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Bounded on the east by the castle hill, on the north by the diagonal forming Place Massens and the Albert 1st Garden and on the south by the Mediterranean, Old Nice brought together the entire population until the 18th century. Therefore, in its small streets the true Nicoise personality remains, irreparable aroma of fresh carnations and great art and history. All adorned with Provencal markets, charming restaurants and the most exclusive boutiques.
To discover Old Nice, we offer a brief itinerary that will take you to its most prominent landmarks.
Start walking from the sea, from Quai des Etats Units to Rue Saint-François-de-Paule, where the Opera of Nice is found, built in 1885 on the site of an old theatre completely destroyed in 1776 by a terrible fire started after a gas explosion. The work is owed to a local architect named François Aune, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel, who was clearly inspired by the Baroque to build this temple of music and song that is characterised by its excellent opera productions and its commitment to modernity. If you get a chance, look inside and see its 600 lamps, sculptures and Italian style. And if you can get tickets, you can enjoy a unique evening here. For that and more, the Opera of Nice has been a historic monument since 1993.
Continue walking down the street to the east and you will come to Cours Saleya, an old park that has become a pedestrian zone with a market for flowers and vegetables every day of the week except Monday, when you will find celebrated antiquarians. Locals and tourists and a thousand colours and scents of flowers intermingle here. To top off the experience, the market is decorated by baroque buildings in ochre and terracotta. In summer, there are also stalls selling local arts and crafts to delight tourists. Obviously, being so touristy, it is packed with bars and restaurants where you can enjoy something fresh before continuing.
From Cours Saleya, when you are more or less in the middle of this beautiful Provencal market, look north and you will see a square and an imposing palace. This is the Palais de la Prefecture, a beautiful neoclassical building where in the 17th century the Dukes of Savoy could be found. It served as a hospital in the Revolution and the Prefecture since Nice was annexed in the late 19th century.
Going back to Cours Saleya. there is also the Chapelle de la Misericorde, a beautiful baroque chapel of great architectural splendour built in 1770 based on plans from Italian architect Bernardo Vittone and delivered to the Brotherhood of Black Penitents. It has an elliptical nave and is flanked by two semi-circular chapels. Although it is very tiny, it is worth a visit to admire the paintings of Bistolfi and be surprised by its play of volumes and two altars dedicated to the Virgin of the 15th century.
As you reach the end of Cours Saleya, look up and notice the building with its painted façade at 8 Rue de la Poissonnerie. This is known as the home of Adam and Eve. It has a bas-relief dating from 1584 depicting Adam and Eve naked in the Garden of Eden, threatening each other with clubs. A true relic.
Continue east to Rue Jules Gilly and turn left. On this street you will find a chapel in a style that is very different from the previous one. This is the neoclassical Chapelle Saint Suaire Sainte-Trinité, masterfully restored by local artist Paul-Emile Barberis in 1824. This chapel belongs to the Brotherhood of the Red Penitents, very evident in the symbolism of the door and walls.
A little further north, at number 2 Rue Jules Gilly, you will find one of the most traditional restaurants of the French Riviera: la Trappa, founded in 1866. If you get a chance, go and order a dish from the typical Niçoise menu. Your palate will thank you. And if you are around at night, it is quite possible that you will see a live performance here. Consult their schedule.
Once you have refuelled, then head north along Rue Droite until you reach the Place de Gesu, a haven of peace that offers an escape from the busy life of the tourist. You'll also find what was the first parish of the old town: the Eglise de Gesu, Church of Jesus, also called Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur. It was built in 1607 in Baroque style by a local rich bourgeois. If you think the blue façade is admirable, the interior will surprise you further with its countless details: its stucco, angels, medallions, etc. You will love it.
Let's continue north to number 15 of the same street where you will find a real Niçoise gem: the Palais Lascaris, a brilliant work of local civil Baroque art having certain reminiscences. Its imposing entrance and crowded façade details of this residence make it unique. Also note its majestic staircase, as well as all the details in white, yellow, ochre, terracotta, green, etc. And to top it all, a dream vault full of fantastic frescos. Today it houses a small and very interesting museum of decorative arts, arts and popular traditions.
After your visit, continue north to the end of the street and on to Place Saint-François, where you can see part of the faculty of what was once the convent of The Friars Minor of San Francisco. The old bell tower, which has recently been restored, closely monitors the morning fish market, except on Mondays, of course. You can also see what was the old Town Hall. This is the Baroque building adorned with carnival motifs on its left side. It was built in the 16th century and today is the seat of the Labour Exchange.
Then head north and take Rue Saint Agustin to the square of the same name, where you will find a 17th century church known as the Eglise Saint-Martin or as Saint-Agustin. Here you will see a famous altarpiece of Pietà by Italian artist Louis Brea from the early 16th century.
Now take Rue Sincaire east and go to your left to reach Place Garibaldi. This was one of the first squares to be built to expand the Old City. It is a beautiful enclave with buildings with Sardinian red façades with Nice green shutters guarding the statue of the famous Italian military and political figure who, as few know, was born in Nice in 1807. Here you can also see the Chapelle du Saint Sepulchre of the Brotherhood of Blue Penitents which, curiously, fits seamlessly into the rest of the architecture of the square.
Once you arrive here you have deserved a break and why not pay gastronomic homage. If you can find room, we recommend sitting on the terrace of Café de Turin and enjoying the wonderful seafood served here, even at breakfast time: oysters, sea urchins, clams, shrimps, etc. All very fresh. This place opened in the 50s and is always crowded with locals and tourists who want to try their specialities. A tip? Their prawn salad with roasted asparagus and parmesan accompanied by a well-chilled white wine.
After this must stop, we head towards the sea: take Rue Pair heading south. You will see it goes in a curve and changes name. Walk to Place Rossetti, which is about 600 metres from the Garibaldi, and you will find one of those small picturesque squares so nice it is inevitable you will stop and sit on one of the terraces to enjoy a snack.
In this square you will find the Cathedral of Nice, surrounded by ochre-coloured buildings and flowers. They say it was a priory of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Pons which, due to its importance, was promoted to Cathedral in 1590 and consecrated in 1699. Its exterior follows the Roman model of the early Baroque and its interior is inspired by the Basilica of San Pietro in Rome. Look at the 10 chapels and the details, which have hardly changed over time. Also, do not miss the bell, which is decorated with tiles.
After seeing the cathedral of Nice and having rested a while, then head south along Rue de Saint Réparate to Rue de la Prefecture and turn to your left to find Rue de la Poissonnerie. At number 1 you will find a church that goes unnoticed by almost every tourist: the Église de la Annonciation, better known as the Church of Santa Rita, to whom lost causes are entrusted. Its exterior is very sober, but inside it enjoys unparalleled Baroque details.
Return to Rue de la Prefecture and walk west now, to the Place du Palais, where you will find the great Palais de Justice, or Courthouse. The building, in a neoclassical style, was built in 1890 on the site of a former Dominican convent.
Now head south of the square and turn right onto Rue Alexandre Mari to Place Massena. Built in 1840, it is one of those must-see locations in Nice that mixes elegant buildings with red tile scenery with views of the charming Tuscan hills. You can also see a work by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa symbolising the seven continents.
Head south west and you will find the Albert Ist Gardens and the lush vegetation, which extends to the promenade. From a distance you can make out an important work by the French artist Bernar Venet, located in the centre of the garden. This is a huge black metal arch 19 metres high. Keep walking south and return to the sea, very close to where we started.
As you can see from this short tour, the history of Nice is rich. And countless places keep the old town alive. So, certainly, the people of Nice are proud and happy to live here, in front of the sea and surrounded by hills in a unique setting.