Three things I love about Nice.
Nice is a city of contrasts, located on the beautiful Mediterranean sea hemmed in by Alps, its location is hard to beat. Contrast the bright blue sea with the snow-capped mountains; the reds and ochres of the Italianate Old Town with the white Belle Epoque palaces in the “new town”; the super yachts on the harbour with the highrise blocks of social housing in the suburbs. It’s also a city of superlatives: it has the most sunshine of any city in France (300 days a year), it has the longest urban seafront in Europe, it is the most visited city in France after Paris, it has the most museums in France after Paris….and as far as I’m concerned it offers the best quality of living in France. But here I want to tell you about 3 unusual things that I love about Nice….
Art in the City
Nice has a project called Art in the City which consists of public art along the tram line. 13 artists from both France and elsewhere have contributed different art installations along route 1 of the tramline. The collection is very eclectic ranging from the enormous and very obvious Conversations by Jaume Plensa in Place Massena to light shows and even sound projections. These are perhaps the least obvious to a foreign visitor who may be surprised to hear a cutesy toddler announce the name of the stop followed by a gravelly crooner and then church bells! The announcements change according to the time of day, time of year (summer/Christmas…), public holidays, weekend etc. I think it’s amusing and enjoy hearing a voice I haven’t heard before.
Many of the works of art are not that obvious, being located slightly off the line, and some are badly maintained but over all I love that the city has created an unusual trail of art to entertain commuters (and visitors). My favourites, apart from Conversations, are the name signs and little ditties written by local artist Ben (Benjamin Vautier) in each stop and the Porte Fausse (false door) in marble and gold between the old town and new.
Passive “air conditioning” in the Old Town
The Old Town is surprisingly cool even in the heat of summer. This is partly to do with the clever planning and orientation of the streets taking account of the direction of sea breezes and other sources of cool air, but it is also because of the airflow system through the buildings themselves. Walking around the Old Town you might notice decorative metal grilles over doorways with no glass. These are air inlets which together with vaulted ceilings push the air through to the staircases and corridors and out into interior courtyards, thereby creating a flow of circulating air. Air is also captured by the precisely calculated angle of the slats in typical Niçois window shutters. And get this…doors even used to have non-symmetrical hinges to make sure they wouldn’t slam shut in the breeze! I don’t suppose this still exists in many places but the shutters and door grilles certainly do. I find all this so clever, so ingenious, and such a great way to avoid having to install polluting and ugly modern air conditioning units. (Though I have no idea how these very same buildings keep warm in winter!)
The midday cannon
Possibly one of the quirkiest things about Nice is that every day at midday a cannon blast is heard across the city. Well, I guess you can’t hear it in the west or northern reaches of the town but around the Old Town and central streets off the Promenade des Anglais the sudden explosion makes many a visitor jump. This cannon blast has a peculiar history relating to an English man summoning his wife home at midday to make lunch and has occurred every day since 1876 (except once when the detonator got stuck in traffic!) Surprisingly even today when a cannon is no longer used, the noise is not automated but comes from a large firework manually set off on the Castle Hill. For a full description of how this peculiar tradition came about check out the post I wrote about it here.
Nice is a wonderful city, as well as my three more unknown reasons to love it, how can you not fall in love with a city that has citrus trees lining the streets, around 30 beaches, one of the world’s biggest and best carnivals and is home to the world famous Salade Niçoise? I’m totally under its spell.
Have you been to Nice? What did you love about it? Or tell me 3 things you love about your town. I’m eternally curious and love hearing from you.
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