There is no denying - you simply cannot miss noticing the Fontaine du Soleil on Place Masséna in Nice - especially now that a statue of Apollo stands tall and proud in the middle of it.
As you see it today, the fountain is made up of 5 bronze sculptures that depict Earth, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus with, in its centre, a 7 meters (23 foot) tall marble statue of Apollo weighing 7 tons.
The story goes that the French sculptor, Alfred Auguste Janniot (he sculpted the beautiful Monument aux Morts located at Rauba Capeu), began work on a group of bronze statues between 1934 and 1937 (following plans drawn up by the architect Roger Séassal) but had not made a start on Apollo when the Second World War broke out. To safeguard his work the bronze statues were buried in a garden to keep them from being destroyed. Once the war was over they were dug up and Janniot completed the statue of Apollo. The unveiling, which took place on the 12th August 1956, caused a commotion.
While many onlookers stared in shock and disappointment at Apollo’s tiny crown (representing his chariot and four horses) it would be Apollo’s manhood (considered far too prominent) that unsettled the local Nicois. To quell the people’s growing displeasure at such an abomination, Janniot was called back ‘to make adjustments’ and, armed with hammer and chisel, chipped Apollo’s offending manhood into a more acceptable size.
But by the 1970s, fed up by the constant fuss and remarks (in particular by the Catholic women’s ‘League of Feminine Virtue’) the municipality had both the fountain and its naked sculptures dismantled and taken away. Apollo was relegated to stand at the entrance of Charles-Ehrmann football stadium while the bronze statues were placed at one of Nice’s water purification plants.
Then everything was forgotten about.
That is until 2007 when a reporter researching about water treatment accidentally came across the bronze statues and made mention of them in his article. This in turn brought both the fountain and bronze sculptures back into the public eye again and caused them to be reinstalled on Place Masséna that same year: all except Apollo that is.
However with works on the installation of tramways and renovations to Place Masséna finally completed in 2011, a number of sculptures were added to Place Masséna. Seven resin statues (representing the seven continents) created by Jaume Plensa, a Spanish artist specialised in monumental art and one marble statue: Apollo.
In front of an enormous crowd and amidst an incredible light and sound extravaganza, on the eve of the first day of summer on Monday 20th June 2011 at 21h00, the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, unveiled the reinstated statue of Apollo.
And he has remained ever since.