Church, storage center, nightclub… The crazy historical adventure of the new Franciscan Theater

The five representations of Darwin smile, scheduled until Saturday, were quickly sold out. The presence of Isabella Rossellini will have attracted the crowds. And the novelty will no doubt have helped. After years of work, the Franciscan hall, intended to replace, among other places, the current building of the National Theater of Nice (TNN), which will be demolished, raised the curtain on Tuesday evening with its 300 seats. In an environment steeped in history. Rich in nine centuries of adventures.

The Franciscan hall in the old nave of the church – Ville de Nice
Isabella Rossellini, on stage at the Franciscan Hall on Tuesday evening
Isabella Rossellini, on stage at the Salle des Franciscains on Tuesday evening – Ville de Nice

The old Franciscan church and the adjoining convent, built in 1251, are indeed the oldest buildings in Old Nice still standing. Their religious vocation continued through the centuries before being stopped dead in 1793. “The revolutionary troops arrived and occupied the place. In 1798, the various buildings were sold to private individuals as national property,” explains Stéphane Morabito, heritage director for the city of Nice.

“Where the people of Nice came to buy their ice blocks”

Work is being carried out. The Aigle d’or building, now occupied by the offices of the National Theater of Nice, rehearsal rooms and artists’ residences, then became a hotel. Until the Liberation. He then welcomes the CGT. Until 2010. Right next door, the church has also had several lives. By being cut up. Slabs are created.

The former Capitole cinema on the first floor of the church
The former Capitole cinema on the first floor of the church – Ville de Nice

From the start of the 20th century, a “ground floor” housed the Frigos Saint-François, “where the people of Nice came to buy their blocks of ice to fill their coolers until 1974”, adds Stéphane Morabito. Two more years of work later, the city turned it into a garbage storage facility for Old Nice. Upstairs is a cinema, the Capitole, which flourished until the 1980s. It then became a dance hall of the same name. The building also houses, on the lower level, another nightclub, the Panthéra.

During the works, after the dismantling of the cinema
During the works, after the dismantling of the cinema – Ville de Nice

“We did conservation and not restoration”

“The municipality regained possession of the premises in 2008, continues the manager. From 2012, archaeological studies are carried out. The mayor [qui espère faire de Nice la capitale européenne de la culture en 2028] immediately expressed the wish to give this place an artistic dimension. » Remains of the former convent and of the church were unearthed. “Fortunately, a lot of things were preserved behind the veneers,” says the Director of Heritage.

The dismantling work, then transformation into an antenna of the TNN begins in 2019. It lasts eighteen months. “We did conservation and not restoration,” adds Stéphane Morabito. Many stone walls are left rough. Stripped. In the circulation corridor that runs alongside the performance hall, the drinking troughs that were intended for the horses have even been preserved.

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