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Bordeaux History

Known as Burdigala to its original inhabitants, the Celtic Bituriges Vivisci tribe, Bordeaux has a history that is almost as long as it is interesting.

Founded around 300BC on the Rive Gauche (left bank) of the River Garonne, its early years were peaceful until the Romans arrived. Not at all happy about the idea of submission, the Bituriges Vivsci fought back and chalked up a rare victory against the men of Rome at the bloody Battle of Burdigala in 107BC.

By 60BC, however, the Celts had been defeated and Bordeaux became an important Roman centre for lead and tin mining. The city was so significant that it eventually became the capital of Roman Aquitaine, although its success also made it a target. Sacked in 236AD by the Vandals and again in 409, further damage was caused when the Visigoths attacked in 414 and the Franks in 498.

Nevertheless, by the dawn of the 6th century, Bordeaux was rising once again, this time under the auspices of the Merovingians and their successor dynasty, the Carolingians. This growth continued throughout the Middle Ages (the odd sacking notwithstanding), especially after its Duchess Eleanor married Henry II of England.

Further expansion followed in the 16th century when it branched out from wine growing and became the primary point of departure and arrival for slaves. Sugar cane also headed to and from the West Indies from here.

But despite its riches, it wasn’t until the 18th century that Bordeaux’s golden age arrived. Inspired by their increasing wealth, the burghers of the period decided to give their city a facelift. Its winding medieval streets were duly cleared to make way for grand squares and elegant tree-lined avenues, lined with monumental buildings.

Although the World Wars briefly arrested Bordeaux’s development and turned it into a base for the Italian Navy for a while, its real decline set in during the post-war years. However, a recent redevelopment has given the city back its spark and today, Bordeaux is growing once more.

Did you know?
• Bordeaux is home to more than 5,000 buildings, many of which date from the 16th and 18th centuries.
• The Bordeaux Grand Theatre, which still hosts a nightly performance, was inaugurated in 1780.
• Maurius Petipa staged some of his earliest ballets at Bordeaux’s Grand Théâtre.

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Featured Hotels


Hotel SeeKo'o

As trendy as its name suggests, and housed in a striking white building, this boutique hotel on Bordeaux's riverside offers 45 open-plan suites with swanky modern furniture. Floor-to-ceiling windows give fantastic views of the river, and some rooms have round beds straight out of a 1960s film.

Hotel Yndo

This new addition to Bordeaux's roster of five-star hotels is a riot of innovative design – but done very discreetly so that comfort isn't sacrificed on the altar of style. It's in a classy 18th-century townhouse close to the Golden Triangle, and the courtyard garden is a tranquil place for breakfast.

Hotel de Tourny

There's a pleasing mix of traditional and modern in this stylish hotel, where streamlined rooms are enlivened by marble fireplaces and ornate gilt-framed mirrors. Housed in a handsome 18th-century townhouse, the hotel is in a prime location a few steps away from the Golden Triangle.

Hotel Continental

Set in an elegant 18th-century townhouse this classic hotel is in a pedestrianised street in the centre of Bordeaux. It offers a selection of spacious and comfortable rooms at good value for the location and the family room has its own terrace. Breakfast is included in the price.

Mama Shelter

Philippe Starck's budget hotels are packed full of style, and his Bordeaux outpost is no exception. Airy rooms include iMac TVs and free Wi-Fi, and the downstairs bar and restaurant are seriously funky. The star feature is the rooftop restaurant with great city views.

Le Boutique Hotel

You can't beat the location of this sophisticated hotel in an 18th-century townhouse just off the Golden Triangle. Individually designed rooms combine innovative decor with traditional touches. As a bonus, the hotel has one of the most sought-after wine bars in the city, with delicious tapas served in the courtyard garden.