Nice, France

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A seaport and tourist resort, Nice is situated on the Côte d’Azur in Southeast France, 32 km from the Italian border. It is located in the Baie des Anges, an inlet of the Mediterranean Sea, and is surrounded by mountains. Nice is the capital of the Alpes-Maritimes region.


Nice was founded by the Phocaeans of Marseilles in 350 BC. Greek seafarers named the colony Nikaia after nike meaning victory. The colony was then conquered by the Romans in first century AD, who founded Cemenelum (Cimiez) in the northeast. Under the Romans, Nice developed into a trade centre. During the fourth century, the area suffered from raids from both the Counts of Provence and Savoy.

In the tenth century Nice was ruled by the Counts of Provence. In 1388 the inhabitants rejected the incoming Louis of Anjou, and allied themselves with the Count of Savoy, Amadeus VII (1360–91). During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Nice was occupied at various times by the French, but the Counts of Savoy, by then the Kings of Sardinia, regained Nizza. From 1792–1814, Nice was annexed to France and served as a base for Napoléon’s Italian campaigns. In 1860, Nice was incorporated into France at the Treaty of Turin. At this time, the city had a population of around 40,000.

In the nineteenth century, Nice’s popularity as a tourist destination increased rapidly. It was a favoured destination of the English aristocracy and royalty. The first esplanade was built in 1770 and 7 years later Nice acquired its first casino. In 1822 the English community built the Promenade des Anglais. Originally a path along the shore, it is now a 4 km-long, tree-lined esplanade on the seafront. Many elaborate pastel-coloured mansions and hotels built at the turn of the twentieth century attest to the popularity of Nice as a resort for the rich and famous.

Racial disparity between rich and poor creates tension. Nice, along with many Côte d’Azur towns, is a bastion for the Front National (FN), which secures around 25% of votes in local elections. Between 1928–90 Nice was the preserve of the Médecin family. Jean Médecin held the position of mayor until 1966 when it was taken over by his son, Jacques. Graham Greene was among those who set out to prove the misappropriation of funds and culture of bribery that existed in Nice under Médecinisme. In 1990 Jacques Médecin escaped to Uruguay and was tried in 1992 for embezzlement. In 1994 an extradition order was enforced and he was imprisoned in Grenoble. He later returned to Uruguay where he died in 1998.

Modern City

The principal industry is tourism; others include food processing, perfume manufacture and olive oil distilleries. Since 1963 there has been a famous fruit and flower market in the old town. The University was opened in 1965 and an international arts school was founded in 1970. Nice hosts conferences at the Centre Universitaire Méditerranéen. Opened in 1933, the centre’s first director was the poet and essayist Paul Valéry. In Dec. 2000 Nice hosted the EU summit. Nice is accessible by road, rail, air and sea.

Places of Interest

The city attracted many artists, including Henri Matisse. He died in the Hôtel Regina in Cimiez in 1954, a hotel built in 1896 to welcome Queen Victoria. The Musée Matisse is a Genoese Villa at Cimiez that houses many of his works, including Blue Nude IV and Woman with Amphora. The Promenade des Anglais runs from the new town in the west to the old town, where the Quai des Etats Unis continues to the harbour in the east. The Italianate old town is pedestrianized. Nice is rich in museums and art galleries, such as the Musée des Beaux-Arts and the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain. The latter has Pop Art and New Realism exhibitions.

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