Nice, which is the second-largest French city on the Mediterranean sea, right at the foot of the Alps, runs along the French Riviera and is famed for its colourful traditions and vibrant culture.
From Russian styled churches to long hikes in Mont Boron Park, anyone who has ever been will tell you that the city of Nice is jam-packed with things to see and do.
This includes plenty of museums and galleries (there are over 15 in the city alone!) with Musee Matisse being one of the best in Town. But, perhaps one of Nices’ longest-standing traditions is the firing of the Noontime cannon.
What is the Noontime Cannon?
Every day at midday a cannon is fired throughout the city of Nice. It can be easy to spot the locals as they are not startled by the sound, tourists, on the other hand, are quite taken aback by the loud boom.
Many might be surprised to learn that the history behind the firing of the cannon does not consist of military origins either. The story of the noontime cannon is a lot more colourful than that!
Stemming as far back as 1861, a Scottish (albeit hungry) gentleman by the name of Sir Thomas Coventry-More, moved to the old city of Nice with his wife.
Legend has it that Sir Thomas was not a fan of tardiness – his wife, on the other hand, had other ideas as she would take long morning strolls along the Promenade De Anglais.
These strolls meant that she would often be late preparing lunch for her husband.
Being the problem-solver that he was, Sir Thomas came up with an ingenious plan to get his wife home on time – a cannon explosion!
A little over the top some might say, but the lovely people of Nice agreed to let Sir Thomas fire up a cannon each day at precisely 12 pm which would alert his wife to make her way home promptly to prepare her husband’s meal . . .
How authentic is the tale?
Researchers and historians have since crushed the noontime cannon rumour mill and with good reason.
Firstly, in the city of Nice, there are no statues or monuments dedicated to Sir Thomas (a person of such imminence would have something to honour them!).
Secondly, it would be highly unlikely that the city of Nice (which is now part of France) would allow an ex-military officer the privilege of firing up a cannon each day to call his wife home for lunch?
Researchers also found that Sir Thomas was not a lord at all, he was a lawyer from England – not a Scottish root in sight!
And as the legend suggests, his wife was not a keen walker either.
Does the noontime cannon still exist today?
Whether the tale has any truth to it, the Nicois (people of Nice) have come to expect the noon firing of the cannon up to the present day.
Although when Sir Thomas and his wife eventually stopped visiting Nice, the council would no longer fire the cannon because Sir Thomas was no longer funding it. The lack of firing, led to chaos amongst the locals as they had become accustomed to the noontime signal.
How would the locals of Nice know when it was time for lunch? And it wasn’t long before uproar ensued.
Fortunately, the local uproar led the council to reinstate the 12 pm signal.
Today, of course, the alert is done through fireworks instead of the traditional cannon, and it is set off manually each day so that the Nicois never miss a lunch date again.
Over the years, the people of Nice have become so accustomed to the sound that they barely bat an eyelid, but when the tourists jump out of their skin, the Nicois know it’s time to eat.
The real story of Nice’s noontime cannon
Historian and researcher Judit Keraly, tells the real story of Nice’s noontime cannon.
According to Keraly, Sir Thomas Coventry – more, was born in a place called Brinden in England, in 1797 to parents Susanna and Thomas Coventry.
The original rumours of Sir Thomas being a Scotsman, likely emerged from the Edinburgh tradition where there is the firing of a cannon at 1 pm each day.
Thomas came from a family of successful jurists, which saw him follow the same familial pattern.
He worked hard at his legal studies and was eventually accepted to Lincoln’s Inn – – a prestigious association of jurists and barristers.
This is where Sir Thomas met a well – known judge, Sir Joseph Littledale.
Judge Littledale, who originally came from Bolton, was from a large and very wealthy family.
Within his line of work, Littledale was known for his legal prowess, common sense and coherence – qualities that afforded him a knighthood by the queen for legal services rendered just before his death in 1842.
After his death, Littledale left his fortune to his daughter, Elizabeth Littledale, a rather tidy sum of over £250,000.
As you can imagine, this was a large amount of money back in those days, remembering that a servant in residence would only receive an annual salary of £15 per year!
Elizabeth would eventually go on to marry lawyer Thomas Coventry-More in 1828, at St George’s church in upmarket Bloomsbury, London.
It is also known from Judge Littledale’s will that Elizabeth had children from a previous marriage as they are mentioned in the provisions denoting that Elizabeth was a widow.
Elizabeth, although a little older than Thomas Coventry (she was 38 when they married) outlived her husband by eleven years, where she eventually died in England and is buried in a cemetery in Kensal Green, London.
In the Memoriam, there is also a mention of Sir Thomas Coventry being buried in Nice.
From the literature available nowadays, it appears that Sir Thomas Coventry’s character couldn’t be any further away from the eccentric person reflected in some of the earlier legends.
Thomas was observant, steadfast, and a bit of a scientific layman, infused of course, with a touch of British humour for good measure.
Although Thomas Coventry was a successful lawyer, his real passion in life was the new science of astronomy, climatology and meteorology.
Back then, astronomy was popular among savvy types and was a rather fashionable science in the 19th century due to the emergence of telescopes and other such instruments that were developed at the time.
Since Mrs Coventry was afforded such a tidy inheritance from her late father, this allowed her and her husband to retire and explore their passions in the beautiful city of Nice, in France.
What better place to be!
Spending most of their winters there, along with other wealthy and blue-blooded families, the Coventry’s enjoyed the mild winters that Nice has to offer. Back then, the city of Nice was, and still is, the ‘in’ place to be.
Nice was a small town back then, occupied by around 44,091 residents. A town that was known mainly for its affluent inhabitants.
Mostly staying in the luxurious and well-known Chauvian Hotel (which is now Hotel Aston La Scala) a place known for its vast roof terraces located on the banks of the Paillon River, Sir Thomas took advantage of the large roof terraces where he set his instruments to conduct meteorological observations.
This included the time ball. A time ball is a time-signalling device, which in the modern day is obsolete.
A metal or wooden ball is dropped at a set time, a device which was used many centuries ago to alert navigators aboard ships to keep a watch of their marine chronometers.
Essentially, time balls allow for accurate timekeeping.
It pans out that Sir Thomas wasn’t motivated by his stomach, after all, he was interested in measuring time!
Thomas observed that the various church bells in the town of Nice were ringing out of sync, and through his knowledge of astronomy, wanted to provide an accurate measurement of time to address the problem.
He wrote to the local council in Nice, and offered to fund the operation himself, of course, the Nicois were only too happy to appease him and he was given the go-ahead.
Legendary tales aside, this is the real story of the noontime cannon.
Experiencing the Noontime Cannon
Chaque midi de 1862, le coup de canon résonne dans les rues de Nice. Sauf le 14 juillet en hommage aux 86 victimes de l’attentat de Nice. pic.twitter.com/JIWuDx6TNg
— 20minutesnice (@20minutesnice) July 10, 2018
Nice, a place known as the Ivory Coast, is visited by over 30,000 tourists every year.
People from all over the world are drawn to the Nicois culture which is steeped in vibrant history, from local flea markets and farmers markets such as the Cours Saleya Market in the Old Town, a place that is bursting with ambience, history and culinary delights.
Here you can get deals on fresh produce like cheeses, olives, herbs and flowers. But, the best purchases are in the paniers which usually go for around €1.50 just before the blasting of the noontime cannon where the markets close at 1 pm.
There is also the Promenade Des Anglais, an integral part of Nice’s City life with its endless stretch of the embankment that bends for seven kilometres.
There’s so much beauty to take in as the strollers, skateboarders and families pass by throughout the day.
Many also take advantage of the shade hidden beneath the palm trees and pergolas.
The best time of the year to visit Nice is between September – October, known as the shoulder season, or from mid- March to April where the room rates are usually the lowest.
Staying in Nice
Those who wish to experience the noontime cannon for themselves will have plenty of stunning places to stay, such as the Le Tresor Du Mozart, which has easy access to the beach, restaurants, shops, trains and buses.
This beautiful studio apartment comes complete with a sleeping alcove, a queen bed, and a living room which opens up to a large sunny terrace and a fully equipped kitchen and bathroom/shower.
There’s also the stylish and vibrant Le Tresor De Paridis located in Rue Paradis, which also shares the same address as Louis Vuitton and Chanel, and is only a few minutes away from the beach.
This contemporary apartment comes complete with heating and cooling systems which makes it a feasible year-round place to stay!
Click here to view the best selection of apartments Nice has to offer and experience the noontime cannon for yourself!