La Marine Francaise is a former French Navy Barracks dating back to the turn of the 20th century. Having fallen derelict for more than half a century, it has undergone an incredible restoration, where all the fittings, walls, flooring and exterior have been done up beautifully without impacting its original style and charm in any way.
On the particular day I visited, an events organiser was preparing the stage, seats and decor for a lavishing looking affair called ‘Chongqing Chic,’ and I cannot deny that the newly restored French Navy Barracks provides a stunning colonial style backdrop.
Outside by the main entrance, there’s a tourist sign describing the history and restoration of the site. I’ll copy the introduction in its original Chinglish form, and see how much sense you can make of it.
‘Chongqing Custom was officially established on March 1, 1891, the 17th year of reign of Emporer Guangxu of Qing Dynasty, which marked the official Part Opening of Chongqing. The measurement team of French naval military force led by the officer Voorst arrived in Chongqing by taking French warship and founded French Naval Military Camp in Nan’an District of Chongqing in the year of 1902 which was also called Hodent Military Camp. Chongqing French Naval Military Camp was formerly known as North-Ocean Navy Operation Office of Qing Dynasty which served as a barracks for the soldiers and officers to reside, a food warehouse, a repair workshop and a material depot as well as the time. Meanwhile, the Camp which used to act as a French control station on the upper reach of the Yangtze River worked as a coastguard for the Yangtze River course.’
‘Chongqing Merchant Real Estate Development Co. Ltd. managed to preserve and make good use of the Camp while reserving its original structure and style. Much effort has been made to build it into the most beautiful life aesthetics platform in China that incorporates culture and creativity space, art aesthetics space and spiritual warehouse as well.’
There was no obvious sign of a ticket office, so I just waltzed inside and explored the buildings and floors whilst the workmen busily set the stage for the ‘Chongqing Chic’ event. The walls were attractively whitewashed with cross pattern apertures spaced around a metre apart on the outside. The dark wooden floor boards were beautifully laid, obviously clean and new, but maintaining that feeling of antiquity with slight flexibility and a creaking noise as you step over.
The living quarters around the open coridoors on each floor were all padlocked, with no space or light available to peek in between the double doors and inspect the decor inside.
The Exhibition Hall was stacked with furniture to be used in the event, but the main building to the left as you enter has been refurbished into a cosy and charming restaurant and cafe, with a long meeting table upstairs and round the corner.
It doesn’t take long to explore the entire site, but I’d definitely recommend a visit and sit in the cafe or central terrace if you come to Nan’an and are interested in the city’s history and culture.
Finally, I searched for historical photographs on Baidu, and also some recent ones before the restoration. You will see how magnificent the restoration has been when you compare these to the photographs I took on my recent visit!
Following on from the Chongqing Yangtze Cableway
On the day of my visit to the French Naval Barracks, I started with a trip on the cableway, followed by an hour’s walk along Nanbin Lu南滨路, the south bank of the Yangtze.
Since the barracks are the main topic of this post, I’m describing the site visit and journey there in reverse order. Here’s how you can make the trip yourself.
Walking northwards from the Nanan side of the Cableway, the roadside pavement comes to an abrupt end, and the pedestrian determined to walk onward is forced down the steps onto a lower lever path nearer the riverbanks.
The views over the Yangtze are great, but I imagine the periodic summer floods mean the potentially idyllic location is lined with permanently derelict shopfronts.
Peering through windows and doorways, one notices how a few have made indoor spaces into makeshift shelters with DIY bed frames and matting.
Occasionally, you reach narrow alleyways that look like a dead-end, only to find on closer inspection that a dark path does in fact lead past, the air punctuated with floating scents of urine.
Nanbinlu is wonderful location to explore, meet, relax and enjoy the city views. The views are on a par at least, if not better than Hong Kong.
This kilometre long stretch breaks up the contiguity of an otherwise fantastic riverside walk. At least this particular area doesn’t run adjacent to the main attractions and entertainment complexes, and a short taxi or bus ride can take you through to Danzishi弹子石 where La Marine Francaise is found.
The more adventurous will certainly enjoy walking this way. The views across to Jiefanbei and new Chaotianmen Dock complex, the quiet atmosphere and sights of riverside life certainly makes up for the slightly derelict feel of the path.
Eventually, past the Grand Theatre, you need to ascend the steps, followed by a few flights of escalators, to cross the road and walk through Changjiahui Mall and Park长嘉汇购物公园, a great place to recharge before heading on to the French Navy Barracks next door.
As time pressed me to return home, i jumped on the old 119 bus to save myself the windy steep ascent into Danzishi itself, then walked another kilometre or so to the newly opened Tushan Loopline Underground Station 涂山地铁站.