With Nice having been home to the pre-Neanderthal man as early as 200,000 BC, it comes as no surprise that the stunning European city is full of beguiling historical spectacles. From palaces once inhabited by French nobility, to mysterious grottos previously occupied by cave people, history lovers can be sure to find an enchanting site dating from every time period here. We’ve narrowed it down to the top 10 historic sites in town, areas which will make for a truly cultural day of exciting exploration in Nice.
Also referred to as Nice Vielle Ville or the Old Town, Vieux Nice is one of the city’s most beautiful and historically significant areas. Once a busy trading port founded in 350BC by the Greeks of Massilia, walls were hastily built around the region to protect it from invasion. Within these walls a medieval city was built, with some of its structures still remaining today. Having once been a Roman settlement before becoming part of the Savoy House of Northern Italy, visitors here can view architecture and historical sites exhibiting a number of stylistic influences. The most notable of these is the old town’s baroque architecture, with most of the buildings being a picture postcard representation of the style, with colorful mismatched buildings lining the winding lanes. Today a hub of shops, restaurants and bars, guests can enjoy the buzz and unique atmosphere of the old city before tasting a variety of traditional Nicoise dishes. These include the much-loved socca, a delicious chickpea dish which is cooked in olive oil and melts scrumptiously in the mouth.
Those interested in prehistory will be enthralled by the story of the Grotto du Lazaret, a 35-meter-long, 14-foot-wide cave at the foot of Mont Boron. Thought to have been inhabited by pre-Neanderthal man and used as a hunting base, archeologists have found over 20,000 pieces of bone from both humans and prehistoric animals within its grounds. First excavated in the 1950s, the skull of a nine year old child was found in the cave which can be dated back to around 130,000 BC. Since then a number of examples of tools and bones have been pulled from the site and used to improve modern knowledge of the prehistoric period. Guests can wander around the cave or take a guided tour, marveling at the grotto’s almost unimaginable history, before exploring the beautiful Mediterranean surroundings encompassing the area
Grotto of Lazaret, 33 Bis Boulevard Franck Pilatte, Nice, France. +334 92 00 17 37
At the foot of Castle Hill lies the Monument aux Morts de Rauba-Capeù, a homage to Nice’s soldiers who gave their lives in World War I. Designed by the French architect Roger Pierre Honoré Seassal, visitors can enjoy viewing a site made by a former member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, a man who is also a Prix de Rome scholar. Reaching 32 meters in height, the large dome structure is carved into a rocky hillside and exhibits two detailed bas-reliefs on the theme of war, designed by praised sculptor and Legion of Honor officer Alfred Janniot. The first stone of this commemoratory site was laid in 1924 before the whole thing was inaugurated in 1928 by the mayor of Nice. The monument has been a meeting point and place of reflection for almost a century, and with beautiful views out to sea, the site is a poignant place creating stirring memories for its visitors.
What started as a small wooden theater in 1776 has since blossomed into the renowned Opéra de Nice, a citywide institution inviting huge productions and names to perform within its walls. After functioning as a small town playhouse for almost 50 years, the building was bought by the city of Nice upon the advice of King Charles Felix. His idea to convert the space into a grand opera soon became a reality, with the building being redesigned by the city’s architect Benoît Brunat in the classical Italian style. In 1881 the venue was badly damaged in a fire which alighted during a performance, and the venue was subsequently rebuilt and reconceptualized by François Aune. It is this design that remains today, with its glamorous interior design displaying a stunning high painted ceiling, and a number of symbolic sculptures which aim to call to mind the theater’s colorful and successful past. The opera attracts huge global acts from all over the world in disciplines such as orchestra, ballet and internationally-renowned choirs.
Opéra de Nice, 9 Rue Raoul Bosio, Nice, France. +334 92 17 40 00