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Nice is more than nice. Sitting along the French Riviera, on the southeast coast of France, Nice is a true delight. With year-round abundant sunshine, the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, and brightly colored Art Deco architecture the atmosphere of Nice goes above and beyond that simple adjective of “nice.” It’s vibrant, peaceful, and pleasant with a seaside vibe of relaxation and rejuvenation. Plus, there’s a whole lot of history to Nice!
Ready to uncover some of Nice’s best kept secrets? Let’s see what we can find that is both naughty and nice. Let’s get to it!
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There is evidence of human settlements in the area around Nice all the way back 400,000 years ago! The “Terra Amata” archeological site provides some of the absolute earliest uses of fire, flint, and construction of houses. How old are we talking? 230,000 years ago!
The Greeks were responsible for the founding of Nice around 350 BC. The name that was given to the area was Nikaia in honor of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Even during the multi-century Italian reign over Nice, it was still referred to as Nizza. Ever since it officially became a part of France, it has been dubbed Nice! And if you happen to be from Nice, you’re called Niçoise. Yes, just like the famous salad.
Nice wasn’t always a part of France. It was conquered many times, by many different people. To make a long story short, France officially was given Nice as a reward for assisting in the Second Italian War of Independence against Austria in 1860. When Italy says thanks, they give whole cities…
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The first tramway began in 1879 in Nice and it only used horsecars. However, all the tram-lines went electric in 1900 and they used single car trams. It didn’t take long for public transportation to boom! By 1930, there was 144km of lines and 183 tramcars!
After the destruction of WWII, Nice’s tramways were replaced by trolley buses in 1948. Trolley buses are electric buses that draw their power from overhead wires. Bye-bye travel by tram… but only for a little while! In 2007, the new Tramway de Nice was installed to link the suburbs to the city center.
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What is truly amazing is that the beachfront properties along the coastline of Nice weren’t always a hot commodity. Back in the beginning of the 18th century, the areas close to the water were just for fishermen and dock workers! There wasn’t even a walkway there, just a pebbled beach. That’s because people came to Nice not for the beach, but for the pleasant and mild winters.
It wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century that wealthy English folks wanted to enjoy the seaside views along the coast while on holiday. However, as the story goes, when a lot of beggars came to Nice, a rich Englishmen came up with the idea of building a walkway for them along the sea. Sure sounds like a benevolent idea to us, but perhaps a little fishy… oh well! That’s how the story goes!
At first, the promenade was called the Camin dei Anglès which translates to “The English Way” in Nissart, the native dialect. It wasn’t until 1860 that the walkway was renamed La Promenade des Anglais, which just replaced the original name with an exact French translation. So the promenade wasn’t actually named after anything French, but rather for rich Englishmen!
The Olympique Gymnaste Club Nice, referred to more simply as OGC Nice is the football club based in Nice. It was first established in 1904 and plays at the top tier of French football. Nice was actually one of the first French clubs to integrate international players into their team!
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The most famous hotel in Nice is the Negresco Hotel that has an iconic pink dome that was actually carved in Gustave Eiffel’s workshop. Apparently, he modeled this dome off of the bust of a woman he had fallen in love with. Well, we suppose that is quite a symbol of love, kind of…
The owner of the Negresco hotel, Jeanne Augier, actually bequeathed the Negresco Hotel and all of the other real estate she owns to an animal rights charity. She passed away at the age of 95 on January 7, 2019 and indeed, everything went to charity!
The Negresco Hotel opened in 1913 and was named after it’s Romanian-born founder. Over the years, the guest list has certainly been impressive, including everyone from the Beatles to Salavador Dali to the Sultan of Brunei!
Okay, the Hotel Negresco’s carpet isn’t magic, but it is magical in size! The Hotel Negresco has one of the largest carpets in the world! It’s 375 square meters and is worth nearly 10% of the worth of the entire hotel. In fact, this magical carpet was woven way back in 1615 AD. Is that magic enough for you?
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Every year in the middle of February, Nice is home to an absolutely incredible carnival, a tradition that dates all the way back to 1294! Beginning back in the Middle Ages, this carnival was originally a time for the lower class people to wear masks and make fun of those in power. Oh, what the power of masks can do!
Apparently, if you weren’t wearing a mask during carnival, the people of Nice would flog you with stockings filled with flour! Luckily, nobody is getting flogged with flour these days, but if you don’t have at least a painted face during carnival, you’ll still get some flour thrown on you. What’s with all the flour? Tradition is tradition, we suppose…
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Now, this has to be one of our favorite stories about Nice. Every day since a gorgeous day back in 1860, a cannon is shot daily precisely at noon. Why is a cannon shot at noon? Because Sir Thomas Coventry wanted to have his midday meal precisely at noon! His wife was known for not being punctual with her cooking, so he actually asked the Mayor if he could organize a noon cannon shot, just like his hometown village back in Scotland. He even paid for it!
Sir Thomas Coventry didn’t settle down and stay in Nice forever, he headed back to Scotland after a few years, and actually took his cannon with him. Talk about some heavy luggage! Anyways, the people of Nice were so used to the midday cannon shot that they actually petitioned the city to continue firing a cannon at noon. They petitioners won, and today there is still a cannon shot each and every day at noon.
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The city of Nice is home to one of Europe’s absolute largest greenhouses, the Phoenix Park Floral. This greenhouse hosts 2,500 different species of plants and accommodates a total of seven different tropical climates! It is 25 meters in height and 7,000 meters long. Now that’s one incredible greenhouse.
The Phoenix Park Floral also has a lake where over a hundred birds lives, including black swans. If black swans aren’t cool enough for you, there are also crocodiles and iguanas! Not to mention a family of lemurs… Sometimes a greenhouse really goes above and beyond flowers and trees.
With its spectacular seaside and rich history, modern celebrities have been flocking to Nice. Of course rock stars have to have second— or seventh or seventeenth— homes somewhere fabulous and big names like Elton John and Bono have chosen Nice! You can easily spot Elton John’s part-time abode above the port. It’s a yellow hilltop villa.
In the 1970s a man planned a bank heist by digging through sewage tunnels for months before he actually robbed the Société General Bank. He went by the name Spaggiare, and he stole a total of 29 million in euros, both in jewels and in cash! When the authorities got into the vault, Spaggiare had inscribed the words on the wall: “Without hate, without arms, without violence.” Indeed, he made a clean getaway!
Nice, France actually has a lovely nickname: ‘Nice la Belle,’ which translates directly to ‘Nice the Beautiful.’ This beautiful French Riviera city certainly has a rich history! From everything from sewage bank heists, to a daily cannon shot for a punctual lunch, to flogging by flour!
We hope that you found Nice la Belle beautiful, curious, and interesting as we sailed down 21 fun facts about the history of Nice together!
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Lily Allen-Duenas is a wandering yoga instructor, massage therapist, and reiki healer. For the last two years she’s been journeying around the world, teaching yoga on island resorts in Cambodia, surf hostels in Sri Lanka, and wellness centers in the Phillipines. Lily loves building her life around her passions, health, wellness, and travel. You can follow her journey at wildyogatribe.com or get social with her @wildyogatribe