The not so stupid question: What is the oldest monument in Bordeaux?

The listed Palais Gallien was built in the 2nd century. (© Nardelli)

Since 2017, the historic center of Bordeaux is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The capital of the Gironde, whose history and neoclassical architecture have made it famous, is full of monuments built several centuries ago. But among all these Historical Monumentswhich one is the oldest?

To find out, you’ll have to don your gladiator costume and travel back several hundred years to Gallo-Roman times, when the city was still called Burdigala. Frédéric Béchir, tourist guide in Bordeaux, lets us discover it Gaul palace still standing today, the oldest vestige of Bordeaux.

The ruins of the Palais Gallien

The Palais Gallien, modeled on the Colosseum in Rome, is a Roman amphitheater “built according to the most recent excavations around the beginning of the 2nd century”, the Bordeaux guide specifies. Gladiator fights and various events took place inside, but it is still difficult to know exactly what was going on between the stands, which could hold up to 20,000 spectators.

Located outside the city walls built in the third century, the monument was abandoned after around two hundred years of use. Gradually forgotten, the Palais Gallien made a name for itself around the 11th century.

A misleading name

From that moment, a rumor spread about the mysterious origin of this monument. For many Bordelais, the Palais Gallien represents the remains of a palace from the time of Charlemagne and not an amphitheater.

It has been said that Charlemagne had a Spanish concubine named Gallienne and that the name of the Palais Gallien came from there. But ultimately, the name we know today has little to do with what this place really was.

Frederic BashirGuide in Bordeaux

It will have to wait until the 16th century and the Renaissance period before a historian succeeds in restoring the Palais Gallien to its true function. Over the centuries, the historical site fell into disrepair and became a rubbish dump and public rubbish dump in the Middle Ages: “Here was also a place where there was trade, prostitution and duels.”

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“In addition to its degradation, people have used the site as a quarry. From the 19th century, the prefect of Tournon decided to preserve the amphitheater, which was listed as a historic monument in 1840,” says Frédéric Béchir.

Other monuments are also very old

Today, the Palais Gallien is the only visible remnant of the Gallo-Roman era in Bordeaux. Visits are organized every year during the summer period so that visitors can go down into the amphitheater and follow in the footsteps of the gladiators of the time.

Among the other oldest monuments in Bordeaux is the crypt of the Saint-Seurin church, which contains sarcophagi from the 4th century. “The floor of the crypt dates from the Merovingian period, maybe even from the end of the Roman period, and some parts are very old: the entrance portal, for example, is a thousand years old,” adds the Bordeaux guide.

On the Sainte-Croix side, some parts of the portal date from the same period. Recently built, the Grosse Cloche is also one of the oldest monuments in Bordeaux, dating back to the 13th century.

“And to find the oldest house in Bordeaux, you have to go down the cul-de-sac of Rue Neuve. There is a stone house with preserved walls from the 13th century, making it the oldest in the city,” he concludes.

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