The most interesting facts about Nice


1. Where did the name of the city come from?

The first known settlement at the site of Nice dates back to the third century B.C.

There are many versions put forward by researchers as to the origin of the city’s name. Most of them lean towards the theory of its Greek roots. The city’s first name, Nikaia, is associated with the Greek goddess Nike (according to this theory, the city was built on the place of a victory of the Greeks over the Ligurians). However, disputes are still going on. According to some historians, this was the name of a fresh water spring at the foot of the Castle Mountain (rising above the old city till the present day), where Roman legions used to stay for rest. Subsequently, Nice belonged to the county of Provence, Savoy, and the kingdom of Sardinia, and finally in 1860 Giuseppe Garibaldi transferred it to Napoleon III under the Treaty of Turin for his aid in the victory over Austria. Since then Nice has been a French city. The residents of Nice spoke Niçard, a variety of the Provençal dialect (another variety is the Catalan dialect spoken in Spain’s Catalonia). Up to this day, all street names in the old part of the city are written in French and Niçard.


2. The very first tourists

It happened that the current location of Nice used to attract “tourists” in the earliest times! Archaeological research on the hill above the port of Nice has provided evidence that the first tourists arrived in Nice almost 400,000 years ago. Those were Neanderthals, who came here to hunt mammoths.

3. Pebble beaches

Nice’s unusual beaches have the most usual natural origin: stones from the estuaries of Var and Paillon have been smoothed by the fresh waters of these rivers and brought to the banks of Nice for centuries.

4. Roman traces

In the time of the Roman Empire, life was focused on the hill lying behind Nice in Cimiez (Cimiez is a name also associated with another seaside settlement of Simeiz (meaning “flag” in Greek) located in Crimea), presently one of the most prestigious quarters in the city. It is now a preferable location for many potential renters or buyers of real estate on the Côte d'Azur. Jardins de Cimiez (Cimiez Gardens) offer a top view of the ancient Roman Coliseum, the ruins of a huge Roman bath facility, 500-year-old olive groves, and an active monastery.


5. Baie Des Anges (Bay of Angels)

As a legend has it, the Bay of Nice took its name from a third century miracle. A young female Palestinian resident was detained by the Romans for her Christianity. She was beheaded, and her body was laid on a raft and floated to the Mediterranean Sea. But the raft was picked up by angels and sent to the banks of Nice, where the body arrived alive and intact. In commemoration of this miracle, the bay was named the Bay of Angels, and the young martyr, St. Reparata, became the patroness of a cathedral in Old Nice. According to another legend nourished by local residents, the Bay owes its name to sharks that used to inhabit it and attack bathers.


6.  Nice’s hallmark: The Carnival

The Nice carnival originated with a church consent. Each resident wearing a mask could mock at anyone in power without fear; on the contrary, those without masks could be whipped with a stocking filled with flour. Present-day Nice boasts both of an official big-budget carnival and amateur events, which are not less popular. Each year, the organizers decide on the theme of the carnival procession. It is worth noting that it rains annually on the days of the Nice Carnival just like it always rains in Cannes during the Cannes Festival in May!


7. Jeanne d'Arc of Nice

In 1506, Nice, then inhabited by only 3,000 residents, was attacked by a 20,000-strong French and Turkish fleet. Following several weeks of siege, the invaders once again attempted to climb the walls of the fortress (used to be situated on the Castle Mountain). There were very few soldiers left to defend the city. However, among them there was a laundress called Catherine Ségurane, who got on the wall and tried to repel the attackers with a washing paddle. Incredibly, she killed one of the attackers with her blow. Then she swiftly grasped his flag, raised her skirt and made a gesture as if she was wiping herself with the enemy’s flag. The attackers were disgraced; the next day, their tired and demoralized army surrendered, and Nice was saved. Since then, Catherine Ségurane has been regarded with reverence as the symbol of spirit of free Nice. Throughout the old part of the city, tourists can find monuments of the brave laundress, including a cannon ball remaining from the siege days on the corner of rue de Droit and rue de la Loge.

8. The fall of the fortress on the Castle Mountain

The fortress-castle of Nice fell in 1706 owing to Louis XIV, who became its first conqueror by a stroke of luck: a cannon ball thrown over the fortress walls got to an ammunition depot through a tiny window. A powerful explosion blew the stone walls to pieces opening the way to invasion. Louis XIV wanted to make sure that the castle would never be conquered again and ordered to demolish the castle, the fortress and the walls. Many of those stones were later used in the construction of the Promenade des Anglais.

9. Promenade des Anglais (Walkway of the English)

Nice’s main walkway, the Promenade des Anglais, is named after wealthy English tourists, who built it to connect their quarter with the main city near the Castle Mountain. Subsequently, it was converted into a seaside promenade. International celebrities, who have walked here, included Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, and dancer Isadora Duncan, who died here in a tragic accident right in front of Negresco Hotel, when she was stifled by her long scarf that got stuck in a car wheel.

Côte d'Azur has also been a haven for great creators like Matisse, Chagall, Picasso, Renoir, Cocteau and Modigliani. Having come here once, they stayed forever. Scott Fitzgerald would come here for winter to write his novels, similarly to Somerset Maugham and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Violin virtuoso Paganini wrote his musical works and eventually died here.

10. Occupation

In the course of World War II, Nice was occupied twice: first by Italians (who behaved orderly), and then by Germans (who were not peaceful-minded at all). During the German occupation of Nice, Jean Moulin, a hero of the French resistance movement, rented an apartment at rue de France. In addition to all other his merits, he was a bright caricaturist and painter. He opened a Contemporary Painting Gallery on the ground floor of the building, where he lived.

11. Quai des Etats Unis (United States Quay)

The allied troops helped to liberate France on the Normandy coast, as well as here, in the south of France, where the troops landed between Saint-Raphaël and La Napoule, not far from Cannes. In commemoration of that event, the upper part of Promenade des Anglais with an arc entrance to the old city was named Le Quai des Etats-Unis (United States Quay) in tribute to the US. However, Nice was liberated in a wide-scale rebellion.

1970s-1980s marked a period of active reconstruction of Nice led by its farsighted mayor Jacques Médecin. Farsightedness was not the only feature of his personality, though. A descendant of a noble dynasty (his father, Jean Médecin, had been the city’s mayor well-liked by all residents of Nice for 40 years before him), Jacques Médecin restored Nice, and it occupied the honorary place of the capital of Côte d'Azur. But then he embezzled the whole municipal treasury and escaped to Uruguay with his American wife, where he died of cancer at the end of 1990s.