The city of Nice remains a destination favorite for international tourism, booming to around 4.3 million visitors per year, making it the number one tourist destination after Paris. Visitors account for 80% of the city’s tourist market. Nice’s airport is the second airport in France, after Paris, with almost 11 million passengers, 57 airlines and 103 destinations in 30 countries. Nice is the leading conference city in France, after Paris.
Ranking after Paris, Nice has the highest concentration of museums, with 19 museums and art galleries, but is the first city in France with vineyards within its city limits. Business tourism is also booming, as one of the strengths of Nice and the French Riviera, and accounts for 20% of the visitors, all according to the Nice Convention Bureau.With its famous, seafront Promenade, pebbled beaches, Old Town, Port, and many museums, Nice is a metropolitan city with a wide variety of activities and sights to enjoy.
With so much to see in Nice, there may be one thing that surprises most tourists – not to see, but to hear. Around 11:45 every day, a man parks his VW wagon in front of the police station, walks towards a garden-type shed at Castle Hill, unlocks two small green doors, and prepares the noon-time ritual he has been doing for the past 22 years – setting off a large firecracker, propelled into the sky like a firework, and takes three seconds to explode.
This Nicoise tradition began in the 1860’s when Sir Thomas Coventry, a former British army colonel, proposed his idea to the Mayor – to furnish a cannon and pay for its detonation precisely at noon, as a way to remind his wife of the hour for cooking his lunch, as she was habitually late from her morning walk on the Promenade des Anglais. How fitting and timely!
When Sir Thomas and his wife moved from the Old Town of Nice, the cannon fire stopped. However, on November 19, 1885, a law was passed to re-introduce this not forgotten ritual.
Azur Fêtes, a long-established business from generation to generation since 1954, was contacted by the Mayor’s office in 1992, in search of a trained, detonator specialist. Voila! Philippe Arnello was hired as the official « artificier » and proudly upholds this daily, time-honored tradition (pardon the pun).
He has only missed setting off the firecracker one time, when there was an accident on the Voie Rapide, causing him to be too late. Oh yes, he also has been known to fire an hour earlier on April 1st . If he is sick or on holiday, he is replaced by a colleague. But, Philippe leaves nothing to chance, having many sets of keys in various locations and always carrying multiple lighters, as well as a box of matches as backup.
Has he ever had a rough day at work? Reportedly, one day, there was a car parked in front of the shed blocking the doors, but he managed to open them just in time. Another day, one of the fuses didn’t explode and fell into the cemetary, where he spent an hour searching for it, to ensure it had at least burned.
In today’s world of technology, why isn’t this enduring tradition automated? Well, it seems that it would be too dangerous, and reportedly, Philippe has no intentions of quitting any time soon – he likes the idea that if he “doesn’t go to Castle Hill, there would be no one eating in the city!” So, the next time you hear the mid-day boom, passez à table, s’il vous plait et “Bon appétit” !
Source: Nice Matin & Nice Tourisme
by Kim inFrance blogger Kim Defforge.
Kim is a lifelong Francophile, and former French teacher. Having moved from the U.S. to the French Riviera, she enjoys writing about France and French culture on her blog, 24/7 in France. From the simple beauty of a Mediterranean sunset to her passion for all things French, Kim shows us that dreams can come true!
Kim Defforge is the author of "Solitary Desire: One Woman's Journey to France" and "Sun, Sea & Savoir-Faire: Travel Focus on the French Riviera".
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