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a dream unfulfilled -
the transporter bridge
[pont transbordeur], Bordeaux


Artist's impression of the Bordeaux transporter bridge
A fifth bridge coming to Bordeaux: Pont Chaban-Delmas, a new vertical lift bridge
Gustave Eiffel’s first work: the Eiffel passerelle, Bordeaux
a dream unfulfilled - the transporter bridge, Bordeaux
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New translation, the Magna Carta

Bordeaux's port with the towers of the transporter bridge
Bordeaux’s port with the towers of the transporter bridge

Bordeaux is a city built on both banks of the River Garonne, on its last leg before pouring into the Atlantic Ocean. In the Middle Ages, the Garonne at Bordeaux was called the Sea of Garonne, it was (and still is) so wide.

To unite the two sides of the Garonne, the first bridge built was the Pont de Pierre - the Stone Bridge. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, it was decided to build a transporter bridge, similar to those then recently built at Nantes and Marseilles (both since demolished). Transporter bridges allow large and tall ships to pass without hindrance. [The French for transporter bridge is pont transbordeur.]

As with all transporter bridges of that period, the bridge was created by the French engineer, Ferdinand Arnodin, the main designer and builder of transporter bridges.

The foundation stone of this transporter, or suspended car, bridge was laid in 1910. But today there is almost no trace of this bridge.

  • One of the pylons for the Bordeaux transporter bridgeWith towers 95 metres high and a span of 426 metres/1414 feet across the river, this was to be the world’s largest transporter bridge.

  • The travelling gantry, from which the platform was to be suspended, would be 15 metres above the docks.

  • The suspended platform or deck, 10 metres wide and 13 metres long, would move just above the water surface.

  • The deck would carry pedestrians, cars and cars, up to a maximum load of 50 tonnes.

  • The trip would last two minutes at a speed of 12 mph, and allow six round trips per hour.

The bridge was known as the Transbordeur Médoc - the Medoc Transporter.

On the west (left) bank of the Garonne, this bridge was to be located at Cours du Médoc. This is about 600 metres upstream from the location of the Pont Bacalan-Bastide at avenue Lucien Faur, currently under consruction.

The first stone was laid in September 1910, with completion forecast to be two and a half years later.

However, the First World War [1914] interrupted construction after the two tall supporting towers had been built. The two towers became Bordeaux landmarks as they soared high above the surrounding city.

View of Bordeaux, with the transporter bridge towers piercing the sky-line
View of Bordeaux, with the transporter bridge towers piercing the sky-line

Construction did not start again at the end of the First World War. By 1918, there was insufficient metal and labourers available to continue the work. The two towers were dismantled on the 18th August 1942, before the invading Germans could make use of them.

All that now remains are the stone piers on the right (east) bank. The sight of these huge stone blocks brings to mind the sonnet by Percy Byshe Shelley, Ozymandias.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The stone piers, all that remains of Bordeaux's transbordeur bridge
“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone”

If you want to visit these remains, the Google satellite map below shows where in Bordeaux they are located. [Note that Google satellite map images are usually some years out of date. We have painted out two buildings that no longer exist.]

Map for locating piers of transporter bridge
Map for locating piers of transporter bridge

The City of Bordeaux intends to refurbish this rather run-down area, which is quite close to the Baclan-Bastide bridge, due to be fininshed in 2012.





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