient remains known as Fontaine Duge or d'Audège were part of the fountain celebrated by Ausonius. Unfortunately in 1827 they were destroyed and replaced by a modern facility.
The evidence of aqueducts supplying Burdigala was reported by Elie Vinet in a 1565 account of the antiquities of the town, but today their existence is testified to only by small sections which were discovered in 1973 in the southern suburbs of the metropolitan area of Bordeaux.
Museum of Aquitaine: early XIXth century view of the Amphitheatre from its southern entrance; it is attributed to Pons-Emmanuel-Théophile Beaugeard and it was based on drawings made before its partial demolition
Bordeaux retains still a monument of the Roman city Burdigala, in the fragment of an amphitheatre, now called Palais
Gallien, not quite accurately because though possibly built in the reign of the Emperor Gallienus, it was not a palace, but a circus capable of containing 1500 persons. Murray
Of the Roman ruins mentioned by Nugent, only the amphitheatre was still visible when Murray wrote his book. It was most likely built in the early IInd century AD and then restored and enlarged at the time of Emperor Caracalla. The seats were supported by a timber structure which was burnt in 275 during a raid by the Franks who probably reached the town by sea from their bases at the mouth of the River Rhine.
Amphitheatre: remaining walls of the northern section
It was condemned to destruction in 1792, and has been since gradually pulled down to build houses, so that it is now reduced to mere fragments, interesting to the antiquary alone, of an oval wall formed of small stones with layers of tiles between them, interrupted by the broken archways which lead into it. The interior is occupied by houses and workshops, and two streets cross in the centre of it; so that you may stand in the midst of its arena and scarcely recognize these ancient remains. Murray
M Mérimée, Inspector General of Historical Monuments, recommends the Palais Gallien at Bordeaux to the especial care of the authorities and urges that it should be completely separated from the adjoining buildings.
The Gentleman's Magazine - Volume 15 - 1841.
We owe to Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870), a French writer who for a time was Inspector-General of Historical Monuments, the first detailed descriptions of the monuments of France and the first initiatives for their conservation.
The amphitheatre could house an audience of up to 22,000; it was built using a technique based on alternate layers of bricks and stones (opus listatum). It was developed to cut costs by employing less bricks, but it created also a decorative effect, which is particularly noticeable in the Aqueduct of Los Milagros at Merida and in the Walls of Constantinople.
|Other ancient amphitheatres in this web site:|
The Colosseo of Rome
The Amphitheatre of Albano
The Amphitheatre of Capua
The Amphitheatre of Verona
The Amphitheatre of Pompeii
The Amphitheatre of Catania
The Amphitheatre of Syracuse
The Amphitheatre of Sutri
The Amphitheatre of Urbs Salvia (Urbisaglia)
The Amphitheatre of Pola in Istria
The Amphitheatre of Salona in Dalmatia
The Amphitheatre of Arles in France
The Amphitheatre of Nimes in France
The Amphitheatre of Périgueux in France
The Amphitheatre of Saintes in France
The Amphitheatre of Toulouse in France
The Amphitheatre(s) of Carnuntum in Austria
The Amphitheatre of Trier in Germany
The Amphitheatre of London
The Amphitheatre of Caerleon in Wales
The Amphitheatre of Italica in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Merida in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Tarragona in Spain
The Amphitheatre of Caesarea Maritima in Israel
The Amphitheatre of Carthage
The Amphitheatre of Mactaris (Makhtar) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thapsus in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Thysdrus (El Djem) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Uthina (Oudna) in Tunisia
The Amphitheatre of Leptis Magna in Libya
Bordeaux is my native soil, where are skies temperate and mild, and well-watered land generously
lavish; where is long spring, and winters growing
warm with the new-born sun, and tidal rivers whose
flood foams beneath vine-clad hills, mimicking the
sea's ebb and flow. Her goodly walls four-square
raise lofty towers so high, that their tops pierce the
soaring clouds. Within her, thou mayest marvel at
streets clearly laid out, at houses regularly plotted
out, at spacious boulevards which uphold their
name, as also gates facing in direct line the crossways opposite. (..)
Let this last task conclude the muster of famous
cities. And as illustrious Rome leads at one end of
the rank, so at this end let Bordeaux establish her
place, leaving the precedence unsettled. Ausonius
In his depiction of Burdigala the poet says it was surrounded by high walls and towers, but he omits to say that they were built by using materials from public buildings and tombs and he does not cite a single monument of the town, apart from a fountain. Something similar occurred also at Narbo Martius (Narbonne) and it explains why the two cities retain so little evidence of their Roman monuments and at the same time have a very large number of Roman reliefs and decorated stones in their museums.
Museum of Aquitaine: Christian sarcophagi (Vth century), see very similar sarcophagi at Toulouse
The Musée (..) contains a collection of antique fragments, inscriptions, altars, etc, chiefly Roman, found in the vicinity of Bordeaux and two sarcophagi with bas reliefs of inferior merit and late date. Murray
The sarcophagi were described as of inferior merit because they were not decorated with classical subjects, but they actually deserve being noticed because few highly decorated sarcophagi have been found in Gaul, exception made for those of Arles.
This is my own country; but Rome stands above all countries. I love Bordeaux, Rome I venerate; in this I am a citizen, in both a consul; here was my cradle, there my curule chair. Ausonius
It appears that Ausonius embraced the Christian faith shortly before his death. It shows that the upper classes of Gaul were not keen on abandoning the traditional religion which they associated with their Roman heritage. It is only when the Visigoths, who were devout Arian Christians, were assigned Aquitaine in 413 by Emperor Honorius that the allegiance to the old customs ended.
Necropolis of Saint-Seurin (Severinus) not to be confused with Saint-Sernin (Saturninus of Toulouse)
The development of the diocese of Burdigala is linked to the life of St. Saturninus, one of its first bishops who maybe moved to Cologne because he is the patron saint of that city. A chapel was dedicated to him in the Vth century on the site of a mainly Christian necropolis which was partially unearthed in the XIXth century: its finest sarcophagi were moved to the museum. Other excavation campaigns were carried out in the 1960s and in 2017. Part of the necropolis can be visited separately from the large church which eventually replaced the chapel.
Necropolis of Saint-Seurin: (above) fresco of the Mausoleum of the Duck; (below) detail of a sarcophagus which was found there
The necropolis contains a variety of sarcophagi, many of which are rather rudely sculpted; some of them were placed in previous mausoleums which instead had a finely painted decoration. Because the necropolis was used for a long period of time it is difficult to precisely date its tombs and sarcophagi.
(above) Basilica of Saint-Seurin; (below) Treasury of the Palatine Chapel of Aachen: a Muslim ivory horn made in Sicily in ca 1000
In their strength and in their power they passed Narbonne
And hastened unto Bordeaux the city of renown.
And there upon the altar of brave Saint Severin's shrine
He set the horn of Roland filled with golden pieces fine.
The pilgrims have beheld it that to the place have gone.
The Song of Roland - translation by Leonard Bacon
The fact that Saint-Seurin is mentioned in this very popular poem which was written in the XIth century, but was based on previous oral accounts, testifies to the importance of the large basilica which was built in Romanesque style at the beginning of the XIth century. Its most precious relic, the ivory horn of Roland, was still reported in the XVIIth century, but was lost before the French Revolution.
Saint-Seurin: Romanesque portal
The W front is modern, but is a tolerable attempt to follow the Romanesque style. The W porch consists of three detached low vaults one within the other supported on pillars with curiously carved capitals. Murray
During the whole period of Romanesque Art, and indeed for much longer, France was not an united country, but a group of independent, or semi-independent states. Nor was the population homogeneous. (..) "The south of Gaul." says M. Guizot (François Guizot 1787-1874, a French historian) "was essentially Roman, the north essentially Germanic." In the south moreover there still remained important municipalities of Greek or Roman origin, preserving traditions unknown or obliterated in the north. Consequently architecture fell into very different forms (..) and the school of each province has to be studied by itself. (..) The territory of the Dukes of Aquitaine (..) included Poitou, the Limousin, most of Guienne, the Angoumois, and latterly Gascony. It was in this district that the influence of Byzantine art was most strongly felt.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture - 1913.
The most peculiar aspect of Romanesque architecture in Aquitaine is the use of domes, as at Périgueux, Roman Vesunna, eighty miles east of Bordeaux, but the main churches of Bordeaux were greatly modified by the introduction of Gothic features. The original Romanesque western/main entrance to the church is now inside the building.
In 1998 the Basilica of Saint-Seurin was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List with other French churches on the route to Santiago de Compostela, e.g. the former Cathedral of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, Saint-Just-de-Valcabrère and Basilica of Saint-Sernin at Toulouse.
Cathedral of St André: (..) the nave is partly in the round Romanesque style partly towards the W end repaired in a bungling manner (..) and is destitute of aisles and remarkable only for its breadth 56 ft which, being out of all proportion with its height, deprives it of the chief merit and characteristic of Gothic architecture elevation. The choir is more elevated and in a more truly Gothic style with a triforium, gallery and lofty clerestory windows. Murray
Move to Museum of Aquitaine.
Plan of this section:
Atuatuca or Civitas Tungrorum (Tongeren)
Bagacum Nerviorum (Bavay)
Mediolanum Santonum (Saintes)
Vindunum (Le Mans)
Roman villa of Montcaret
and an excursion to Laon