Stone of Bordeaux

Bordeaux is only two hours and nine minutes from Toulouse by TGV (“train of great speed”), but the two cities look and feel very different. They are both on the same river, the Garonne, but Bordeaux is closer to the ocean so it is breezier and cooler — at least it was when I was there.

Since Toulouse has no stone quarries within easy hauling distance, even the most monumental buildings there are typically made of flat pink bricks, giving that city a distinctively quaint appearance.

But in Bordeaux the main building material in the 18th and 19th centuries was white stone from nearly 1400 quarries in the nearby countryside. This white ‘Stone of Bordeaux’ gave the city its elegant, solid and substantial look that it still has today.

The downside of this is that many of these nearly 1400 quarries were underground and are now abandoned and in danger of collapse, posing serious risks for people and property in these outlying areas.

Entrance to the City Hall in Bordeaux

During a visit to Bordeaux in 1790, a Parisian architect wrote: “The building materials used in Bordeaux are beautiful; a lovely white stone that costs only 6 sols per foot net so it can be used even in the least prestigious buildings. This material gives every building, even the most mediocre, an allure that is infinitely pleasing.”

The architect who wrote this is identified in this paper and in this website as “Delanoy”, but I think they must have meant François-Jacques Delannoy, an architect who lived from 1755 to 1835. Among his many projects were the Galerie Vivienne and the Bank of France in Paris.

Porte Dijeaux in Bordeaux

The Porte Dijeaux, also known as Porte Dauphine, is a stone gateway that was built from 1748-1753 as an entrance to the city of Bordeaux — now in the city center.

Readers of the French author François Mauriac may be interested to learn this gateway was built of stone from the quarry in Frontenac. This is a hard and dense sort of stone that was often used for the foundations of buildings.

Because stone was such an important building material in Bordeaux, and because there were so many different quarries in the vicinity, they tended to keep track of which kind of stone was used in which part of which building, and which quarry it came from.

This is a different situation from Besançon, for example, where the old buildings in the city center were all made of local stone from the same quarry, in the nearby Forest of Chailluz. And of course different from Toulouse, where all those flat pink bricks look more or less the same.

A stone house at 18-20, rue Porte Dijeaux, Bordeaux

Location, aerial view and photo of Porte Dijeaux on monumentum.fr.

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.

See more posts on Bordeaux, France.

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