Local history buffs have never been more spoilt for choice than this coming weekend, with dozens of fantastic events celebrating our cultural patrimony.
The event is a time-honoured tradition which started in France in 1984 as a Day of Open Doors, inviting citizens to peek behind the curtain and into historic sites that are not usually open to the public. From there, the movement snowballed into what is now known as the European Heritage Days: one weekend a year, museums, government buildings, universities, theatres, castles, and other purveyors of cultural heritage are putting their hidden assets on view. These displays highlight local skills and traditions, architecture and works of art, but the broader aim is to bring citizens together in harmony despite differences in cultures and languages.
A city as rich in heritage as Nice has a pretty full schedule year round showcasing its unique sites. But the 2016 annual European Heritage Days on 17 and 18 September add yet another dimension. Under the competent leadership of Jean-Luc Gagliolo, Nice’s much beloved and multi-hat-wearing municipal councilor, the City has compiled a programme so packed, so varied, and so exciting, it is impossible to pick favorites. But here are a few highlights you really will not want to miss, especially knowing that access to all events and venues around town is free:
Local Historic Sites
With so many places to pick from, these two are the unmissable ones on our list:
Located in place St. François in Vieux Nice, the Palais Communal was built toward the end of the 16th century, and has traditionally played a significant role in the city’s history, but fell in disrepair over the past decades. An initiative to save and restore the building to its old glory led to its recent reopening. Repurposed as a living stage, the Palais recently provided the splendid backdrop to a play about local history, performed by Compagnie Hidraïssa. This weekend gives you the opportunity to explore the inside of the venue, and be prepared for some amazing medieval splendour!
Another must for any aficionado of history, and just steps from the Palais Communal, is the Old Senate site on rue Jules Gilly, opened in 1614. In its eventful career as a building of public service it has held multiple roles from housing the actual senate at the time, to the court, and more recently homeless men. In the year of its 400th anniversary in 2014, it became the headquarters of the very institution that organizes the Niçois Journées du Patrimoine, so why not go and say hello?
Musée Terra Amata
What fortuitous timing! 2016 marks both the 50th anniversary of the first archaeological digs into Niçois prehistory under the direction of Professor Henry de Lumley, and the 40th anniversary of the inauguration of the Terra Amata Museum. To celebrate the milestone, the museum treated itself to a major facelift, and reopens to the public on this Heritage weekend. Its redesigned interactive display revolves around local prehistory and especially one of mankind’s most significant cultural discoveries, the control of fire. Also there, of course, the unique fossilized footprint dating back to the first settlers 400,000 years ago.
But not only that: the museum also features a special exhibit around celebrated Nice-born painter Raymond Moretti who was tremendously inspired by prehistoric man. Moretti and de Lumley were great personal friends and collaborators, and a number of the œuvres on display hail from the private Lumley collection.
So, you’re more musically inclined? The Ville de Nice has something for you, too! Several concerts around town are here to lift your spirit, like La Petite Messe Solennelle at the Dominican Church across from the Opéra on Friday, 16 September at 20.30 h, or Francis Poulenc’s Freedom! Mass at the St. Reparate Cathedral on Saturday, 17 September at 20 h, featuring works by Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, Claudio Monteverdi, and Hugo Wolf.
Museums, Historic Sites, Public Buildings, Universities, Theatres, etc.
Apart from our personal coups de coeur above, there is so, so, so much more to it…. How about checking out Fort Mont Alban, visiting the Mayor’s office at the town hall, admiring the MAMAC’s Ernest Pignon-Ernest exhibit, roaming the Observatory….. ? Have a look at the City’s event site to find whatever matches your interest.
See what we mean by “spoilt for choice”? There is really something for everyone, for families with kids as much as for the professorially inclined, for serious arts connoisseurs as much as for the curious-minded ones. You’ll also bump into local celebrities here and there who all join in the fun and the excitement.
Wishing you a very Nice weekend!
All images courtesy Ville de Nice