The Grosse Cloche (the “Large/Fat Bell”) is one of the two Middle Aged entrances to the city and was built in the 15th century, on the site of the even older Porte Saint-Éloy XIII. Back in the day, the magistrates of the city sounded the bell to give the harvest signal and alert the public in case of attack or fire.
It also served as a defensive fort along the walls of the city and as a prison. Young people who misbehaved were confined there and shut in by a door 10 cm thick with enormous bolts.
It was joked at the time that they stayed in the “Hotel du Lion d’Or” – an allusion to the weather vane on the central dome with a representation of a lion, symbolising the kings of England.
The bell inside the tower today weighs 7800kg, measures 2 metres across and was installed in 1775. The bell only rings 5 times a year as a precaution for it’s age. (New Years Day 1st January, Victory in Europe 8th May, Bastille Day 14th July, Liberation of Bordeaux 28th August and Armistice Day 11th November) If you are in Bordeaux on any of these days make sure to hear out for it.
LOCAL FACT: King Henry II took the bell in 1548 as punishment for the city’s revolt of the Pitauds. The bell was put back in 1561 as a gift for good behaviour.