Paris: Rock star Sting will on Saturday reopen the Bataclan, the Paris concert hall where jihadists massacred 90 people, with a hugely symbolic show to mark the first anniversary of France’s bloodiest terror attacks.
Scores of survivors of the Bataclan assault — the worst of the gun and suicide attacks across the city which left 130 dead — will attend the concert, the dominant event in a weekend of otherwise low-key commemorations.
The wave of ISIS attacks on Friday, November 13, 2015, profoundly shook France but Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed Saturday that “Islamist terrorism” would be defeated once and for all.
“Terrorism will strike us again,” warned Valls in a statement published by several European newspapers as police blocked pavements around the Batalcan, checked sewers and towed away vehicles parked nearby.
“But we have in ourselves all the resources to resist and all the strength to beat it,” the prime minister added. “We Europeans will defeat Islamist terrorism!”
On Sunday, French President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo will unveil plaques to the victims outside the Bataclan, the national stadium where the carnage began, and the bars and restaurants the gunmen targeted during the night of horror.
One year on, nine people out of the around 400 injured in the rampage are still in hospital.
France remains under tight security after a string of attacks that have spurred a security crackdown. Terrorism and the place of Islam have also emerged as key themes six months before French presidential elections.
Sting’s hour-long concert to reopen the legendary theatre sold out within minutes of going on sale Tuesday.
“The whole world is going to see the Bataclan live again,” said Jerome Langlet, of the venue’s owners Lagardere Live Entertainment.
Hundreds of places have been kept for those who survived the attack, which unfolded during a concert by the US group Eagles of Death Metal. Families, psychologists and counsellors will be on hand to support them.
While reopening the doors will mean reliving painful memories for many, Jules Frutos, who has co-run the venue for the last 12 years, told AFP: “We had to go on after such horror and not leave a mausoleum, a tomb.”
Frutos said he rang Sting himself to ask him to play after the British singer told a journalist he was keen to help, having last appeared at the Bataclan with The Police in 1979.
“His coming here is what we needed,” said Frutos, admitting the weight of the occasion had been too much for many top French acts.
Sting, 65, said he wanted to “celebrate the life and the music that this historic theatre represents” and promised to donate proceeds to two charities set up to help survivors.
The Bataclan building dates to 1864, originally designed to look like a Chinese pagoda, and derives its name from “Ba-ta-clan,” an operetta by Jacques Offenbach — the composer of “can-can” fame.
It has been a temple of rock music since the 1970s, drawing stars such as Lou Reed, Genesis, The Clash, The Cure and Prince, and a springboard for French performers such as Telephone, Alain Bashung and Indochine.
Since the attacks, the hall’s devastated interior has been completely replaced, from the seats to the floorboards, with identical fittings.
“We wanted to change everything so nothing would remain of that terrible night,” said Langlet, who told reporters “several million euros” has been spent on refurbishing the building in identical style without losing the venue’s intimate atmosphere.
“We decide to change everything so nothing would change,” he added.
Survivors, including members of Eagles of Death Metal, will gather outside the venue again on Sunday morning when Hollande and Hidalgo unveil a plaque inscribed with the names of the victims. No speeches are expected.
“For the victims, it’s their day of mourning, their day to come together,” said Caroline Langlade, president of the Life for Paris association.
Several small-scale gatherings and tributes are planned across the French capital to mark the anniversary.
The Bataclan will remain dark on the anniversary itself, before opening again on Wednesday for a series of concerts by British singer Pete Doherty, Senegalese star Youssou N’Dour and British Sixties legend Marianne Faithfull.