Port of Bordeaux
Review and History

The Port of Bordeaux is the capital of the Aquitaine Region of southwestern France. It lies in the wine-growing area of Medoc on the banks of the Garronne River 24 kilometers south of where it meets the Dordogne River and about 100 kilometers southeast of its mouth on the Atlantic Ocean. Bordeaux proper was home to over 230 thousand people in 2005. The Bordeaux-Arcachon-Libourne urban area is the fifth largest in France, with about 1.2 million people living there. It is perhaps most famous for the Bordeaux wines that have been produced there since the 8th Century. In 2007, the city’s historic district was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding universal cultural value.

The Port of Bordeaux is active in new high-technology applications. The Laser Megajoule, a powerful laser, will contribute greatly to the advance of laser and plasma technologies. The aeronautics industry in the Port of Bordeaux employs 20 thousand people, and the city is home to some of the world’s biggest aeronautics corporations. Tourism is also a major contributor to the local economy.

Port History

Soils in the area of the Port of Bordeaux encouraged settlements in the Bronze Age. Since the Roman era, it has been a busy port and town with close relationships with both Britain and Spain. It was the main town for a Celtic people called the Bituriges Vivisci.

The Port of Bordeaux was the capital of the Roman province of Aquitania. It was a square walled town and one of Gaul’s most important educational centers. As the Roman Empire declined, political instability overtook the area and continued into the 10th Century.

The Port of Bordeaux area was part of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s inheritance and became part of England when her husband, Henry II, was crowned in 1154. His descendant, Edward the Black Prince, held court at the Port of Bordeaux for 20 years, and his son, Richard II, was born in the town. The Port of Bordeaux enjoyed extraordinary freedom under English rule, and it had busy trade with ports in England. When the French defeated the English in 1453, the Port of Bordeaux was incorporated into France, but its merchant class resisted French limitations on municipal autonomy.

During the 17th Century, conflict disrupted economic growth. During the Wars of Religion, several massacres took place, disrupting trade. But in the 18th Century, the city flourished from three major trade areas: slaves from Africa, imports of sugar and coffee, and exports of wine and arms. During the 1700s, the Marquis de Tourny added beautiful squares and buildings.

The French Revolution’s Girondist Party was formed in the Port of Bordeaux, and the city suffered greatly during the French Reign of Terror. During the Napoleonic Wars, the city was declared for the Bourbons in 1814, and Louis XVIII gave his grandnephew the title of Duke of Bordeaux.

In the late 19th Century, the railroad arrived, the port was improved, and increased trade brought prosperity to the Port of Bordeaux. The French government was moved to the Port of Bordeaux in 1914 when German troops advanced on Paris during World War I and again in 1940 when World War II once again brought treats from Germany. The city was bombed unmercifully by Germany before being occupied by their troops and then again in 1944 before the Allies reoccupied the Port of Bordeaux, which had become an important submarine and air base for Germany.

The Port of Bordeaux has grown steadily since the end of World War II. Smaller surrounding towns have been incorporated, and new suburbs have grown. Growth has been accompanied by a movement of population and commerce away from the city center. During the 1970s, a redevelopment effort was undertaken in the city center, and parts of the historic districts were restored and made a conservation zone.

Modern Bordeaux is surrounded by boulevards and suburbs that house mansions, warehouses, and factories. The Garonne River contains an eight-kilometer strip of wharves. Some of the old city’s gates and remains of a Roman amphitheater recall the city’s long history. The 18th Century Grand Theatre is one of France’s best, some of its features copied in the Paris Opera. The Esplanade des Quinconces is one of Europe’s biggest squares. UNESCO designated the Port of Bordeaux’s historic center a World Heritage Site in 2007.

Shipping and trade made fortunes for the Port of Bordeaux’s great families, particularly trade in wines. While the port has been important since the 1700s, five specialized outports handle most of the commercial activity today. Port traffic has declined since oil refineries were closed. The Port of Bordeaux area contains about 117 hectares of vineyards and 13 thousand grape growers. Producing more than 700 million bottles of wine each year, its wines are popular around the world; however, increasing international competition has resulted in decreased production and fewer growers in the past decades.

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