Bordeaux, Nantes and Bil­bao The 3 At­lantic sis­ters

Bordeaux J'Adore - - ◆ —— Sea-farers All —— ◆ - CLARE O’HA­GAN

Nantes, Bordeaux, Bil­bao have al­ways faced out­wards, to­wards the rough, un­pre­dictable waters of the At­lantic. They all pros­pered thanks to lucky geog­ra­phy, en­joy­ing prox­im­ity to the ocean, and po­si­tions on tidal rivers flow­ing to the heart of the coun­try; rivers that were these cities’ lifeblood for cen­turies

THESE THREE CITIES have al­ways faced out­wards, to­wards the rough, un­pre­dictable waters of the At­lantic. Today, they are united not only by their glo­ri­ous sea-far­ing pasts, but by their tran­si­tions into ar­chi­tec­tural and cul­tural bea­cons, ca­pa­ble of lur­ing vis­i­tors in their thou­sands.

Nantes, Bordeaux, Bil­bao. Three cities, just a few hun­dred kilo­me­ters apart, but united by the At­lantic Ocean, and by their po­si­tions on tidal rivers flow­ing to the heart of the coun­try; rivers that were these cities’ lifeblood for cen­turies. Their com­mon traits have elicited many a com­par­i­son, about their her­itage and the dy­namic way in which they have evolved over the last two decades.

At the turn of the Mil­len­nium, they kept pace with the new zeit­geist, rein­vent­ing their city cen­ters, cre­at­ing new tourist hubs and pro­vid­ing world-renowned ar­chi­tects with the chance to re­alise their most am­bi­tious ideas. Through these ur­ban re­newal projects, the three cities have bril­liantly ex­ploited their rich mar­itime and mercantile her­itage. Each city at­tracts vis­i­tors in its own inim­itable way, of­fer­ing a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ences to suit all tastes, bud­gets and gen­er­a­tions. Mon­tesquieu the­o­rised that the tem­per­ate cli­mate, such as the one found on France and Spain’s At­lantic coast gives rise to peo­ple of in­tel­li­gence and good sense!

Over the cen­turies, Nantes, Bil­bao and Bordeaux each en­joyed con­sid­er­able power and in­flu­ence in At­lantic trade. Bil­bao served as the gate­way for all ex­ports from across the ocean. And by the 18th Cen­tury, Bordeaux and Nantes com­peted vig­or­ously for supremacy as France’s premier port. Both of them took part in the tri­an­gu­lar trade but Bordeaux took the up­per hand in the ship­ping of goods dur­ing the lat­ter half of the 1700s.

The well-known his­to­rian, *Paul Bu­tel, once likened the Moon-shaped har­bor of Bordeaux to the gra­cious bend of the Ria river in Bil­bao, a sim­i­lar­ity which echoed the two cities’ dom­i­nance in the sphere of At­lantic trade. Today, these three At­lantic sis­ters are en­gaged in a con­ver­sa­tion ex­plor­ing the dy­nam­ics of ur­ban change, and how best to al­low the vis­i­tor to im­merse him­self in the past.

*Paul Bu­tel, His­toire de Bordeaux, Pri­vat nouv. éd. 1990.

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