My Guided Tour – A History of Nice


Nice in 1624

This is my guided tour of Vieux Nice and the Croix de Marbre, the first settlements of the English “hivernants” in Nice. My guided tour is a free service to the people who stay with us in our Port flat.

Before I start to describe the actual tour, it’s necessary to read up a little about the story of Nice. I borrowed some of the information Wikipedia provides:

350 BC: Nice (Nicaea) founded by the Greeks of Massilia (Marseille). The name of Nikaia was given in honour of a victory over the neighbouring Ligurians (Nike is the Greek goddess of victory). The city soon becomes one of the busiest trading ports on the Ligurian coast; but has an important rival in the Roman town of Cemenelum, which continues to exist as a separate city until the time of the Lombard invasions. The ruins of Cemenelum are located in Cimiez, which is now a district in Nice.

7th century: Nice joins the Genoese League formed by the towns of Liguria.

729: the city repulses the Saracens.

859 and again in 880: the Saracens pillage and burn the city, and for most of the 10th century remain masters of the surrounding country.

Middle Ages: Nice participates in the wars and history of Italy. As an ally of Pisa it is the enemy of Genoa, and both the King of France and the Emperor endeavour to subjugate it; but in spite of this it maintains its municipal liberties.

13th and 14th century: the city falls more than once into the hands of the Counts of Provence.

1243: the Dominicans of Avignon come to establish a convent in this neighborhood called Saleya.

1388: the commune places itself under the protection of the Counts of Savoy. Nice participates – directly or indirectly – in the history of Savoy up until 1860. The maritime strength of Nice now rapidly increases until it is able to cope with the Barbary pirates; the fortifications are largely extended and the roads to the city improved.

1543: Nice is under the control of the Charles III, Duke of Savoy. A combined Franco-Ottoman fleet besiege Nice in August 1543. The united Franco-Ottoman forces of Francis I and Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha besiege Nice and, though the inhabitants repulse the assault which succeeds the terrible bombardment, they are ultimately compelled to surrender, and Barbarossa is allowed to pillage the city and to carry off 2,500 captives.

The Franco-Ottomans lay waste to the city of Nice, but are confronted by a stiff resistance which gave rise to the story of Catherine Ségurane. They can not however take the castle. The force finally retreats upon learning that an Imperial army is on the move to meet them.

A cannonball fired by the Franco-Turkish fleet in 1543 can be found on the corner of Rue Droite and Rue de la Loge.

Catherine Ségurane (Catarina Ségurana in the Niçard dialect of Provençal) is a folk heroine of the city of Nice, France who is said to have played a decisive role in repelling the Siege of Nice. At the time, Nice was part of Savoy, independent from France, and had no standing military to defend it. Most versions of the tale have Catherine Ségurane, a common washerwoman, leading the townspeople into battle. Legend has it that she knocked out a standard bearer with her beater and took his flag.

However, according to one commonly told story, Catherine took the lead in defending the city by standing before the invading forces and exposing her bare bottom. This is said to have so repulsed the Turkish infantry’s Muslim sense of decency that they turned and fled. However, in Turkish culture, the practice of “mooning” is considered odd or absurdly immoral but never offensive and most probably as a sexual teasing, especially when performed by a female.

Catherine’s existence has never been definitively proven, and her heroic act of mooning is likely pure fiction or highly exaggerated; Jean Badat, a historian who stood witness to the siege, made no mention of her involvement in the defense. In Nice, Catherine Segurane Day is celebrated annually, concurrent with St. Catherine’s Day on November 25.

Barbarossa is known to have complained about the state of the French ships and the inappropriateness of their equipment and stores. He famously said “Are you seamen to fill your casks with wine rather than powder?”.

1561: Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, abolishes the use of Latin as an administrative language and establishes the Italian language as the official language of government affairs in Nice.

1550 and 1580: pestilence appears again.

1600: Nice is briefly taken by the duke of Guise. By opening the ports of the county to all nations, and proclaiming full freedom of trade (1626), the commerce of the city is given great stimulus, the noble families taking part in its mercantile enterprises. The Port (Port Lympia) is built in 1672, by Count Amadeo de Castellamonte. It is only a small lagoon at the time. Captured by Nicolas Catinat in 1691, Nice is restored to Savoy in 1696; but it is again besieged by the French in 1705.

1706: Nice’s citadel and the Chateau are demolished. Houses are built in the Old Town from the remains of the Chateau.

1713: The treaty of Utrecht once more gives the city back to the Duke of Savoy who is on that same occasion recognized as King of Sicily. In the peaceful years which follows the “new town” is built.

1744: till the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) the French and Spaniards are again in possession.

1750s: Nice becomes a tourist centre, especially for British citizens who want to live here during the winter (summers in Nice are too hot for them). Since the mid-19th century, Russian nobility visit Nice and the French Riviera, following the fashion established decades earlier by the English upper class and nobility. The Cours Saleya is a hub for only the most well-off residents.

1761: the Port Lympia is expanded.

1769: the Port Lympia needs an easy connection with the city. The government concerns itself with this costly project and develops the path of Ponchettes, carved out on the sides of the Chateau Hill, a work worthy of royal bounty which the execution cost of sums. The “path of Ponchettes company” was founded in 1770, and the path itself was not completed until 1772.

1775: the king, who in 1718 had swapped his sovereignty of Sicily for the Kingdom of Sardinia, destroys all that remains of the ancient liberties of the commune.

1793: first annexation to France. Conquered by the armies of the First French Republic, the County of Nice continues to be part of France until 1814; but after that date it reverts to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont.


Victor Emmanuel II, King of Sardegna, Duke of Savoy, Count of Nice and the first King of Italy

1860: by a treaty between the Sardinian king Victor Emmanuel II and Napoleon III, the County is again ceded to France as a territorial reward for French assistance in the Second Italian War of Independence against Austria, which saw Lombardy unified with Piedmont-Sardinia. The cession ss ratified by over 25,000 electors out of a total of 30,700. Savoy is also transferred to the French crown by similar means. The Italian irredentists consider Nice one of their main nationalistic requests and in 1942/3 the city is occupied and administered by Italy during World War II.

1861: coincidence or not – Victor Emmanuel II becomes the first King of Italy.

1864: immediately after the railway reaches Nice, Tsar Alexander II visits by train and is attracted by the pleasant climate. Thus began an association between Russians and the French Riviera that continues to this day. The Cathedral was established to serve the large Russian community that had settled in Nice by the end of the 19th century, as well as devote visitors from the Imperial Court. Tsar Nicholas II funded the construction of the Cathedral, which was inaugurated in December 1912.

1900: the Tramway de Nice electrifies its horse drawn streetcars and spreads its network to the entire département from Menton to Cagnes-sur-Mer. By the 1930’s additional bus connections added to the transportation network of the entire area.

1932: Nice hosts international car racing in the Formula Libre (predecessor to Formula One) on the so-called Circuit Nice. The circuit starts along the waterfront just south of the Jardin Albert I, then heads westward along the Promenade des Anglais followed by a hairpin turn at the Hotel Negresco to come back eastward and around the Jardin Albert I before heading again east along the beach on the Quai des Etats-Unis. In 1932, Louis Chiron wins the Nice Grand Prix aboard a Bugatti T51, closely followed just 3.4 seconds behind by Raymond Sommer in an Alfa Romeo Monza with third place going to René Dreyfus, also in a Bugatti T51.

1933: the race is won byTazio Nuvolari in a Maserati 8C, followed by René Dreyfus in his Bugatti and Guy Moll in an Alfa Romeo Monza.

1934: the race is again won by an Italian in an Alfa Romeo Tipo B, none other than the best driver of the season, Achille Varzi.

1935: the last season to feature a Grand Prix at Nice is in 1935, when the Alfa Romeo Tipo Bs dominates the circuit in the hands of Tazio Nuvolari and Louis Chiron, who places second, and René Dreyfus, who takes third.

1939: September: war breaks out. Nice becomes a city of refuge for many displaced foreigners, notably Jews fleeing the Nazi progression into Eastern Europe. From Nice many seek further shelter in the French colonies, Morocco and North and South America.

1940: after July 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy Regime, antisemitic aggressions accelerate the exodus, starting in July 1941 and continuing through 1942. On August 26, 1942, 655 Jews of foreign origin are rounded up by the Laval government and interned in the Auvare barracks. Of them, 560 will be deported to Drancy internment camp on August 31, 1942.

Angelo Donati

Thanks to the activity of the Jewish banker Angelo Donati and of the Capuchin friar Père Marie-Benoît the local authorities hinder the applications of anti Jewish Vichy laws.

1942: after November 1942 and the arrival of Italian troops occupying the city, a certain ambivalence remains among the population, many recent immigrants of Italian ancestry. However, the resistance gains momentum after the Italian surrendered in 1943 when the German armies occupy Vichy France. 1943: reprisals intensify between December 1943 and July 1944 when many partisans are tortured and executed by the local Gestapo and the French Milice.

1944: Nice is heavily bombarded by the American aviation in preparation for the Allied landing in Provence (1000 dead or wounded and more than 5600 people homeless) and famine ensued in the course of the summer of 1944. Finally American paratroopers enter the city on August 30, 1944 and Nice is finally liberated. The consequences of the war are heavy, the population decreased by 15% and the economic life was totally disrupted.

In the second half of the 20th century, Nice enjoys an economic boom primarily driven by tourism and construction. Two men dominate this period: Jean Médecin, mayor for 33 years from 1928 to 1943 and from 1947 to 1965 and his son Jacques, mayor for 24 years from 1966 to 1990. Under their leadership, the city experiences extensive urban renewal and new constructions are undertaken (Convention centre, theatres, new thoroughfares and expressways, etc.)

1962: the arrival of the Pieds-Noirs, refugees from Algeria after 1962 independence, also give the city a boost and somewhat change the make-up of its population and traditional views.

1979: on October 16, 1979, a tsunami, caused by an undersea landslide hits the western coast of Nice and 23 people die.

1988: by the late 1980s, rumours of political corruption in the city government surface and eventually formal accusations against Jacques Médecin force him to flee France in 1990. Later arrested in Uruguay in 1993, he is extradited back to France in 1994, convicted of several counts of corruption and associated crimes and sentenced to imprisonment.

In February 2001, European leaders met at Nice to negotiate and sign what is now the Treaty of Nice amending the institutions of the European Union.

Promenade des Anglais in 1873


Promenade des Anglais

In the early nineteenth century this was a path along the beach; the only houses in the neighborhood were built along the Route de France (“Road to France”), now Rue de France.

The Marble Cross in Rue de France – Nearby Rue de Suède was once called Croix de Marbre

Many of these properties were owned by the British colony; the suburb Croix de Marbre (Marble Cross) was called “New Borough”. In 1822, economic conditions due to the disastrous winter of 1820-21, there were many people in Nice living without a job, and were more or less begging.

An English winter tourist, the Reverend Lewis Way, moved by this situation, came up with the idea to let them build a path along the sea from the mouth of the Paillon to Marble Cross. With the help of his brother-in-law Charles Whitby he gathered money among the members of the British colony (about one hundred families). A path six feet wide was built to the height of the current rue Meyerbeer, which was itself a path, where there was a laundry. In 1844 the government gave it the current name and prolonged it to Baumettes (now Boulevard Gambetta). In 1856 it reached Magnan and it was widened from two to eight meters.

In 1864 the Napoleon Bridge was built, which was later called the Bridge of Angels, and connected the current Quai des Etats Unis with the Promenade Anglais. It was then paved, and adorned with shrubs and palms. It became a real promenade with a roadway and a pedestrian promenade overlooking the sea.

First bordered by luxury villas and the Massena museum, the Promenade then saw the great palaces Ruhl, Negresco, Westminster, Savoy, West End, Luxembourg, which hosted wealthy winter tourists until the War of 1914 – 1918.

The list of famous people who remained in these parts would be very long. The American dancer Isadora Duncan died there in 1927 strangled by her scarf that wrapped itself in the spokes of a wheel of her car, some say a Bugatti.

Jetée Promenade, with Jardins Albert Premier and mouth of Paillon River

The casino of the Jetée Promenade (1883-1943), was a sort of Persian palace, built on piles of metal. You could see it in literally every postcard of the Baie des Anges and the whole of Nice was in tears when it was demolished by the German occupiers.

The Bay of Angels, is the bay between the Chateau and the mouth of the Var, next to the airport. It got its name in 1830 when a rowing boat capsized in the bay during a sudden storm. A woman was “saved by white Angels”, the legend goes. However, in the same year fishermen reported an unusual amount of giant rays being caught in their nets. These flat fish have a white bellyside and could easily have been mistaken for angels, by a drawning person who believes in them.

Negresco Hotel – temporarily closed because they’re renovating the place

The Palais de la Mediterranee was finally reconstructed in 2003, at least its art deco facade of the thirties. The true highlight of the Promenade des Anglais is the Negresco Hotel, which has been classified a historical monument by the Ministry of Culture.

Place Albert Premier

This garden area was initially, from 1856, created on a former swamp near the mouth of the Paillon river.

It was completed after this part of the river was covered in 1893.

Professional washing women (bugadières) on the banks of the Paillon river

The present name of Albert Premier dates from 1914, a few days after the invasion of Belgium by the German armies. The city of Nice wanted to honor Albert, King of the Belgians, whose popularity was high at that time in France because of its strong stance against the invader at the head of his army.

Place Massena in 1881 – the Paillon is being covered


It is the oldest theater in Nice. In 1776 it was called Maccarani theater named after its founder and owner. From 1793 to 1814 it became a national asset, playing comedy and opera until 1824. In 1826 the city bought the theater, demolished it and erected the Royal Theatre, completed in 1828 on the model of the San Carlo in Naples.

Until 1860 there was Italian comedy, comic opera, grand opera and ballet. From 1860 to 1870, the theater became the Imperial Theatre, restored in 1865. From 1871-1881 it was called the Municipal Theater. On March 23, 1881, it was completely destroyed by a fire and there were fifty-nine victims. The most illustrious visitors were Napoleon III, Czar Alexander II, Ludwig II of Bavaria, the kings of Denmark and Sweden. Some of the most famous musicians: Shostakovich, Massenet, Darius Milhaud, Puccini, and Johann Strauss.

Cours Saleya

The ambience is casual now but in the 18th century, the Cours Saleya was a hub for only the most well-heeled residents. The Chapelle de la Miséricorde (2 pl Pierre-Gautier) on the northern side is a magnificent testament to the prestige of the Cours Saleya. Built in 1740, it’s considered a masterpiece of baroque architecture. The interior is a dazzling display of frescoes and gilt.

We take a left at rue de la Poissonnerie and come to another baroque delight, the Chapelle de l’Annonciation, popularly known as Sainte-Rita.

Place du Palais de la Justice

This is one of the oldest squares in the newer part of the old city. It originally overlooked the marshland at the mouth of the Paillon river.

Around 1243 the Dominicans of Avignon came to establish a convent in this neighborhood called Saleya. A church was rebuilt around 1482 and gave the square the name “Place Saint-Dominique”, until the early twentieth century. Religious buildings were abandoned during the French Revolution and therefore they were used for civil or military purposes. In 1890-1892 the courthouse was erected on this site.

The bell tower adjoining the Palais Rusca dates from 1718. The Palais Rusca is part of the courthouse and serves as a Court of Appeal. The main courthouse and the square have been modernised and completely rebuilt in 1987, when an underground parking was built. During the excavations some interesting remains of walls, houses and pipelines from the Middle Ages were found.

Since autumn 1994 the square has become the monthly meeting place for lovers of old books, old papers and other collectibles.

Rue des Ponchettes and Tour Belanda (from “Belle Lande”) in 1844


Rue des Ponchettes

This street is the old path of Ponchettes. In 1769, the port of Lympia needed an easy connection with the city. The Path of Ponchettes company was founded in 1770, and the path was completed two years later. The buildings in this street are also called Ponchettes. Occupying the site that formerly comprised the fortifications of the Old Town of Nice, Les Ponchettes consist of a row of low houses built between 1750 and 1790, and were mainly used by fishermen, as storage rooms. The Galerie des Ponchettes, where Matisse held his first exhibition in Nice, plays host to numerous exhibitions on different themes.The Ponchettes were later turned into art galleries, restaurants, holiday apartments and shops.

Fishermen dragging their nets ashore – Tour Belanda and Hotel Suisse in the background

The name Ponchettes comes from the Niçoise “pounchetta”, which were small rocks in the sea, near the Chateau, most of which were given names, such as “majourana”, which was the highest. Children used to dive from those rocks and had great fun.


Ruins of the Chateau

The Chateau

The name itself reflects the history of the Castle and the Old Town. The Greeks the colony of Massilia (Marseille) settled here between 600 and 300 BC.

Easy to defend by its very structure, the Chateau protected them against the barbarians and Saracens, while Cimiez (the Roman town) was destroyed. The first fortifications date from the tenth century, but were perfected by Alphonse (1166-1196), Count of Provence in the twelfth century. At that time, the town had three churches and the Cathedral of St. Mary.

In the early thirteenth century, Ramon Berenguer IV (1209-1245), Count of Provence built the castle itself and the citadel. From that moment, the lower town (present Vieux-Nice), where sailors and fishermen clustered around the cove St. Lambert, the first port of Nice, was growing and expanding between the hill and the Paillon river. After surrendering Nice to the Counts of Savoy, the castle became more important for the defense of Nice against the French Provence.

The Chateau was expanded in 1421-1426, and a new wall was built between 1436 and 1442. The fortress was still there in the sixteenth century, but the civilian population was forced to live in the lower town around the new church of Santa Reparata. After the siege of 1543 when the fortress was put to the test, Duke Emmanuel Philibert (1528-1580) reinforced the defenses in 1560. It was considered impregnable, but the Castle was destroyed in 1706 by Louis XIV (1638-1715).

The next hundred years the Castle Hill was a desolate site of rubble overgrown with brambles. However, the bishop Valperga (died 1803) in 1783 obtained permission to construct the cemetery, to no longer bury the dead in churches, to prevent epidemics. In 1822, the city got the royal permission to build walks and to reforest, but the military retained control of the rock.

Today it is a beautiful park. Every day at 12 o’clock midday a “cannon” (a petty firecracker really) is fired from the Citadel.

Quai des Etats-Unis

The Quai des Etats Unis was the port of Niçoise fishermen who dragged their boats onto the beach using winches, using ramps that still exist. They used to cast their nets to dry along the sidewalk.

The Quai was separated for a long time from the Promenade des Anglais, but became connected to it when the Bridge of Angels (or Napoleon Bridge) was built over the Paillon river in 1865. This bridge was demolished during the coverage of the Paillon, but there were famous terraces where foreigners loved to spend their time.

Fine buildings were erected in the late nineteenth century, near the Opera, which was rebuilt in 1884.

In 1917 the City Council decided to name the quay after the United States, honouring them for entering the First World War alongside the Allies. The inscription says, “On the initiative of President Woodrow Wilson to participate in World War of civilization against barbarism.”

Among the oldest buildings is the Hotel Beau Rivage in which many famous people used to stay, like Henri Matisse and Anton Chekhov.

Place de l’Ancien Sénat

Carriera dei Presoun

Plassa dòu Senat

The Ancien Senat sheltered, for a long time, the former Senate (Supreme Court) of Nice.

Before 1610 there was the Ducal Palace, which was destroyed by fire and later rebuilt at the site of the current prefecture. On the orders of Duke Charles Emmanuel I, a new building was erected in 1614, which housed the Nice Senate and the courthouse. Death sentences (by hanging) were executed in the courtyard.

When in 1848 the Sardinian senates were abolished and replaced by appellate courts, one of the latter was installed in Nice at the same place. It was there that on 29 April 1860 the results of the plebiscite of 15 and 16 April were announced, which annexed the county of Nice to France.

Shortly thereafter, the court of appeal was removed and attached to Aix-en-Provence and the building turned into a prison and later into a night shelter. The street was called Prison Street until 1899, when the prison was transferred. In 1952 it became a night shelter. The City of Nice is developing plans to turn the night shelter into a museum.

Rue Malonat

Like all the streets of Old Nice, the street is a very ancient road which name dates back to the origins of the lower city. It rises in steps towards Castle Hill. In Nice, the “Maloon” are kind of glazed terracotta floor tiles, which you will find in many old buildings in Nice. In the Middle Ages the production of these tiles was prosperous. Many washing women (“bugadières”) lived and worked in this street.

Rue Droite

The Eglise Saint-Jacques is popularly known as the Eglise du Jésu. Built in 1612 by the Jesuits, this church is notable for its interior decoration. Note the Louis XIII woodwork and the frescoes dating from 1850.

This is one of the oldest streets of the old city, so called, not as one might think because it is straight, (which it isn’t reality), but because it was the most direct route from the north wall to the south wall of the city. In 1354 it was called ‘Carriera Recta’. Some say it was mostly inhabited by lawyers, judges, etc. What is certain is that it seems to have been the longest and most populated street of Nice, where noble families (see the Palais Lascaris and its beautiful facade), bankers, goldsmiths, and other important bourgeois chose to live. The owner of no. 14 has chosen an everlasting way to express his faith: “IVSTVS (IHS) IVDEX” means “Christ my judge”. The initials IHS stand for “Iesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus Savior of Men).

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) spent two days in an apartment at No. 16 before he went into exile.

At No. 21 street, right opposite my local pub, the Snug & Cellar Bar, we find a text “Spes mea devs” (God is my hope).

But back to the Palais Lascaris. It was built in the mid seventeenth century for the Earls of Lascaris-Ventimiglia. As a historical monument, it was restored in 1963 and transformed into a museum. Flemish tapestries, furniture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as well as collections of pottery from the same period are presented. Built in the Genoan style in 1665, the sumptuous interior is wrapped around an amazing balustraded stairway which leads to a riot of paintings and statues in the richly ornamented rooms.

Rue + Place Rossetti

Nice Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Réparate de Nice) is a Roman Catholic cathedral in the city of Nice, France (17th Century), consecrated in 1699. It is the seat of the Bishop of Nice. It is dedicated to Saint Reparata, the patron saint of Nice and has a Boisseau organ. The interior is glorious. Over the altar hangs a painting showing 17th century Nice.

The square was once called Piazza Santa-Reparata, but it was much smaller then. Thanks to the legacy of the Rossetti family the square was enlarged and a street was paved in 1825, all the way to the foot of the Chateau hill. The old street arches disappeared in 1880.

Rue Rossetti, after 1862

The name of Place Rossetti and Rue Rossetti commemorates several Rossettis. First and foremost, Charles Rossetti, who by will in 1783, instituted the city of Nice as his sole heir. He was, it seems, a comptroller general. Then there was a lawyer in 1807, Dominica Rossetti, a very learned poet, they say.

Then, a knight, Honore Rossetti, born in Nice in 1766, died in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat in 1843, where he retired in 1826, after a brilliant career in the Navy and in Sardinia as a commander.

Yet another lawyer, Cesar Rossetti, didn’t leave his property to the city, but to the Hôpital Saint-Roch.

The last known Rossetti was a retired ship broker who, in poverty, begged for help. He was a descendant of the Quartermaster General that left his entire fortune to the City of Nice, and a relative of lawyer Cesar, the benefactor of the Hospital Saint-Roch. By a resolution of 1877, the city granted him a sum of 500 francs, because he was the last heir and no money was left to him in the will of his ancestors and other relatives.

Rue Central

The street takes its name from its location, roughly in the centre of the old town.

The place was once called “the Rouach,” which, in Niçois, means tanned, from which one can assume the presence of many tanneries in the neighborhood once. They used fresh water from the Paillon river and salt (water) from the sea.

Rue Colonna d’Istria

This street is named after the first bishop of Nice, Jean-Baptiste Colonna d’Istria, who was born in Corsica in 1758.

Rue de l’Abbaye

In the Middle Ages, this street was called the Badia (abbey). There was no abbey there, but almost all the houses in the street and many in the neighborhood belonged to the rich abbot of Saint-Pons, the most powerfull man in the Old Town.

Rue + Place St. François

Francis of Assisi (Assisi 1181-1226) went to Nice in 1214. He was a troubadour and a poet, as well as a priest. His birthday is celebrated on October 4. He is the protector of animals.

On the square is the old Town Hall, which became the Labour Exchange. In 1961 the square was the subject of the first batch of urban renewal of Old Nice. On the square, which for many years houses the local fish market, is an interesting fountain with dolphins.

Rue de la Providence

The street takes its name from the Hospice Providence. It was built in 1635 by the Sisters of the Visitation of Annecy and Marseille, at the request of the Duke of Savoy and the bishop. The sisters remained there until 1792. During the French occupation, the monastery was handed over to the republican armies. In 1813, the abbot of Cessole had the idea to help poor children with teaching them catechism and establishing a daily soup kitchen for the needy.

Place Garibaldi

This beautiful square was built between 1750 and 1780 in the style of Turin, on land donated by the King of Sardinia-Piedmont-Savoy, Count of Nice, Victor Amadeus III (1726-1796). It has always been an active center of Niçoise life. Garibaldi Square has always been famous and people come from all parts of the city to dance or just watch and participate in the festivities. Under its shady arcades, shops and grand cafés contribute to the ambiance of the place. As for its current name, it was given in 1870 to honor the great Giuseppe Garibaldi, born in Nice in 1807, from a family of Genoese origin.

Giuseppe Garibaldi strongly opposed the cession to France and in 1866 there were even popular riots in the city, promoted by “Garibaldini” in favour of the unification of Nice to Italy.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was born on July 4, 1807, and at that time Nice was the capital of the French department of Alpes-Maritimes, before it was given back to the House of Savoy, the rulers of the Kingdom of Sardinia, in 1814 with Napoleon’s defeat. In 1860, however, the Savoys returned the city to France (an action opposed by Garibaldi), to get French aid in Italy’s unification wars. In the following years Garibaldi (with other passionate Nizzardo Italians) promoted the Irredentism of his Nizza, even with riots (in 1872). Although religious admirers of Garibaldi don’t want to know this, his favorite saying was “Man created God, not God created Man”

McMahons Pub, Irish since 1909?

Marie Edme Patrice Maurice de Mac-Mahon, 1st Duke of Magenta; 13 July 1808 – 17 October 1893) was a French general and politician with the distinction Marshal of France. He served as Chief of State of France from 1873 to 1875 and as the first president of the Third Republic, from 1875 to 1879. His ancestors settled in France from County Limerick in Ireland (although they were originally from County Clare and may also have had earlier connections with County Monaghan) during the reign of James II, owing to the Penal Laws. They applied for naturalization in 1749.

So McMahons pub was named after the French general and politician, like so many French pubs were called after French statesmen. Only when the (French) management found out on the Internet that there were quite successful Irish pubs with the same name, especially in the United States, they started to call themselves “Irish pub”.

Since yet another change of ownership and management in 2008, the Irish, American, British and Australian staff – very nice people indeed – were sacked and replaced by French people. Moreover, the prices were doubled.

The Paillon River (covered in Nice from 1856-1931) at Pont Neuf. The river is about 36 kilometers long, springing in the Alpes Maritimes (from at least three sources).

André Massena

Fake princes, but aren’t we all?

Place Massena, Rue Massena, Palais Massena, Musée Massena, they are all main attractions of the city of Nice. But who the f*ck was Massena?

André Masséna (in Italian Andrea Massena) was the 1st Duc de Rivoli, 1st Prince d’Essling (May 6, 1758–April 4, 1817) and he was a French military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

André Masséna was born in Nice, then part of the Kingdom of Sardinia, the son of a shopkeeper Jules Masséna (Giulio Massena) and wife Marguerite Fabre, married on August 1, 1754. His father died in 1764, and after his mother remarried he was sent to live with relatives.

At the age of thirteen, Masséna became a cabin boy aboard a merchant ship; he sailed with it around the Mediterranean and on two extended voyages to French Guiana. In 1775, after four years at sea, he returned to Nice and enlisted in the French Army as a private in the Royal Italian regiment. He had risen to the rank of warrant officer (the top rank for a non-nobleman) when he left in 1789. In the same year he married on August 10 Anne Marie Rosalie Lamare (Antibes, September 4, 1765 – Paris on January 3, 1829) and they remained living at her birthplace. After a brief stint as a smuggler (I love it!) he rejoined the army in 1791 and was made an officer, rising to the rank of colonel by 1792.

And then, the French Revolution. What did Massena do? Did he defend his beloved city against the French? No, he didn’t. He joined Napoleon’s army and became a general. He headed the French troops against Portugal, but lost that war and Napoleon never forgave him. However, he returned with a Spanish bride, disguised and dressed up as a male soldier.

Masséna retained his command after the restoration of Louis XVIII. When Napoleon returned from exile the following year, Masséna refused to commit to either side and kept his area (greater Marseille) quiet. He was disinclined to prove his royalist loyalties after the defeat of Napoleon. Devoting his remaining time to his main hobbies of making money and women he died on 4th April 1817 at the age of 59.

So how did this son of a shopkeeper become a prince? And how did his children and grandchildren become princes and princesses?

Before Massena disappointed Napoleon in the Iberian Peninsula, he did pretty good.

He became Marshall in 1804,  commanded IV Corps of the Grande Armee at Landshut, Eggmuhl (1809), Aspern-Essling and Wagram (1809). He became Prince of Essling in 1810 (the first one, “princes of Essling” simply didn’t exist before they gave this title to the enemy). And how did he become the first Duke of Rivoli? Pretty much the same scam. Rivoli (near Verona, Italy) is celebrated as the scene of the battle in which, on the 15 January 1797, André Massena inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Austrians commanded by Joseph Alvinczy. A famous street in Paris and Nice (Rue de Rivoli) commemorates the victory, and under Napoleon’s empire Massena received the title of Duke of Rivoli.

“Margaret Thatcher, Princess of the Falklands”; “Ronald Reagan, Prince of Nicaragua”; “Roman Abramovich, Prince of Chelsea”. Meaningless titles all together, but they still exist, and descendants of our shopkeeper’s boy still use the title of “Prince” or “Princess” of Essling, as well as “Duke” or “Duchess” of Rivoli, simply because they once were registered in the Book of Nobility.

Emperors, Kings, Princes, Counts, Dukes, Earls… Track their ancestry down and they’re all coming from tinkers, tailors, soldiers and spies.


About Jack Vanderwyk

Hey! What am I like! :-)
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