Place Pey Berland is the nerve center of Bordeaux. The square, which includes the Hôtel de Ville, the Saint André cathedral and the meeting of two tram lines, owes its name to Archbishop Pey Berland and the bell tower by the same name. Detached from the cathedral itself, the bell tower with a golden statue of the Virgin on its top, seems to nibble at the Bordeaux sky. From its height of 66 meters, it offers a splendid panorama of the city for those who can climb the 229 steps up the narrow spiral staircase.
Header image detail of “Place Pey Berland” by Les Instantanés de Bordeaux
The Rohan Palace is Home to the Bordeaux City Hall
Palais Rohan is named after the archbishop of Bordeaux, Ferdinand Maximilian Meriadec de Rohan. It was the seat of various powers including the Imperial Palace of Napoleon I in 1808, then Royal Castle under Louis VIII in 1815, before it acquired its current vocation of Town Hall in 1835.
Completed in 1784, in a monumental neoclassical style, sober and harmonious, and it has a court of honour and an elegant English garden dating from 1882 located at the back. Inside, it contains charming salons in Louis XVI style decorated by the sculptor Cabirol and the painter Lacour, as well as some exceptional woodwork and precious heritage elements, such as the Municipal Council Room built in 1889, illustrating the official architecture of the Third Republic.
La Cathédrale Saint André
The Saint André (St. Andrew’s) Cathedral was consecrated in 1096 by Pope Urban II. Its construction extended from the twelfth to the sixteenth century. The result is an alliance of various styles and architectural motifs, both Romanesque and French Gothic, which give it an unusual appearance and a unique character.
On the north façade stands a Royal Portal, an illustration of the apogee of the French Gothic style of the thirteenth century. The two towers rise to 81 meters.
The cathedral has opened its doors to many prestigious celebrations such as the royal wedding of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the future Louis VII, King of the Franks in 1137, and that of Louis XIII King of France and Navarre in 1615.
The building has faced the violence and vicissitudes of time and conflict and it has overcome many disasters. In 1427, an earthquake resulted in the partial collapse of the vaults; in 1787, a fire destroyed the structure of the Gothic choir; in 1820, a hurricane overturned the pediment of the north facade while lightning struck one of the towers.
Listed as a Historic Monument in 1868, the Saint André Cathedral is also inscribed on the World Heritage list as part of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France.
The Pey-Berland Tower
The cathedral is flanked by a 15th century tower east of the chevet: the bell tower or Pey-Berland tower. The campanile houses three bells (Marie, Clémence and Marguerite) and an imposing bell of eight tons (named Ferdinand-André) that the structure of the cathedral and the soft soil could not have supported.
Over the centuries the tower has had several vocations, some rather surprising ones for a monument of this size. It was sold as a national property during the French Revolution, then transformed into a factory of hunting pellets, later to be used as storage for fodder, before returning to its first role of religious building in 1851.
A statue was positioned at the summit after a storm had truncated the spire of the tower, culminating at 66 meters, that of the Virgin and Child baptized Notre-Dame of Aquitaine, a work of Jean-Alexandre Chertier dating from 1863. Superbly carved, the tower displays many festooned motifs dominated by fabulous gargoyles. For a panoramic view of Bordeaux you will have to climb the 231 steps of the narrow staircase which takes you up to 50 meters above the city.
Classified a Historic Monument, the Pey Berland Tower is the most visited building in Bordeaux, with over 73,000 visitors in 2016.
The Statue of Jacques Chaban Delmas
Place Pey Berland has since 2012 hosted the bronze statue of Jacques Chaban Delmas, Mayor of Bordeaux for 48 years (1947 to 1995), Companion of the Liberation, Prime Minister and President of the National Assembly. 3.20 meters tall and weighing 1.100 kilos, it is the work of sculptor Jean Cardot, a member of the Academy of Fine Arts and the creator of the statue of Charles de Gaulle on the Champs Elysees roundabout in Paris.
All roads may seem to lead to Pey Berland square since fourteen streets provide access. The square was completely redeveloped between 2002 and 2004 in preparation for the arrival of the tram in Bordeaux.