One Friday evening we drove into Nice to see the recently reopened Gare du Sud, a former railway station located in the Libération quarter.
The station closed in December 1991 when it was replaced by the smaller Gare de Nice and remained derelict until 2013, when the station building was renovated and converted into a library.
Inaugurated in 1892 and designed by architect Prosper Bobin, the station building, set back from the Avenue Malausséna, was designed in an elegant neoclassical style. It has a monumental and imposing facade with a central high section flanked by two side pavilions, decorated with ceramic tiles, painted designs and picturesque stonework.
Behind the station building is a tall metal train shed with a glass roof to cover the platforms which was designed by Gustave Eiffel – yes, the bloke that did the Eiffel Tower – for the Russian and Austro-Hungarian pavilion at the Paris Exposition Universelle (1889) and added to the station in 1891.
Ownership of the old station was transferred to the city of Nice in 2000 and initially there were plans to demolish it but, after a public outcry, the Culture Minister blocked the plan. Furthermore, the facade of the old station building was listed as a historic monument in 2002 and the train shed was listed in 2005.
Although the station had been saved, its future remained uncertain. Finally, architect Pierre-Louis Faloci was asked to create a new design which would preserve the building as well as the metal train shed. The first phase of his design, the internal and external renovation of the station building, took place in 2013 and the new Raoul Mille library, incorporated into the station’s former waiting room was opened in 2014. The building also houses multimedia rooms, meeting rooms and a climate-controlled storage basement.
The second phase of the project involved the restoration of the train shed site within plans for a shopping centre, cinema, sports facilities, housing and underground car park. Much of this was completed last year though the project won the Pyramide d’or, the highest award of the Fédération des Promoters Immobilisers in 2016.
The main hall finally reopened at the beginning of May 2019 its destiny largely determined by the head of Nice’s department for Urban Renewal who wanted to create a large contemporary market, inspired by those in other major cities such as London and New York, where everyone could gather to eat, drink and listen to music.
It’s fair to say, looking at the crowds there on Friday evening, that the objective has easily been achieved.