Having covered bandstands in my previous post, I feel in the mood to turn my attention to another popular invention for entertaining the masses, one with the same old-school charm – the Ferris Wheel – as Antibes’ old town has one and, contrary to previous reports, it is sticking around for a while.
Run by the Petit family who own Antibesland (a theme park on the outskirts of town), our 33 metres high Ferris Wheel on the Pré-aux-Pêcheurs esplanade was only intended to be a summer attraction, available from June to September but, according to Nelson Petit in the Nice Matin, it is extending its stay by popular demand, at least until January 2017.
This is not Antibes’ first Ferris Wheel. We had a Grande Roue revolving on the esplanade for the 2015-16 Christmas/New Year’s celebrations too, and Jean-Paul Veziano (Antibes’ celebrity Baker and Patissier) is quoted in this Nice Matin article from June explaining:[this first wheel] was a test…[as residents] were afraid it would distort the [look and feel of the old town]. So, after this tester wheel’s placement in the far corner of the esplanade was deemed to be a success, its reappearance was assured.
This choice of location limits the size of the wheel as the esplanade, with its modern three-story car-park hidden below the surface, can only withstand the weight of a wheel this size, no larger. Yet, although it doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of the 55 metre high versions constructed by the Petit family at Antibesland, it still provides a stunning view of the Côte d’Azur from its 24 rotating cabins in the sky.
If you like to know the history behind things, especially when there is a French connection, you may enjoy The Smithsonian Magazine’s The Brief History of The Ferris Wheel. Intended to rival the Eiffel Tower, which had been constructed for the Paris Exposition of 1889, the Ferris Wheel was designed by an engineer from Pittsburg called George Washington Gale Ferris Jr for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. However, it was not an altogether original idea, but a re-imagining of the large wooden “pleasure wheels” which had been conveying people, up and around, at local fairs and festivals in Europe since the 17th century (perhaps earlier, though there are no definitive records), making the Ferris Wheel’s ancestors, contemporaries of another imposing Port Vauban sight, Antibes’ 16th century Fort Carré.
Visiting Information for the Grande Roue d’Antibes
Prices: Adult tickets prices have been lowered from 5 euros to 4 euros but they will be raised back up to 5 euros during the Christmas holidays. Children’s tickets cost one euro less than the price of an adult ticket.
Opening Times: 10.30am to 1.00am (Monday to Thursday and Sundays), 10.30am to 1.30am (Fridays and Saturdays)
The summer is well and truly over and Antibes’ vieille ville looks as though it is marking the change of season by digging up the carpark in Place Nationale. I imagine it is the best time to do it, post the summer hordes and pre the winter chills.
So, with a focus on archaeological exploration first, the rest of the year will see the easterly end of the square being redeveloped as a pedestrian area with a central bandstand and I am really looking forward to seeing the end result. Many years ago, Place Nationale would set up a temporarykiosque à musique on celebration days in the summer and they always made the atmosphere buzzier and more festive. Music and Place Nationale have a long shared history and kids, in particular, loved it when a bandstand would sojourn in the square, as it gave them an opportunity to dance and sing in the open air.
The now fenced off area is where we currently have a Saturday antiques market throughout the year, a Thursday morning market during the summer season (above photo) and, at all other times, it operates as one of the few overground carparks in this part of Antibes (photo below). But since the development of underground Q-park carparks in various locations around the new and old towns of Antibes, the need for this 29 place carpark has been lessening while the desire for more safe, open spaces for our markets and other events, especially ones suitable for children and younger residents of Antibes, has continued to increase. This development will also return Place Nationale to its pre. 1920s layout, when there was a permanent bandstand in the very same spot (I am sure there will be pictures of it over at the Postcard Museum).
There isn’t a great deal to see yet, as you can tell from my photos of mounds of earth and cheerful yellow diggers but the council have, helpful as ever, tied these banners (below) onto the fencing around the dig, to provide passersby with information about the work and Antibes’ history.
Here is my full translation of the banners:
[This is a] Preventive Archaeological Search.
It will be lasting for two months, at a cost of 180,000 euros
Place Nationale: A Search into the historical heart of the town
The town of Antibes has launched a rebuilding and redevelopment programme for Place Nationale, incorporating the construction of a bandstand and voluntary waste drop-off points.
Following the archaeological diagnostics conducted by Inrap in 2015, the Regional Archeology Service (DRAC) requested a preventative archaeological investigation in advance of the work. The town is financing the investigation conducted by Inrap. Over the course of two months, the archaeologists will be exploring a total area of 150 metres square with the objective of enriching and clarifying [our knowledge] of the history of the town.
What are the remains being studied here?
The absence of building on Place Nationale has enabled the conservation of archaeological remains eradicated elsewhere in the town by the foundations of houses and cellars.
During the diagnostics, the archaeologists were able to find evidence of:
signs of occupancy from the Hellenistic period
architectural remains from the Roman Empire, dating from the first century before our era and the fourth century after our era, with a building containing an ornamental basin.
embankments from the Middle Ages and the modern era showing ceramic fragments, and signs of artisans’ activities and the daily life of people during these time periods.
debris from the inactive defences of the Second World War.
Antibes: 26 centuries of urban history
On the Origins of Antibes
On the highest part of the town, around the current Chateau Grimaldi (Musee Picasso), a settlement was built during the fourth century before our era. Later, Greeks from Marseille created a series of trading posts along the coast. One of these posts, Antipolis, became Antibes.
During the period of antiquity, Antibes was located in the heart of networks of commercial maritime and land-based trade, thanks to her privileged position and her natural harbour in the Saint-Roch bay (now Port Vauban). The intensity of maritime trading is reflected in the discovery of many shipwrecks loaded with amphores, coming from the Mediterranean area, like those on show at the Museum of Archaeology in Antibes.
Place Nationale, the heart of the antique town
With the arrival of the Romans, Antipolis was freed from the guardianship of the Massalliots [Massalia was the Greeks’ name for Marseille, Massalliots were Greeks from Marseille] and became a capital city whose territory extended further inland. The area of Place Nationale, on the margins of the first urban area [of Antipolis] was at the heart of the Roman town. There are signs of a rich dwelling, provided with a basin adorned in marble, and mosaics and mural paintings, examples of whichhave been discovered less than 100 metres from here on Rue Clemenceau. Place Nationale could have, in part, taken the place of the ancient Roman forum, as suggested by the diversity of the ancient remains discovered here; a hypothesis which is yet to be confirmed.
The Medieval and Modern Ages
At the beginning of the Middle Ages, the town shrank into the heights around the chateau and the cathedral. The neglected lower areas were traversed by the main access route which can be traced, approximately, along the current Rue Clemenceau and Rue de la Republique. A suburb grew up again along this route at the end of the medieval period. An area called “Le Jardin du Roy” [The Garden of the King” or “The King’s Garden” – Roy is the old French for king] is mentioned in the land registry of 1604. It is adjacent, north-east, to the Hospital of Mercy and the Chapel of the Penitents. After the French Revolution, the Jardin du Roy became a public square called “Place Neuve” [New Square] and is known as Place Nationale today.
That is all the information available from the banners and news from Place Nationale for now but, if there are readers of French out there who are interested in the ancient history of Antibes, especially pre-1600 town-planning and Roman architecture, you may enjoy reading Aline Rousselle’s – Un nouveau plan moderne d’Antibes : l’enceinte romaine et l’amphithéâtre – written in 1976 for the Revue Archéologique de Narbonnaise, available on www.persee.fr.
Away from the internet, visitors to Antibes wanting more archaeological insights can also head up to the ramparts and take a tour of the Archeology Museum in the Bastion Saint André (built in the late 17th century) at 1, avenue Général Maizière. The signage in the museum is all in French but English-speaking tour guides are available. For more information about the museum and its opening hours, you can go to: www.antibesjuanlespins.com/en/art-et-culture/archeology-museum
Fellow old town Antibers: be aware that the 9th Marathon des Alpes Maritimes will be taking over our coastal roads on Sunday 13th of November and this is probably not going to be a good day for a leisurely drive along the ramparts. But, if you like watching marathons, the 13th will be a red letter day as this is the second biggest marathon in France, after Paris’ one in April. Don’t expect it to be as famously “convivial” as the joyfully idiosyncratic Marathon du Medoc race, though. Our runners are unlikely to be quaffing vin rouge on their way round.
The 2016 marathon will be starting at the stadium Allianz Riviera in Nice and ending at the finish line on La Croissette in Cannes and, by my estimate, the competitors will be enjoying the views from Antibes’ ramparts (shown above) after completing about two-thirds of their total distance. So here’s hoping that stunning vistas can distract the marathon runners from the pain of all those aching feet and muscles – beautiful scenery helped me when I did this kind of thing.
You can also find out more about the marathon on their official website – www.marathon06.com – and watch what happened at last year’s marathon on this video from the Azur Sport Organisation on Youtube. They had great weather last year – clear skies and no rain – and, fingers and (runners) toes crossed, that luck holds for this year.
Amongst all the different events and activities planned for November, the one that I won’t want to miss is an exhibition of the works of Jean-Jacques Sempe “ Le monde de Sempé”, the artist responsible (along with Goscinny) for the creation of Le Petit Nicolas (more info in French at www.petitnicolas.com). I know of Le Petit Nicolas but never read the books and, having been raised on Tintin and Asterix, I feel that this is a wrong that needs to be put right.
With the added bonus that, after a walk around the exhibition, I am thinking I should be able to persuade my companions to stop by the nearby La Closerie patisserie-restaurant on Boulevard Dugommier for one of their delicious chocolat-chaud maison – a perfect plan for a family outing on the next blustery afternoon.
The exhibition at Antibes’ Médiathèqueopens on the 8th of November, closes on the 31st of December, entry is free, and it will be located in the easy to access ground floor exhibition space.
The Médiathèque Albert Camus at 19 Boulevard Chancel is a beautiful public building, airy and modern, and the central hub of a network of media libraries in the wider area, with smaller libraries in Biot, les Semboules, Sophia-Antipolis and Villeneuve-Loubet.
Officially named after Albert Camus in November 2010, this cultural centre not only offers the Antibes community access to dvds, books, music, documents, news and reviews, but also hosts interesting and original exhibitions, small theatre and musical productions, and other events throughout the year. I wrote about their photographic exhibition on the history of Hotel Eden Roc in June as it was another highlight in Antibes’ events calendar for me.
In 2011, the Nice-Matin interviewed Henning Mankell for a piece called Henning Mankell ecrit a Antibes. The Swedish-born author of the Wallander crime series lived in the old town, part-time, for many years and his international press often cited Antibes as the location for his interviews. However, this interview stands out from the rest as Mankell is asked why he chose to live in Antibes and “why Antibes?” is always a question that I enjoy hearing fellow residents answer. Mankell replied:
Nous sommes dans le vieil Antibes, au milieu de Français qui ont mon âge, donc c’est calme, il y a une ambiance de village. Nous cherchions un pied-à-terre par ici. On a visité Mougins, Juan-les-Pins et, devant cette maison, on s’est décidé….Le seul souci, ce sont les avions qui passent au-dessus de la ville quand la météo est mauvaise. Au-delà du bruit, je n’ose pas imaginer la pollution qu’ils peuvent déverser sur Antibes. Si j’avais des enfants, je ne resterais pas !
The “ambiance de village” or “village atmosphere” of the old town is something people often mention, when they talk about their affection for Antibes. While Antibes as a whole is one of the largest municipalities on the south-east coast of France, the old town is small and idiosyncratic, quieter outside the summer season, and well-served by shops and restaurants. I have always seen the old town, with its unique limits and rhythms, as an independent state, set apart from that greater whole of Antibes, a greater whole which includes newer Antibes and Cap d’Antibes – which both have unique vibes of their own, so very different to the old town and each other. You only need to leave the old town if you want to; and the combination of village atmosphere with a modern town on the doorstep is also why my French family chose to relocate to Antibes’ old town from Nice. No need for a car, no need to miss out on anything.
The one aspect of life in old town Antibes which bugs Mankell is the noise of airplanes, to and from Nice aeroport, flying over head when the weather is bad and visibility is low. He worries about the pollution as well as the noise and 2011 was particularly bad for Antibes. Another article in the Nice Matin – Trop d’avions survolent Antibes – explains how Mankell was not alone in his dismay.
But things have improved considerably since 2011, as far as I know and, to be truthful, as the problem of the flight path over Antibes was a major hoo-hah during the 90s, it has blended into the general fabric of my life in Antibes along with all the other variable and interchangeable ups and the downs. The Cote d’Azur has many of the same problems experienced by capital cities, transport in particular, and one of the many saving graces of life within the old town is that the roads can never be expanded and they can’t take large volumes of traffic. So while we cannot completely control the skies and the weather, this small patch of Antibes remains pedestrian-friendly and – outside of July & August! – suitably peaceful for those of us who prefer to rely on shanks pony to planes, trains and automobiles.
For more interviews with Henning Mankell in Antibes, you can go to:
La rentrée means the return to normal life after the August break and it heralds my return to the blog.
Visitors may have noticed that I took two months off. Some way into July, I realised that this year I wanted, more than usual, to take time to read, walk, and be with my family. And that was my summer in a nutshell – spare moments went towards breaking the back (or the spine) of the To Read pile of books by the bed, committing to those mythical 10,000 steps a day, and savouring meals in the shade with the people who know me best.
But, summer is on the wane, it is time to go back to the old routine, and the writer, Susie Boyt, expresses my feelings about the advent of September and the advance into autumn, far better than I can, in this piece – Autumn is an electric season – she wrote for The Guardian in late August 2013:
“Spring may be fresher (although it’s so hysterical), summer more cheerful, winter more stately, but autumn is the most exhilarating season. For writers it brims with potential. It’s a clean slate, a second chance, a kick in the pants.
September, with its New York light, carries a spur to achievement, even to heroism. It’s an electric time, ripe, almost fraught with possibilities. On a good year I build up such a head of steam I am practically a one-woman walking harvest festival.”
Summer has to have muggy and heavy moments or it never happened, spring may be lighter and fresh with anticipation but holidays soon loom large, interrupting momentum, whereas autumn is my decider season. More so than New Year, supposedly the time when we should be keenest to try a new lifestyle regime, plan a change. But not for me. January is far too dark for clear-eyed decision-making as far as I am concerned. Give me a lively September and a gentle January and I’m happy.
All these years out of school and university, pens and paper still feel like a sound investment around this time of year, a time suited to a stationary renaissance. Untouched stationary, a new pair of shiny shoes with a squeak in the heel, a fresh to-do list with no crossings out. We are prepped from childhood to see September this way. Remembering the annual routine of my mum taking my brother and me to La Joie de Lire to pick out a pencilcase, pens, pencils for the new school year – always matching colours for me. And, if I had managed to leave enough lunchbox fruit to rot in the bottom of my old rucksack, a new schoolbag was a distinct possibility. My poor mum, so often rescuing set texts and equations from a forgotten aging apple.
Boyt writes that “armed with some file paper with narrow feint and blue margins, it feels as though there’s nothing you cannot do” and those words make me want to drop everything and walk straight up the Rue de la Republique to La Joie de Lire to buy a perfect new notepad and an equally perfect fine felt-tip pen. Envisioning one of the notepads with a hard cardboard back, no need for a writing table, I can then make my way down Boulevard Albert 1er to the seashore and sit on a bench and start setting about my autumn to-do list. It doesn’t matter that a laptop, a mobile phone, an ipad, can all take my notes and turn them into all singing, all dancing, all font fantasies. Really, there is nothing like a pen to paper commitment. And there are plenty of benches in the old town to go around.
More on La Rentrée elsewhere:
Local bloggers who, unlike me, have not let their readers down this summer – Lou Messugo and French Lessons – have touched on the French phenomenon of La Rentrée in past posts and these are two of my favourites:
The first event on the list is the Fête de la Saint-Pierre; a three day celebration led by Antibes’ fishing community to honour their patron saint, Saint Peter, which begins today. And to give you an idea of what will be happening this weekend, here is a video of the 2013 Fête de la Saint-Pierre, from the Antibes-Juan Les Pins Youtube channel.