L‘église Notre Dame d’Esperance (The Church of Notre Dame d’Esperance)
“Architecture, church architecture, describes visually the idea of the sacred, which is a fundamental need of man. Mankind has been capable of creating for itself this very particular kind of space. There is a great mystery in a church. For me it is a great privilege to be confronted with the design of a church, because it shelters the most powerful themes of humanity: birth, marriage, death.” By Mario Botta, Architect, in the book, Churches, by Judith Dupre (2001).
Perched at the top of Le Suquet hill overlooking Cannes, France is the centuries old Église Notre Dame d’Esperance. Église is French for ‘church.’ The church on the hill above the old port was originally a fortress, erected in the 11th century, to protect what was at the time a fortified village. The structure was both offensive and defensive providing a base from which raids could be launched as well as protection from enemies such as pirates and invasions. The design of the fortress is medieval, probably originally built with earth and timber, replaced later with rusticated stone as you see it today—where the front facade is early Gothic and has pointed spheres soaring heavenward. Stained-glass windows are prevalent in traditional Gothic where rays of sunlight pour through the high stained-glass, rose-medallion windows and buttresses support the structure. Over the centuries, the church, which was used by fishermen for prayer, was referred to as Suquet Castle. The bell tower was completed in the 14th century. The clock was added to the bell tower later, probably around 1815, about the time Napoleon visited and marched through the town. It has been a fortress, a monks’ castle, the church mentioned here, and now a cinema/museum.
The interior of the church displays art works, busts, and altarpieces. On the High Altar stands St Anne and a 17th century statue of a “Vierge Couronnée,” (Virgin with a crown) holding a ship’s anchor. There is a selection of 19th century paintings including a fresco by George Roux depicting the baptism of Jesus. The eight chapels of the church have links to the craft guilds of France going back to the 17th Century. One end of the church has a Romanesque chapel used years ago as a refuge. Inside the chapel, boat models sit at the feet of the Saints. This was when downtown Cannes was created—before that the main village was in the Saint Cassien neighborhood, which is around the Cannes airport. For centuries the main city in the region was Grasse, located 15 km to the north of Cannes.
About Cannes Le Suquet is the old quarter of Cannes, probably best known to tourists as the climbing, winding cobbled lane, Rue St Antoine, a pedestrian street lined with local restaurants. At the bottom of Le Suquet on Rue Dr. P. Gazagnaire is the Marché Forville, where the market is held in the mornings and early afternoon. The area was the original fisherman’s residential area of Cannes. The streets were laid out at least 400 years ago—some of the houses could be 200 years old. It is a 5-minute walk from the beach. Much of the area is pedestrianized and is a major tourist attraction. The Rue du Suquet is the original main road into Cannes.
Cannes was made popular as a resort when former British Royal Chancellor Lord Brougham stayed there from 1834. He popularized the town amongst royalty, artists and writers. Since then it has been visited by the rich and famous for the great winter climate. Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, Domergue, Chateaubriand, JMW Turner, Victor Hugo, Stendhal, Picabia, Renoir and Picasso have connections with Cannes. The French government decided to create an international film festival just before the Second World War and chose Cannes for its location on the Riviera. The plans were put on hold until the end of the war, and in 1946 the first Film Festival was held. This gave Cannes the status of a city for movie stars, which attracted a lot of tourism. High-end hotels, restaurants and luxury shops developed and the reputation of Cannes as a city for the wealthy spread even more. Today Cannes is still just that: a town living on high end tourism. Each year in July during the “Nuits Musicales du Suquet” classical music is played on the square outside the church. Have you been to Cannes? What do you know about the film festival?