Visiting the Musée d’Aquitaine in Bordeaux

Welcome back to the “Museums Around the World” series! Today, we’re traveling to the heart of France’s famed wine country with Goya Galeotta to explore a museum that tells the rich story of the region’s past: the Musée d’Aquitaine in Bordeaux.

Introducing Musée d’Aquitaine

A Brief Overview

The Musée d’Aquitaine, founded in 1963, is one of the largest French regional history museums outside Paris. Housed in the former University of Bordeaux Faculty of Arts and Sciences, it is a collection of over 1.3 million objects and documents that narrate the history of Bordeaux and the New Aquitaine region from prehistoric times to the present day.

What Can You See at Musée d’Aquitaine Bordeaux?

The museum features a wide range of exhibits that showcase the history and culture of Aquitaine, the region in southwestern France where Bordeaux is located. 

The museum’s extensive collection is divided into sections on history, ethnography, and archaeology, each offering a unique perspective on the region’s past. As you navigate the museum’s halls, you’ll journey through time from the prehistoric era, exploring the lives of early humans in the region, to the Middle Ages, and ultimately into the turbulent 20th century; coming face to face with ancient Roman artefacts, medieval sculptures, and interactive displays that bring the region’s rich past to life.

There’s also a special emphasis on Bordeaux’s maritime history and its role in the Atlantic slave trade. Here, visitors can see an array of maps depicting shipping routes, as well as nautical instruments used by sailors during this dark period in history. Poignant artefacts such as shackles and chains serve as stark reminders of the conditions endured by enslaved individuals during their transatlantic journey and as an important educational opportunity, shedding light on a critical but frequently underrepresented aspect of Bordeaux’s history.

In addition to these key exhibits, the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions throughout the year, showcasing a variety of themes and topics. This diverse and ever-changing program ensures that there is always something new and exciting to discover at Musée d’Aquitaine.

Highlights of Musee d’Aquitaine

1. Statue of Hercules

One of the most notable pieces on display is a statue of Hercules, dating back to the late 2nd century to early 3rd century AD. Unearthed in 1832 (and in more than twenty pieces!), it was initially put together in 1865 and later definitively restored in 1963 for a Louvre Museum exhibition. 

The statue, although missing some parts, is recognizable as Hercules due to the lion skin draped around his left forearm, symbolizing the Nemean lion he killed as one of his “Twelve Labours” for immortality. 

Originally, the statue likely held a club in its left hand and a cup of ambrosia, the drink of the gods symbolising immortality, in its right. Hercules’ pose, resting on his right leg with his head slightly turned, reflects the influence of the renowned sculptor Lysippos and was popular in classical Greek sculpture.

2. Montaigne’s Tomb

Another must-see exhibit is Montaigne’s tomb, which pays homage to Michel de Montaigne, a famous French philosopher and writer from the 16th century. 

The tomb, which is actually a cenotaph (a tribute to a person whose body is not interred there) beautifully crafted and adorned with intricate carvings, was sculpted in 1593, a year after Montaigne’s death. It was commissioned by his wife, Françoise de la Chassaigne, and likely crafted by Prieur and Guillerman, two Bordeaux ornamentists. 

The tomb features a recumbent statue of Montaigne, unusually dressed in medieval-style armour. At Montaigne’s feet, a lion symbolizes his courage, with its two tongues believed to be representing his mastery of two intellectual languages, Greek and Latin. Or perhaps his two native tongues: Latin and Gascon!

3. Reconstructed Grocer’s Shop

One of the most unique aspects of the Musee d’Aquitaine is its reconstructed grocer’s shop — a fascinating exhibit that showcases the height of foodstuff factories in Bordeaux and the resulting trade during the first half of the 20th century, a significant period for Gironde’s economic activity.

In this section, the visitors can step back in time and get a glimpse into daily life in Bordeaux during this era. The shop is meticulously furnished with period accessories like counters, shelves, a roasting machine, a cash register, and Roberval scales, and stocked with authentic Bordeaux and Gironde products, such as bottles of liqueurs and rum, sweets, tinned fruit and vegetables, and even packets of Saint-Marc soap powder, giving visitors an immersive experience of the past.

4. Altar of Tutela at Bordeaux

Another notable exhibit is the Altar of Tutela. Dating back to the 1st century AD, this altar is notable for being the first to officially mention the inhabitants of Bordeaux during the Roman period – the Bituriges Vivisques. 

The altar, with its remarkable decoration of a high-quality crown of oak, and libation utensils on either side, would have been located in the forum of Bordeaux, the administrative centre of the city. Each year, city officials would gather before this altar to commemorate the city’s foundation and offer wine and sacrifices to the two protective genii of the nation and the city. 

The importance of this altar has made it a cornerstone of Bordeaux’s history, making it the first officially preserved item, exhibited in the town hall from the late 16th century, then becoming a founding item for the town’s Museum of Antiquities in 1781, and thus that of today’s Musée d’Aquitaine.

5. The Rose of the Carmelite Monastery

The Rose of the Carmelite Monastery is a unique exhibit at the Musée d’Aquitaine in Bordeaux. This Gothic rose comes from the ancient Church of Grands Carmes and dates back to the 14th century. As part of the museum’s permanent collection, it is a highlight in the tour of the medieval rooms.

Practical Information: A Visitor’s Guide

Where Is Musée d’Aquitaine Bordeaux?

Musée d’Aquitaine Bordeaux is located at 20 Cours Pasteur in central Bordeaux, France — just a short stroll from the stunning Saint-André Cathedral and the University of Bordeaux.

How to Get to Musée d’Aquitaine Bordeaux

The museum is easily accessible by public transportation. Tram lines A and B both make stops nearby, at ‘Hôtel de Ville’ and ‘Musée d’Aquitaine’, respectively. If you prefer to drive, there is paid parking available nearby.

Hours of Operation

Musée d’Aquitaine Bordeaux is open daily from 11 AM to 6 PM, except on Mondays and bank holidays. 

Admission Fees

The museum offers a full rate entry at €8, a reduced rate of €4.50 for groups of 10 or more, job seekers, during partial closure of permanent collections, and for entries less than an hour before closing. Students under 26 can enter for €2.

Free access is granted to visitors under 18, holders of certain cards, disabled visitors and their guest, people on income support, journalists, official tour guides, and members of the Friends of the Musée d’Aquitaine association, upon presentation of valid proof. 

All visitors get free access on the first Sunday of each month, except in July and August.

Accessibility Information

The Musée d’Aquitaine Bordeaux is wheelchair accessible, with ramps and elevators throughout the building. Large print guides are available upon request.

Tips for Visitors

  1. Plan Your Visit: Given the size of the museum and the breadth of its collection, it’s a good idea to plan your visit in advance. Decide which periods or themes you’re most interested in and focus on those.
  2. Take a Guided Tour: To get the most out of your visit, consider taking a guided tour led by a knowledgeable guide.
  3. Visit on First Sundays: If you want to save some money, consider visiting on the first Sunday of each month when admission is free for all visitors (except in July and August).
  4. Visit the Bookshop: The museum has a well-stocked bookshop where you can find a wide range of books and souvenirs related to the exhibitions.
  5. Don’t Rush: The Musée d’Aquitaine is a place to take your time. With so much to see, don’t rush your visit. Allow yourself to fully immerse in the rich history that each artefact presents.

Final Thoughts on Musée d’Aquitaine in Bordeaux

All in all, the Musée d’Aquitaine offers a fascinating exploration of Bordeaux and Aquitaine’s history; and is a must-visit for history buffs, culture vultures, or anyone interested in understanding this region’s past to appreciate its present.

So next time you find yourself in Bordeaux for a long weekend (or even for a day!), set aside some time to explore this historical gem. You won’t regret it!

Oh and, when you’re ready, don’t forget to check out these stops in the “Museums Around the World” series: <you can add your related museum posts here>

Until then, happy exploring!

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