Bordeaux's Aquitaine Museum charts the remarkable cultural narrative of the region from prehistory through the mid-20th century, with recently renovated exhibits exploring Bordeaux as a gateway to the world from the Revolution through of Atlantic commerce
Bordeaux's golden age . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
THE AQUITAINE MUSEUM TRACES A JOURNEY FROM PRE-HISTORY TO THE CITY’S GOLDEN ERA OF MERCANTILE SPLENDOUR. The later rooms, covering the period from 1800 to 1939, have been recently renovated with paintings, sculptures, drawings, everyday objects, posters, period films, videos and sound effects, which explain the city's relationship with the world during this period. This permanent exhibit is divided into three sections: A port under transformation; A world maritime horizon; and An expanding city.
Before embarking on this fabulous journey, it's best to set the stage with a pause in a small room dedicated to the turmoil of the French Revolution and the fate of the Girondins. This room acts as a transition from the thought-provoking exhibit on
the city's role in the triangular trade and slavery to how the city then reopened relations with the rest of the world after the wars of the Revolution and Empire.
A port under transformation
Beginning in the 1820s, Bordeaux's port experienced an economic boom and major works of urban development were undertaken. River traffic increased significantly and the 'Port de la Lune' became a major hub. 'We have paintings that represent this period,' explains Aquitaine Museum curator François Hubert. 'For instance, you see the quays aren't yet built.' One such painting, 'The port of Bordeaux' by Jeanjacques Alban de Lesgallery is just one of the magnificent pain-tings depicting this period. Hubert indicates a painting from 1868, 'What's interesting is that we still have the flat-bottomed gabarres and sailboats, but we see the first steam-ships that start to navigate on the river,' he says.
A world maritime horizon
Transatlantic ocean liners, merchant vessels sailing the globe, Bordeaux's port was a vital link to countries around the world, rivalling the influence of Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Le Havre and Marseille. In another painting, 'we see all of the different types of boats and ships built in Bordeaux, the port was a real shipyard for private shippers,' says Hubert. 'It was industrial.' Bordeaux's shippers were active in the Far East, Cochinchina, New Caledonia, the French West Indies, and the Pacific. Many lucrative products passed through Bordeaux. The French West Indies produced 15% of Europe's sugar in the 1830s, not to mention the rum trade. And fishermen here unloaded the cod from Newfoundland and Iceland, leading to the construction of the cod-drying plants... Cereals arrived from Argentina... At the same time, between 1865 and 1920, 371,000 migrants departed from Bordeaux in search of a better life. 'In the region, there was the grave
crisis of phylloxera and many people immigrated,' explains Hubert. 'Mainly to America and South America.'
An expanding city
The dynamic economy created by the port led to major urban improvements, including wide avenues and the city ring road. Classical ideals were reflected in the city's grand architecture, with Eclecticism and Art Nouveau enriching the cityscape later on. Society reflected the port’s wealth and diversity, from street hawkers and tradesmen to the private clubs of the bourgeoisie. Stone masonry, woodworking, ironworking and stained glass flourished.leave time to visit the rest of the museum. It takes visitors on a remarkable journey, passing through Gallo-roman times, the Middle Ages and a thought-provoking exhibit on the city’s role in the triangular trade and slavery. From prehistory, an unknown artist gave us the stunningly simple and elegant Venus de Laussel, a 25,000-year-old bas-relief depicting a pregnant woman; the Romans left us a bronze statue of Hercules and the Middle Ages bequeathed superb stone figures of medieval warrior knights. The museum hosts an exquisite 1/36th scale model of the Conquerant, a magnificent three-masted warship the French used in their war against the English, later captured by Admiral Nelson's fleet.
◆ Aquitaine Museum
20, cours Pasteur, 33 (0)5 56 01 51 00 www.musee-aquitaine-bordeaux.com Open every day from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm Closed Mondays and Bank Holidays
Tram line B, stop Musée d’aquitaine
'Le France', a merchant ship built around 1840, deposit of the great seaport of Bordeaux.
‘La Garonne’, an allegory of the river by D. Félix Maggesi, 1851.
Sculpted elephants tusks, Equatorial Africa.
A unique and varied collection.
The Curator of Aquitaine Museum François Hubert before the reconstruction of grocery store in the 1930’s.