A Tale of Two Cities

Dur­ing the last week­end in May, Bordeaux’s Fête le Vin will set up shop in Liver­pool to co­in­cide with the start of the Tall Ships Re­gatta. The two cities have both be­come thriv­ing hon­ey­pots for busi­ness and tourism

Bordeaux J'Adore - - Contents - CLARE O’HA­GAN

the mersey and the garonne were once the ma­jor eco­nomic ar­ter­ies of

their cities. Liver­pool and Bordeaux were pow­er­houses of At­lantic trade in the 18th and 19th cen­turies, both play­ing a crit­i­cal role in the em­pire-build­ing of their na­tions. The two cities’ his­to­ries flowed in par­al­lel, as each en­twined its iden­tity around a broad, surg­ing wa­ter-way. The name Liver­pool is born out of the river; in Old English liver means thick or muddy, and pol means creek or pool. Bordeaux means ‘by the side of the wa­ter’.

To ap­proach Liver­pool or Bordeaux by boat, is to glimpse these il­lus­tri­ous ports through the eyes of the sailors and im­mi­grants who crossed the At­lantic, then jour­neyed in­land on the river. Liver­pool’s Pier Head was the point of de­par­ture and dis­em­barka­tion for pas­sen­ger ships for over 300 years. To­day, the river-trav­eller is met by the iconic sight of the ‘Three Graces’ - a tri­umvi­rate of grand and or­nate early 20th cen­tury build­ings de­signed to trum­pet Liver­pool’s com­mer­cial pre-em­i­nence. These his­toric be­he­moths, and other Vic­to­rian build­ings, cast im­pos­ing sil­hou­ettes against the back­drop of the im­pec­ca­bly-re­stored docks.

The docks of these cities once echoed with the ca­coph­ony of mar­itime trade - sea­men rush­ing to un­load the pre­cious cargo of tall ships from across the At­lantic, while mer­chants barked or­ders, and lo­cal boys and girls ad­ver­tised hot pies in shrill voices.

If you ar­rive in Bordeaux by boat, the city’s em­blem­atic neo-clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture, ren­dered in the sandy-toned lo­cal lime­stone elic­its a sim­i­lar in­take of breath. The view of the Place de La Bourse, de­signed by cel­e­brated Parisian ar­chi­tect Ge­orges Eugène Hauss­mann, and the Place des Quin­conces, Europe’s largest pub­lic square, is lit­tle-changed since the days when Bordeaux was at the epi­cen­tre of the Tri­an­gu­lar Trade be­tween Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.

The Golden Age

In the last decade both Liver­pool and Bordeaux have un­der­gone dra­matic

trans­for­ma­tions from shabby, eco­nom­i­cally un­der­per­form­ing cities to thriv­ing hon­ey­pots for busi­ness and tourism. Both cities’ ar­chi­tec­tural grandeur has been landed by UNESCO. In 2004 the global her­itage watch­dog pro­claimed Liver­pool’s ‘Mar­itime Mer­can­tile City’ as a his­toric hub for in­ter­na­tional trade and dock­ing tech­nol­ogy. Bordeaux re­ceived its own ac­co­lades from UNESCO in 2008, when the ‘Port of the Moon’ was de­clared the best ex­pres­sion of En­light­en­ment ar­chi­tec­ture. In that era, towns were de­signed to be ‘melt­ing pots of hu­man­ism, uni­ver­sal­ity and cul­ture’.

The back­streets of both cities are stud­ded with ar­chi­tec­tural gems too. Liver­pool’s Hope Street is a well-pre­served Ge­or­gian neigh­bour­hood, and St. Ge­orge’s Quar­ter is a near-per­fect Vic­to­rian one. Bordeaux’s Chartrons is packed with échoppes - ar­ti­sans’ cot­tages, con­structed be­tween the 14th and 18th cen­turies, and you’ll find stately neo-clas­si­cal pri­vate houses, dot­ted through­out the city.

It’s not just the beau­ti­ful build­ings, but what took place within them which make Liver­pool and Bordeaux so com­pelling. Bordeaux of course is syn­ony­mous with wine, and Liver­pool has spawned some of the world’s favourite pop artists, earn­ing it a new ac­co­lade in 2015; UNESCO City of Mu­sic.

The City Re­born

Am­bi­tious ur­ban re­newal projects were ini­ti­ated in the late 1990s in Liver­pool and Bordeaux, cou­pled with huge in­vest­ment in tourism and the arts, which has lead to a sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic resur­gence. Liver­pool ONE in­au­gu­rated in 2008, is a shop­ping and en­ter­tain­ment com­plex close to the water­front which cost £920 mil­lion. Other re-de­vel­op­ment ar­eas like Rope Walks with its in­dus­trial-era ware­houses, skil­fully in­te­grate the city’s ocean-go­ing past with con­tem­po­rary ur­ban de­sign.

A for­mer tim­ber yard, the Baltic Tri­an­gle, has been trans­formed into a hot­house for young tal­ent. Artists and en­trepreneurs in­cu­bate their ideas in cus­tom-built beach huts and hold ping pong du­als on­site. With its street­food pop-ups and live mu­sic stages, it com­pares to Bordeaux’s Dar­win

Ecosys­tème. This stun­ning post-in­dus­trial space, dec­o­rated with vir­tu­oso graf­fiti, houses ev­ery­thing from work spa­ces for young cre­atives, to brew­eries, or­ganic restau­rants, ur­ban farms, skate-parks and bike polo are­nas. Re­gen­er­a­tion of the city’s derelict quays and, re­cently, the Ba­calan area where a 21st-cen­tury food mar­ket has just sprung up fac­ing the Cité du Vin mu­seum have re-in­vig­o­rated the an­cient city, help­ing to lure 6 mil­lion tourists a year.

The Liver­pool Tate, housed in a re­fur­bished ware­house, over­looks a glassy pool of wa­ter on the Grade 1-listed Al­bert Dock. In­au­gu­rated in 1988, The Tate is a hive of de­bate and dis­cus­sion, host­ing talks and work­shops. Across Liver­pool, the arts are fu­elling a cul­tural re­nais­sance cel­e­brat­ing the dis­tinc­tive­ness of the city. Sir Peter Blake, the artist be­hind the Bea­tles’ Sergeant Pep­per al­bum cover has em­bla­zoned a pas­sen­ger ferry on the Mersey, The Daz­zle, with his colour­ful and kalei­do­scopic de­signs as part of the city’s art bi­en­nal. The Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art is housed in one of Bordeaux’s largest and most im­pres­sive colo­nial-era build­ings, the En­trepôts Lainé, a for­mer food de­pot. This Cathe­dral-like space was ren­o­vated in 1977 to be­come an ex­hi­bi­tion space, which quickly ac­quired an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of art­works.

The once bustling water­ways and thor­ough­fares of Liver­pool and Bordeaux lan­guished dur­ing the post-in­dus­trial era, but thanks to vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship and hard-won in­vest­ment, they are vig­or­ously cast­ing off the shadow of late 20th cen­tury de­cline. To­day, vast Cruise-lin­ers an­chor in docks once writ­ten off as relics. With high speed rail links, in­vest­ment of cap­i­tal and ideas in busi­ness, and more ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion in the pipe­line, the fu­ture looks bright for these two for­mer mar­itime titans.


Bordeaux’s Place de la Bourse re­flect­ing in the Miroir d’eau.


Liver­pool, The Three Graces.


Dar­win Ecosys­tème in Bordeaux.


Liver­pool, roof ter­race.

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