1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gironde

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GIRONDE, a maritime department of south-western France, formed from four divisions of the old province of Guyenne, viz. Bordelais, Bazadais, and parts of Périgord and Agenais. Area, 4140 sq. m. Pop. (1906) 823,925. It is bounded N. by the department of Charente-Inférieure, E. by those of Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne, S. by that of Landes, and W. by the Bay of Biscay. It takes its name from the river or estuary of the Gironde formed by the union of the Garonne and Dordogne. The department divides itself naturally into a western and an eastern portion. The former, which is termed the Landes (q.v.), occupies more than a third of the department, and consists chiefly of morass or sandy plain, thickly planted with pines and divided from the sea by a long line of dunes. These dunes are planted with pines, which, by binding the sand together with their roots, prevent it from drifting inland and afford a barrier against the sea. On the east the dunes are fringed for some distance by two extensive lakes, Carcans and Lacanau, communicating with each other and with the Bay of Arcachon, near the southern extremity of the department. The Bay of Arcachon contains numerous islands, and on the land side forms a vast shallow lagoon, a considerable portion of which, however, has been drained and converted into arable land. The eastern portion of the department consists chiefly of a succession of hill and dale, and, especially in the valley of the Gironde, is very fertile. The estuary of the Gironde is about 45 m. in length, and varies in breadth from 2 to 6 m. It presents a succession of islands and mud banks which divide it into two channels and render navigation somewhat difficult. It is, however, well buoyed and lighted, and has a mean depth of 21 ft. There are extensive marshes on the right bank to the north of Blaye, and the shores on the left are characterized, especially towards the mouth, by low-lying polders protected by dikes and composed of fertile salt marshes. At the mouth of the Gironde stands the famous tower of Cordouan, one of the finest lighthouses of the French coast. It was built between the years 1585 and 1611 by the architect and engineer Louis de Foix, and added to towards the end of the 18th century. The principal affluent of the Dordogne in this department is the Isle. The feeders of the Garonne are, with the exception of the Dropt, all small. West of the Garonne the only river of importance is the Leyre, which flows into the Bay of Arcachon. The climate is humid and mild and very hot in summer. Wheat, rye, maize, oats and tobacco are grown to a considerable extent. The corn produced, however, does not meet the wants of the inhabitants. The culture of the vine is by far the most important branch of industry carried on (see Wine), the vineyards occupying about one-seventh of the surface of the department. The wine-growing districts are the Médoc, Graves, Côtes, Palus, Entre-deux-Mers and Sauternes. The Médoc is a region of 50 m. in length by about 6 m. in breadth, bordering the left banks of the Garonne and the Gironde between Bordeaux and the sea. The Graves country forms a zone 30 m. in extent, stretching along the left bank of the Garonne from the neighbourhood of Bordeaux to Barsac. The Sauternes country lies to the S.E. of the Graves. The Côtes lie on the right bank of the Dordogne and Gironde, between it and the Garonne, and on the left bank of the Garonne. The produce of the Palus, the alluvial land of the valleys, and of the Entre-deux-Mers, situated on the left bank of the Dordogne, is inferior. Fruits and vegetables are extensively cultivated, the peaches and pears being especially fine. Cattle are extensively raised, the Bazadais breed of oxen and the Bordelais breed of milch-cows being well known. Oyster-breeding is carried on on a large scale in the Bay of Arcachon. Large supplies of resin, pitch and turpentine are obtained from the pine woods, which also supply vine-props, and there are well-known quarries of limestone. The manufactures are various, and, with the general trade, are chiefly carried on at Bordeaux (q.v.), the chief town and third port in France. Pauillac, Blaye, Libourne and Arcachon are minor ports. Gironde is divided into the arrondissements of Bordeaux, Blaye, Lesparre, Libourne, Bazas and La Réole, with 49 cantons and 554 communes. The department is served by five railways, the chief of which are those of the Orleans and Southern companies. It forms part of the circumscription of the archbishopric, the appeal-court and the académie (educational division) of Bordeaux, and of the region of the XVIII. army corps, the headquarters of which are at that city. Besides Bordeaux, Libourne, La Réole, Bazas, Blaye, Arcachon, St Emilion and St Macaire are the most noteworthy towns and receive separate treatment. Among the other places of interest the chief are Cadillac, on the right bank of the Garonne, where there is a castle of the 16th century, surrounded by fortifications of the 14th century; Labrède, with a feudal château in which Montesquieu was born and lived; Villandraut, where there is a ruined castle of the 13th century; Uzeste, which has a church begun in 1310 by Pope Clement V.; Mazères with an imposing castle of the 14th century; La Sauve, which has a church (11th and 12th centuries) and other remains of a Benedictine abbey; and Ste Foy-la-Grande, a bastide created in 1255 and afterwards a centre of Protestantism, which is still strong there. La Teste (pop. in 1906, 5699) was the capital in the middle ages of the famous lords of Buch.