Art in the City: The Tramway in Nice, France

tram nice franceA few years ago, I took a course that required me to get up early and catch a bus to another town.  Sometimes I would take the tram to the bus and I used to giggle to myself every time I heard the breathlessly sexy voices announce the next tram stop. Little did I know, that these announcements were part of the “Art in the City” (L’art dans la ville) project.  Apparently these recordings are different depending on the time of day, day of week and season. They are intended to make our travel experience more agreeable, and I can personally attest to the effectiveness of the early morning ones.

When the city planners were designing the new tramway, which was inaugurated in 2007, they decided that the journey should be, not only about getting from one place to another, but about beauty and discovery along the way.  As part of the project, thirteen public art pieces were installed along the 8.7 km (5.4 miles) of track, turning it into an open air art gallery.

conversations in Nice france, place massena, jaume plensa

“Conversations in Nice” by Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa, found in Place Massena, is one of my favourite installations.  The seven figures perched high above the plaza represent the continents.  At night, they slowly change colours, symbolising a conversation taking place between them.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all nations could exchange ideas in such a calm and beautiful way?

porte fausse nice france, false door, sarkis

“The False Door” As you approach this beautiful arched opening clad in gold and marble, you might not even notice the engraved words on the wall which read, “porte fausse” meaning false door or gate.

Why is it a false gate?  Well, when the old city was surrounded by a large defensive wall, there was a small, sort of hidden door here.  It was designed to be discreet and unnoticed by the enemy.  When they weren’t under attack, the inhabitants used this gate which was linked to the Old Town by a dark narrow corridor that passed through part of a building. In 1946, the owner of the building donated part of it to make the larger public opening that we see today.

This “false gate” was decorated as part of the Art in the City project.  The artist, Sarkis, saw it as a transitional space between the Old Town and the modern city and lavished it with gold and marble.  On the landing, you can see a white marble block holding a black tray.  It says “les postes restantes” which means post being held. The idea was that visitors and locals could write letters or postcards (to the city or to the inhabitants) and leave them in the tray.  As far as I know, this practice has never caught on because, unfortunately, the only thing I have ever seen in this tray is rubbish.  (You can see in the photo that the tray is empty.)

l'amorse du bleu, yann kersale, nice france morse code lights blue

Blue Morse code…   The lights in front of the Nice Etoile shopping centre shine like blue stars in the night sky.  The strings of lights make a series of dots and dashes that spell out the different names of the colour blue in Morse code.  It is called “L’Amorse du bleu” by Yann Kersalé.

thoughts from ben, nice france

Ben has his say…   All along the tramway you will find the work of Benjamin Vautier, better known simply as Ben.  He is renowned for his handwritten black and white messages. The station names are written in his signature style along with various slogans such as, “j’attends l’impossible” (I am expecting the impossible), “repartir à zero” (start over from scratch),  “le nouveau est vieux” (the new is old), and occasionally you might see one in English such as “look elsewhere”.  These sayings give us something to ponder along our journey.

Totems, nice france, tramway

“T” is for tramway…    These “totem poles”, which identify the tram stops, form a “T” when viewed from any angle.  Sometimes, as you can see, they are rather abstract “T”s, but “T”s nonetheless.  They are done in shades of blue for the sea and red ochre for the traditional colour of Niçois buildings.  “Totems” were designed by Pierre di Sciullo.

These are just six of the thirteen works that you can find along the tramway, so there are more for you to discover.  There used to be a very interesting guided tour which has, sadly, been discontinued, but you can pick up a brochure in the tourist office and do the tour on your own.  It is best to see the art in the evening as many of the installations are lighted.  Enjoy!

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Margo Lestz


    1. This is such a lovely doorway – it is definitely the most beautiful way to enter the Old Town. Before I read the story, I used to wonder what was false about it, it looked very real to me. 😉

  1. Looks like a return trip to Nice should be in my 2014 plan.. Going to Paris Sept 30 for 2 weeks..exchanging apts with my friend.. If you are in the area..let me know!!!

  2. Yes, you be sure and write that in your 2014 planner (or even 2013). We are enjoying Nice even more now that we are right in the center of everything. Sorry, we won’t be in Paris while you are there, we will just have to meet up somewhere else. 🙂

  3. Yes! The breathless way he says Prochenerai Massena, The tone is like that old song ‘Je T’aime!’ I always laugh too.

      1. I now realise he is saying prochaine Arret Massena not Prochenerai. It doesnt really matter what he says, its the way he says it! I am so glad you wrote this, now I know I am not laughing alone. Nobody else seems to crack a smile!

  4. That’s OK, you were just spelling it out phonetically for us. 😉 It’s true, that no one else seems to be amused by these recordings which to me seem so funny. But I have only heard the sexy voices in the mornings. I don’t take the tram often, as I walk most everywhere, but when I have taken it later in the day, I have heard a more ‘normal’ voice making the announcements – it was a bit disappointing after getting used to those breathless ones. 🙂

  5. I started following your blog after our email exchange about Xmas in Nice. It is great to get these little previews into the city before I get there. I am excited to actually get there.

    1. Ah, so you decided to come to Nice then? I personally think it is a great city and even though Christmas day might be a bit quiet there are still a few choices for things to do. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

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