At the corner of rue Droite and rue de la Loge, in the old town of Nice, you will notice a cannonball, enbedded in the wall, which was fired in the 16th century from one of the ships of the Ottoman fleet commanded by the famous Barbarossa (Redbeard), which laid siege to the town in 1543. As the explanatory text makes clear, this siege gave one citizen, Catherine Ségurane, the chance to distinguish herself.
The story goes that when the invaders attacked the town on 15 August, the heroic Catherine destroyed the Turkish flag with her battoir [piece of wood on a handle, used for beating linen clean]. It is said that on lifting her skirts and revealing herself to the enemy, she provoked their hasty retreat!! (One does not necessarily want to ponder on what it was they saw that caused the rapid retreat!!) Since then, every year around 8 September (the feast of Catarina Segurana) and on 25 December, Nice pays tribute to its heroine.
At the time, Nice and Savoy formed part of the Holy Roman Empire of Charles V. After the Emperor’s armies had taken Milan, the French King Francis I responded by attacking Savoy, whose duke Charles III left Turin and took refuge in Nice with his wife, son and the Holy Shroud. The French sided with the Turks, resulting in the Ottoman siege of the town.
The resistance of the population, of which Catherine Ségurane became the symbol, as well as the solidity of the castle ramparts, saved the town. On 8 September, the arrival of the army of Charles III forced the retreat of the Ottoman fleet, which passed the winter at Toulon. The thwarted attack of 15 August and the liberation of 8 September took on a miraculous aspect, all the more as these dates correspond with two feast days of the Holy Virgin. Indeed it is said that the Holy Virgin appeared in the sky above the town and enveloped it in her cloak to protect it from the Turkish cannonballs….
There are other cannonballs to be found in Nice including place Garibaldi and on the façade of the chapel of Très-Saint-Sépulcre-des-Pénitents-Bleus.
So next time you are in Nice, go and see the cannonball and think on the heroine of Nice who raised her skirts and provoked the enemy to retreat!!
(Adapted in part from Secret French Riviera by Jean-Pierre Cassely)