Sunday, March 27th 2016
This is the last day of our short visit to Nice and this evening we return to London. Our departure from Nice Airport is scheduled for 19:10, though we of course have to be there an hour or two earlier to allow for checking in and baggage search. A slight further complication is that during the night, France (and the UK) moved the clocks to summer time, meaning that we had (in theory!) to get up an hour earlier. However, once we were up and about, the change in clock time seemed to make very little difference to us. (Neither of us has a watch and the clocks on our mobiles changed to summer time automatically.)
We planned to be at the airport at about 17:00 to allow for the formalities and to avoid hurrying. That left a large part of the day for other things and we did not want to waste this time but to use it to continue exploring Nice. There were some places that Tigger wanted to see and so we planned accordingly. We checked out of the hotel but left our bags in their keeping for the time being.
Tigger reckoned that we could visit the places on her list, take the tram back to the Acropolis district to collect our bags from the hotel, then take the special number 98 bus that runs from the Lycée Masséna to the airport (tickets cost €6). This was perfectly feasible, provided that we didn’t get held up anywhere.
First, as usual, was the hunt for breakfast. This turned out to be more difficult than usual. The problem, it seems, was that today is Easter Sunday, and many cafes and restaurants showed a reluctance to open early. We reached Place Masséna and looked under the arcades.
Here we found L’Iris de Nice open. It had chairs and tables out in the open and one man serving behind the counter. We bought croissants in a paper bag and coffee in paper cups. Not the elegant breakfast we had in mind for our last day but it served its purpose.
We went down to the seafront because we were going to catch a bus there for the next part of our ramble. Here, on the Promenade des Anglais, we saw La Chaise de Sab by Sabine Geraudie. From a distance it looks like a real chair, though larger than normal size. When you reach it, however, you find it is flat. Cleverly done.
The Jardin Albert 1er reaches as far as the Promenade des Anglais and here is sited the sculpture by André-Joseph Allar known as the Monument du Centenaire (‘Centenary Monument’). Its official public role is to commemorate the unification of Savoie (and therefore Nice) with France. It was unveiled on March 4th 1896. This may seem odd when you are told everywhere that Nice joined France only in 1860, 36 years before. The solution of the conundrum is that France dates the unification to 1792 when the forces of Revolutionary France invaded and occupied Savoie, an occupation that ended in 1814 when Savoie reverted to its former status. This seems rather dubious practice to me and I am not alone in thinking that.
The monument is of course, a piece of propaganda. On top is a figure of Victory, whose name in Greek, Niké, alludes to the mythical foundation of Nice. The tableau below shows Nice (on the left), identifiable by her crown made from the walls of the city, giving herself to France. The figure representing France is also female but has been ‘masculinized’ to make the tableau seem the triumphant union in victory of a Romantic hero and heroine. Above their heads, you see the date 1960. This was presumably added at some later point to make the monument also seem to celebrate the centenary of the unification that occurred in 1860. Why add this if the unification was supposed to have happened in 1792? There seems to be some sort of obfuscation being perpetrated here.
What is the Monument du Centenaire (‘Centenary Monument’) to some is the Monument de la Honte (‘Monument of Shame’) to others. There is a body of opinion that Nice/Savoie was annexed illegally by France in both 1792 and 1860 and that its rights, guaranteed under the treaty of 1860, have been systematically suppressed. There is a desire in some quarters to return Savoie to its previous condition as an independent neutral state, like Switzerland, with which it had close links.
Are these complaints justified? Was Nice/Savoie annexed to France fraudulently? I am not an historian nor am I a legal or constitutional expert and I therefore cannot give an authoritative opinion on the matter. However, having read some of the arguments put forward by partisans of separatism, I feel that there could be a case to answer. More than that I am not qualified to say, and anyone wishing more definitive views will need to study the question at first hand.
Is there a realistic chance that Savoie could ever be re-detached from France? With the Savoyard parties polling something like 5-6% in elections, it seems unlikely. Then again, who, less than a century ago, would have believed that Scotland would one day have its own Assembly and that a referendum on complete independence would be only narrowly defeated? If you read French, you might like to look at these sites: Consulat de Savoie, Liberà Nissa and its article on the ‘Monument of Shame’. The quotation by Garibaldi (who was born in Nice), ‘Nissa es francesa couma iéu siéu tàrtaro’, means ‘Nice is French like I’m a Tartar’.
We caught a bus to our next destination, the Parc des Arènes de Cimiez. (Cimiez is the name of the district.) In the park is what was once known as the Villa des Arènes, built in 1670-85 for Jean-Baptiste Gubernatis, the then Consul for Nice. In 1963, the onetime house became a museum, Musée Matisse de Nice, dedicated to the work of the artist whose name it bears. We didn’t visit it this time but added it to the ‘Next Time’ list.
The park is also the site of a Roman settlement called Cemenelum. Various archaeological digs have been performed and the objects found placed in the local archaeological museum, Musée Archéologique de Nice-Cimiez.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the complex is what is called Les Arènes de Cimiez, a Roman amphitheatre. It was built in the 2nd century and enlarged in the 3rd. It is one of the smallest Roman amphitheatres in France, designed for 5,000 spectators.
Nearby is the church and monastery of Cimiez. Originally founded in the 9th century by Benedictines, the monastery has been occupied by Franciscans since 1546 and includes a Franciscan museum, Musée Franciscain. No doubt because of Easter, the place was crowded and we viewed it only from a distance.
Walking down the hill, we spied a familiar figure at a crossroads. The sculpture was unveiled in 1912 and was carved by Louis Edouart Maubert (1806-79). It shows everyone’s favourite queen, Victoria, receiving bouquets of flowers from four allegorical maidens, representing the four towns, Nice, Cannes, Grasse and Menton, in which the queen stayed at various times. Victoria frequently wintered in the area between 1877 and 1899, adding to its popularity. The monument is thus a token of gratitude to her though she did not live to see it.
Returning towards the town centre, with our thoughts turning to lunch, we were happy to discover Le Circuit: yes! a proper French café! It was run by a husband and wife team and we received attentive service and a good meal.
There were still a couple more items on Tigger’s list so off we went again. I was beginning to worry about collecting our bags from the hotel and getting to the airport but Tigger, confident as ever in her navigating skills, brushed aside my fears.
The first was the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint-Nicholas. In the 19th century, a large Russian population grew in Nice and the need was felt for a church to cater for their religious needs. The Church of Saint Nicholas opened its doors in 1859. By the end of the century, however, this church was no longer large enough for the growing Russian community and a new cathedral was planned. It opened its doors to the faithful in 1912.
The second was in its way even more remarkable because it breaks with traditional styling and is resolutely in the modern idiom, referencing, I think, both Art Nouveau and Art Deco. One might even claim to see Gaudíesque elements in it.
We had had a long walk to reach the church and having to enquire the way from a helpful citizen. Now we needed to think about reclaiming our bags and making for the airport. Happily, Tigger was able to navigate to the tram route and we progressed to Acropolis by this means.
We did, however, find time for coffee before setting out to find bus 98 which would take us to the airport. This cafe is close to our hotel and was very busy with people having long late French lunches, including a family holding a celebration of some kind. Nonetheless, they cheerfully found us a table and attended to our needs. The name, ‘Acropolitain’, seems to be a neologism coined by combining ‘Acropolis’ and ‘metropolitain’.
It took us a while to find exactly where the stop for the 98 bus was. There are several streets at that point with bus and tram stops, several of which, confusingly, display the number 98 despite the fact that the bus doesn’t stop there! In the end, we found the correct stop, paid our €6 each and then sat back and relaxed until we reached the airport. The bus drops you off at Terminal 2 whereas departures are from Terminal 1. Once you have worked that out, there is a free shuttle bus service to Terminal 1.
Nice was a new experience for us. Its Occitan language and traditions give it a special character, more ‘Mediterranean’ than, say, Paris or Lille. We only scratched the surface, though, and a day and two half-days is not a long enough period to gain more than a brief impression of a place. It would take a longer stay to get to know it and to understand how strongly its history impacts on present-day sensibilities.