Place de la Victoire lies at the crossroads of several major arteries and it is the culmination point of the 1250 meters long Rue Sainte Catherine, the main shopping street of Bordeaux, known as the longest in Europe. At the center of the square stands a noteworthy obelisk made of pink marble and two giant bronze turtles. Together with one of Bordeaux’s remaining gates, Porte d’Aquitaine, the place is a mix of classical architecture and modernity.
Designed by Intendant Tourny during a period of major modernization of the city, it was built in 1753 around a new gate called “Porte d’Aquitaine”, replacing the old ramparts, the medieval castle and the original fortified gate.
Several sequences of buildings in the neoclassical style constituted the site named “Place of Aquitaine” at that time. These buildings with their sober and elegant lines are the realization of the architect André Portier who is also the designer of the Aquitaine gate.
A former fairground, Place de la Victoire has not always been so popular and lively. During the Revolution, it was here, and not on the nearby Place Gambetta that they installed the guillotine! In the nineteenth century, it found a more welcoming vocation, that of the marketplace for the products of peasants in the Bordeaux countryside.
Renamed Place de la Victoire on December 3, 1918, celebrating the end of the First World War, it has since evolved into a true “latin quarter”, welcoming students from the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacology overlooking the square.
At the centre of the gate stands the Porte d’Aquitaine designed by André Portier in 1753 and inspired by ancient arches of triumph. Named in honour of the Duke of Aquitaine, its architecture highlights the blond stone of Saint Macaire selected for its robustness.
This gate has a triangular pediment carved by Francin. It displays astonishing sculptures with heterogeneous motifs and symbols, representing on one side the marine gods and the royal arms, on the other side fruits and flowers. Porte d’Aquitaine was registered as a Historic Monument in 1931.
A Bicentennial Vine Harvested Each Year
Before the harvest of Montmartre, there are those of Place de la Victoire! Hidden between the “Chez Auguste” Bar and a fast food store, a vine root persists among buildings and students. A vestige of a 6-vine plantation made in the 18th century by the Duverger family from Bordeaux, this single vine can produce up to 30 bottles of wine in the best years.
The Municipality keeps some specimens of this unique variety, the cruchen-nègre, at the Conservatoire du Parc Floral. The name “Tchacouli” points to back distant origins in the Basque Country. After the vinification at INRA, the bottles are stored in the cellars of the Hôtel de Ville, bearing the Vin de Bordeaux appellation.
The Works of the Sculptor Ivan Theimer
In 2005, three new works of art came to enrich the place, to the astonishment of locals and tourists: a strangely twisted column and two bronze turtles by the Czech artist Ivan Theimer.
The obelisk, in red marble of the Languedoc and in bronze represents the first monument celebrating the capital of the vine and the wine. Multiple motifs and in bas-reliefs are engraved on the column, such as bunches of grapes, mask of Bacchus, the ship of Dionysos, all telling the myths and the history of the vineyards of from antiquity to the present day Bordeaux. This assemblage of six carved marble blocks was composed in Ivan Theimer’s Italian studio in Pietrasanta.
As for the two bronze turtles, they also pay tribute to the wine culture of Bordeaux, testified by the adornments of bunches of grapes and references to the great Bordeaux crus etched on the shells.
Since the arrival of the tram in Bordeaux, major modernisation works have transformed Place de la Victoire and strengthened its position as a popular and festive crossroads.
Photos by Asgeir Pedersen, Spots France