Dordonha is Bergerac’s brand-new museum for presenting the town’s history and architecture as well as its important links to the river Dordogne and surrounding vineyards. This permanent exhibition is located in the heart of the old town of Bergerac in the restored 17th century la Petite Mission.

Dordonha means river Dordogne in the Occitan language.

During my recent visit to Dordonha, I was particularly interested in the role the river played in the birth and development of the town.

River

When talking about the town of Bergerac, a conversation without a mention of the river Dordogne just wouldn’t make sense as the two are deeply connected.

Since Roman times the river Dordogne has played a key role in communication, trade, fishing and shipbuilding. Later on in history, the birth and growth of the town of Bergerac was very much down to the existence of the river.

In the early 11th century local lords realised that the middle Dordogne had economic potential due to the fact that it was navigable for most of the year. They settled at the spot where Bergerac is today and Bergerac emerged as a primitive hamlet by the river doing trade. The hamlet became a town three centuries later with increasing trade. From then on it just kept on growing to the point where it became a large, prosperous town with a port, bridges, river transport and buoyant trade.

In the 19th century, the port was at bursting point. In 1854, 216,000 tons of goods were moved up and down the river, mostly down. In 1860 water traffic at Bergerac itself moved between 60,000 and 70,000 of goods. Imported goods included salt, coal, stone, wood from the north and cereals. Exported goods included construction materials, wine, wood for barrel making, heating and stakes.

In the early 20th century, trade linked to the river started to decline and today, the river Dordogne is reserved for leisure, tourism and environmental concerns.

Forty-two years with no bridge

Since prehistoric times, crossing the river was always difficult. Bergerac was the first town to build a bridge, the Grand Pont de Dordogne, built in 1209. For six centuries the bridge gave Bergerac the status of being an essential trading hub. The Grand Pont remained until 1783 and remarkably the town was without a bridge for forty-two years before the Vieux Pont was built in 1825. Today, Bergerac has four bridges.

Wine

Since the Middle Ages the surrounding countryside, bourgeois landowners and the river all contributed to the birth of the local wine trade and Bergerac has relied heavily on it ever since. Again, the river has played an important role in the development and success of the local wine industry as it enabled the wine to be taken down river to Bordeaux and sold further afield, especially to Holland. This long-distance trade played a key role on the growth of the town. Even with the arrival of the railway in 1875, the river was still the preferred choice for transporting wine. In Dordonha there are lots of old photographs of the wine industry which I loved seeing.

Looking after the river

Today, the river forms part of an international scientific programme as a UNESCO-listed “Biosphere Reserve” that aims to reconcile the preservation of biodiversity and human use.

  • Dordonha also houses the Costi museum which is full of bronze and plaster sculptures by the Greek artist Constantin Papachristopoulos
  • the café is open from April to October
  • lots of free events take place throughout the summer
  • summer art exhibition by the sculptor Valem (24 June – 1 October)
  • the last part of the development will be open in September 2023 (amphitheatre)
  • some translations into English but not in-depth, just enough to understand

Please consult the website for opening times.

www.bergerac.fr/directory/dordonha

https://www.pays-bergerac-tourisme.com/fr