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St Emilion, Blaye, Bordeaux – World Heritage

The UNESCO world heritage sites

Bordeaux

Bordeaux central area was awarded its UNESCO World Heritage status for the completeness of its 18th-century urban landscape. This architecture has at its core the site of the Roman port and around that the medieval walled city which survives in the street plan and many of the narrow streets. This central area was then dramatically extended during the 18th-century when successive royal governors laid out boulevards and commissioned a riverfront façade and buildings that were only emulated by Paris in the next century. Having escaped significant damage during the wars of the 20th-century, that townscape has been largely retained and today presents a traffic-lite city centre and riverfront that is a pleasure to stroll/cycle through.

St Emilion

St.Emilion’s inscription on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites is owed to a landscape that has been shaped by wine-production for almost 2000 years. The town itself has cloistered convents, an underground church, small castle, catacombs, town gates, remains of a moat and a photogenic central square with cobbled streets tumbling down the hillside. But in summer and at many weekends it can become very crowded, so its worth trying to either see it early in the morning or during the evening.

Similarly, the landscape is dotted with towers which may at first appear to be for defence or to be derelict windmills, but turn out to be elaborate pigeon lofts (pigeonniers) where a stock of fresh meat could be maintained by those with the wealth and status to afford their construction. Today they are likely to have only ornamental functions and serve primarily to boost property prices.

Indeed it should be remembered that it is the ‘Jurisdiction of St Emilion’ (ie the commune and not simply the town) that has been designated world heritage and any visitor who has had enough of the admittedly pretty little town’s sights and shops should take one of the walking tours out through the town gates to the surrounding green countryside. Alternatively, a self-guided walking route taking in several important St Emilion estates is available.

                           The doors of the
underground church at St.Emilion
behind which lies not only
the ecclesiastical building
but miles of caves which
are put to good use as wine
conditioning cellars

Blaye

The Citadel at Blaye – more accurately the fortresses of Blaye, Cussac and Fort Médoc, were commissioned by Louis XIV at the end of the 17th-century to ‘put a lock on the Gironde’. His principal military architect Vauban designed/modified fortresses for an all-conquering French monarchy all around the borders of France, and the techniques and materials he devised were still being copied in the 19th-century until the invention of high explosives made such fortresses archaic. They were declared World heritage in 1998.

At Blaye, he took an existing 12th-century castle and constructed a military complex that could resist capture from the land and destroy any hostile shipping that may seek to reach Bordeaux. To supplement this construction at a point where the estuary is 3kms wide, he added a fortress on an island in the estuary and on the other bank constructed Fort Médoc. The ferry from Blaye allows the latter to be visited and the tourist office offers boat trips to all three with an English language commentary/guide.

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