The amazing history of an incredible and beautiful crystal palace in Nice which no longer exists except in paintings, postcards and a few old photographs…
The town of Nice in the south of France has long attracted admirers from around the world. It has been that way for a long time; the construction of the Promenade des Anglais in 1820 certainly reflected the fact that the Brits loved to come here for the winter sun and summer fun (they still do).
The attractions of Nice were many, a lovely beach, though at that time the Victorians were not that keen to actually getting into the water, they preferred to look at it. Sunbathing and swimming came much later when wealthy Americans discovered the French Riviera. The beautiful countryside, the weather, the food, the peaceful way of life -there was plenty to tempt foreigners to the shores of this once sleepy town.
In the 1870s the council of Nice decided to add to the pleasures of Nice and, inspired by the Crystal Palace in London they asked for tenders to create a fabulous pier and casino. It was to have walkways, restaurants, lounges for afternoon tea, shops and a theatre. It would be somewhere to promenade with stunning sea views and was to be called the Palais de la Jetée – the palace of the pier, a true representative of the Belle Epoque.
After choosing an architect and builder, work finally began at the end of the 1870s. The planned building was sure to appeal to the British visitors, there were resemblances to the Brighton Palace as well as Crystal Palace; but there were dissenting voices about its design – “a monstrous jellyfish” said some. The building project was fraught with difficulty, various parties fell out and were replaced, the building took years to complete and went way over budget. Then disaster struck, a suspicious fire broke out just four days before the Pier was due to be opened to the public in April 1883 and it seemed that the crystal casino would never be finished.
Finally in 1891, 18 years after the idea was first raised, the construction of the casino and pier was finished. It was said that at night when it was lit up it was a most incredible sight, seemingly floating out in the sea in the dark. Music could be heard drifting across the bay, operettas, vaudeville and orchestras; the sound of laughter filled the air. The Crystal casino was, as predicted, a huge success with visitors.
The Palais de la Jetée was though to have just a brief and splendid life. After rising from the first fire and being reborn in all its splendour, it was barely to survive 50 years.
Today the casino is no more and of the pier there remains just a fractured metal structure, broken and isolated in its watery surroundings.
The pier was closed in 1942 and stripped of its valuable metals, copper, brass, bronze and electric wiring, to be used by the German army. The government ordered its destruction. The Nice Pier and Casino, shops, gaming rooms, casino, theatre and restaurants were all demolished and the remains were left to rot in their watery grave.
Hardly anything remains today to give any indication at all of its former glory. In fact you would never know the Palais de la Jetée in Nice had ever existed if it weren’t for the old postcards and photos that can be found on E-Bay. The chandelier that hangs in the Church of St Roche used to light the interior of the beautiful domed palace on the Pier and is one of a very few artefacts that survived. The paintings of Raol Dufy give an evocative feel for what it must have been like.
Until now we can only imagine how the bay of Nice would have looked with its amazing crystal Palace, Mario Asso architects have created an image to give us an idea, and yes, it would still look fabulous.