The Blue Chair: Symbol of Nice
Like theTour Eiffel of Paris or the Big Ben of London, La chaise bleue has long been considered the symbol of Nice.
The iconic chairs, as blue as the rippling Bay of Angels they overlook, are wedged in rows of 20 along the famous Promenade des Anglais. While in winter it is relatively easy to find a free chair, and enjoy a contemplative session of sea staring, in busy summer months it may be a real challenge.
Back in the 50’s, these chairs were wooden, white, and spread along the promenade. They were mostly used by families and elderly people as a place to relax.
About sixty years later, la chaise bleue has changed its look but remains one of the Niçois’ favourite spots to relax and enjoy the view of the Mediterranean Sea. “It always feels like a special place where to sit,” says Magda, born in Nice in the 70’s.
The history of the famous chair began during the postwar period, when mass tourism plummeted in the French Riviera. Charles Tordo, well-recognized inventor and worker in a maintenance company, was entrusted with the manufacture of eight hundred chairs by businessman Ballanger. As the story goes, Tordo worked overtime for weeks, with the help of his family, in order to meet Ballanger’s deadline.
At that time, people would pay a small sum in exchange for the “droit de s’asseoir”or permission to sit in English.
After the death of Ballanger, the city of Nice commissioned the production of the chairs to a company based in the Haute Loire.
Les chaises went through a lot of change over the years and acquired a more sophisticated look; notably, they were painted a sky blue and were constructed of metal instead of wood.
Since they could be easily stolen or damaged, the city council decided to remove them and stop their production in the early 2000, causing the city to lose one of its trademarks. Due to popular demand, they were back a few years later, this time secured in row of twenty.
“I like that the blue chair has become one of the symbols of my city, because it represents the true essence of the Niçois, simple but authentic,” says Marc, a Niçois baker for twenty years.
Many artists were inspired by this special symbol, including a Niçois-born artist Armand. His monumental 3D sculpture, made of hundreds of blue chairs, is entitled “Camin dei Ingles” and decorates one of the glass façades of the Museum of Contemporary Art since 2004.
Likewise, the artist Sab has created a giant two-dimensional chair which was unveiled in 2014 and proudly stands on the Promenade des Anglais.
Another curious hommage to the city’s most enduring symbol are the beautiful mini blue chairs encased in acrylic that can be found at Transparence, a fancy shop in the Old Town.
“The chairs of the walk” also became the title of a play, created in 1998 by Richard Cairaschi for the City Theatre of Nice. The main character is a retired Niçois who regularly haunts the Promenade des Anglais and one morning meets a pretty Niçoise named Violaine.
Having a picture while seated on the blue chair has become a must-do for visitors.
“It is like taking a picture next to the Tour Eiffel when you go to Paris” says Silvia, from Granada, while choosing her favourite Niçois holiday pictures to upload to Facebook.
Times have changed since the 1950s and so has the chair. In spite of this change, la Chaise Bleue remains a solid symbol of the city of Nice and represents, to this day, a special place of solitary reflection, contemplation and relaxation for friends and families, both local and visiting.