Nice (pron.: /ˈniːs/, French pronunciation: [nis]; Niçard Occitan: Niça [classical norm] or Nissa [nonstandard], Italian: Nizza or Nizza Marittima, Greek: Νίκαια, Latin: Nicaea) is the fifth most populous city in France, after Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse. The urban area of Nice extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of about 1 million on an area of 721 km2 (278 sq mi). Located on the south east coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea, Nice is the second-largest French city on the Mediterranean coast after Marseille.
The city is called Nice la Belle (Nissa La Bella in Niçard), which means Nice the Beautiful, which is also the title of the unofficial anthem of Nice, written by Menica Rondelly in 1912. Nice is the capital of the Alpes Maritimes département and the second biggest city of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region after Marseille.
The area of today’s Nice contains Terra Amata, an archaeological site which displays evidence of a very early use of fire. Around 350 BC, Greeks of Marseille founded a permanent settlement and called it Nikaia, after Nike, the goddess of victory. Through the ages, the town has changed hands many times. Its strategic location and port significantly contributed to its maritime strength. For years it was a dominion of Savoy, then became part of France between 1792 and 1815, when it was returned to Piedmont-Sardinia until its final annexation by France in 1860.
The natural beauty of the Nice area and its mild Mediterranean climate came to the attention of the English upper classes in the second half of the 18th century, when an increasing number of aristocratic families took to spending their winter there. The city’s main seaside promenade, the Promenade des Anglais (‘the Walkway of the English’) owes its name to the earliest visitors to the resort. For decades now, the picturesque Nicean surroundings have attracted not only those in search of relaxation, but also those seeking inspiration. The clear air and soft light has been of particular appeal to some of Western culture’s most outstanding painters, such as Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Niki de Saint Phalle and Arman. Their work is commemorated in many of the city’s museums, including Musée Marc Chagall, Musée Matisse and Musée des Beaux-Arts Jules Chéret. Nice has the second largest hotel capacity in the country and it’s the second-most visited place in France after Paris, receiving 4 million tourists every year. It also has the third busiest airport in France after the two main Parisian ones. It is the historical capital city of the County of Nice (Comté de Nice).
The first known hominid settlements in the Nice area date back approximately 400,000 years; the Terra Amata archeological site shows one of the earliest uses of fire and construction of houses and flint findings are dated as around 230,000 years old. Nice (Nicaea) was probably founded around 350 BC by the Greeks of Massilia (Marseille), and was given the name of Νικαία («Nikaia») in honour of a victory over the neighbouring Ligurians (Nike is the Greek goddess of victory). The city soon became one of the busiest trading ports on the Ligurian coast; but it had an important rival in the Roman town of Cemenelum, which continued to exist as a separate city until the time of the Lombard invasions. The ruins of Cemenelum are located in Cimiez, which is now a district in Nice.
In the 7th century, Nice joined the Genoese League formed by the towns of Liguria. In 729 the city repulsed the Saracens; but in 859 and again in 880 the Saracens pillaged and burned it, and for most of the 10th century remained masters of the surrounding country.
During the Middle Ages, Nice participated in the wars and history of Italy. As an ally of Pisa it was the enemy of Genoa, and both the King of France and the Emperor endeavoured to subjugate it; but in spite of this it maintained its municipal liberties. During the course of the 13th and 14th centuries the city fell more than once into the hands of the Counts of Provence, but finally remained independent even if related to Genoa.
The maritime strength of Nice now rapidly increased until it was able to cope with the Barbary pirates; the fortifications were largely extended and the roads to the city improved. In 1561 Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, abolished the use of Latin as an administrative language and established the Italian language as the official language of government affairs in Nice.
During the struggle between Francis I and Charles V great damage was caused by the passage of the armies invading Provence; pestilence and famine raged in the city for several years. It was in the nearby town of Villeneuve-Loubet that the two monarchs in 1538 concluded, through the mediation of Pope Paul III, a truce of ten years.
In 1543, Nice was attacked by the united Franco-Ottoman forces of Francis I and Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, in the Siege of Nice; and, though the inhabitants repulsed the assault which succeeded the terrible bombardment, they were ultimately compelled to surrender, and Barbarossa was allowed to pillage the city and to carry off 2,500 captives. Pestilence appeared again in 1550 and 1580.
In 1600, Nice was briefly taken by the duke of Guise. By opening the ports of the county to all nations, and proclaiming full freedom of trade (1626), the commerce of the city was given great stimulus, the noble families taking part in its mercantile enterprises.
Captured by Nicolas Catinat in 1691, Nice was restored to Savoy in 1696; but it was again besieged by the French in 1705, and in the following year its citadel and ramparts were demolished.
The treaty of Utrecht in 1713 once more gave the city back to the Duke of Savoy who was on that same occasion recognized as King of Sicily. In the peaceful years which followed the «new town» was built. From 1744 till the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) the French and Spaniards were again in possession. In 1775 the king, who in 1718 had swapped his sovereignty of Sicily for the Kingdom of Sardinia, destroyed all that remained of the ancient liberties of the commune. Conquered in 1792 by the armies of the First French Republic, the County of Nice continued to be part of France until 1814; but after that date it reverted to the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.
After the Treaty of Turin was signed in 1860 between the Sardinian king and Napoleon III, the County was again and definitely ceded to France as a territorial reward for French assistance in the Second Italian War of Independence against Austria, which saw Lombardy unified with Piedmont-Sardinia. The cession was ratified by a regional referendum over 25,000 electors out of a total of 30,700 in favor of the attachment to France. Savoy was also transferred to the French crown by similar means. Giuseppe Garibaldi, born in Nice, opposed the cession to France (arguing that the ballot was rigged by the French). Italian irredentists considered Nice one of their main nationalist goals, along with Istria, Dalmatia, Corsica and the South Tyrol. In 1942–1943 the city was occupied and administered by Italy during World War II.
The 20th century saw the arrival of modern transportation. In 1900, the Tramway de Nice electrified its horse drawn streetcars and spread its network to the entire department from Menton to Cagnes-sur-Mer. By the 1930s additional bus connections added to the transportation network of the entire area. In the 1930s Nice hosted international car racing in the Formula Libre (predecessor to Formula One) on the so-called Circuit Nice. The circuit started along the waterfront just south of the Jardin Albert I, then headed westward along the Promenade des Anglais followed by a hairpin turn at the Hotel Negresco to come back eastward and around the Jardin Albert I before heading again east along the beach on the Quai des Etats-Unis.
As war broke out in September 1939, Nice became a city of refuge for many displaced foreigners, notably Jews fleeing the Nazi progression into Eastern Europe. From Nice many sought further shelter in the French colonies, Morocco and North and South America. After July 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy Regime, antisemitic aggressions accelerated the exodus, starting in July 1941 and continuing through 1942. On 26 August 1942, 655 Jews of foreign origin were rounded up by the Laval government and interned in the Auvare barracks. Of them, 560 would be deported to Drancy internment camp on 31 August 1942. Thanks to the activity of the Jewish banker Angelo Donati and of the Capuchin friar Père Marie-Benoît the local authorities hindered the applications of anti Jewish Vichy laws.
The first ”résistants” to the new Regime were a group of High School seniors of the Lycée de Nice, now Lycée Masséna, in September 1940, later arrested and executed in 1944 near Castellane. The first public demonstrations occurred on 14 July 1942 when several hundred protesters took to the streets along the Avenue de la Victoire and Place Masséna. After November 1942 and the arrival of Italian troops occupying the city, a certain ambivalence remained among the population, many recent immigrants of Italian ancestry. However, the resistance gained momentum after the Italian surrendered in 1943 when the German armies occupied Vichy France. Reprisals intensified between December 1943 and July 1944 when many partisans were tortured and executed by the local Gestapo and the French Milice. Nice was also heavily bombarded by the American aviation in preparation for the Allied landing in Provence (1000 dead or wounded and more than 5600 people homeless) and famine ensued in the course of the summer of 1944. Finally American paratroopers entered the city on 30 August 1944 and Nice was finally liberated. The consequences of the war were heavy, the population decreased by 15% and the economic life was totally disrupted.
In the second half of the 20th century, Nice enjoyed an economic boom primarily driven by tourism and construction. Two men dominated this period: Jean Médecin, mayor for 33 years from 1928 to 1943 and from 1947 to 1965 and his son Jacques, mayor for 24 years from 1966 to 1990. Under their leadership, the city experienced extensive urban renewal and new constructions were undertaken (Convention centre, theatres, new thoroughfares and expressways, etc.) The arrival of the Pieds-Noirs, refugees from Algeria after 1962 independence, also gave the city a boost and somewhat changed the make-up of its population and traditional views. By the late 1980s, rumors of political corruption in the city government surfaced and eventually formal accusations against Jacques Médecin forced him to flee France in 1990. Later arrested in Uruguay in 1993, he was extradited back to France in 1994, convicted of several counts of corruption and associated crimes and sentenced to imprisonment.
On 16 October 1979, a tsunami, caused by an undersea landslide hit the western coast of Nice and 23 people died.
In February 2001, European leaders met at Nice to negotiate and sign what is now the Treaty of Nice amending the institutions of the European Union.
In 2003, local Chief Prosecutor Éric de Montgolfier alleged that some judicial cases involving local personalities had been suspiciously derailed by the local judiciary, which he suspected of having unhealthy contacts through Masonic lodges with the very people prosecuted or judged. A controversial official report stated later that de Montgolfier had made unwarranted accusations.