23 July 2021
Nice offers an extraordinary architectural palette covering all trends and ages. From the inter-war period, Nice has preserved a priceless heritage of 600 buildings built in the Art Deco style.
A short visit to the best of Nice Art Deco!
The Roaring Twenties… A prolific era that has always fascinated me and that has left its mark on all artistic fields: couture with the elegance of Coco Chanel, dance with the exuberance of Joséphine Baker, music with the frenzy of jazz and Charleston, literature with Francis Scott Fitzgerald and his hero the Great Gatsby, and of course, Art Deco architecture! A hundred years later, the Roaring Twenties leave us with an impression of great freedom and incredible modernity!
In Nice’s architectural heritage, the aesthetics, the pure and geometrical forms, the straight lines and controlled curves, the floral mosaic motifs, the portals and metal and wrought iron are offered to the eyes of passers-by at every street corner. Promenade des Anglais, Quartier des Musiciens, Boulevard Victor Hugo, Rue de France, Boulevard Gambetta, Place Alexandre Médecin or Avenue Saint-Lambert… Everywhere, all we have to do is raise our eyes for the magic to happen!
1 – The emblematic Palais de la Méditerranée
A “Nice Art Deco” building par excellence!
Inaugurated on 10 January 1929 thanks to financing from the American billionaire Franck Jay Gould, the Palais de la Méditerranée was a place of entertainment, pleasure and conviviality, including a casino, a restaurant and a 2,000-seat theatre where many international personalities paraded. It was considered, at the time, as the most sumptuous casino in the world.
Jules Romain wrote “France between the wars produced two masterpieces: the Normandie liner and the Palais de la Méditerranée”.
Unfortunately, this did not prevent the destruction of this temple of gambling in 1990. Gone were the imposing entrance hall, the monumental white marble staircase, the enormous windows and stained glass windows, the precious woods, the furniture and the crystal chandeliers. Fortunately, its listed main facade escaped demolition. It now holds the label “20th Century Heritage” and is today the figurehead of the Art Deco movement in Nice.
In 2004, the Palais de La Méditerranée was reborn as a luxury hotel with 187 rooms and suites, now managed by the Hyatt Regency brand and a casino operated by the Partouche company. In keeping with the building’s history and preserved facade, the interior decoration is also in the Art Deco style, making the whole homogeneous, airy and refined. Beneath the imposing colonnades, a beautiful heated indoor-outdoor swimming pool adds prestige to this mythical place.
A singular architecture
But let’s come back to this daring white façade punctuated by large arcades. On either side of the building, facing the sea and overlooking one of the most famous avenues in the world, two splendid pediments situated at a good height, bear bas-reliefs of goddesses and horses, forming an elegant ensemble to the glory of Poseidon.
The Palais de la Méditerranée is the most emblematic building on the Promenade des Anglais, and beyond, in Nice (along with the Belle Epoque style Hotel Négresco, of course!). Like every inhabitant of Nice, I contemplate this jewel of architecture with a hint of nostalgia, that of a bygone era of opulence and carelessness, but also with great pride. How beautiful my city is!
2 – The very curious church of Saint Joan of Arc
It was in 1933, after 10 years of construction, that this astonishing church was built to the glory of Joan of Arc. Its original and futuristic Art Deco architecture earned it a classification as a Historic Monument. It is also labelled “20th Century Heritage”.
A surprising composition
Here is a church that does not go unnoticed in the Fuon-Cauda district, in the north of the city.
Nicknamed “the meringue”, this Catholic church is atypical and unique.
It is the fruit of the imagination of the Parisian architect Jacques Droz who created his major work there.
Eleven sugar loaf-shaped concrete domes (3 large and 8 smaller ones) are nested against each other, forming a volume full of curves and curves. The independent, 64-metre-high bell tower, on the other hand, is very pointed and angular, like a candle or an arrow that would like to puncture the sky.
I penetrate inside and discover a nave made up of elliptical semi-circles forming imposing arches. I am surprised to find such a vast space. I learned that it could hold up to 1,500 people. The natural light shines through the many rectangular stained glass windows with abstract motifs. My gaze is inevitably drawn upwards. The sobriety of the place soothes me and touches me deeply.
I walk through the beautiful frescoes painted by the Russian artist Eugène Klementieff, including the one illustrating the Stations of the Cross. The bright colours contrast with the white walls. But you will soon realise that what best characterises this place is much more its architecture than its decorative elements. This church is definitely unlike any other and that is why I thought it was important to present it to you.
My advice: Precede or continue this visit with a visit to the Liberation Market (except on Mondays). In the good morning atmosphere of this popular district, you will find fruit and vegetables, flowers, local fishing and small producers from the region, some of them organic.
3 – Remarkable residential buildings
The Palladium, Palazzo Hispania, Palazzo Saluzzo, The Forum, The Colosseum, The Mascot, The Rotunda and the Gloria Mansions… Some of these buildings are listed as “Historic Monument” and “20th Century Heritage” and are well worth a visit.
As I said in the preamble, Nice is full of Art Deco nuggets. You will find them all over the city centre, and even in the suburbs. They are very often very imposing residential buildings, made of reinforced concrete, which have brought Nice into the modern era.
On some buildings, the cement has been dyed into the mass with shards of abalone mother-of-pearl which make the light shimmer at different times of the day! On others, coloured mosaics and bas-reliefs contribute to the refinement of the whole. Still others play with perspective, such as these irregular balconies which evoke the undulating waves of the nearby Mediterranean…
I realise how lucky I am to live in a city that has always been able to attract and inspire the greatest artists and the most audacious creators from all fields. Evolving every day in the streets of Nice and constantly marvelling at so much genius and inventiveness…
Nice is full of spectacular architectural achievements.
It is an Art Deco city par excellence!