Gironde estuary
The Gironde is a navigable estuary
An estuary is a partly enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea....

 (often falsely referred to as a river
A river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river. In a few cases, a river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by several other names, including...

), in southwest France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and is formed from the meeting of the rivers Dordogne
Dordogne River
The Dordogne is a river in south-central and southwest France.-Name:Contrary to appearances, the name of the Dordogne is not a recent word resulting from the names of the Dore and the Dogne...

 and Garonne
The Garonne is a river in southwest France and northern Spain, with a length of .-Source:The Garonne's headwaters are to be found in the Aran Valley in the Pyrenees, though three different locations have been proposed as the true source: the Uelh deth Garona at Plan de Beret , the Ratera-Saboredo...

 just below the centre of Bordeaux
Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in the Gironde department in southwestern France.The Bordeaux-Arcachon-Libourne metropolitan area, has a population of 1,010,000 and constitutes the sixth-largest urban area in France. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, as well as the prefecture...

. Covering around 635 km² (245.2 sq mi), it is the largest estuary in western Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...


The Gironde is approximately 65 km (40.4 mi) long and 3–11 km (2–7 miles) wide and the French département Gironde
For the Revolutionary party, see Girondists.Gironde is a common name for the Gironde estuary, where the mouths of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers merge, and for a department in the Aquitaine region situated in southwest France.-History:...

 is named after it. The Gironde is subject to very strong tidal currents and great care is needed when navigating the river by any size or type of boat.

World War II

The Gironde was the setting for Operation Frankton
Operation Frankton
Operation Frankton was a commando raid on shipping in the German occupied French port of Bordeaux in the Bay of Biscay during the Second World War. The raid was carried out by a small unit of Royal Marines known as the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment , part of Combined Operations.The plan was...

, a British special forces operation during World War II tasked with the objective of destroying shipping moored at the docks in Bordeaux.

Islands of the Gironde

Within the estuary between the Pointe de la Grave at the seaward end and le bec d’Ambes are a series of small islands.

The Île de Patiras is 200 ha
The hectare is a metric unit of area defined as 10,000 square metres , and primarily used in the measurement of land. In 1795, when the metric system was introduced, the are was defined as being 100 square metres and the hectare was thus 100 ares or 1/100 km2...

 in size with a lighthouse
Cordouan lighthouse
Cordouan lighthouse is an active lighthouse located 7 km at sea, near the mouth of the Gironde estuary in France. At a height of it is the tenth tallest "traditional lighthouse" in the world....

 to aid navigation in the estuary. Vines and maize are grown there.

The Île de Sans-Pain and Île de Bouchaud are now virtually joined due to progressive silting and are referred to as the Ile Nouvelle. They total about 265 ha and are owned by the Conservatoire du Littoral and managed by the Department of the Gironde.

The Île du Fort Paté is about 13 ha and in 2006 was privately owned. The island has a historic fort built between 1685 and 1693 as part of the national fortification program masterminded by Vauban
Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban and later Marquis de Vauban , commonly referred to as Vauban, was a Marshal of France and the foremost military engineer of his age, famed for his skill in both designing fortifications and breaking through them...

. The building is oval in shape, about 12 metres high and was originally equipped with about 30 cannon. Fort Paté together with Fort Médoc and the ancient citadelle
A citadel is a fortress for protecting a town, sometimes incorporating a castle. The term derives from the same Latin root as the word "city", civis, meaning citizen....

 of Blaye
Blaye is a commune and subprefecture in the Gironde department in Aquitaine in southwestern France.-Population:Its inhabitants are called Blayais or the Blayaises.-Geography:...

 defended the estuary and Bordeaux. During the French Revolution the fort was used as a prison for priests.

In 2006, the Conseil General took the decision to make the island a ZPENS (zone de pre-emption espace naturel sensible). ZPENS status protects the island from development. If the owner wishes to sell the island then the Department has a pre-emptive right. After two months the Conservatoire National du Littoral has the next pre-emptive right and then after another 2 months the town of Blaye has a final pre-emptive right to acquire the island.

The Île Verte, Île du Nord
Ile du Nord
Ile du Nord is a small granite island, with an area of about 10 ha, in south-eastern Australia. It is part of the Maria Island Group, lying close to the eastern coast of Tasmania near the Freycinet Peninsula...

 and Île Cazeau comprise about 800 ha and because of their natural state provide a fine stopping off place for migrating birds.

The Île Margaux is 25 ha and in 2005 had 14 ha devoted to vines and is part of the world famous Médoc
The Médoc is a region of France, well known as a wine growing region, located in the département of Gironde, on the left bank of the Gironde estuary, north of Bordeaux. Its name comes from Medullicus, or "country of the Medulli", the local Celtic tribe...

wine region.
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