Léglise Notre Dame d’Esperance (The Church of Notre Dame d’Esperance)

Cannes church arch
Cannes church arch

“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).

church in cannes 12th century Notre-Dame-dEsperancePerched 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.

church interior high alter images

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.

water town center 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.marinacannes-640x420 Have you been to Cannes? What do you know about the film festival?



There is no separation between art and architecture. Except for movement through space . . . visual or physical.

Biltmore Gardens in springtime

Yesterday in my art workshop, David Dunlop’s lecture and demonstration was about portals. David is an amazing artist, scholar,  purveyor of dreams. He inspired this blog.

Everyday, every time we move through a space, it is usually through a portal, a doorway, an opening, a defined path, all perhaps leading to the light. We are drawn to the light.

In Alberti’s S. Andrea edifice below, the entrance is a Romanesque portal with its typical rounded arch. All portals have a shape of some kind, relative to the era and country. The Romanesque period was from actually approximately 800 A.D. to 1100 A.D. The portal with its rounded arch was used throughout history, as you can see here. This one, in Italy, was created in the15th century.

S. Andrea in Mantua, Italy by Leon Battista Alberti 15th century. Portal arch is Romanesque

I think a portal could also be an obvious path leading somewhere. I couldn’t resist the picture of the Biltmore Gardens in springtime above. And the light . . . look at the light. The light pulls you into the garden.

Have you had any experience with portals? How many have you seen or walked through that changed you, your views, or your life?


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