Although seemingly rich in history, as a public garden the story is a recent one: the Jardin des Remparts, in its current form, was first opened to the general public by the city council in December 2013. This development was a by-product of a campaign called Bordeaux [Re]Centres, the local application of a nationwide project to revitalise run-down areas in city centres. The latter went by the delightful, easy-to-remember name of PNRQAD (Plan national de requalification des centres anciens dégradés).
The 2013 breakthrough followed on from initial efforts to bring the place to life in 2010, led by a local association poetically known as “Le Bruit du Frigo”. They held various happenings here in an area that was, in essence, little-used land that was split between the student housing organisation CROUS and the vocational training establishment ERP Robert Lateulade (the city council has gained the right to use the State-owned ground and will, in time, fully acquire the property). Prior to that, the area was part of a convent, le Couvent des Capucins.
The garden’s most notable characteristic though is that it stretches along the old city walls ("les remparts"), as hinted at when looking at the long, linear stone wall which separates the Jardin from neighbouring houses (as pictured above). By one of the two entrances to the garden (where there are currently temporary metal staircases, set to be replaced by permanent steps sometime soon), a surviving section of the 14th-century wall is fully exposed. At garden level, there are even traces of the old artillery terrace and parapet walk.
Top: remnants of the old city wall by the eastern entrance to the park. Bottom: traces of what must have been a doorway to and from the parapet walk.The remainder of the 3,400-square-metre park is suitably low-fi and yet neat and pleasant. A pretty row of plane trees is broken up by the occasional bench and, more surprisingly, a small shrine or oratory, no doubt a survivor of the area's convent past. Looking closely, a Latin inscription can just about be made out at its base. The text reads “Filioli mei, quos iterum parturio, donec formetur Christus in vobis”. With a little help from Twitter, and more specifically the good people at the Association Régionale des Enseignants de Langues Anciennes de l'académie de Bordeaux (@Arelabor), this was identified as being a bible verse, Galatians 4:19, the King James translation being “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you”.
The oratory and the old steps which led down to the courtyard.The fenced-off remains of a stone staircase lead down from the oratory to the courtyard of today’s vocational training establishment, although it is easy enough to imagine the scene being that of the 17th-century convent. Down at that lower level, some serious street art now adorns a wall that forms a bit of a dead end for visitors. As I take a photo of the wall, a dog runs up to the wall and starts performing for the camera before heading back up to join its master and his fellow dog-walkers.
I believe the dog's name was Watson. Elementary.
I carefully make my way past the playful dogs and exchange a few niceties with one of the owners. We generally comment on how pleasant the Jardin is, but she quickly adds that it can only remain that way if people respect it. I ask her to explain what she means and she mentions that the place is often littered with the remains of food left by people passing through. And, in one corner, I do indeed spot some rogue beer bottles and wrappers that really shouldn’t be there. This is obviously a place that the locals have quickly warmed to and that is not be messed with; you get a feeling that the park is a natural extension of their habitat.
Views from the Jardin.Finally, I make use of this unusual raised vantage point to take in a few sights that I’ve never before viewed from this angle: the spire of Saint-Michel church, the roof of the recently-renovated Marché des Douves building, and the exterior of the old convent chapel that lies within the grounds of the CROUS, a place which seems to be out-of-bounds but which can, apparently, occasionally be visited. I also spot an unusual, enigmatic white dome, which I think is pictured on the ERP Robert Lateulade's website here.
My time in the Jardin des Remparts has come to an end but I just know I’ll be back. I have a feeling the next time I’m in amongst the hustle and bustle of the Saint-Michel district or the Capucins market, surely among the liveliest and most energetic of the city's neighbourhoods, I will be only too proud to guide whoever is with me back towards the city’s secret garden on the old city walls, to enjoy a quiet walk in amongst the local dog population!