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Bordeaux's Short History

Bordeaux With more than 700,000 inhabitants Bordeaux is the biggest city in the Aquitaine region of France.
While the Bordeaux region was populated since Neolithic times the first archaeological attested human dwellings date from 6th century BC.
In the first century BC the Romans founded Aquitaine - "the land of waters" - as a Gaul province on the vast territory bordered by the Loire river at the north, the Pyrenean Mountains in the south, the Massif Central at east and the Atlantic Ocean on its west side.
Bordeaux under the name of Burdigala becomes a flourishing Roman city, an important ocean port and even the capital of the roman administrative province "Aquitaine II".
Towards the end of the Roman occupation the population of the Aquitaine region embraces Christianism. Its first known archbishop Orientalis is invested in 314 AD.
The end of Roman occupation is also marked, or better put was brought about, by the waves of migratory people as Huns, Vandals and Visigoths that cross the region.
In 475 the Visigoth king Euric conquers and adds Aquitaine as a part of his empire whose capital was Toulouse. The Visigoth dominations is not long lived and in 507 the Frank king Clovis, who was already a Catholic, defeats Allaric II at Vouille, and attaches Burdigala's region to his territories, chasing the Visigoths to the south of the Pyrenean mountains.
After the death of Clovis in 511 his kingdom is not only disputed by his descendents during many générations, but also has to face attacks from different populations like the Vascons who come from the North of Spain, the Moors and even the Vikings who descend in 848 on the Gironde estuary.
Even shaken by these historic events the Aquitaine of the Middle Ages is wealthy territory. In the 10th century the theologian and historian Heriger of Lobbes (925-1007) describes it: " With plenty of fish in its rivers, its rich farmland, its vineyards sweet as nectar, dotted with forests, teeming with fruit, abundantly endowed with pasture, filled with gold, silver and other metal resources, taking benefit of vessel traffic and market dues, Aquitaine knows more than other provinces the ardor of all the pleasures".
A crucial event in the history of Aquitaine takes place on the 18th of May 1152. This was the day when Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine - who had previously married and divorced the King of France, Louis VII - marries Henri, later called Plantagenet, heir to the throne of England, bringing her duchy under the English rule.
It is the beginning of a series of armed conflicts for the sovereignty of the region between France and England that will last for the next 3 centuries.
These conflicts culminate with the Hundred Years War and - temporally - end with the victory on the 17th of July 1453 of King Charles VII of France at the battle of Castillon against the English armies led by John Talbot. At the treaty signed on the 9th of October 1453 Bordeaux and Aquitaine are given to the King of France.
Bordeaux takes part in the French religious wars and the Night of Saint Bartholomew of Paris is repeated in Bordeaux on the 3rd of October 1572. The city knows peace again only in 1585 when the humanist and philosopher Michel de Montaigne is elected mayor of Bordeaux.
The economic boom of the 18th century is due to the development of the commerce with the "Islands". Bordeaux becomes the second biggest port of Europe after London. The expeditions towards North America, India, Africa and China bring back coffee, cocoa, sugar, cotton and indigo.
They also carry a shameful cargo: black slaves to the new world. On the 16th of January 1716 a letter signed by the King Louis XV authorizes Bordeaux along with other cities to carry out slave commerce.
During the French revolution Bordeaux plays an active role. A group of deputies, from the Bordeaux region, in the National Assembly of France of the time, forms a moderate group, more favorable to a constitutional monarchy, group named Les Girondins. With the arrival of Robespierre and The Terror many Girondins are decapitated.
During the Napoleon war against Spain, between 1807 and 1810, Bordeaux is crossed by the republican army in its way towards south. In 1814 the city becomes the first of France to join the Restoration movement.
At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century Bordeaux becomes two times the… capital of France: first time in 1871 after the French were defeated at Sedan by the Prussian armies, and in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War.
Of course the history of Bordeaux is interrelated with the history of its most famous vocation: the wine!
The grapevine has been growing in the Bordeaux region since more than 2000 years. It is during the Roman occupation that a new type, more resistant, of grapevine is imported - some say from the Balkans - called "biturica".
The spread of Christianism - the wine playing a part in its religious services - and the increase of the population in the first millennium contribute to the increase of grape growing.
The attachment of the Aquitaine to the English crown boosts even more the wine production and the region, that produces the "Claret", a dark rosé wine very much prized at the English court, establishes a monopoly of wine export towards England.
This is a time when many sites around Bordeaux like Fronsac, Saint-Emillion, Cadilac, Langon turn to vine growing as well.
During the 17th and the 18th centuries the Dutch that start to import the Bordeaux wine for their overseas colonies due to its long preservation qualities.
On the 18th of April 1855 the first official rating of the "grand vins" from Bordeaux is published with the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of Paris."


*** for information about visiting Bordeaux on bicycle go to Bordeaux: one of the most bike friendly cities in the world