One of Bordeaux’s most popular attractions is, predictably, also one of the most historically significant: Grosse Cloche. So much so, in fact, that the edifice is heavily featured in the city’s coat of arms. What once was the old Town Hall’s belfry dates back to the medieval times and was built as part of the city’s thick fortifications. It actually consists of two 40-meter-high towers connected by a central structure toward the top, which contains the famous bell and features an 18th-century solar dial. The tower is often referred to as the “golden lion,” a clear reference to the weather vane atop the central dome that represents the English Kingdom back when the Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine married King Henry II of England. Grosse Cloche–literally, the big bell, as it weighs well over 16,500 pounds (7,500 kilos)–was up until quite recently used by city magistrates to announce the start of harvest season, or alternatively, to warn residents of a fire. Rumor has it that locals were so attached to the bell that the king threatened to take it away when a resident misbehaved!
Nowadays, the bell only rings only six times a year, for national holidays and military celebrations.
Grosse Cloche is located in the historic center of Bordeaux on rue Saint-James, right by Cours Victor Hugo, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. It is accessible on foot, by tram via Route A (stop Sainte-Catherine), route B (stop Musée d’aquitaine) and route C (stop Place du Palais) or by car. The nearest parking lot is Parking Victor Hugo on Place de la Ferme Richemont. Daytime rates (from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) are €2 per hour and the nighttime (between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m.)flat rate is €3.50. It is possible to visit the belfry between June 1 and September 30 every 45 minutes from 1 to 7 p.m. for €5.