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Nice History

400,000 years of human habitation

Historical Nice is best know for its Greek (Nikaia) and Roman (Cemenelum, on Cimiez) history. The town's more ancient history is shown by a display of a prehistoric elephant hunter's camp in the Prehistoric Museum of terra Amata.


Signs of prehistoric man have been excavated at Nice, and an excellent display was presented at the excavation location in the Musée de Terra Amata.


village photo The foundation of ancient Nice was on the Chateau Hill (Colline du Chateau), overlooking and between the present old town and the port. The only archeological remains recovered there were some ceramic fragments, possibly dating to the Greeks of Marseille of the 6th or 5th century BC. The ruins of a 10th century cathedral can now be seen there (photo).

On the hill of Cimiez, 3 km north of Le Chateau, were the remains of an oppidum belonging to the Ligurian tribe.


The Greek Massaliote colony of Nikaia was probably located at the present old town (Vieux Nice), where the Paillon river joined the sea. The name Nikaia may have derived from "Nike", or victory, following the defeat of the local Ligurian tribe. Although there was a Greek acropolis on the Colline du Chateau, the Greeks were probably here along with the Ligurians, and with their cooperation.

In 154 BC, the Romans helped Massalia defend Nikaia and Antipolis (Antibes) from attack other (non-Vediantii) Ligurians.


Auguste conquered the Alpine tribes, and in 14 BC established Cemenelum, at Cimiez, as the regional center of the Alpes Maritimae. Cemenelum was not an important city. It wasn't walled, had no fort, forum or temple, and was never seriously threatened until the end of the 4th century. The barbarians passed through at the end of the 4th century, laying waste and destruction, beginning the decline of the Roman occupation along with the Western Roman Empire.

There was an amphitheater, and the remains can be seen today in the park at Cimiez. The main Roman site at Cimiez, which can be visited through the museum, have extensive baths. The Moureille aqueduct water distribution point began here, and water still flowed in lower sections of the aqueduct up to 1974.


Medieval Nice grew up around the cathedral on the Colline du Chateau. In the 12th century, Raimond-Bérenger V, the Count of Provence, ruled Nice. In 1388, eastern Provence passed under the rule of the Maison de Savoie, and the "Comté de Nice was formed as a new province, with Nice as the principal city.

Nice remained the key defensive point for the Var, centered around the Colline du Chateau. In 1543, after combined French and Turkish forces took momentary control of the citadel, the inhabitants of the upper city regrouped down below, at the site of old Nikaia, to form what eventually became the present city of Nice.

Nice suffered from most of the plague epidemics along the Mediterranean, aggravated by bad sanitary conditions. The plague of 1631 caused over 10,000 deaths.


End of the Chateau. Louis XIV occupied Nice in 1691-1696, and again in 1706-1713. This second time, he destroyed the chateau and all other military installations.

The Port. Digging of the "Port of Lympia" was started in 1748.

"Les Anglais" and the Republic. The English began arriving for their winter vacations around 1730. Troops of the new French Republic invaded the Comté de Nice in 1793, and Nice was the capital of their department Alpes-Maritimes from 1793 to 1814. At the start of the Restoration, in 1814, Nice returned to control of Savoy, and became even more popular with foreign visitors, especially the English. The Promenade des Anglais was built, along with other amenities for the visitors.

Nice is French. The treaty of 24 March 1860, followed by a plebiscite on 15-16 April, returned the Comté de Nice to France, and its popularity as a winter resort increased even more. Before that date, it's often said that NIce was a part of "Italy". In fact, the independent duchies (or kingdoms, depending on the time and the leader) of Piedment and Nice were ceded to French control in 1796 by Victor Amadeus III, son of King Charles Emmanuel I. Victor Emmanuel who ruled the Kingdom of Sardinia regained control of Piedment, including Nice, in 1814. In 1858, Count Camillo de Cavour, who headed the administration of Piedmont, promised to cede Nice and Savoy to France to get Napoleon's assistance in fighting Austria, coinciding with revolution in central Italy. It was the people of Nice and Savoy who, in 1860, voted for union with France. A month later, in April 1860, independent parts of Italy began joining into the Kingdom of Italy, until Count Cavour declared a united country in March of 1861, with Rome as the capital.

In 1887, the poet Stéphen Liégeard baptized the region of Nice as the "Cote d'Azur".

The "Belle Epoque" was the period from 1880 to 1914. Queen Victoria visited regularly from 1895 to 1899, staying at what is now the Victoria Hotel at Cimiez. The Carnival dates back to the Middle Ages, but took its current form in 1873 with the creation of the Comité des Fêtes

The airport was opened in 1945. The University of Nice began in 1965, followed by the Conservatoire National de Musique and the Opera.

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