25 April 2024

Eclectic France

Observations on the sites, sounds and events around France

History

Gothic Heights of Bordeaux

After climbing to the top of the Pey Berland bell tower you’ll have an ideal view of Bordeaux.

The bell tower is across the square from Bordeaux Cathedral. In fact, it’s the bell tower for the cathedral. The medieval masons built it separately to protect the main building from damage caused by the vibration and movement of the bells.

There’s a small entry fee and you’ll probably need to queue: they only allow a certain number of people inside at any one time. Once they reach this number, you’ll need to wait for someone to come out before you’re allowed in. We visited during a pleasant afternoon during August 2019 and only had to wait about 20 minutes.

Once inside the bell tower, you’ll understand why the operators control entry. The ground floor – with the payment desk and a small souvenir shop – is not particularly big. But when you start climbing the stone stairs there is only enough room for one person to climb or descend at a time. There are small recesses in the stairwells to allow passing and each floor has enough room for a few people to wait to go up or down, but that’s it.

The spirals get tighter and narrower as they go higher. The very last stage has lower headroom too, especially in the doorway that opens onto the highest accessible rooftop. Climbing these stairs won’t be difficult for most people but will be tough – or impossible – for anyone with mobility issues.

You get a great view of Bordeaux from the top of the Pey Berland tower.
View from the top of Tour Per Berland

Once at the top you’ll have an amazing all-round view of Bordeaux. By this time, you’ll be well over 50 metres above the square below although the tip of the spire above is more than 60 metres above ground level. It’s a great way to get your bearings and to see how the ancient and modern parts of the city developed. Like many other monuments, there are brass plaques pointing out some of the near and distant landmarks.

The Pey Berland tower dates from the 15th century although the bells were only installed in 1851. Before this, the tower had many uses, including as a house. It was also a shot tower: artisans dropped molten lead from the top to make lead balls and bullets. Information panels and the tower’s website tell more about its history.

You’ll be able to see the tower’s four bells. The largest of these weighs over eight tonnes. The bells still work and up close they are loud: they were ringing while we were in the tower.