From a stormy past, so different from the common past shared by other French, NICE has conserved an original culture and customs which keep a sense of identity. These few pages although perhaps not enough to develop the town, reveal it a little. They are only an encouragement to discover it oneself.
Like every town of the Mediterranean basin, NICE first take its roots in the Celtic world ; then in the Greek colonisation, which gives it its name (NIKAÏA from VI century Before Christ), and finally in the roman conquest. After the Great Invasions, the town was integrated into the 3rd county of Provence. It knew Christianity since the 3rd century. Saint Pons Abbey set up in 778, testifies to this. NICE belonged to Provence until 1388, at which time in order to escape the provencal civil war, it was given over to the count of Savoy, who was taking over the Western Alps.
From the Late Middle Ages, the town occupied the summit of the castle hill. Then, in XIII century, it started to descend into the plain. Even a bridge was built, in wood first, on the Paillon: This is the Saint Antoine bridge, or Pont-Vieux. Numerous religious orders contributed to the extension of the town: Franciscans, Dominicans, Observatins settled their convents inside and outside the walls. Also Le Clocher des Franciscans would become the second local tower of the town in 1840.
In XVI century NICE’s loyalty to the duke of Savoy threw them into war. The town was besieged in 1543 by allied French and Turks. Observantins convent was destroyed. They took refuge on the hill of Cimiez and created a new monastery here, still used by them today.
The town expanded fully in the baroque age. In the XVII and XVIII centuries, it was covered by marvellous religious and lay edifices, each one showing this amazing style. Brotherhoods of penitents increased, new religious orders settled.
NICE was besieged twice by the French in 1691 and 1705. At this time, the town lost its citadel and its walls. It was a turning-point.
First, the town moved away from its urban setting ; Place Victor in 1790 (now Garibaldi), Place Massena in 1835, marvellous royal squares, were the centre of a new town in untempered expansion. Then the town discovered a new vocation: Tourism. From 1760, rich winter visitors came from England, and from Russia. (Both countries were allied to the duke of Savoy, who in 1720 became king of Sardinia in order to enjoy NICE’s warm climate. Strange villas were built, merging their past and their dreams, such as the “Château de l’Anglais”.
Occupied by French troops in 1792, given back to the king of Sardinia in 1814, NICE showed for the last time its attachment to Savoy on the occasion of the visits of King Charles-Felix (1826 and 1828). It dedicated a fountain adorned with Tritons to Queen Marie-Christine, still visible today.
And then, in 1860, despite this long common past, NICE was given back to France by Savoy, who had chosen the crown of Italy. An exceptional town in its new homeland, it offered economic novelty: her we coming tradition further embellished by the reconstruction of its modest theatre after the dramatic fire of 1881 and by importing traditional English piers, supported by the waves of the Bay of Angels.
Centre of diverse and numerous influences, NICE has used them to create its own personality. Rooted and open ; this is the image that every Niçois has of his town.