Bordeaux J'Adore

Bordeaux, Nantes and Bilbao The 3 Atlantic sisters

- 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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