Although the cannon pointing towards visitors arriving in the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence is well known, very few are familiar with its history and the stories told about it.
An authentic 16th-century cannon brought back by the army of Francis I to Saint-Paul in 1544 after the battle of Ceresole d’Alba (Piedmont), this piece of artillery formed part of the fourteen cannons taken from the enemy during the fighting. The French army as it happens had a small contingent of men from Saint-Paul, including an army captain named Lacan who, after the French victory, took the cannon back to the village as war booty. Named for its owner, it was added to the defences of the new ramparts.
One story goes like this….
At the end of the16th century, “the cannon affair”, symbol of the long rivalry between Vence and Saint-Paul, had many repercussions: in order to “wound and humble the pride of Saint-Paul”, the villagers of Vence plotted to steal the Lacan cannon, the proud symbol of the Saint-Paulois. One woman from Saint-Paul who lived in Vence got wind of the plot and warned the authorities of her home village. It was decided to lay a trap for the Vençois. When, in the middle of the night, the latter approached the entrance to the village to steal the cannon, the Saint-Paulois, who had loaded it with cherry stones, lit the fuse. In a thunderous din, a shower of stones rained down on the poor people of Vence. Stained red, they thought they were wounded and fled in a general panic.
Although this story is still told by the village elders, it is really only a legend, but what a wonderful story it does make and certainly makes a visit to this cannon a ‘must-see’.
(Adapted from Secret French Riviera by Jean-Pierre Cassely)