Nice Uncovered: Walks Through the Secret Heart of a Historic City

Seven self-guided walks through Nice's most fascinating neighborhoods.

Seven self-guided walks through Nice's most fascinating neighborhoods.


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Walks Through the

Secret Heart of a Historic City


© Jeanne Oliver 2022

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced,

or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in

any form or by any means, electronic,

mechanical, photocopying, recording, or

otherwise, without express written permission of

the author.

Book cover and interior layout design:

Shabbir Hussain, access.ideas@yahoo.com

ISBN: 9780578359366



About This Book 1

Introduction 2

Nice Neighborhood Map 4

History 5

Old Town: The Vibrant Heart 17

Map 66

Colline du Chateau to Port Lympia 68

Map 94

Cimiez: From Romans to Royals 96

Map 124

Promenade des Anglais: The British Influence 126

Map 144

West Nice: Parks and Mansions 146

Map 164

Promenade du Paillon: Following the River 166

Map 184

Quartier des Musiciens 186

Map 202


Bibliography 204

About the Author 207

Index 208

Nice Anthem 213



Like most newcomers to Nice, I was initially so enchanted by

the seaside, it was hard to pull myself away and explore the

city beyond the Promenade des Anglais. Over the years a

different, subtler beauty emerged. The sun-dappled streets

of Vieux Nice seemed to whisper secrets of a tangled past.

Exquisite Belle Epoque palaces along the boulevards of

Cimiez conjured up an era of balls and horse-drawn

carriages. Majestic Art Deco buildings heralded a new age of

ease and elegance as Nice gracefully adjusted to modernity.

As I wandered Nice’s neighborhoods, I wondered how and

why Nice developed as it did. What are the stories behind the

many parks and monuments, churches and landmarks? In

researching this book, I learned to see the city in a new way

and that is what I hope to share with readers.

These seven essential walks cover all the sights of interest

to first-time visitors as well as previously obscure sights that

will surprise even long-term residents. Which walks you decide

to take and in what order depends on your time and interest,

but they’re organized more or less chronologically to trace

Nice’s urban development. Each walk takes from 1½ to 3½

hours, possibly longer if museum visits are included.



Between snow-capped mountains and an azure sea lies Nice,

the queen of the French Riviera. The venerable old city

began as a tiny hill settlement and evolved to become a sunsoaked

metropolis of gardens and parks, splendid sea views,

architectural masterpieces and richly decorated churches.

Along the way, the city battled war and pestilence, poverty

and occupation. Yet its indomitable spirit prevailed.

The Niçois spirit is forged from its identity as a

Mediterranean city that is both part of and apart from

France. Although ruled by northern Italy for centuries,

France never fully accepted the situation. Every so often a

French ruler would swoop down to grab what they could

until Nice swung back to Italy. As a result, Nice absorbed

influences from both countries without fully belonging to

either. Even the local language, Nissart, is not quite French

and not quite Italian

Perhaps because its national identity was perpetually in

flux, Nice became comfortably multicultural, at least as

compared to its neighbors. Most of the time the city was a

welcoming environment for Jews who were being persecuted

elsewhere in Europe. When it became clear in the late 18 th

century that rich northern Europeans were looking for sunny,

healthy spots to combat respiratory illnesses, that spirit of

openness became a business plan.

By the time Nice passed definitively to France in 1860

foreign tourists were a cornerstone of the local economy.

Their tastes determined the face of the city. The British



wanted a seaside stroll and so built the Promenade des

Anglais. When Queen Victoria chose Cimiez as her holiday

spot, chic hotels for trendsetting notables replaced sleepy

farms and pastures. Visitors needed greenery and so parks

arose throughout the city. Entire neighborhoods, such as the

Quartier des Musiciens, were developed to house wealthy


As Nice became ever more glamorous and exciting, its

cultural life flourished. Painters, filmmakers, writers,

philosophers, composers and architects found Nice a

congenial place to contemplate and create. Matisse, Dufy,

Chekhov, Berlioz and Nietzsche are long gone but their

creative spirit is reflected in Nice’s many public sculptures

and buildings of outstanding artistic quality.

As you stroll Nice’s neighborhoods you’ll discover Nice’s

struggles and triumphs, its fervent faith and equally fervent

pride in its traditions. Behind the iconic buildings and

ancient streets lie stories of crooks and kings, saints and

sinners, heroes, lovers and fighters. Together they wove a

rich tapestry just waiting to be discovered.





A Tale of Two Hills


ice's story begins around the 3rd century BC when

ancient Greeks from Phocaea established a colony

on the Colline du Chateau, probably supplanting the

Ligurian population. Little is known about this early

settlement except that it established trade links with another

Greek colony, Massalia, now Marseilles. The colony became

known as Nikaïa possibly after Nike, the Greek word for

victory. Although no remnants of the Greek settlement

remain, it was these ancient settlers who introduced olive

trees and grape vines to the region.

Romans swept through the region in the 2nd century BC

and established a military outpost, Cemenelum, on top of

Cimiez hill. Strategically located along the Via Julia between

Spain and Italy, Cemenelum became the Roman capital of

the Alpes Maritimes province. The population was about

10,000 people which included the Ligurian tribes under

Roman authority. Roman baths and an amphitheater on

Cimiez hill are vivid reminders of the Roman presence.

Meanwhile, Christianity arrived in the region. Two

Christian martyrs—Saint Pontius and Saint Reparata—left

an enduring mark on Nice's spiritual life. Saint Pontius was

beheaded in 257AD under the Emperor Valerian. Five

centuries later the influential Saint Pons abbey was built on



the site of his burial spot. Saint Reparata was martyred in

Palestine in the 3rd century and, according to legend, floated

to Nice in a boat accompanied by angels. Nice's cathedral

Sainte Réparate is dedicated to her.

By the time of Rome's fall in 476, there was enough of a

Christian community to support the construction of two

churches. Both Cimiez and the Colline du Chateau contain

remnants of these early churches that date from the 5 th

century. It's supposed that there was also a Jewish

community that dated from the 3rd century.

After the Fall

The fall of Rome marked the beginning of a high-conflict

era in Nice. First there was the Visigoth invasion. Cimiez

could not be defended and was gradually abandoned. The

Ostrogoths arrived only to be driven out when Nice became

part of the Eastern Roman empire in 550.

After the Lombard conquest of Nice in 641 Nice

became part of Liguria and recognized Genoa as its capital.

Although interrupted by devastating Saracen raids in the 9 th

century and then a period of domination by the hated

Counts of Provence, Nice remained closely allied with

Genoa. Finally in 1229 the Provencal Count Raymond

Berenger V conquered the city.


During the 13 th century Nice’s population expanded and its

economy strengthened, largely due to the burgeoning salt

trade. Population pressures pushed inhabitants down from

the walled Colline du Chateau to the eastern part of Vieux


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